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Simon Attwood

Lore of the Smith

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Folktales, myths, legends, lore...

 

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I really like the Lay of Volund.  Volund was a Northern European smith regarded as the absolute best around.  He and his brothers surprised some nekkid swan maidens swimming without their feathercoats one day and promptly took the coats.  This generally insures that the swanmaiden will become your wife, until... one day... they get their hands back on the coat and take to their nomadic ways.  Both the brothers go searching for their brides, but Volund stays in Wolfdales, obsessively making 700 copies of the ring he gave his errant wife.  The tyrant king Nithod hears the the most wonderous smith in the world is alone in the woods and captures him; hamstringing him and forcing him to produce fine work on a prison-island smithy.  Nithod takes Volund's sword and gives the one true bride ring to his daughter.  Volund works and works; and tells the greedy sons that he has a suprise for them, but they'd better walk backwards in fresh snow to the smithy to get it.  The sons show up and Surprise!  Volund kills them, hack off their heads and hides the bodies under the hearth.  When the guards come looking for them, Volund points to the footprints and says only that they have left.  He makes jewelry out of their eyes and teeth and cups out of their skulls, which he presents to the king and queen; they are well recieved gifts.  Volund now seduces the king's daughter after they get quite drunk... perhaps Volund slipped a little somewhere, for when the daughter returns to the king the king sends a small army to Volund.  Volund flies away with wings he has been making in secret and alights in the king's hall.  Up high, out of reach, he informs the king of his revenge and then flies away.

 

I like this story because it demonstrates the injustice of forced labor... or forced creativity.  It is not hard for me to picture the similarities of Nithod and the IRS!  :)  It speaks to me of the struggle between stepping back and letting creativity happen and having to be creative to make a living.

 

I also like that Volund becomes more than mortal by his craft... he is transformed by his ordeal and is on par with his swan-maiden, whom he presumably flies off to find... despite the fact that he was permanently crippled by the king.  Who needs to walk when you can fly?

 

I also like blacksmith folklore where the blacksmith gets to trick the Devil.

 

We wield a strange power!

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We wield a strange power!

You don't know the half of it yet bro...  :0)

 

Cool story though. Blacksmiths get a bad rap in most literature...they're not all THAT bad...

 

:P

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I got another Blacksmith story.

 

The Blacksmith Duel

 

One of the famous duelists of early New Orleans was Bernard Marlgny, a member of one of Louisiana’s oldest and most influential families, who was a master swordsman and a crack shot with a pistol.  He was elected to the state Legislature in 1817 as a member of the House of Representatives and took an active and a leading part in the many disputes that arose between the Creoles and the Americans.  At the same time Catahoula Parish was represented by James Humble, a blacksmith and a former resident of Georgia, who was noted for his great stature—he stood almost seven feet in his stockings.  The Georgian replied to one of Marigny’s most impassioned speeches, and made various allusions so pointed and personal that the Creole considered himself grievously insulted, and challenged the blacksmith to a duel.  Humble sought the advice of a friend.  

 

“I will not fight him,” he said. “I know nothing of this dueling business.”

“You must,” his friend protested. “No gentleman can refuse a challenge.”

“I’m not a gentleman,” Humble retorted. “I’m only a blacksmith.”

 

Humble was assured that he would be finished both politically and socially if he declined to meet the Creole.  His friend pointed out that as the challenged person the blacksmith had the choice of weapons and could so choose as to put himself on equal terms with his adversary.  

 

Humble considered the matter for a day or two and then sent this reply to Marigny: “I accept your challenge, and in the exercise of my privilege I stipulate that the duel shall take place in Lake Pontchartrain in six feet of water, sledge-hammers to be used as weapons.”  

Since Marigny was less than five feet, eight inches tall and so slight that he could scarcely lift a sledge-hammer, this was giving Humble an equal chance with a vengeance.  The Creole’s friends urged him to stand on a box and run the risk of having his skull cracked by the huge blacksmith’s hammer, but Marigny declared that it was impossible for him to fight a man with such a sense of humor.  Instead he apologized to Humble, and the two became firm friends.

 

Quoted from “Great American Folklore” compiled by

Kemp P. Battle

Pg 121, 122

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Hello!

You've "drawn me out" from lurking in the shadows with this topic Mr. Loose!

From "Shamanism: Archaic techniques of Ecstasy" by Mircea Eliade, Bolingen press 1972 Pg. 470.

