I finally bit the anvil and finished up the last of the posts exploring Wayland the Smith. A complete list of posts from this series can be found on my Past Projects page.
19. What quality or qualities of this god do you most admire? What quality or qualities of them do you find the most troubling? So, clearly, this is a post that I’ve been having some trouble writing. It’s not difficult to find admirable qualities in Wayland, but by the same token, it’s also quite easy to find some glaring faults.
Obviously, I admire Wayland’s skill in crafting, and his devotion to the development of his art. He sets an example of practice, practice, practice. He makes 700 rings for his wife–just how much did he expand his knowledge of his craft through that project? For me in particular this is an important reminder that skill is not perfected with a single project. I’m cursed with fantastic beginner’s luck–the first time I try just about any new craft, the results are pretty darned good. But that second project…yeah, not so much! The trick is to move past the failures of those second, third, and even fourth pieces to build and refine my skills until they are consistent and I can predict the outcome of my inspiration.
And then…there are his less savory aspects. Some have justified his acts as being in line with a different culture in a different time, that his rape of Bodvild and murder of her brothers were acceptable weregild for his maiming and imprisonment. Yet this doesn’t entirely ring true as later period sources try to soften the tale somewhat by having Wayland return to Bodvild and marry her once her father has died (I can’t even imagine how that went over). Or perhaps he was simply crazed by loss, but even that would hardly justify the severity of his revenge. I mean, seriously, “You took my (estranged) wife’s wedding ring and maimed me, so I’m going to kill your sons and rape your daughter.” Seems a little, teensy bit out of proportion.
This is where some would argue that gods are not bound by the same rules as humans, or that because they are capable of great good, they are also capable of great wrongs. I really hate this argument for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it whitewashes some pretty horrendous behaviors by “divine” beings. I suppose the explanation that lets me sleep at night is the one which rationalizes the unsavory actions of the gods as “reverse morality tales,” that these were not necessarily qualities to emulate, but warnings as to how society could break down.
I’m still not entirely satisfied with the morality tale explanation for Wayland, though. As his story stands in the Edda, we don’t know if wyrd ever came ’round for him. We’re left with an image of him flying away on wings of his own making, Bodvild distraught at her dishonor. This hardly seems just to modern eyes.
So I’m left, questioning my devotion to a god who simultaneously embodies all that I wish to become and all that repels me.
30. Any suggestions for others just starting to learn about this deity? If you are just beginning to court Wayland, always start with the primary sources. Read the Eddas, the Anglo-Saxon poems, the later Germanic sources. Get a good grounding in his extant mythology as it will help inform and filter your own gnoses as your realtionship with him develops.
The primary rule in approaching Wayland in my experience has been “Take Your Time.” While he’s not quite as slow moving as one of Tolkien’s ents, he appreciates small, consistent gestures over time. One big flashy offering is unlikely to gain his serious attention. Show him your own capacity for patience and diligence. Dedicate your crafting process to him. Share your food and drink with him as kin. These are the best ways to approach him.
The second rule: be very, very aware that while the Smith’s most public face is as a god of civilization, a Maker, there is a very primal, very dangerous current that runs underneath. I’ve had a difficult time making peace with that aspect of Wayland, the part that only wants to hurt others in retribution for what he has suffered. He destroys, not as easily as he creates, perhaps, but the proclivity towards revenge remains.
Of all the deities whom I honor, Wayland is perhaps the one to whom I feel closest. His is a very human tale, full of love, betrayal, and freedom. I have to admit that I like my gods to be fallible–their tales of woe and loss satisfy more than the perfect prism proposed by the Abrahamic monotheisms. Flaws and all, Wayland is an approachable god for most who would seek him.
Just leave a coin at the smithy.
Sadly, the end of June hit like a ton of bricks. Happily, I managed to dodge it slightly better than Wyle E. Coyote slide-stepping an anvil, and blogging was hopefully the only area of my life that suffered for it. So, without further ado…
29. Any interesting or unusual UPG to share? Interesting UPG, huh? I mean, isn’t all UPG interesting to someone? Otherwise, why bother with it? Many of the posts in this series have contained bits of UPG here and there (hopefully clearly marked to distinguish them from TEH LORZ), but here are a few other gnoses that just seem to stick in my brain.
- Wayland is clean-shaven, with white/grey hair, usually pulled back in a braid or low pony-tail. His eyes are black.
- Post-laming, he fashioned a sort of magically-infused silvery filigree to encase his legs and help him get around.
- There is some connection to the Eagles as well as the Hares (if you subscribe to the Vanic Tribe model).
- He doesn’t talk much.
- If you can travel, one of the best ways to get to know Wayland is to help him out with chores around the forge. Keep the chatter to a minimum, though. He’ll say something to you when he’s good and ready.
- Peaty Scotch is appreciated–the more it tastes like forge coals, the better!
28. Something you wish you knew about this deity but don’t currently. Like a lot of archaeologists, I suspect, I wish I knew what the ancient Anglo-Saxons thought and felt–I want to know the people behind the material remains. By extension, I wish I knew just how Wayland was honored, if at all, in his native cultures. Was he someone invoked in passing as the village smith began shoeing a neighbor’s horse? Was there a more established cultus with a permanent temple area similar to those found in Greece and Rome? Were there priests of Wayland, or was he more of an ancestor invoked by the common folk to tame their fires and aid their crafts? There is so much lost to the past. Even our best guesses are likely to be miles removed from the motivations of an ancient people.
I also wish I knew what happened to Wayland after he escaped, Daedalus-like, on wings of birds slain by his brother. Did he, as some later stories claim, come back for Bodvild and her child? Did he abandon them? Did he return to his home on the shores of the lake to craft another 700 rings as he waited for Hervor? Or did he fly to his swan wife on wings of his own making, to reunite with her at last?
Perhaps all these things are true. Or perhaps none of them. I just wish I knew.