Books, Prehistory, Journal of the British Archaeological Association Volume 16 1860 Wayland Smith

Journal of the British Archaeological Association Volume 16 1860 Wayland Smith is in Journal of the British Archaeological Association Volume 16 1860.

On The Legendary History Of Wayland Smith [Map] by Thom. Wright (age 49), Esq., M.A., F.S.A., Etc.

On the western limits of this county, in an interesting district which borders on Wiltshire, a county so celebrated for its early barrows and earthworks, there is, in the parish of Ashbury, a monument which has obtained more individual celebrity than most similar remains. It has suffered great dilapidation, but enough remains to show that it has consisted of a rather long rectangular inclosure, with two lateral chambers, formed by upright stones, roofed with large slabs, and the whole was probably once covered with a mound of earth. There can be no doubt, indeed, of the sepulchral character of this monument, and it belongs to that class which are commonly called Celtic; but it is not my intention, on the present occasion, to inquire how far this denomination may be correct. It is in another point of view that I claim your attention to it — its connection with the remotest traditions of our race, I mean of the Anglo-Saxons.

It was the local popular tradition, known to have existed during several ages, that these chambers, or, as the peasantry denominated the monument, this cave, were inhabited by an invisible smith ; and it was believed, that if the horse of a traveller passing that way happened to cast a shoe, he had only to take the animal to this "cave," and, having placed a groat on the capstone, withdraw to a distance from which he could not see what was going on ; on his return, he would find that the horse had been well shoed during his absence, and that the money had been taken away. The invisible workman was called by the peasantry Wayland Smith; and the monument of which I have been speaking has been known from time immemorial as Wayland Smith's cave.

It is a curious — and in this instance an important — circumstance, that this Berkshire monument happened, in Anglo-Saxon times, to lie upon the line of boundary of an estate, and that on this account it is mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon charter of the land, made long before the time of time of the Norman conquest. It is there called Welandes smi[Saxon Letters]e, which means literally Weland's Smithy, or Weland's Forge ; and there cannot be the slightest doubt that the modern name of Wayland Smith is a mere vulgar corruption of this Saxon name. We thus find that this identical monument has continued to bear the same mysterious name since the Anglo-Saxon period — we trace it by written documents nearly a thousand years, and it had borne the same name probably during a much longer period, namely, from the earlier ages of the Anglo-Saxon occupation of this island, and we discover also that that name belonged to one of the most ancient mythic legends of the Teutonic race. Such legends were located extensively throughout Saxon England, but this is almost a unique case in which we can trace the connexion directly without having recourse to conjecture. There is another circumstance in which this early occurrence of the name is interesting. I have said that, like all similar monuments, this "cave" was, no doubt, originally covered with a mound of earth. It is evident that, at the time of this Anglo-Saxon charter, and indeed at the moment when the name was first given to it, the mound must have been already cleared away, and the traces of sepulchral interment so far removed that the Saxons could not take it for a grave, or they would hardly have called it a smith's shop. It would thus appear that many of our "cromlechs" may have been uncovered at a much earlier date than we suppose — perhaps in the later Eoman period, or in the period of transition between Roman and Anglo-Saxon.

But to return to our more immediate subject, the legend, it will perhaps be not uninteresting to many of you if I tell you briefly Weland's story. This story is found in its earliest form, but briefly and imperfectly, in one of the songs of the elder Edda, composed about the end of the eleventh century, but compiled no doubt from the popular Scandinavian songs of a much earlier date. In a considerably Later composition in the northern literature, this story is dilated, and has received additions which probably do not belong to the older story, but the latter is in some parts explained and completed by it. It is from this latter compilation that we derive the history of Weland's parentage

There was, we are told, a king in Sweden named Wilkin. who, in one of his expeditions formed a connection with a sea-woman — in fact, with one of the spirits of the sea, the result of which was a son named Wade, who was a giant, one of the Alfs, or supernatural personages of the ancient creed. Wade, who lived in Iceland, had three sons, named Slagfid, Egill, and Vselund. The father entrusted his son, Vselund, to the dwarfs in the mountains, in order that they might impart to him their wonderful skill in forging metals, and in making weapons and jewellery. We now take up the story from the Edda. In the course of their hunting expeditions, as they pursued their game on skates, the three brothers came to Ulfdal, where they took up their abode not fiir from a lake called Ulfsiar. One morning they found on the bank of the lake three Yalkyrier, who I need not tell you were also supernatural beings — sitting together and spinning, with their alf-garments lying beside them. They were kino's daughters, two being sisters, and their names were Bfladguth Svanhvite, or white as the swan; Hervoer Alvite, or all-knowing ; and Alrun, which latter name may perhaps be interpreted All-learned. The three brothers liked the damsels, took them home with them, and made them their wives, Egill taking Alrun, Slagfid Svanhvite, and Vselund Alvite. During eight winters the Valkyries remained with their husbands, but on the ninth year their desire to return to their old habits of hovering over battlefields overcame their other feelings, and they flew away, to return no more.

