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The Creators of a new age
The ever-useful blacksmith in the ancient Germanic world was believed to possess near-magical abilities. These skilled blacksmiths had forged mighty weapons of war from raw materials that had come directly from the bowels of the earth.
In this ancient culture, the blacksmith was as well respected as the heroic warriors who fought to defend their homelands from all manner of domestic and foreign threats.
The Viking blacksmith was a useful and essential member of any Viking Age settlement. And their abilities helped spread their culture around both the known world and areas that would soon become part of a wider empire.
The Viking and Germanic Migrations
For without their skill with the hammer, the red hot flame and the sturdy anvil. The Vikings of Scandinavia would have struggled to create the everyday tools they depended upon for their survival in lands that were often wild and dangerous to the foolhardy.
Without these tools, they would not have the means to create their fearsome longships as the mighty axes of the Viking Age would not be available to either their shipwrights or infamous Viking warriors.
The blacksmith was held in great esteem by both the Vikings and their fellow Germanic peoples. Surviving Anglo-Saxon tales and Old Norse folklore cements this idea that the blacksmith was a man whose skill was invaluable to the local area. The blacksmith was a skilled profession and throughout the golden age of Germanic expansion, their work would have been in high demand.
Local leaders would ensure that they had those capable of working metal in their major settlements, they would encourage this trade and may have raided rivals to steal blacksmiths of great skill.
A Family Tradition
If any warlord was to achieve greater power, he would need skilled blacksmiths with the ingrained ability to fashion weapons of war that could stand the test of arduous battle. Many Viking leader rose to power off the skill of their blacksmiths and these metal workers were highly prized by their leaders and their peers for their usefulness.
Blacksmithing in the Viking Age was often a trade that was handed down from father to son, and as far as we can tell, it was not an occupation that the womenfolk were encouraged to master. If a blacksmith did not have a son, then he may recruit an apprentice from within his family group or may even adopt a child without family or a future to learn the secrets of his trade.
Some sources are available to us, that indicates that a blacksmith was usually a man who was unfit for combat and that he learned such skills to make him useful to the war leaders of his local area. Those who were of poor sight or lame in some way have been depicted as becoming blacksmiths of some renown in Germanic folklore.
Whether the lame blacksmith theory is valid or not, it seems sensible that those who may not be at the peak of physical fitness could be put to use in such a constructive manner. The physical needs of blacksmithing were on a par with the rigours of physical combat. To swing a hammer with enough force to manipulate rapidly cooling metal takes immense strength and stamina as the Viking blacksmiths sought to bend the metal to their will.
An argument can be made that poor eyesight in a blacksmith was not desired as it may lead to imperfections in the weapons and tools that he would produce. A slight imperfection or hairline crack in the finished article would make their new tool useless or dangerous to the owner.
The belief that a blacksmith was usually lame in some way may have come from the story of Weyland the Smith. This Germanic tale tells the story of a famed blacksmith who was abducted and made lame on a remote island where he could fashion weapons for his abductors. In the many versions of this tale, he escaped using either his blacksmithing skills, the use of magic or the gods of his faith aided his endeavours.
A Useful Member of the Tribe
The belief that a blacksmith was usually lame in some way may have come from the story of Weyland the Smith. This Germanic tale tells the story of a famed blacksmith who was abducted and made lame on a remote island where he could fashion weapons for his abductors. In the many versions of this tale, he escaped using either his blacksmithing skills, the use of magic or the gods of his faith aided his endeavours. It was perhaps this legend of Wayland that inspired the lame blacksmith theory as in nearly every version he is crippled by the ruthless king, only to escape and take revenge on his former captors.
Blacksmiths were often associated with the Dwarves of the Old Norse culture. These Dwarves that lived in many of the realms of the Old Norse Mythology were often called the best blacksmiths in existence and their creations were often used by powerful gods such as Freya, Thor and Odin.
Again there is an association with Blacksmiths being of proportions not expected of warriors or of normal folk. Perhaps the prolonged efforts of dark age blacksmiths warped their bodies to the point where everybody expected Blacksmiths to appear either irregular in shape or deformed in some fashion.
Poetic licence seems to have been taken with blacksmiths in the writings and tales of Viking Age blacksmiths. In truth, the magic assigned to them is an understanding of metals that the average member of their society could not comprehend.
The Germanic world is not alone in elevating the humble blacksmith to that of a magician. For example, the Japanese hold their blacksmiths from their past in high regard and their folklore is full of tales that speak of important blades and their legendary creators. Such weapons formed nations and became important signs of ceremonial stability.
In conclusion, without the blacksmiths of our past. There would be little innovation and our world would be a much darker place. Nearly every warrior culture had a god or deity whose benevolence to blacksmiths allowed their way of life to thrive and survive.
Although Dark Age blacksmiths were not magical beings, they did possess important knowledge that shaped our world into what it has become in this modern age.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Andrew Stewart