Weladu the flying blacksmith
Master blacksmith Wayland is well-known from mythology. The blacksmith who was kept captive on a small island in the sea, and escaped from it with selfmade wings. The Saxons, Anglo-Saxons, Norwegians, Icelanders, in fact, all the old Germanic peoples had their own medieval stories or artifacts relating to Wayland. Even the Franks did. All, except but one. The Frisians. But, as it turns out, Frisia holds the oldest claim of all.
Several early-medieval gold solidi with Frisian personal names of former big men on it have been preserved. These are: Audulf, Had(d)a and Skanomodu. The first name is written in Latin as AVDVLFVS and AVDVLFO, and found on several coins. The latter two names are written in Anglo-Frisian runes, respectively ᚻᚨᛞᚨ and ᛋᛣᚨᚾᛟᛗᛟᛞᚢ. The Skanomodu solidus is unprovenanced, and was part of a private collection George III (1738-1820), king of Great Britain and Ireland. The collection was donated to the British Museum in the year 1825. Read our post Porcupines bore U.S. bucks to learn more about these costly coins and who were behind the faces.
Yet another solidus is known. It is an obscure gold coin carrying the Anglo-Frisian runic inscription ᚹᛖᛚᚩᛞᚢ. The runes have been deciphered, and the name of none other than Weladu was revealed. Indeed, Wayland the Smith. The language in which Wela[n]du is written is Old Frisian (Düwel 2018). With that, it belongs to one of the oldest artifacts testifying of the Frisian language.
In contrast to linguists and rune specialists, historians proper have not paid much serious attention to this coin up to now, and therefore not much intell is available. For this reason, an APB was put out by Frisia Coast Trail on Twitter and Facebook in the month November 2019. Tips subsequently received, disclosed where the coin was being held. Scarce images of this coin were traced as well. The solidus is being kept in the Ostfriesisch Landesmuseum Emden in region Ostfriesland in the northwest of Germany. In 1948, the coin was accidentally discovered on a field near the small village of Schweindorf, also in region Ostfriesland. It is dated between 575 and 600, or between 575 and 625 (opinions differ). How this coin ended up in the field, is unknown. It might have been the result of quarrying a nearby terp, after which the fertile soil was dispersed over the land (Heinze 2022).
The coin has traces of being used as a pendant. As such, this was not an uncommon practice. Sporadically, scholars even suggest the coin might have been a bractaete, instead of being a solidus right from the start. We think originally it was a solidus, a coin. These solidi could be used as currency but had the function of prestige too, and were hoarded a lot. Not long after this solidus is dated, silver pennies or sceattas would be introduced in big numbers to facilitate the growing Frisian, supra-regional free trade. The runes are written backwards, by the way. Again, not an uncommon practice either.
1. The legend of Wayland the Smith
Who would have thought that besides the Flying ‘Dutchman’ there is yet another flying Frisian in history? Who would have thought winged Wayland is possibly a Frisian blacksmith, and that his true, native name is Weladu? Wayland was, as said, a master blacksmith. He forged the finest jewelry, swords and mail-shirts. With the aim of forced labor, Wayland was overpowered by the cruel king Niðhad (also written Nithad), king of the Njars, whilst he was asleep. The Njars are a people who lived in present-day southern Sweden. Wayland was imprisoned on a small island in the sea. Both Wayland’s hamstrings were cut, so he could not walk and escape from the island. Nor play soccer, for that matter. During his captivity, he was being forced to forge the most beautiful jewelry etc.
Wayland’s luck changed when the two sons of the king grew too confident and came to the island, and visited his smithy. Obviously, Wayland killed them. From the boys’ skulls he forged two goblets. From their eyes he forged jewels. From their teeth he forged a brooch. The goblets he gave to the king, the jewels to the queen, and the brooch to the king’s daughter Böðvildr. She is also known as Beaduhilde. To sublimate his revenge, one day he intoxicated princess Böðvildr and subsequently raped her. The princess got pregnant, of course. At last, from bird feathers Wayland made wings. To fabricate these wings, his brother Egill helped him out. With these feathers, he flew to king Niðhad. Wayland told the king all the horrible things he did to the king’s offspring. Then, like a true Daedalus, he flew off. Never to be seen or heard of again. Until 1948, near Schweindorf in Ostfriesland, when his image was found.
