Weland the Smith by H. R. Ellis Davidson (1958)


WHEN King Alfred was translating Boethius from Latin into Anglo-Saxon and reached the phrase ‘the bones of the faithful Fabricius’, his mind seems to have jumped from the hero’s name to the Latin word faber, ‘smith’, and from there again to the name which for him stood for the most famous of smiths, Weland. Boethius had said that death levelled rich and poor alike, and Alfred here inserted a thought of his own:

Where are now the bones of that famous and wise goldsmith Weland? I say the wise, since from the skilful man his skill can never depart, and can no more be taken from him than the sun can be turned from its course. Where are the bones of Weland now, and who knows now where they may be? (King Alfred’s version of Boethius, De consolatione Philosophiae, ed. Sedgefield, Oxford, I899, XIX, p. 46)

It is as though Alfred were apologizing for using the word ‘wise’ of Weland. He was probably thinking of the smith in captivity, deprived of freedom and the power to walk but not of his skill, and perhaps he felt that Weland’s terrible vengeance was not that of a wise hero in the Christian sense, nor such as would have pleased Boethius. But why should a reference to the grave bring Weland’s bones to his mind? It is to this question that I shall attempt to find an answer.


There are two sets of traditions about Weland the Smith which go back to the Anglo-Saxon period. The first is the literary tradition. It is the story of a smith of outstanding skill who was captured by a king, lamed, and set to work for his captor. He avenged himself by enticing the king’s two young sons to his workshop, killing them and making cups and ornaments from their skulls which he sent to  their parents. Then when the king’s daughter brought him a gold ring to mend – his own ring which had been taken from him – he drugged and violated her. Then he escaped by magic means through the air, taunting the king as he flew away. This savage tale of a cruel revenge for cruel wrongs is told at some length – though not altogether clearly – in an Old Norse poem in the Poetic Edda, Völundarkviða, written down in the thirteenth century. The Anglo Saxons knew it before A.D. 1ooo, for the poem Deor, written down about that date in the Exeter Book, alludes to Weland’s captivity, to the death of the princes, and to the sufferings of the princess when she knew she was with child. The name of the son born after Weland’s escape was Widia, mentioned along with his grandfather, King Nithad, and Weland in a fragment of another Anglo-Saxon poem, Waldere.1

The filling of the gaps in this story gives rise to various problems which I shall not discuss here.2 One additional source of evidence must however be mentioned, since it dates the story back to eighth century Northumbria. This is a scene on the Franks Casket, a carved box of whalebone now in the British Museum, which is generally agreed to illustrate the story of Weland’s revenge. A smith is shown beside his anvil, with one bent leg which may denote his lameness, handing a cup to a woman; there seems to be a human head in the tongs and a headless body below the anvil.3 Other attempts to see scenes from the Weland story on carved stones of the Anglo-Saxon period at Leeds are however less convincing.4

Left panel of Franks Casket.

The second tradition associated with the name of Weland is the folk tradition of an invisible smith haunting a stone burial chamber (originally covered by a long barrow) on the Ridgeway in Berkshire near the White Horse. This was recorded by Francis Wise in 1738:

All the account which the country people are able to give of it is ‘At this place lived formerly an invisible Smith, and if a traveller’s Horse had lost a Shoe upon the road, he had no more to do than to bring the Horse to this place with a piece of money, and leaving both there for some little time, he might come again and find the money gone, but the Horse new shod.’ (Letter to Dr Mead concerning Antiquities in Berkshire, Oxford, 1738, p. 37)

The stone tomb is usually called ‘Wayland’s Smithy’, but Wise and other early writers call it simply ‘Wayland Smith’. The idea of an invisible smith is by no means an isolated one, nor is it wholly fanciful, as Hamilton Grierson has shown in The Silent Trade (Edinburgh, 1903). Here he gives evidence from many parts of the world to show that various groups of people have been accustomed to leave money or goods at a certain place and later to collect other objects in exchange, without a glimpse of the men who supplied them. It is usually shy and fairly primitive tribes who do business in this way with those on their borders, but it is interesting to speculate whether such a custom ever grew up between Romano Britons and invading Saxons. It is hard to see however how such practices could wholly account for the many traditions about an invisible smith which A. H. Krappe has collected from North Germany, Belgium and Denmark.5 The smith is known by such names as the Grinkenschmied, or ‘The Hillman’; sometimes he is a dwarf, a troll or a headless man, and his smithy is said to be in a mound, a hill, a cave or occasionally under water. The earliest instance of such a local tradition, pointed out by many scholars from Price onwards,6 is one concerning Vulcan in the Lipari Islands, where he was said to have his chief dwelling place; here a piece of unwrought iron might be left with a fee, and next day a sword or whatever else was desired would be found in its place. This tradition is said to come from the lost work of Pytheas, who lived in the fourth century B.C., and is quoted by the Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius (ed. Merkel, IV, 761).