When the brothers returned from the chase and found their huts empty, two of them, Egill and Slagfid, immediately went off in search of their wives, but Vselund remained alone in Ulfdal, and employed himself in his forge, making rings of gold, which he strung upon a twig of willow to keep them together, waiting patiently his wife's return. There lived at this time a king of Sweden named Niduth, who had two sons and a daughter named Baudvild. Nidnth heard that Vselund was alone in Ulfdal, and he set off secretly one night with a troop of his armed followers, and visited the hut of the skilful smith, while he was absent in the chase. They entered, and saw his rings and other works, and Niduth took the rings off the twig, and then restored them all except one, which he carried away and gave to his daughter Baudvild, When Vselund returned, he made a fire to roast a piece of bear's flesh for his supper, and when the flames rose and gave light to his chamber, he saw the rings, counted them, and perceived that one was missing: lair he thought that his wife, for whom it was intended, had returned during his absence and taken it, and he laid him down to sleep. When Vaelund awoke in the morning, he found himself securely bound hand and ft and Niduth and his men standing over him. They carried him to Niduth's palace, where, at the suggestion of the queen, they ham-stringed him that he might not be able to escape. and placed him in a forge in a small island called Saevar-Staud, where he was compelled to work for the king, and where all individuals except the king were forbidden to approach him under the severest penalties.

Vælund, as he worked over his anvil, brooded constantly on revenge, and an opportunity soon presented itself of carrying his vengeance into execution. The king's two sons came secretly to visit him: they were led by the desire of obtaining possession of some of the wealth which was understood to be contained in the forge, and, demanding the keys, they opened a chest which was filled with rich and beautiful jewelry. Vaelund knew their thoughts, and lie told them that all this treasure should be theirs, if they could come to him next day in perfect secrecy. Early in the morning the two princes, without the knowledge of anybody, repaired to the forge of Vaelund, who shut the door and immediately cut off their heads. He buried their bodies under the marshy ground on which his forge v. 3 built. With the skulls, plated with silver, he made drinking cups for Niduth's table: with their eyes he made fine gems. which he sent to the wicked queen: and with their teeth he made a collar of pearls which he sent to the princess Baudvild. All these different presents were received with the greatest satisfaction.

But the revenge of Vælund was not yet complete, and he waited for another victim.

Baudvild had broken the ring given her by her father, and. fearful o( his anger while she was emboldened by Vælund's present, she applied to him secretly t'> mend it. The wily smith promised to doit in such a manner that her father should never discover the accident, but he required that she should come with it secretly to his forge. She had no sooner entered it, than he made fast the door, and effected his designs upon her person.

Having thus completed his vengeance, while the princess left the scene of her dishonour in tears, Vælund made his escape in a manner which seems never to have been anticipated— he flew away. But he halted for a moment on the wall of an inclosure of the palace, where he called for the king and queen, and told them every circumstance of the murder of their sons and of their daughter's shame, adding that the latter was with child. The princess was questioned and confirmed his story, and in process of time she gave birth to a son, who also in due time became a hero of Northern and Teutonic romance. Vælund continued his flight and was heard of no more. He seems to have pursued his labours in secret places, and was believed from time to time to forge weapons, especially swords, which it was granted only to the greatest of heroes to possess.

Such is the legend of Weland. In his capacity of a supernatural maker of equally supernatural weapons, his name was popular through many centuries in the romantic and poetic literature of western Europe. The Germans spoke of him as Wieland, the Latin writers as Wielandus and Guielandus, and the French as Galand, while the English writers used the pure Anglo-Saxon form of Weland. It would be abusing your patience, without any particularly useful result, to enumerate now the various passages in which the name of Weland occurs in the medieval writers in these various languages. I will only speak of our own native literature, because the allusions to Weland we find in Anglo-Saxon are much older even than the Scandinavian mythic legend in the oldest form in which it is preserved.

It might very justly be asked, how do we know that the Weland alluded to in Anglo-Saxon writings, is the Vælund of the Scandinavian legend % We have accidentally — for all our remains of Anglo-Saxon popular literature have been preserved accidentally — a very direct answer to this question. Among the fragmentary poems in the now well known Exeter Book, there is one which has every appearance of being of very early date, and to which the editor (Mr. Thorpe) gives the title of "The Complaint of Deor the Scald" or bard. The poet, in his misfortunes, calls to mind the examples of others who had passed through disasters of various kinds, and overcome them, in order to encourage himself in bearing his own with patience. The first name he quotes is that of Weland:

"Weland in himself the worm

Of exile proved;

The firm-soulcd chief

Hardship endured,

Had for his company

Sorrow and weariness,

Winter-cold exile,

Affliction often suffered,

After on him Nithhad

Constraint had laid

With a tough sinew-hand,

The unhappy man.

That he surmounted;

So may I this."

His next example is the victim of Weland's vengeance, here called Beadohild, which is the Anglo-Saxon form of the Norse Baudvildi, the daughter of king Niduth, or in Anglo-Saxon, Nithhad:

" To Beadohild was not

The death of her brothers

In thought so grievous

As her own mischance,

When she certainly

Had become conscious

That she was pregnant.