If you think the whole goblet-skull thing is too weird, read our post Groove is in the Hearth and shiver! Frisians hanging out with little saucers made of polished human skull around their necks.
There is much more to tell about the legend of Wayland. Like his love affair with the valkyrie Swanhilde, just before he was abducted to the island. Also, that Wayland is the creator of the magic sword named Gram, and of a magic ring. Check it out on the web. It all is interesting too.
Different written sources have been preserved, each with a slightly different version of the life of Wayland or Weladu. And, with all the different sources and cultures, Wayland’s name is written in many ways: Wēland, Welund, Weyland, Völundr, Vølund, Vǫlundr, Velent, Wieland, Wiolant and, thus, Weladu. This list probably is not comprehensive, neither are the old sources of the legends of Wayland mentioned below.
The first source to mention is the ninth or tenth-century Old English epic poem Beowulf. It recounts that Wéland is the maker of the battle-shirt, i.e. mail-shirt, warrior Beowulf was wearing. And, of which Beowulf asked it to be sent to king Hygelac, if the battle would take him. King Hygelac of the Geats, however, would die before Beowulf would. Namely, during a raid in Frisia at the lower branches of the River Rhine, in the early sixth century.
Onsend Higeláce, gif mec hild nime, beaduscrúda betst, Þæt míne bréost wereð, hrægla sélest, Þæt is Hraédlan láf, Wélandes geweorc. Gaéð á wyrd swá hío scel. (Beowulf)
Send to Hygelac, if I am taken by battle, | the best of battle-shirts, that protects my brest, | choicest of garments, that is Hrethel’s relic, | Wayland’s work. Fate takes its course.
The second source is the Old English poem The Lament of Deor, or simply Deor. It is part of the tenth-century literary collection known as the Exeter Book or as the Codex Exoniensis.
Welund him be wurman, wræces cunnade, anhydig eorl, earfoÞa dreag. Hæfde him to gesiÞÞe, sorge ond longaÞ, wintercealde wræce; wean oft onfond, siÞÞan hine, Niðhad on, nede legde, swoncre seonobende, on syllan monn. Þæs ofereode, Þisses swa mæg. (Lament of Deor)
Wayland the blade-winder, suffered woe, | that steadfast man, knew misery. | Sorrow and longing, walked beside him, | wintered in him, kept wearing him down, | after Nithad, hampered and restrained him, | lithe sinew-bonds, on the better man. | That passed over, this can too.
The third source is the thirteenth-century, Old Icelandic Völundarkviða 'Wayland poem'. The fourth source is the mid-thirteenth century Old Norse Þiðrekssaga 'Didrik saga' also written as the Thidreksaga.
Besides written sources, also medieval artifacts ‘speak’ of Wayland the Smith. One artifact is a representation of the lay of Wayland depicted on the so-called Ardre VIII image-stone dated eighth or ninth century, and found in the area of Ardre at island Gotland, Sweden. Furthermore, what is known as the Franks Casket, is another artifact testifying of the legend. It is an Anglo-Saxon whale’s bone casket dated early eighth century, and kept in the British Museum in London (see image below). On the frontside left, a scene of the legend of Wayland the Smith is depicted. Lastly, three tenth-century stone crosses depicting the legend of Wayland have been preserved in the towns of Leeds, Sherburn-in-Elmet, and Bedal. All three in the UK.
However, the oldest artefact by far is the gold solidus with the Anglo-Frisian runic inscription Wela[n]du from Schweindorf. With that, the oldest, tangible proof testifying of blacksmith Wayland, or arguably historic more correct from now on, Weladu.