Wayland's Smithy
Wayland’s Smithy is a Neolithic long barrow and chamber tomb site located near the Uffington White Horse and Uffington Castle, at Ashbury in the English county of Oxfordshire.

When Weland’s Smithy was excavated in 1921, two iron currency bars of Iron Age date were found buried inside the chamber,7  and it has been suggested that some cult was connected with the place before the Romans came, and that this was an offering. Cer tainly the association with Weland proved long-lasting. Akerman recorded it in 1847 (Archaeologia, XXXII, 1847, p. 313); Thurnam in 1853 heard the story of the invisible smith ‘laughingly told’ by the villagers,8 and both tell another tale of how Weland hurled a huge stone at a loitering assistant about a mile away, and the boy sat down and cried at ‘Snivelling Corner’. In 1929 d’Almaine heard the same tales from an old woman of eighty.9 It may be noted that the tale of the assistant is not found in any of the sources given by Krappe.

Thurman (p. 329) quotes a poem composed at the end of the eighteenth century by Job Cork, a shepherd of Uffington who died in I807; this adds another piece of information about the smith:

… At last he was found out, they say,

He blew up the place and vlod away.

To Devonshire he then did go,

Full of sorrow, grief and woe.

This story seems to have been the one known to Sir Walter Scott, for he has rationalized it in Kenilworth, turning the smith into one Lancelot Wayland, an alchemist’s assistant who set up in business in his master’s underground laboratory on White Horse Hill, until his hiding-place was blown up with gunpowder. As Kenilworth was not published until 1821 however it could hardly have influenced Cork. Scott also knew that Wayland had an assistant called Flibbertigibbet or Hobgoblin.

The tradition that Weland fled to Devonshire prompts the question whether there were other sites associated with his name in Southern England. There seems to have been one in Somerset, in Shervage Wood below Danesborough, where there was a ‘Wayland’s Pond’, a confused tale of a smith who once shod the Devil’s horse, and a legend of a dragon also living in the wood.10 Outside England Maurus gives several places in Denmark called after Weland;11 his smithy was said to be on a rocky island near Alletop, and there were other places where he or his son Widerick (Widia) were said to be buried. Grimm gives several examples of places called after Weland from German medieval documents, such as Welantes gruoba (Weland’s pit) and Wielandes brunne (Weland’s spring).12 The burial place on the Ridgeway was evidently associated with Weland in Anglo-Saxon times, since it is referred to as Welandes smiððe in a Berkshire charter of A.D. 855.13 The first writer to connect the Berkshire Wayland with Weland the Smith seems to have been Depping in the New Monthly Magazine of 1822 (IV, p. 527),14 but Scott seems not to have seen this. Possibly other names from the Weland story were associated with burial places near White Horse Hill, for those of Beahhild (?Beaduhild) and Hwittuc (?Widia) have been pointed out in charters of Anglo Saxon date.15 Binz also gives a reference to Welandes stocc from an addition to an early tenth-century charter from Buckinghamshire, near Princes Risborough.16


A link between the two Welands is offered by Thiðriks Saga,17 written down in Norway in the thirteenth century, but containing much German as well as Scandinavian material. Here Velent (Weland) is the son of Vaði (Wada) and the father of Wittich (Widia). Wada or Wade in particular is an interesting figure. He is no smith, but appears as a giant whose connections are with the sea. His father is King Vilcinus, and his mother a woman whom the king met in a forest, but who later appeared to him out of the sea  and was powerful enough to seize and hold fast his ship. She told Vilcinus she would bear him a child, and after Wade’s birth ‘no man knew what became of her hereafter’.