 

".... Shamans and Smiths.... The craft of the smith ranks immediatly after the shamans vocation in importance..... Smith's and shamans are from the same nest says a Yakut proverb. Smiths have power to heal and even foretell the future. According to the Dolgan, shamans can not "swallow" the souls of smith's because smith's keep their souls in the fire; on the other hand, a smith can catch a shaman's soul and burn it. In their turn, smith's are constantly threatened by evil spirits. They are reduced to working uninteremittingly, handling fire, keeping up a constant noise, to drive away the hostile spirits."

 This is my first post so I want to take a moment to thank every one of you here at this forum and especially Don for making this all possible.

 [notworthy]

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so what if you are a smith AND a shaman?

 

(the image of tai dancing around in a green mask still haunts me ) ???  :;):

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In some cultures the Smith is almost immune to bad spirits.  When I first moved to NYC I lived in an apartment in Brooklyn.  There was a "witchy woman," :) who lived in the building.  When she saw my jewelry tools she said she was glad to see a smith in the building because we kept the bad spirits away.  She also told me a bunch of folktales about how you can't mess with the Smith, magically or generally.  It was the first time I got respect for smithy Ju-Ju.  ;)

 

What strange powers do we wield?

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Crone: Ah, the Wisewoman.. the Wisewoman.

 

Edmund: Yes, the Wisewoman.

 

Crone: Two things, my lord, must thee know of the Wisewoman. First, she is

 

... a woman, and second, she is ...

 

Edmund: .. wise?

 

Crone: You do know her then?

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"...Blacksmiths were considered to be partly descended from the Sidhe due to their great skill in transforming metals into usefull objects such as swords and daggers.  Many people believed they could cast a spell or a powerful curse and therefore should be held in awe and respected.  It was also believed that they had healing powers..." "...For a blacksmith is safe from all, and when he goes out in the night he keeps always in his pocket a small bit of wire and they know him by that..."

From http://www.shee-eire.com/Magic&M....ge1.htm

I love "smithy Ju-Ju!!"  [ylsuper]  Could someone be both smith and shaman??  ???  During the "Dancing Bladesmiths" series I showed that picture of Tai to a friend to prove that "it aint just me!"   :;):

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you can't mess with the Smith, magically or generally.  It was the first time I got respect for smithy Ju-Ju.  ;)

 

What strange powers do we wield?

Historically, the probable reason that people did not mess with smiths is that the workers of the black metal tended to be rather large men who could wield a five pound hammer with ease, (see Geoff's contribution), and that everyone in the village depended on the smith to make their tools and spare parts...

 

A passage from 'Witches Abroad' by Terry Pratchett;

 

To the glowing forge [of Jason Ogg] were brought the stud stallions, the red-eyed, foam-flecked kings of the horse nation, the soup-plate-hoofed beasts that had kicked lesser men through walls.  But Jason knew the secret of the mystic Horseman's Word, and he would go alone into the forge, politely shut the door, and lead the creature out again after half an hour, newly shod and strangely docile... Granny Weatherwax had once pressed him about this, and since there are no secrets from a witch, he'd shyly replied 'Well, ma'am, what happens is, I gets hold of 'un and smacks 'un between the eyes wit' hammer before 'un knows what's 'appening, and then I whispers in his ear, I sez, "Cross me, you bugger, and I'll have thy goolies on t'anvil, thou knows I can."

 

:D

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...Blacksmiths were considered to be partly descended from the Sidhe due to their great skill in transforming metals into usefull objects such as swords and daggers.

 

Transformation.  Definitely.  Of metal and the self.  The Sidhe thing makes me want to point out that Volund was described as "Lord of the Alfs," ( Elves ) in Norse mythology and although described usually as originally mere human mortal was considered Elven and even semi-divine.

 

Anyone read "The Winter of the World," series by Michael Scott Rohann?  Great books and well researched... based on Finnish and Norse mythology.  Very close to Tolkein in worth IMO, and the main character is a Smith.

 

Historically, the probable reason that people did not mess with smiths is that the workers of the black metal tended to be rather large men who could wield a five pound hammer with ease

 

:laugh:  :)  :D  :laugh:  [ylsuper]

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Guest Tai

Most of the lore sounds pretty strange to us, but as with most mythology, there is usually that element of truth, which is more symbolic than literal.