2. Did Weladu forge the Wijnaldum fibula?
If you have ever seen the so-called Wijnaldum disc-on-bow brooch in the flesh in the Fries Museum in the city of Leeuwarden, you cannot help wondering how it was made and who he or she was. Such craftsmanship! Check out our post Ornaments of the Gods found in a mound of clay to learn more about this brooch. Could it possibly be Weladu was somehow historical, knowing blacksmiths were highly valued in early-medieval society? And if so, could it be he made this brooch? The profession of a smith was even protected by law. The old Frisian law text, the Lex Frisionum dated ca. 790, protected the craftsman of metal as follows:
Qui harpatorem, qui cum circulo harpare potest, in manum percusserit, componat illud quarta parte maiore compositione, quam alteri eiusdem conditionis homini. Aurfici similiter. Lex Frisionum
Who hits the hand of a harp-player, who can play harp in a circle (audience), pays with a fourth bigger fine, as with another man of the same status. Goldsmiths likewise. (Lex Frisionum)
If we take as assumptions that names on solidi were those of rulers or of ‘big men’ otherwise who ordered the production, and those men were still alive while their coins were being cast, since they normally did not authorize coinage with names of others, of competitors, than Weladu must have lived at the time this gold solidus was issued. The coin, as said, is dated between 575 and 625. A talented blacksmith, raised by the hammer, who later became a legend, perhaps? A more eatable variant of this theory is, that it was not Weladu the Smith who created this solidus, but just a (big) man who also carried the name of the legendary blacksmith (Düwel 1968). This might mean that the Germanic legend of Wayland the Smith pre-dates 575-625. Unless, the name Weladu was your average first name and had nothing to do with the legend, and therefor just coincidence.
An alternative explanation to the one where (a) Weladu produced the solidus, is that the image on the coin represents the legendary Weladu. In this scenario, the creator of the solidus wanted to depict the legend of the famous blacksmith (Oehrl 2011). The standing figure might be holding a snake in his hands. Furthermore, the figure is more or less confined in space by the fantasy Roman letters. These elements together would refer to the snake pit Weladu stayed in, according to the poem Deor. The words ‘be wurman‘ in the poem Deor might be understood as referring to snakes. A translation not without controversy among learned experts, though. But according to other scholars, this whole snake-pit construct, including the interpretation of the poem Deor, is all too far-fetched (Nedoma 1990).
We humble hikers would like to add to this discussion that this representation of Weladu is almost identical to the aforementioned gold solidus of Had(d)a found in the town of Harlingen in province Friesland. If you adhere to the somewhat complicated snake-pit theory (Beck 1980), then the Had(d)a coin depicts Weladu as well. But then why carries that coin the name Had(d)a?
Argument against the alternative scenarios as just described, is that in general the solidius fits within the early-medieval tradition of copying former solidi of the Roman Period. Secondly, the image actually does not feature any obvious ‘smithy’ elements, and this would have been the logic thing to do if you want to impress the public with depicting the legend. Why hassle with snakes and other circumstantial stuff, if one could take an anvil or wings instead, which would have been clear symbols to everyone? Like the Franks Casket. Remains, it is a traditional, though a bit sloppy, imitation of a Roman emperor. Sloppy, especially if you compare this solidus with the one found in the UK with the Frisian name of Skanomodu, also in runes.
Our conclusion? We opt for the most obvious option. It was Weladu the Smith, of course. A choice without any bias. It was Weladu a talented, Frisian blacksmith who made the coin. Who put his name on it in Frisian language, in runes, and who later became a legend. Plus, it is a coin found on Frisia territory as well.
Tradition of Klaasohm
Then there is folklore called Klaasohm (‘ohm’ meaning uncle: (Ni-)Cholas-uncle) at the Wadden Sea island Borkum in Ostfriesland (see image below). The celebration of Klaasohm has several striking parallels (in bold below) with the legend of Wayland the Smith.
Each year on December 6th, men dress up as Klaasohms. It means they are dressed in sheep skins and feathers and wings of birds. After they have scared the island and hunted for women, they even try to fly away. That is done by jumping from an elevation onto the crowd below. Schweindorf and Borkum are both in former Frisia and less than fifty kilometers apart, as the crow flies. Are the ‘Klaasohms’ therefore, in fact, representations of Weladu?
And we are still baffled by the fact that part of the famous sixth-century voyage of the Irish monk Saint Brendan, who crossed oceans and seas, passed an island of blacksmiths who, by the way, threw slag at Saint Brendan’s boat.
Let’s take a quick look at the extravagant disc-on-bow fibula found in the terp (i.e. an artificial settlement mound) of Wijnaldum in the Netherlands. It is dated ca. 625. So, there is a small time slot. A very small window, since some historians date the Schweindorf solidus between 575-600. Besides the time slot, Wijnaldum lies in former Frisia, present-day province Friesland, and is located 140 kilometers west of Schweindorf, as the crow flies. Not too far remote from each other, and both Schweindorf and Wijnaldum were part of Frisia at that time.