We hear of her again however in a medieval German poem, Rabenschlacht (ed. Martin, Deutsches Heldenbuch). Here Wittich (Widia), Weland’s son, is pursued by Dietrich because he has killed Dietrich’s young brother. The poem tells how he fled to the sea, and there a ‘sea-woman’, Vrou Walchilt, who is called his ancestress, seized hold of him and his horse and bore them down with her into the water:

She took the mighty hero and brought him away with her together with his horse; she saved that most valiant man. Then she took him down with her to the bottom of the sea. (Rabenschlacht, 965-70)

There is some memory of this in Swedish tradition, since in one Old Swedish version of Thiðriks Saga18 it is said that a sea-woman, Wittich’s father’s father’s mother, took him away with her to Seelund, ‘where he remained for a long time’. Chambers thought the connection between Wade and Weland was a late one,’19 but on the other hand Schneider accepted this traditional genealogy – Widia son of Weland son of Wade son of Wachilt the sea-woman – as one likely to go back to early Germanic sources.20 Indeed it seems reasonable to accept Wade as the son of a sea-giantess, since as Chambers himself shows, he is consistently linked with the sea, and at the same time the link between this giantess and Wade’s grandson Widia, son of Weland, is a firm and independent one.

It is perhaps significant that Wade like Weland is established in English folk tradition as a giant, a supernatural being connected with stone ruins. Leland, writing in 1745, stated that at Mulgrave in Yorkshire there were

… certen Stones communely caullid Waddes Grave, whom the People there say to have bene a Gigant and owner of Mougreve. (Itinerary, znd. ed., edited Hearne, I, p. 60)

Charlton in his History of Whitby (York 1779, p. 40) reported that  the country people have ‘a huge bone which they affirm to be one of the ribs of Bell Wade’s cow’, and which he thought might have come from a whale. The story was that since Wade’s wife had to go so far over the moors to milk the cow, Wade built her the road known as ‘Wade’s Causey’ (the old Roman road from Dunsley to York). She carried the stones in her apron, and those which she dropped might still be seen.21 Another story was that Wade and his wife built the two castles at Mulgrave and Pickering, sharing one hammer between them and hurling it from one to the other when required over the intervening twenty-two miles.22 Binz and Michel23 collected other placenames which may have been based on that of the giant, of which Wade’s Gap on the Roman Wall is worth noticing, and also various mills and bridges mentioned by Michel in widely separated parts of the country; Scott too alludes to a tradition that Wade had a castle up by the Wall.24

Wade was long remembered in medieval England,25 and among the references to him is one published by M. R. James (Athenaeum 3565, 22 February, 1896), which he found embedded in a thirteenth century Latin sermon under the heading: Ita quod dicere possunt cum Wade:

Summe sende ylues

and sume sende nadderes:

summe sende nikeres

the bi den watere wunien.

Nister wan nenne bute Ildebrand onne.

The point of the quotation in its context seems to be that after Adam’s fall he and all other men were imperfect, and only part men; thus they might be compared to the elves, serpents and water monsters of which Wade speaks in this poem, declaring that Hildebrand was the only man among them.26 It may be remarked that  both elves and serpents are associated with Weland also. In Völundarkviða he is called ‘leader of elves’ and ‘of the race of elves’, and he is remembered as an ‘elvish smith’ (though the name is incorrect) in Layamon’s Brut (ed. Madden, 1847, II, 463). His connection with serpents has never been explained: in Thiðriks Saga (139, p. 137) he gives Widia a helmet with ‘the serpent called Slangi’ on it;27 and in a French folktale, Pieds d’Or,28 clearly based on the story of Weland, the smith in captivity is visited by his captor’s daughter, the Queen of the Vipers, in serpent form. There is thus probably some special significance in the opening line of Deor: Weland among serpents (?be wurman) endured hardships.29

The mention of nikeres (O.E. niceras), water-monsters, is in keeping with Wade’s other connections with the sea. In Thiðriks Saga he wades over the deep Groenasund with his little son Weland on his shoulder (85, p. 75); and in the O.H.G. epic Kudrun, where he appears as an old and valiant knight, he is said more than once to be familiar with the ways of the sea and with ships (836, 1127 f. 1183); he is also said, incidentally, to have learned his skill in healing from a ‘wild woman’, (529) which recalls the Wachilt traditions. His boat was known to Chaucer, and Speght in the sixteenth century had heard it called Guingelot.30 Chaucer in the Merchant’s Tale (E. 1424) associates it with ‘thise olde widwes’, who, he says, ‘conne so muchel craft on Wades boot,’ suggesting perhaps that the old wives in question had the knack of turning up unexpectedly. For it seems to have been a magic boat, like that of young Siegfried in the Nibelungenlied, and memories of it are probably preserved in Walter Map’s tale of Gado (Wade), a huge grey-haired man, whose boat carried him mysteriously to Colchester against his will (De Nugis Curialium, XVII). Weland also has a peculiar underwater boat in Thiðriks Saga (91, p. 81 f.), which seems to have been made like a tree-coffin, tightly fitted together, with glass windows to keep out the water.


