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 http://thetravellingtalesman.wordpress.com/