 

I've always liked the symbol of the "flaming blade". It is archetypical for "Truth". Buddha is often shown with The Flaming Sword. The Flaming Sword also guards the way to the Tree of Life in the Bible. You can find some version of it in almost every culture. The Sword often represents the Word of God, and Fire the Spirit. The Truth cuts through the ego and burns like Fire within the Soul.  [ylsuper]

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A passage from 'Witches Abroad' by Terry Pratchett;

 

To the glowing forge [of Jason Ogg] were brought the stud stallions, the red-eyed, foam-flecked kings of the horse nation, the soup-plate-hoofed beasts that had kicked lesser men through walls.  But Jason knew the secret of the mystic Horseman's Word, and he would go alone into the forge, politely shut the door, and lead the creature out again after half an hour, newly shod and strangely docile... Granny Weatherwax had once pressed him about this, and since there are no secrets from a witch, he'd shyly replied 'Well, ma'am, what happens is, I gets hold of 'un and smacks 'un between the eyes wit' hammer before 'un knows what's 'appening, and then I whispers in his ear, I sez, "Cross me, you bugger, and I'll have thy goolies on t'anvil, thou knows I can."

 

:D

in other words ..... show 'em who's boss   :;):  :P

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Sledge hammer duels reminds me of the time Abraham Lincoln was challenged (I lived in Illinois, and this is one of my favorite incidents). Lincoln, being challenged by a fellow member of the state legislature, a fellow of diminutive stature, chose cavalry sabres as his weapon. The future president had already demonstrated that he had no military skills and was only vaguely aware of what to do with a sword.(That was the blade-smithing-content) When the day came and both combattants were on the field in the forest, Lincoln reached overhead with his weapon and lopped off a branch well over 10 feet in the air. His opponent yielded at this display of reach.

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In some cultures the Smith is almost immune to bad spirits.  When I first moved to NYC I lived in an apartment in Brooklyn.  There was a "witchy woman," :) who lived in the building.  When she saw my jewelry tools she said she was glad to see a smith in the building because we kept the bad spirits away.  She also told me a bunch of folktales about how you can't mess with the Smith, magically or generally.  It was the first time I got respect for smithy Ju-Ju.  ;)

 

What strange powers do we wield?

when St Patric came to Ireland he made him self a Lorica or brestplate, it was an ancient tradition among the druids to have a protective poem called a brest plate.  St Patrics lorica was invoked to protect him against ' Druids, Women and Smiths".

I think as self imployed craftsmen we exist inside of society but are also other from it, this gives us a sertain power and mistery, and as creative people we are forced to examine the fabric of creation and strugle with the shortcomings of our souls,  I think the creative act is very close to shamanism.especially when we are bringing objects from the mythic past into the light of the present; there is a certain necromancy to that...

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I've thought a great deal about nature of magic, partly 'cause I used to play RPG's, but also just from a philosophical point of view.  At the risk of sucking up more than my share of bandwidth, I'm going to post a short(ish) article on some of my thoughts on the subject.  I wrote this as content for my new (NEW!) website.

 

OK, so why 5 Elements Forge, I hear you ask? There is no really simple answer, but if you will follow along, I’ll try to get there.

 

In a large part the answer is Magic. I have always wanted to be a wizard. Since I have an inquiring mind, (that is, a mind full of stuff, some useful, a lot of junk), I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about Magic. Not the stage illusion, poof-the-girl-is-gone stuff, but the deeper, more elemental thing that we call Magic.

 

Magic is transformational. It changes the nature of reality. Magic is not easy or quick, it is subtle and hidden, occult in the truest sense of the word. What I do is transformational. I take an idea and make it manifest. I do it with fire and steel, hammer and anvil, with my intent and attention to detail, and it is Magic, if I pay attention.

Many of the ideas here come from Western Magical thought. Aleister Crowley  said “Every intentional act is a Magical Act.” By paying attention, attention to detail, attention to intent, we create Magic. I am not much of a baker, but I know that if you take flour and sugar and cinnamon and shortening and eggs and apples that, with attention to detail, you can turn them into Apple Pie. And I also know that with the same things combined with a lack of skill and a lack of attention, you can turn them into something icky. Ask me how I know this. Go on, ask me. You tell me that apple pie isn’t Magic.