De Vries (op. cit. p. 179) suggests that this early example of a submarine was suggested by the descent into the sea in a glass globe in the saga of Alexander the Great. But little is said about a descent here; it is only implied by the form of the boat and the fact that the king’s men drew it up from the sea in their fishing net, and thought there must be a troll inside. It seems at least possible that here we have a clue to the nature of Wade’s boat, which could go down to the underwater realm where his mother dwelt as well as move rapidly over the water. Weland has also a second form of magic transport, his horse Skemming, swifter than a bird in flight and ‘best of all horses’ (Th. Saga, I13, p. I08; 139, p. 137). John Speirs recently emphasized the significance of boat and horse in the medieval romances, based as they are on means of conveyance to the Other World across the barriers of water and mountains.31 An interesting point in connection with this is the resemblance between the name Speght gives to Wade’s boat, Guingelot, and the horse of Sir Gawain, Gringolet, since Gawain also was a hero of Other World adventures.32 We know that Weland escaped by magic means through the air when his vengeance was accomplished, but whether it is to be assumed that he did so, like Daedalus, with artificial wings of birds’ feathers depends largely on how we interpret the picture of a man catching birds on the Franks Casket beside the Weland scene.33 It certainly seems that some method of swift travel through the air was associated with Weland from early times, but the form of the story in Thiðriks Saga may show the influence of the Greek myth, as both Schneider and De Vries think possible.

It may be noted that Weland is one of a number of supernatural smiths in Germanic legends, who seem to be of giant race. One is Albrich, maker of the famous swords Naglhringr and Ekkisax in Thiðriks Saga (28, p. 35; 175, P. 179). He appears also in the Nibelungenlied, where he dwells in a ‘hollow hill’, possesses a tarnkappe which makes the wearer invisible, and guards the Nibelung hoard; sometimes he appears to be a giant and sometimes a dwarf.34 In Old Norse tradition we have another smith, Regin, who is a strange, non-human figure, his brothers being an otter in the river and a dragon in a mound; he too is sometimes called a dwarf and sometimes a giant in the Edda poems, and his story is found on carved stones of the tenth and eleventh century in England.35 There is also Mimir, who is a smith in the medieval German poems, and in Thiðriks Saga appears as Weland’s first teacher, until his father took him away because young Siegfried was too rough with him. It seems likely that Mimir was originally the maker of the famous sword Mimming. In Old Norse poetic tradition he is a giant associated with the Other World and with the spring beneath the World Tree.36 He is presumably to be identified with the ‘Satyr of the Woods’, Mimingus, in Saxo’s Danish History (III, 70-I), from whom the hero Hotherus obtained a sword and a ring. To reach his dwelling it was necessary to make a long and difficult journey through a region of darkness and intense cold, fraught with obstacles and ‘hard for mortal man to travel’. This suggests that his dwelling was in the Land of the Dead. There are other hints of an association between these giant smiths and the dead. Regin’s brother, Fafnir the dragon, inhabits a stone burial chamber in a mound, like that of the dragon in Beowulf, and Aldrich’s hollow hill appears to be a burial mound. Thus it is less surprising to find Weland’s Smithy within an ancient tomb. In the Icelandic Sagas there are many tales of breaking into burial mounds to win treasure. Usually the draugr, the dead man within the mound, remains quiet until the intruder is leaving and then springs up and attacks him. But in the story of an entry into  Thrain’s mound in the late Hrómundar Saga,37 the pattern is different. Hromund and his comrades break into the mound and look into the burial chamber inside through a window:

They saw that a huge fiend (dólgr) was seated on a chair; he was black and huge and clad in gold that glittered. He was roaring loudly and blowing a fire. (Hrómundar saga Gripssonar, IV)

Although this is a late source, the fact that the black figure blowing a fire strongly suggests a smith is worth noting.

Wayland (Bronze Viking Artifact)
Bronze Viking artifact depicting Wayland the Smith wearing his cloak of feathers and flying.

