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1001 Stories Collection

Wayland the Smith

1001 waylandthesmith jeffsmith
Added on 11th September 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from England

The tale of the greatest metalworker in the land, with links to Oxfordshire.

Story

Wayland the Smith, son of the God-Giant Wade, King of the Finns, was the greatest metalworker in the land. One day, Wayland was captured by the greedy Swedish King Nidud, who wanted Wayland’s priceless jewellery and golden wares all to himself. Trapped and forced to work for the king against his will, Wayland decided to exact bloody revenge upon the king’s family, and escape using a pair of wings crafted from feathers.

Why we chose it

A story with Norse and Anglo-Saxon roots and links to the Arthurian legends. Wayland’s Smithy in Oxfordshire was said to be the home of Wayland, Saxon god of metal working.

Where it came from

The full story of Wayland the Smith, also spelled Weland, first appears in an old Norse poem from the 13th century, the Volundarkvida. Variations on the tale also occur in Thidriks saga, an Icelandic prose piece from the mid-13th century. However, the legend dates back even further, as Wayland is mentioned in several Anglo-Saxon texts from the 6 – 9th centuries, including Beowulf. Scenes from the story are also depicted on ‘Frank’s Casket,’ a carved whale bone box from 8th century Northumbria. Wayland even appears on a note inserted by Alfred the Great into his 9th century translation of Boethius. He was worshipped as a god across Scandinavia, Germany, and by the Anglo-Saxons in England.

Where it went next

To this day, Wayland’s Smithy, an ancient stone burial chamber in Oxfordshire, is believed to be haunted by an invisible smith. Local legend says that the smith will shoe a horse for a passer-by, if a coin is left on the stone and the traveller leaves him alone while he works. If you try to watch the smithy, the magic will not work. Similar stories occur across Europe, including in Germany, Denmark, and Belgium. Several authors have used the character of Wayland the Smith, including Rudyard Kipling in Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906) and Susan Cooper in The Dark is Rising sequence (1965 – 1977).

Associated stories

Wayland is sometimes associated with the Greek mythological figure Daedalus, who also escapes captivity using wings with his ill-fated son Icarus. He is also often identified with the Greek god Hephaestos (Vulcan to the Romans), who was a blacksmith. Wayland also appears in Arthurian legend, as a sword forged by him is given to Merlin, perhaps to become the famous Excalibur.

Added on 11th September 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from England