Smith of Smiths

 The Travelling Talesman  Comments Off on Smith of Smiths
Nov 152011

Just before writing this months Folk Tales Corner I was out putting up posters for the Underworld Journeys show in my local village of Morchard Bishop and would like to thank our blacksmiths for such a well kept notice board. There are all sorts of smiths scattered through mythology. They are oft credited with magic powers (even beyond that of keeping a notice board orderly) and they have been respected for this over many years and in many lands. Not only magically skilled with materials and artisans of the elements, but often shape changers themselves, wise men and creators. Many are said to have wit beyond the lot of normal man.

Some cultures have deities named to them: Vulcan the Roman Forge keeper; the Greek Hephaestus, God of blacksmiths, craftsmen, sculptors, metallurgists and of course, volcanos, and as well as being the God of smiths he is also smith to the gods. All very hot powerful and awesome.

For all of their importance and power they live on the fringes, on the edge of the village. Culann, the smith of Irish mythology lives so far on the edge that it takes a day to travel to him and those who do visit have to stay overnight.

In Norse mythology we meet supernatural smiths, the dwarves,whose knowledge is so great that on more than one occasion the Norse Gods go to the dwarves to get themselves out of trouble (which Loki has inevitably got them into). These dwarven smiths are so skilled that they are able to use the breath of a fish, the sound of a cats footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear and the spittle of a bird to fashion the magical chain Gliepnir, which is as thin as a silk ribbon yet far stronger than any iron chain.

It must also be mentioned that iron, which blacksmiths work so powerfully, is one of the strongest protections against magics. Iron held, thrown over a bespelled creature or used in other ways, breaks spells and charms and shows the truth, it protects against curses, it is a magic of itself, as earthy and practical as our smiths are. This is partly where the protection granted by horseshoes comes from – it’s iron giving protection to buildings against the wiles of witches, fiends and fairies.

So the magic of smiths is earthy, the dwarves all live underground and mine the earth for it’s minerals to craft, iron comes from the earth, and one of my favorite smiths, who some consider a demi-god himself, and who, like Hephaestus is a smith to the Gods now, is said to be found (and in theory still available for work), in a neolithic burial chamber at the side of the ridgeway: Wayland’s Smithy.

Wayland is sufficiently well known the he gets a name check in both the Nibelungenlied and Beowulf as the supplier of a sword and a mail shirt respectively. In his own story, Wayland also makes wonderful jewelery, getting especially fixated on arm rings (making one a day for 700 days) after his beautiful wife (and Valkyrie), Hervor leaves him. Then, to add insult to injury he is cruelly enslaved by the wicked King Nidud on whom he eventually wreaks a savage revenge before flying off on a set of home made wings to set up home in Oxfordshire.

Within such stories the smiths are seldom really very good guys, they are also rarely the bad guy and often the true lesson in a smith’s story is that they should be treated with respect. Especially wise if you consider them to be magically skilled as well as talented metallurgists.

Here in Morchard we do parallel the mythological world nicely as we have our own smiths who are on the fringe of Morchard (in Frost) and though the forge may not actually be underground it can be said to be beneath Polson Hill, and clearly there’s good magic goes into Harold’s prize winning vegetables.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

The Travelling Talesman, has toured the country from Penzance to York, for feasts, festivals and fun since the early nineties with energetic and engaging re-tellings of myths, legends and folktales in gardens, tents, castles, living rooms, woodlands, pubs, restaurants, museums and a river. Knee deep.This post originally appeared on

tales which want telling

 The Travelling Talesman  Comments Off on tales which want telling
Jul 212011

It’s July, many of you will be going on holiday, whether you are sat around a camp fire, spending evenings in tavernas or relaxing on a Mediterranean beach with delicious bread and olives, wine and good company you could find the ideal space for a story. Some years ago, on tour with Pressgang in Italy I told the first half of “Jack The Cunning Thief” to the guitarist, Damian Clarke and his three sons with white sand, blue sea and an olive grove as the backdrop. I promised, as the boys were sent off to bed, that at some point I would tell them the second half of this two part story. Roll on 15 years to the eldest’s wedding night: another beach, this time in Dorset with a crackling camp fire instead of the chorus of cicadas, and this story, so long in gestation, made sure it got out and told.
Some stories just push themselves forward, they definitely want to be told, and few are so patient. Often something someone says or even just a feeling will have a story leaping forward, occasionally even pushing the legend I was intending to tell out off the way just as I step in front of an audience. These inspired tellings are often the best and most magical, moments when one feels in tune with the universal flow, or that the story has chosen to tell itself because someone needs to hear it.

In “The story not told; the song not sung” the main character is a woman who has a story and a song inside her but she does not tell her story and does not sing her song. Oppressed within her for many years and never given voice they turn against her. One afternoon as she falls asleep the story and the song decide they have had enough and make a break for it, pausing only to exact revenge for their long captivity. The story crawls out of her and on reaching the door transforms itself into a pair of muddy workmen’s boots, her song leaps out and as it flies across the room falls into the shape of a man’s jacket hanging on the back of the door. Clearly when her husband comes home and finds another man’s things making themselves at home in his house he is none too pleased. Her denial of any knowledge of the items, or any man who might be connected with them, does nothing to calm his fury and he storms off to sleep in the Temple of the Monkey God while she waits up late into the night hoping for him to return.
Now, everyone knows that the flickering lights of the candles go to stay in the temple of the Monkey God when they are put out and this night her light is late arriving, as it does so it explains to the others that it is so late because of the ructions caused by the story not told and the song not sung. The Husband, who is having trouble sleeping in the unfamiliar surroundings, hears the candle flame’s explanation and returns the next day to ask his wife’s forgiveness. He then requests that she save them both from further trouble by telling her tale and releasing her song in joy. However it is too late: they have both gone.

As famous folk singer Maddy Prior once said to Damian, when discussing the possibly sacrilegious idea of delivering traditional folk songs in a lively punk style, “The worst thing you can do to a folk song is to not sing it”. The same holds true for stories, if you have one inside you then, as any psychiatrist will tell you, repression is not a good idea. Your holidays may provide the perfect environment to let your stories get out into the air and remember, you never know what trouble they might cause if you don’t!

The Travelling Talesman, has toured the country from Penzance to York, for feasts, festivals and fun since the early nineties with energetic and engaging re-tellings of myths, legends and folktales in gardens, tents, castles, living rooms, woodlands, pubs, restaurants, museums and a river. Knee deep. He is currently taking bookings for his winter show “Underworld Journeys”
This post originally appeared at