In two stories of a descent into the home of giants, this time beneath the water, a fire is again mentioned. In Beowulf the hero dives into the waters of a haunted lake in pursuit of Grendel’s mother. The suggestion that this lake is a gateway to the Other World is strengthened by the close verbal resemblance between the description of it in the poem and that of the region where wicked souls are tormented after death in a tenth-century Anglo-Saxon sermon in the Blickling Homilies.38 In both cases frost-covered trees hang down from grey rocks above the water, and strange sea creatures haunt the lake. Moreover when Beowulf dived under the waves the impression given is that his journey to the hall of the giants was a long one; not until late in the day, we are told, did he reach the bottom, when he was seized by Grendel’s mother, the ‘she-wolf of the mere’, and carried into a hall where he could see a fire burning (I495-I517). The terrible struggle with the giantess ended when Beowulf managed to pull down an ancient sword from the wall, for this was the only weapon with which she could be slain; with it he killed her and also cut off the head of Grendel, whom he found lying dead in the hall.

Again in the Saga of Grettir the Strong (LXVI)39 the hero dived under water to reach a hall inhabited by a giant and giantess this time said to be behind a waterfall. The relationship of this story with that in Beowulf has provided much material for argument, for the problem is complex.40 When Grettir came out of the water into the cave, he found a giant sitting by a fire. The struggle with him is not described in detail, but there is again mention of a sword hanging in the cave.

These powerful giantesses who dwell under the waves may be compared with Wachilt, who carried Widia under the sea. They are associated with fire and weapons; the sword which Beowulf found in the underwater realm was of wonderful and beautiful workmanship. Another famous sword which came from beneath the water was Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, which appears to have come from the abode of the Lady of the Lake, Morgan ‘the goddess’. At his death he gave orders for it to be thrown into the lake, and a hand came up through the water to receive it. This story first appears in the thirteenth-century Mort Artu and later in Malory’s Morte d’Athur (XXI, 5), but R. S. Loomis believes it to be an echo of much earlier Celtic tradition.41 Geoffrey of Monmouth (Hist. Regum Brit., IX, 4) tells us it was forged in Avalon, and it was to Avalon that the king was said to be carried in a boat when he lay dying. Loomis finds a parallel to the casting away of Excalibur in some versions of the Chanson de Roland, where the dying hero throws Durandel into a whirlpool or a marsh to prevent it coming into enemy hands.42

Behind the figure of Weland the Smith it seems possible then to discern a race of supernatural beings thought of in general as giants (but related also to dwarves and elves), who are both male and female, who live in families, who are skilled at the making of weapons and at stone-building, and whose dwellings may be reached by a descent into the earth or under the water. Wade and  Weland are associated with certain places in England, and possibly Grendel also.43 The local traditions of giants who dwell in mounds, caves or stone tombs are of great interest, and Sir Gawain’s Green Knight should perhaps now be added to the list. Mr Elliott claims to have identified his chapel with a cave near Leek in Staffordshire, which had a forge close by, explaining the noise of the whirring grindstone which greeted Gawain on his arrival there.”44

In Anglo-Saxon poetry the term ‘work of Weland’ is used of weapons or armour of outstanding quality. The sword Mimming is so described in Waldere, and this sword is consistently attributed to Weland, but the phrase is used also more widely, as in the reference to Beowulf’s mailcoat (Beowulf 454-5) and another mail coat mentioned in the tenth-century Latin poem Waltharius as Wielandia fabricia (965). Maurus, Binz and Wilson45 have shown that this ascription of valuable weapons to Weland continued in the literature of several countries of North-West Europe throughout the Middle Ages. In Horn Childe, for instance, the princess gives Horn a sword said to be made by Weland and to be the equal of Mimming; in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini there is an allusion to a goblet made by Guielandus (Weland) in urbe Sigeni (1233 f.); one manuscript of Adémar’s Chronicle (Bib. Nat. MS, lat. 5926) gives William Sectorferri a sword Durissimus, forged by Walander the Smith (III, 28); while in the Chansons de Geste there are several references to swords de laforge Galant (Weland).46

But commoner than the phrase ‘work of Weland’ in Anglo Saxon poetry is the phrase ‘work of giants’ or ‘of giant workman ship’. The sword and hilt found under the lake are so described in Beowulf (1558, 1562, 1679), but so also are weapons in a more realistic setting. The sword of Eofor is called ealdsweord eotonisc (2978), while in the same passage the Swedish king has a helmet ‘made by giants’ (entisc). Olrik suggested that phrases like enta geweorc, ‘work of giants’ referred to the Antes or Anti, a tribe in the Caucasus about the fourth century A.D. famed for their weapons;  Klaeber on the other hand believed the reference was to the giants in the Book of Genesis who lived before the Flood.47 But the phrase enta geweorc is used several times in Anglo-Saxon poetry to describe impressive works of stone. In Beowulf it refers to the stone burial chamber inside the dragon’s mound (2717), and in The Wanderer (87) and The Ruin (2) to ruined buildings, presumably remains in stone from the Roman period.48 In Andreas the same phrase is used of stone columns (1492) and of a stone road (1234). In all these cases, reference to the Anti or to Biblical giants seems unlikely. But in the light of traditions about Weland and Wade, who are associated with ruins, with a stone burial chamber and with a Roman road, it does not seem unreasonable to find such things as well as weapons and armour called the work of giants.

