Or Weland, Wieland or Volund. So I probably should have gone with “Volund” yesterday, and found something else for today. *sigh*
So, Wayland — however you want to spell his name — was a god and a blacksmith. I’m going with the Anglo-Saxon name, but his story doesn’t actually differ from the Norse or Teutonic versions…except that in some of those there are Valkyries. You may have heard of some of the things Wayland created: he made Beowulf’s chainmail, the swords Gram, Balmung and Durandal, and it was claimed that he built all those stone circles and ancient barrows in England, as well as the chalk figures on the hills in the southern part of the country.
Wayland’s tale begins when he and his brothers encounter some swan maidens, and decide to settle down with them. (This is where the Valkyries are in some of the Norse versions, needless to say.) It goes great for a while, but then the swan maidens leave. None of my sources say why, but if they were swan maidens, maybe they just found their wings/flying robes/whatevers and flew off again, as swan maidens usually do.
In any case, Wayland and his brothers want to find their brides again, and they all set out to search for them, but they’d never seen any movies (well, obviously) and so they split up.
On his journey, Wayland fell in with a king called Niðung, Niðhad, or Nidud. I’m going with the latter, because it doesn’t involve copy-pasting the Old English letter which I think is called a “thorn”? Well, whatever it’s called, it’s easier to use the spelling that doesn’t involve it, so that’s the one I’m going with. (Yup, I’m getting lazy…)
Now, what happened between Wayland and Nidud is pretty complicated, but the bare bones of it is that Nidud began to suspect that Wayland wasn’t an ordinary man, but the divine blacksmith, and he set a few traps to prove it. But that was just because Nidud wanted to know who his guest smith was, and it didn’t affect things one way or the other. But then Wayland — apparently over his lost swan maiden — decided he wanted to marry Nidud’s daughter. After killing a rival for her hand, Wayland was banished, but that didn’t stop him, and he came back in disguise and tried to give her a love potion. But that failed, and his identity was revealed.
Well, now Nidud was pretty ticked off, and he ordered Wayland to have the sinews cut from his legs (or perhaps just to have them cut) and imprisoned him, forcing him to forge whatever the king wanted. Unsurprisingly, Wayland wasn’t too happy about that, and despite that it was actually his own fault, he wanted revenge.
Rather than take revenge on Nidud directly, Wayland decided to take revenge through his children. He managed to have his way with Nidud’s daughter after all — one of my sources called it rape, the other seduction, so I’m not sure which it was, but likely the former — and got her pregnant. But that’s nothing compared to what he did to Nidud’s sons: he killed them, and turns their skulls into jeweled drinking glasses, and jewelry from their eyes and teeth, sending the glasses to their father and the jewelry to their mother and sister.
About this time, Wayland’s brother Egil and his son arrived at Nidud’s court, and Nidud ordered Egil to shoot an apple off the top of his son’s head. (My source doesn’t say what they’re doing there, or why Nidud gave him that order…but I’d imagine the latter was his attempt to get some return vengeance on Wayland. That is, I believe, what they call a “vicious cycle.”)
Egil gets out two arrows, and the first one successfully hits the apple. When Nidud asks what the second was for, Egil explains that if he had missed and killed his son, he was going to use the other arrow to kill Nidud. The king is actually impressed by his honesty, and accepts Egil to his court. (So maybe he doesn’t know Egil is Wayland’s brother, and the thing with the apple was just a test? I need to actually read the sagas instead of three or four inadequate summaries. If only I was made of time…)
Anyway, to help Wayland escape, Egil shoots a lot of birds, and brings their feathers to Wayland, who uses them to make wings for himself. Before he takes off into the sky, he ties a bladder full of blood to his waist. When Nidud sees Wayland flying away, he orders Egil to shoot him. Egil hits the bladder, and the blood rains down, convincing Nidud that Wayland is dead, or at least badly injured and sure to die. Thus Nidud makes no further attempts to retrieve the escaping smith, and Wayland is finally able to escape back to the realm of the gods, where he was subsequently mocked for having been so abused by a mortal.
So there are a lot of similarities to other things here, though most of it’s also European, and thus there’s likely cross-pollination (as it were) of the stories. But regardless of that…
I’ve already talked about swan maidens, so I won’t go into that again. A lot of what I omitted in talking about the tests Nidud put Wayland through, and the stuff with Wayland’s attempts on Nidud’s daughter felt very similar to Arthurian tales and other Medieval tales of chivalry. (And yes, I mean actual Medieval tales, not things set in the Middle Ages. Though I was just looking at a summary, I was reminded of the works of Marie de France and Chrétien de Troyes. And those I have read, albeit quite some time ago, particularly in Marie’s case. It was more Chrétien’s work that I was reminded of anyway, and it’s only been about five years since I read that.)
As to the bit with Wayland’s sinews…some of my sources said they were simply cut, but one said they were outright removed, which happened several times in Greek myths. In any case, he ends up hobbling around and crippled, much like Hephaistos, which is pretty much the first comparison everyone seems to make, period. There are other similarities as well — he’s mocked by the other gods, and the people seem to have largely looked on him as a friendly and helpful type of god — but there are also distinct differences, particularly where revenge is concerned. Hephaistos would never have done anything so vicious. (Then again, I’ve talked about the obvious differences in the cultures of the Greeks and the Vikings before…)
I’m sure everyone reading this already thought “William Tell” when they got to the story about Egil and his son, without me needing to say anything about it. But I will just say that it turns out that was a moderately common type of story in Germanic lands, having a number of other versions as well. (Ack, I hope that doesn’t mean that at some point in the distant past that was actually employed as a punishment or some kind of terrifying variant of the “trial by combat.” Surely that can’t be what it means, and it just means that it was such a cool story that everyone kept repeating it with little variations until it became about totally different people. Right?)
Of course, the story of Wayland building himself wings to fly away is obviously very much like Daidalos doing the same thing, though Wayland didn’t have a son (with him) to suffer the fate of Icaros. With the added difference that Daidalos did nothing to convince Minos that he was dead, and thus Minos eventually tracked him down, trying to get him back.
Okay, and with that, I declare this post ended, and April A-to-Z nearly complete! Yay! Just a few more days to go, and I’ll have finished this sucker successfully! Well, basically successfully. I mean, I’m meeting the official qualification of “success,” but there’ve been a lot of posts I wasn’t entirely pleased with. The A-to-Z recap is supposed to be on the 9th of May this time, and it’s probably gonna take me that long just to write the post, ’cause I have so much to say about everything that went wrong this time around.
Anyway, before I go, I just wanted to let everyone know about something I only recently found out about. It turns out that April 30th is Independent Bookstore Day, so if you like to read (and if you made it through a post this long, you must like to read!) then go to your local independent bookstore on Saturday and show your support! I’m definitely going to mine — though the question is if I’m going in the morning, or if I’m going after work, depending on if work gets cancelled due to ballgame. (According to the website, it’s only an event in the US, but there’s nothing stopping non-US residents from sharing the spirit and going to their local indie bookstores on Saturday. There just won’t be any special events going on within the store.)