And, if you think we are pushing the envelope, everything starts with ‘but what if?’
3. Blacksmiths and the Devil
Blacksmiths started to fulfill a crucial role in societies once mettalization started, meaning the moment metal became an important commodity in society. The Stone Age ended in Europe around 2300 BC. From then on started the Bronze Age which lasted until about 500 BC. Then the Iron Age took over. It is from the Bronze Age that the agency of the smith became crucial. His skills to produce (durable) commodities for daily use, items for value exchange, weapons, and items for rituals and religious purposes. Also, the blacksmith was able to convert commodities and items belonging to one of these categories to one of the other categories, and back again. All by re-melting and re-forging the object. Indeed, the specific quality of metal above stone or wood. This agency gave the blacksmith a mythical, almost supernatural position, and resulted in all kind of legends like we discussed in this post.
In province Groningen in the Netherlands, people use the expression “dat mag smid waitn” (‘that is for the smith to know’) which is a variation of the Dutch expression “dat mag Joost weten” (‘that is for Joost to know’) where the name Joost represents the Devil. Thus, the blacksmith and the Devil are exchangeable. In Mid-Frisian language exists the expression “it geheim fan de smid” (‘the secret of the smith’).
In province Friesland a myth, in many variations, exists about a heathen blacksmith whose ghost haunts the many waters surrounding the village of Eernewoude. It goes as follows:
The Blacksmith of Eernewoude
Wybo was a blacksmith in the village of Eernewoude. He was a tall man, and one the last descendants of the heathen king of Frisia, King Radbod. A king also known as the Enemy of God. The mother of Wybo was heathen still. Wybo was a rough and insolent man. For one thing, he robbed widows and orphans. People whispered the blacksmith had made a pact with the Devil. The mother of Wybo was filled with hatred toward anything that had to do with Christianity.
Not far from Eernewoude lay the town of Wartna, also Warten. A town founded by King Radbod. Radbod had warned that if a fratricide would occur, the town of Wartna would go down. Since Radbod, the town had become prosperous and also Christian, including a monastery at the river Smalle Ee. A monk called Bouwe was head of that monastery. Bouwe was a foundling, and the monastery had taken care of him.
The mother of Wybo hatched a wicked plan to get rid of Bouwe by her son. Thinking, that would turn things for the better. Wybo killed Bouwe, when Bouwe was on his way late in the evening. But when Wybo’s mother saw Bouwe’s body up close, she made a terrible discovery, namely that monk Bouwe was her lost son. She could see it because of the sign of Radbod on his chest. Fratricide was a fact.
Not soon after a terrible flood hit province Friesland with towering waves, as high as houses. Thousands of people died and the town of Wartna was wiped away. Blacksmith Wybo and his mother drowned too. The prophecy of King Redbad became reality.
The soul of Wybo never found peace. For centuries now, his ghost is loose and roams the region of Eernewoude. People call him the Langesleattemer Man ‘Man of Langesleat’. Sometimes skippers saw the dead blacksmith, walking over the water with his face down to the ground, like he was in terrible agony. Many stories exist that people not live to tell an encounter with the dead smith of Eernewoude.
Then there is this story of a disturbed man, an article posted in the weekly Jeversches Wochenblatt, edition of August 6, 1912. A story that feels like history repeating, only the ingredients ‘Schweindorf’, ‘blacksmith’, ‘Devil’ and ‘woman’ have been mixed up.
The Devil is coming, the Devil is coming from Esens!
Schweindorf - The drunk, sixty-year-old unmarried worker M., recently went out into the street at night, wearing only his shirt. A night watchman took him back to his home. Here M. smashed everything up, and then crawled into the chimney where he got stuck.
After being freed in response to his cries for help, he went to the village of Schweindorf around 3 in the morning, wearing only a torn black shirt. The residents of Landstraße Str. and those who met him were frightened at the sight of him. A maid who returned from milking, dropped her buckets and ran home with the cry:
De Düwel kummt, de Düwel kummt!
In Schweindorf, M. found shelter with a blacksmith who also provided him with clothes until he was brought back to Esens by car by gendarme K. The unfortunate man was temporarily placed in the orphanage.