The idea of powerful supernatural beings who are skilled smiths and builders in stone, who dwell under the earth or the water and are connected with tombs and the Land of the Dead, is one not confined to North-West Europe. The Esthonians had a tradition of a great sword forged beneath a mountain in the middle of the earth, in the smithy of Ilmarine which was in the Land of the Dead.49 In Indian mythology the Asura, the enemies of the Gods who were powerful enough to use mountains and trees as missiles, dwelt in caves, in the depth of the Patura and in the bottom of the sea, and built forts of precious metals.50 In classical mythology Vulcan and the Cyclops laboured under Mount Ætna, and the fires of the volcanoes were his furnaces. In many ways the link between Weland and Vulcan is close, and it is perhaps significant that in a letter written at the close of the fifth century A.D. by Cassiodorus, he alludes to certain swords ‘which by their beauty might be deemed made by Vulcan’ when writing to a Teutonic king.51 But it is not possible to explain away Weland as a mere literary imitation of a classical model. The vigour of the revenge story should be sufficient to contradict this, and the persistency with which his memory has  survived. In the Heroic Age, Chadwick remarked on the difference between the tale of Weland and other stories in heroic literature:

…firstly in the fact that the hero is here clearly represented as a smith, and secondly in the cruelty, treachery and vindictiveness ascribed to the chief characters. (The Heroic Age, p. 133)

madeaswordBut although Weland is linked with the world of heroes through his son, and in Deor is apparently accepted among heroes who have known hardship, he was clearly no mortal smith. The weapons he forged were those of legend, and he is at home in the Other World, the world of the unquiet dead and of fierce struggles against hostile magic, where ordinary moral judgments are suspended. The motif of a powerful supernatural being oppressed by a foolish or arrogant king and taking summary vengeance upon him is one familiar in mythology, and Odin himself is found more than once in such a position. Other heroes beside Weland have one foot in the familiar world of heroic loyalties and another in the implacable supernatural world. The outstanding example is Sigurd the Volsung, whose story has many points of contact with Weland, and there are others from Saxo’s collection of stories, in which again cruelty, treachery and vindictiveness are common. We find Weland and his family inhabiting tombs and mountains, descending to realms under the sea, hurling great stones through the air and forging the superb weapons of legendary heroes. His place then would seem to be among those powerful beings we call giants, although they could have dealings with mortals and even mate with them. When Weland appears in both courtly heroic poetry and in local folkbeliefs, it leads us to believe that at one time men’s interest in him and his kind was both wide and deep, leaving long memories behind. King Alfred posed the question of where his bones lay, and now it becomes clearer why he did so. He may well have known the old grave on White Horse Hill, near the scene of one of his own battles, or other such sites associated with Weland, and been puzzled by the connection between a stone tomb and this most cunning of smiths. And the reply to his question would seem to be one borne out by the fact that no poet or saga-writer tells us how he died: namely that his bones never lay in any earthly grave.



