Earlier this year, archaeologists in Sweden discovered a fine bronze piece depicting Wayland the Smith wearing his cloak of feathers and flying. The archaeologists believe that the piece was a mounting on a small box, though there are any number of ways it might have been used in the 7th to 10th Centuries (to take the extremes of when it may have been made).
Wayland, was also known as Wieland or Volland or any number of similar names which may ultimately derive from Vulcan. Like Vulcan, Wayland was a smith and inventor who fabricated fine objects and magical things, such as the sword Gram, that Sigurd used to kill Fafnir the dragon. Wayland was apprenticed to Mimir, the evil dwarf that Sigurd outwits. Wayland himself is supposed to be of elvish descent. Or the child of a sea nymph, such as the one who raised Hephaestus (aka Vulcan).
Wayland and his two brothers spend time with swan maidens but these women fly away. Wayland’s brothers leave but Wayland stays on. After all, how easy is it to move a smithy? King Nidud, a Swede perhaps, captures Wayland and, to prevent his escape, hamstrings him. The notion of a lame smith is another Wayland motif that recalls Vulcan.
But Wayland is a Germanic mythic figure and his tale will be one of vengeance. Wayland invites the King’s sons to his smithy and cuts off their heads. He fashions their skulls into drinking cups and their eyes into jewels. He gives the cups to King Nidud and the jewels to the queen, mother of the murdered boys. Then, when Bodvild, the king’s daughter asks him to repair her ring, he gives her drugged beer and, when she passes out, ravishes her. Wayland’s brother, a great archer, gives him feathers from birds that he has brought down and Wayland fashions a cloak, a flying suit, that will allow him to escape. He flies over the head of King Nidud and obtains a pledge that the King will never harm Wayland’s offspring. Then he reveals that the King has been drinking from his children’s skulls and the Queen wears their eyes around her neck. The final vengeance is that the King’s daughter now is pregnant with Wayland’s child — he has extinguished Nidud’s line and substituted his own!
Wayland’s story is found all through Northern European myth. He is said to have forged Beowulf’s chain mail; his story is included in the Prose Edda; Mimir and Gram are part of the Sigurd legend (though Sigurd later gives up Gram for another magic sword); and he is depicted on numerous relics of the heroic age. One of the Ardre rune stones shows Bodvild leaving Wayland’s smithy, he is flying right behind her, leaving the headless corpses of Nidud’s sons near the forge. A similar scene is on the Franks casket (below): Wayland holds a skull in his tongs on the anvil with one hand, a cup of beer in the other. Bodvild reaches for the cup, the elf-woman who supplied the drugged beer behind her. On the right, Wayland’s brother gathers feathers from birds he has brought down.
Wayland is mentioned in the early English poems, Waldere and Deor, which cites Wayland’s captivity as one of many difficulties that heroes and heroines overcome, moral fables about vanquishing misfortune.
Some say that Wayland forged Excalibur at his forge near Uffington. If you leave an unshod horse there overnight, in the morning he will be found shoed! Actually the site is much older than the myth and probably once a chambered tomb.
The Uppakra find illustrates one of Europe’s great mythic motifs, whether Wayland or Vulcan, and is a fascinating object.
(Note: several links above have been Google-lated into English. But if you have German or Swedish, as the case may be, then you can easilly de-Google.)