She might never

Think confidently

How it could be as to that.

That she surmounted;

So may I this."

We have here distinct references to several of the prominent circumstances of Weland's history as told in the Edda; and they not only shew that the Anglo-Saxon legend of Weland was identical with the Scandinavian legend, but they prove that in this form the legend belonged to a very remote period. The name and adventures of Weland were so familiar to the Anglo-Saxon mind, that when king Allied, in translating Boethius, came upon the line-

"Ubi nunc fidelia ossa Fabricii manent ?"

interpreting the name Fabricius by deriving it from faber, a smith, the name of Weland immediately presented itself to his thoughts, and he gave an Anglo-Saxon paraphrase which may be literally rendered into English, "Where are now the bones of the celebrated and wise goldsmith, Weland ?. .Where are now the bones of Weland? ... or who knows now where they were?"

But we may look much further than the middle ages for forms of this curious legend. There can be no doubt that the original myth on which it was founded, gave birth also to that of the lamed smith of the more refined mythology of Greece and Rome; called in the former Hephaistos, and in the latter Vulcan; as well as to another character of this mythology, Daedalus, which had become separated from the other character of the original mythic personage in the course of refinement. In fact, the type, or the germ, of this myth existed before the various peoples separated from the great branch of mankind to which we belong, and was carried away by each, and modified in the course of transition. As the races separated into divisions and subdivisions, each, taking these primeval legends of the race with it, believed them to be its own, located them in the country in which it settled, and gave them a nearer date. Perhaps in some primeval period, the myth of Weland may have belonged to the peoples of the Caucasus; but it belonged afterwards, at various periods, to various peoples and countries; and the Scandinavians believed that its scene was Sweden, and that it belonged to the beginning of their own historical period; while the Germans must have brought it to a still later date, and perhaps to another country, as they introduce Weland's son by the princess Beadohilcl, among the heroes at the court of Diderich of Berne, or, in more correct historical and geographical language, of Theodoric of Verona.

This process of locating legends was one of constant occurrence in the movements of races and nations; and it is important, for many reasons, that it should be well observed. It explains the legendary character of the earlier periods of our national history, and it helps us to the true interpretation of a host of local names and legends which are otherwise inexplicable. The Anglo-Saxons pursued unconsciously this practice of locating their older legends in their new country to a much greater extent than might by many be supposed; and we have evidence of this in the particular legends I have been relating to you. A local legend in Yorkshire is not yet forgotten, according to which the giant Wade — Weland's grandfather, according to Scandinavian story — resided at Mulgrave castle, and made the Roman road which runs near it, and which is popularly called "Wade's Causeway." The remains of a cromlech, or rather what some would call two Druidical stones, in the immediate neighbourhood, are called "Wade's Grave." There once existed an English romance of Wade, which is alluded to by Chaucer; but it now seems to be irrecoverably lost. Other names connected with Weland's history might be pointed out in those of different localities in England, and generally in connexion with some remarkable monument of remote antiquity which exists, or has existed, there. The name of Weland himself is, as we have seen, attached to the monument which has given rise to these, I fear, too hastily drawn up remarks.

This irresistible tendency of people to carry about from country to country, and locate wherever they settled, under successive modifications, their primeval legends, may be remarked in other branches of the great stock of nations. It appears among the Greeks and Romans to quite as great an extent as among the German tribes; for we perceive, through the works of writers like Pausanias and the Scholiasts, that the original mythology of those races continued to exist among the peasantry, as in England, quite independent of and untouched by the process of refining under which what we call classical mythology was formed, and that its legends had been located in a similar manner. The discordance between the local legends and the grand system of mythology, greatly puzzled the professed writers on the subject, and led them into various theories, one of the most common of which was that of supposing a number of mythic personages of the same name. Thus even Cicero, in his treatise on the Nature of the Gods, finding a Vulcan located in so many places, came to the conclusion that there was not one but many Vulcans, and he enumerates four, one of whom he seems to locate in Attica ; another, he says, lived in Egypt: a third exercised his craft at Lemnos ; and the fourth dwelt in the Vulcanian islands near Sicily. Vulcan was, as already observed, no doubt, originally the same personage as Weland, and I will conclude with a local legend relating to the last of the localities mentioned by Cicero, which has been preserved by the Greek scholiast upon Apollonius Rhodius, and which is particularly illustrative of the similarity which these localized legends take in far distant lands. "Vulcan," we are informed by this scholiast, "appears to have taken up his abode in the islands of Lipara and Strongyle;" and he adds, "it was formerly said, that whoever chose to carry there a piece of unwrought iron, and at the same time deposited the value of the labour, might, on the following morning, come and have a sword, or whatever else he desired, for it." It is the very story of our Wayland Smith's cave ; and furnishes, if it were wanting, a new proof of the extreme antiquity and of the extreme durability of such local legends in general. In the changes of society, these ancient legends have been degraded in their transitions, and it can hardly be doubted that, in the earlier ages of Anglo-Saxon rule, the Weland of Berkshire was supposed to supply swords or jewels to the warrior, and not horse-shoes to the peasant.