Here we go! Day One. As I mentioned in the comments to a previous post, I’m torn as to how I want to approach this experience. On the one hand, I want my work to be worthy of Wayland, as accurate as I can make it and true to his spirit. On the other hand, I feel a certain push to really post something every day, even if it’s not my best work. Guess I’ll just have to see how my style develops, do my darnedest to be consistent, and not beat myself up if I fall short.
1. A basic introduction to the deity. It would be really easy to get bogged down in the details of this first post. For those of you who don’t know, my background is in archaeology (Greco-Roman, not Celtic or Viking, sorry folks) which means I easily fall into the trap of being overly academic–a.k.a. boooring. And Wayland is nothing if not boring.
All right, I’ll try to get the dry stuff out of the way first. Historically speaking, Wayland is an interesting god because we have both textual and graphic representations of him from the period. He seems to have been spread throughout several cultures ranging from Sweden to Briton, and thematically he echoes tales of Daedalus and Hephaestus/Vulcan from Greece and Rome. Various forms of his name include Volundr, Wiolant, Weland, and Wayland. An incomparable divine smith, he creates items of magic and wonder at his forge, fit for heroes and gods alike. The lore calls him a master or lord of elves, which can be used as an argument that he was, in fact, one of the Vanir.
In addition to the possible figure of Wayland from Sweden above, there are a number of other representations in the archaeological evidence. The most famous of these is the Franks Casket (interestingly enough which was found near where my father’s family comes from on his mother’s side).
The main text that remains regarding Wayland is from the Poetic Edda, the Lay of Volundr, and describes his trials and eventual escape from and revenge upon a greedy king. While waiting for his lost wife, a Swan Maiden, to return to him, Wayland is captured, hamstrung, and forced to labor for King Nithung. After killing the king’s sons (making their skulls into cups!) and seducing/raping/impregnating the princess in retribution, the smith escapes on wings made out of bird feathers. Other textual sources tell us of weapons and armor that Wayland created, including Sigmund’s sword and Beowulf’s maille shirt.
It’s a bloody, misogynistic, and dramatic tale. And I’ve asked myself again and again why I would honor a being who seemingly viewed rape as unfortunate but acceptable collateral damage (more on this on Day 19). I don’t want to be an apologist, but this is definitely a god with a dark streak, and one who should never be crossed.
Yet, honor him I do, and I have experienced nothing but kindness and understanding from him. He is a patient teacher, tolerant of mistakes if they are in service to furthering one’s skills. He seems to care little for our arbitrary cultural divisions, possibly because he himself was spread across so many different peoples. Most of all, he is patient, more patient perhaps even than Sigyn herself.
This concludes our Wayland 101 post. Tomorrow: How I first met the Master Smith.
3 thoughts on “30 DoA #1: Introductions”
Loving this series already! …Yes, he has a dark streak. And his story is …difficult (he’s not the only god with a few difficult stories to get around!). But I also find it so interesting that when his swan princess/Valkyrie wife told him she needed to leave for nine years, he let her go and didn’t chase after her. Suggests a different side. He’s a complex figure, and I’m very much looking forward to the next 29 entries.
This is a deity who I get vague glimpses of, particularly in ‘The Deathless Blacksmith’ poem but haven’t met. Apparently ‘Wayland is depicted in his smithy, surrounded by his tools, at Halton, Lancashire’ (wiki) near me. I’d like to pay a visit at some point.
And as to being an apologist… I guess it’s natural to question the ‘bad’ things (in our perception) gods do, but perhaps not to question why they also do ‘good’ – it sounds like Wayland’s been a good teacher to you. I guess this all part of the mysterious nature of the gods, and bound up with the origins, nature and function of morality, transgression etc… complex issues!
Complex issues indeed! Let me know if you ever get them figured out. 😉
One of my Bucket List items is to go on a pilgrimage to sites in England associated with Wayland; I have a similar goal for sites in Wales related to the Mabinogion. One of these days….