We cannot end this post without mentioning the patron of blacksmiths and goldsmiths, namely Saint Eligius. He was a contemporary of Weladu and lived from 588 to 600. Eligius was a blacksmith and apprentice of Abbo, a goldsmith and mint master in the town of Limoges. During his career, Eligius came to work with the hammer at the court of Chlothar II, king of Neustria. This, after he had forged a golden throne inlaid with jewels. Later, he made career and became one of the king’s advisors. The antithesis of Weladu, who killed the king instead of giving him advice.
Note 1 - Wayland and music. Composer, and unfortunately also with anti-Semitic sympathies, Richard Wagner drafted in 1849-1850 the opera libretto Wieland der Schmied, but nobody was interested to produce it. Eventually, it was Jan Levoslav Bella who made an opera out of it and produced it in Bratislava, former Czechoslovakia in 1926. The same anti-Semite sentiments existed around the audience of the Swedish rock band Völund Smed in the '90s. Dutch singer Willem Bijkerk chose Waylon as his stage name. Whether he was inspired by Wagner or by the Frisian legend Weladu, should not be a question. It was the country singer and songwriter Waylon Jennings who inspired him. Nevertheless, we encourage Willem to change his stage name into Weladu. Lastly, a music band in Michigan, USA named Wayland exists.
Note 2 - At Ashbury in the UK the megalith long-barrow is nicknamed Wayland’s Smithy, since the tenth century already. The stone structure itself is dated 3600 BC. Popular belief is that when you leave your horse behind with some money coins at 'the smithy' for a while, the horse will be shod when you return. To this day, people perform pagan rituals, stick coins everywhere. Also, for Druidry this megalithic mound is an important object.
Alexander, M. (ed), Beowuld. A Verse Translation (1973)
Atlantic Religion, Wayland Revisited: A Pan-European God? (2015)
Bauer, A. & Pesch, A. (ed), Hvanndalir - Beiträge zur europaischen Altertumskunde und mediävistischen Literaturwissenschaft; Düwel, K., Merkwürdiges zu Goldbraktaeten und anderen Inschriftenträgern (2018)
Beers, J., Runes in Frisia. On the Frisian origin of runic finds (2012)
Berghaus, P. & Schneider, K., Anglo-friesische Runensolidi im Licht des Neufundes von Schweindorf (Ostfriesland) (1967)
Delanty, G. & Matto, M. (ed), The Word Exchange. Anglo-Saxon poems in translation (2011)
Fontijn, D., Economies of Destruction. How the systematic destruction of valuables created value in Bronze Age Europe c. 2300-500 BC (2020)
Hart, ‘t M., Davids, K., Fatah-Black, K., Heerma van Vos, L., Lucassen, L. & Touwen, J., Wereldgeschiedenis van Nederland (2018)
Heeren, S. & Feijst, van der L., Fibulae uit de Lage Landen. Brooches from the Low Countries. Prehistorische, Romeinse en Middeleeuwse Fibulae uit de Lage Landen. Beschrijvingen, analyse en interpretative van een archeologische vondstcategorie (2017)
Hines, J., The Anglo-Frisian Question (2017)
Kegler, J.F. (ed), Land der Entdeckungen. Die Archaologie des friesischen Kustenraums. Land van ontdekkingen. De archeologie van het Friese kustgebied (2013)
Looijenga, T.H., Runes around the North Sea and on the Continent AD 150-700; texts & contexts (1997)
Nedoma, R., The legend of Wayland in Deor (1990)
Mitchell, S (ed)., Beowulf (2017)
Otten, M., Edda. De liederen uit de Codex Regius en verwante manuscripten (1994)
Pesch, A. & Blankenfeldt, R. (ed), Goldsmith Mysteries. Archaeological, pictorial and documentary evidence from the 1st millennium AD in northern Europe; Oehrl, S., Bildliche Darstellungen vom Schmied Wieland und ein unerwarterer Aftritt in Walhall (2011)
Page, R.I., Runes and runic inscriptions. Collected essays on Anglo-Saxon and Viking runes (1995); The runic solidus of Schweindorf, Ostfriesland, and related runic solidi (1968)
Thompson, A., Wayland the Smith (2011)
Wiersma, J.P., Friese mythen en sagen (1973)