  1. Deor and Waldere, edited K. Malone and F. Norman respectively, are published Methuen’s O.E. Library, 1933.
  2. E.g. that of Weland’s swan-wife in the O.N. version, and of the part played by his brother Egil. Helpful accounts are: 0. Jiriczek, Deutsche Heldensagen, Strassburg, 1922; P. Souers (see below); J. De Vries, ‘Bemerkungen zur Wie landsage’, Edda, Skalden, Saga, (Festschrift F. Genzmer, Heidelburg, 1952) P. 173 f.
  3. See G. Baldwin Brown, Arts in Early England VI (i), p. 29 f. For a detailed discussion of this scene and of the various theories about its interpretation, see P. W. Souers, ‘The Wayland Scene on the Franks Casket’, Speculum, XVIII, 1943, p. 104 f.
  4. I have discussed these in ‘Gods and Heroes in Stone’, Early Cultures of North-West Europe, Chadwick Memorial Series, Cambridge, 1950, p. 129.
  5. A. H. Krappe, ‘Zur Wielandssage’, Archiv fiir das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen (Herrig), CLVIII, 1930, p. 9 f.
  6. In his preface to T. Walton’s History of English Poetry, London, I824, p. 89.
  7. C. R. Peers and R. A. Smith, Archaeological Journal, I, I921, p. 188.
  8. J. Thurnam, ‘On Wayland’s Smithy’, Wilts. Archaeological and Nat. Hist. Magazine, VII, 1862, p. 332.
  9. H. d’Almaine, ‘Wayland the Smith’, Berks. Arch. Journal, XXXIII, 1929, p. II2.
  10. Rev. C. W. Whistler, ‘Local Traditions of the Quantocks’, Folklore, 19, 1908, pp. 35, 41 f. According to Aubrey, there was also a barrow on White Horse Hill called ‘Dragon-Hill’.
  11. P. Maurus, ‘Die Welandsage in der Literatur’, Munchener Beitrdge zur Romanischen und Englischen Philologie XXV, 1902oz, p. 25.
  12. J. Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, trans. Stallybrass, I88o, I, p. 377.
  13. Birch, Cart. Saxon. 908; Kemble, Codex Dip. 1172; discussed in detail by G. B. Grundy, ‘Berkshire Charters’, Berks. Arch. Journal, XXIX, 1925, p. 87.
  14. Published in French as ‘Veland le Forgeron’, Soc. Roy. Antiq. de France, L, p. 217 f. and as a joint work with F. Michel, Paris, 1833; this was translated back into English by S. W. Singer, Pickering, 1847.
  15. G. W. B. Huntingford, ‘Traces of Ancient Paganism in Berks.’, Berks. Arch. Journ., XXXVII, 1933, p. 21, and L. V. Grinsell, ‘Wayland’s Smithy, Beahhild’s Byrigels and Hwittuc’s Hlew’, Trans. Newbury and District Field Club, VIII, 1938-45, p. 136.
  16. G. Binz, ‘Zeugnisse zur Germ. Sage in England’, Paul and Braunes Beitrdge, XX, p. 186 f. The reference is to a charter of 903 (Birch, Cart. Sax., 603, from an addition on the back, not included in Kemble).
  17. Thiðriks Saga af Bern, ed. H. Bertelsen, Copenhagen, 1905-11, I, 36, p. 46; II, 324, p. 63 f.; 84, p. 73 f. For a break in the best MS which has to be filled from the paper MSS, see p. 44 and introduction.
  18. See Maurus, op. cit., p. 52. Also cf. Hadorph, Tva gambla svenske Rijm Kronikor, I, 2, for early chronicle which mentions the sea-woman in connection with Weland’s grandfather.
  19. R. W. Chambers, Widsith, Cambridge, 1912, p. 95.
  20. H. Schneider, Germanische Heldensage, (Pauls Grundriss der germ. Philologie, X, 1933), III, pp. 72-95.
  21. T. Hindewell, History and Antiquities of Scarborough, 2nd. ed., York, 1911, p. I9.
  22. T. Parkinson, Yorkshire Legends and Traditions, London, 1888, p. 239 f.
  23. G. Binz, op. cit.; F. Michel, Wade, ‘Lettre A M. Henri Ternaux-Compans’, London, 1837, p. 25 f.
  24. In his edition of Sir Tristram, 1804, p. lxi.
  25. G. Binz, op. cit. and R. M. Wilson, Lost Literature of Medieval England, London 1952, p. 16 f.
  26. Hildebrand appears with Widia in German sources (see Norman’s introduction to Waldere, op. Cit., p. 33)
  27. Cf. his helmet in Biterolf und Dietlieb, Limme, which might be based on O.N. linnr, ‘serpent’.
  28. J. Blade, Contes Populaires de la Gascoigne, Paris, 1886, p. 126 f.
  29. See Malone’s introduction to Deor, op. cit. One suggestion is that the ser pents are swords made in Weland’s smithy, but this is not very convincing.
  30. ‘Concerning Wade and his bote called Guingelot, as also his strange exploits in the same, because the matter is long and fabulous, I passe it over’ (Annotations to Chaucer, 1598). See Skeat’s note, Works of Chaucer, ‘Notes to the Canterbury Tales’, 1894, p. 357.
  31. In Medieval English Poetry, London, 1957, p. I81 (note).
  32. Ibid., p. 230 (note). This resemblance was pointed out by I. Gollanz, ‘Gringolet, Gawain’s Horse’, Saga-Book of the Viking Club, V, 1905-7, p. 106. Tolkien and Gordon in their edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Oxford, I925, p. 90, oppose the suggestion that the name originally belonged to Wade’s boat, since there is no early evidence for this.
  33. Since there is no other evidence for the wings earlier than Thiðriks Saga. Schneider (op. cit. III, p. 87 f.) and De Vries (op. cit., p. 185) think the man on the casket is Weland’s brother Egil (the name occurs in runes over the shooting scene elsewhere on the Casket), while Sauers (op. cit., p. 109) thinks it is one of the king’s sons. There are difficulties in both theories however. It may be noted that the man in the picture is catching birds, not shooting them, and if we are to rely on Thiðriks Saga it might alternatively refer to Weland’s method of making the sword Mimming by feeding iron filings to poultry, (discussed p. 193 below). Jiriczek, R. C. Boer in his edition of the Edda and others have preferred to think that Weland flew by the power of a magic ring, the ring which he recovered from the princess before his escape, and which was connected in some way with his swan-wife.
  34. See H. R. Ellis, ‘The Hoard of the Nibelungs’, Modern Language Review, XXXVII, 1942, P. 466 f.
  35. Ibid. p. 475. For the carvings see H. R. Ellis, ‘Sigurd in the Art of the Viking Age’, Antiquity, 1942, p. 216 f.
  36. For Mimir, Mimr, Mimi, see J. De Vries, Altgerm. Religiongeschichte (2nd. ed., Berlin, 1956), I, p. 245 f.
  37. In Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda Trans. with introduction and notes by N. Kershaw. Stories and Ballads of the Far Past, Cambridge, 1921.
  38. Blickling Homilies, LXXIX, ed. Morris, E.E.T.S., 73, I88o, p. 208. Carleton Brown (P.M.L.A., LIII, 1938, p. 905) shows that the homilies are too late to have influenced the poem, and believes they have derived material from it. The frost-covered trees, etc., are not found in any known source of the apocryphal Visio Sancti Pauli. It is possible that they have come from some lost vision, like that of the Northumbrian monk recorded by Bede (Hist. Eccles., V, z2) which included the torments of cold as well as heat. But the journey through a realm of frost and cold is found frequently in accounts of supernatural experiences which are found in a non-Christian context: in the visit to Mimingus in Saxo referred to above, for instance, and in Gawain’s journey to the Green Knight’s Chapel.
  39. Grettis Saga, ed. G. Jonsson, Islensk Fornrit, 1936. Translated G. A. Hight, Everyman, 1929.
  40. For detailed discussion, see R. W. Chambers, Beowulf, an Introduction to the Study of the Poem (2nd ed.), 1932, p. 451 f.
  41. R. S. Loomis, ‘Arthur in Avalon and the Banshee’, Vassar Medieval Studies, ed. C. F. Fiske, p. 8 f. For the significance of Excalibur as the weapon of the Other World, see J. Marx, La Legende Arthurienne et le Graal, Paris, 1952, p. 125 f.
  42. In the O.N. version in Karlamagnús saga, ed. Vilhjalmsson, I950, III, 6, 39) The emperor kept the hilt but ‘cast out the blade into a lake far from land.’
  43. Grendles mere (Grendel’s Lake) is found in a Wiltshire charter of 931 (Birch, Cart. Sax. II, p. 364; Kemble, Cod. Dipl. II, CCCLIII). See Chambers, op. cit., p. 42 f.
  44. R. W. V. Elliott, ‘Sir Gawain in Staffordshire’, The Times, 21 May, 1958, p. I2.
  45. See notes i i, 16, 25 above.
  46. E.g. Raoul de Cambrai, 489; Le Chevalerie Ogier, 1672, 9882-5; Fierabas, 638 f.
  47. F. Klaeber, ‘Altenglische Wortkundliche Randglossen’, Anglia Beiblatt, XIV, 1929, p. 21 f.
  48. See notes in Kershaw’s edition of these poems, Anglo-Saxon and Norse Poems, Cambridge, 1922, pp. 165, 177.
  49. W. F. Kirby, The Hero of Esthonia, London, 1895, I, p. xxx.
  50. V. Elwin, The Agaria, Oxford, 1942, p. 21.
  51. Epistulae Theod. Variae ed. Mommsen, Monumenta Germ. Historica, XII, v, I, p. 143. Probably written to the king of the Warni who had sent the swords to Theodoric as a gift.

Source: Folklore, Vol. 69, No. 3 (Sep., 1958), pp. 145-159

Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1258855


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