 

Western Magical thought has only 4 elements; Water, Fire, Earth, and Air. I have also studied Eastern martial arts and philosophy, T’ai Chi Ch’uan for the most part, for the better part of twenty years. T’ai Chi aims to transform the self by means of disciplined intent. When you see films of people doing these strange slow motion exercises, they are paying attention to a single thing, attempting to make it perfect. This is also Magic. The Daoist sorcerers believe that proper diet, proper exercise, proper thought, proper behavior, could make them immortal, could transform the mundane into the extraordinary.

 

Japanese sword makers, and in fact, swordsmiths all over the world, have thought of their craft as a sacred act. Many Japanese smiths perform a ritual cleansing of the forge before starting a new sword. Intent. Attention to detail. Magic.

 

In the West we call the Asian martial arts Kung Fu, which should more properly be called Wu Shu (or War Arts). But one translation of Kung Fu is “time and energy”. Seat time, intent, practice, hard work. Magic. The Daoists believe that the universe is made up of five elements (finally, you say. Stay with me just a bit longer, and I’ll try to tie this all up).

 

Wood to Fire, Fire to Earth, Earth to Metal, Metal to Water, Water to Wood, a cycle of creation. These are the things I use to make my knives. In Daoist thought the universe is incomplete without the infusion of spirit, of Shen, the element of Wood. In Western thought the elements are dead, inert. In the East the elements are part of a living cycle, informed, altered, transformed by the spirit and the intent.

 

So there you have it, sort of. My logo is five interconnected rings, a symbol of the universe, of order from chaos, of four elements linked by the intent, by the spirit. Magic.

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Geoff,

 

Actually with 5 elements you're right on in Western magical traditions.  The Ether is the fifth.  Funny thing is, astrophysicists are coming back to the idea.  They're not calling it Ether, of course... but that's exactly what some of them are describing.

 

Jake, that rocks!  Druids, Women and Smiths, oh my!    [ylsuper]

 

I'm right there with the notion of bringing back a sense of mystery by actualizing mythological objects.  I have a customer who wants me to make something that could have been the seax that Grettir took from a certain fellow named Kar.  He suggested some runes, and when I said maybe putting "Karahmic" ( Kar owns me ) in Runes the customer thought for a minute and said.... maybe not that.  I don't want him to come looking for it.  :)

 

Mythopoetry lives!

 

Grettir meets Kar

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"Actually with 5 elements you're right on in Western magical traditions."
  Western being the Greco/Roman traditions. The pagan Celts were preoccupied with "3's." land, sea, sky, or underworld middle and upper worlds. but when it came to "elements" the celts named anywhere from 7 to 11 or more; sun, rain, clouds, soil, wind, sea etc. Fire held a special place all it's own and was associated with divine or poetic inspiration or even the central pivot upon which the cosmos turns. This is also symbolic of the "World Tree".
"The Flaming Sword also guards the way to the Tree of Life."

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Most people don't know this but Noah (of ark fame) had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japeth. One was a blacksmith, one was

a stone mason and one was a carpenter. Shem the blacksmith,

wanted to make the ark out of metal. Ham the stone mason

wanted to make the ark out of stone and Japeth wanted to make the ark out of wood. So to avoid all the squabiling at the dinner table Noah asked for divine guidance. The Lord

said,"Noah go fer wood." :D

 

(For those of you who didn't listen in Sunday School the ark

was made of gopher wood.)

Yellow Hammer

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Yep, the Heathen Scandinavians had more than a few as well: Fire and Ice are the big ones, then Air, Water, Yeast, Salt, Venom & Iron.

 

How many do the scientists have? 102?  :)

____

 

Does anyone know anything about the Tuaregs ( a tribe in Africa somewhere with a blacksmithing caste) or the blacksmithing caste in India?  I understand that both are untouchables, or at least reproached, but also well paid and maintained in the society.  I am curious about this phenomenon.

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"I understand that both are untouchables, or at least reproached,"
"....Their 'power over fire' and  especially the magic of metals, have everywhere given smiths the reputation of redoubtable sorcerors. Hence the ambivalent attitude entertained toward them; they are at once despised and venerated.This antithetical behavior is especially found in Africa. Among a number of tribes the smith is spurned, regarded as pariah, and can safely be killed; in others, on the contrary, he is respected, assimilated to the medicine man, and even becomes political chief..... "  "..... In Africa, too, smiths sometimes form secret societies with their own initiation rituals. In some cases we even find a symbiosis between smiths and shamans or medicine men. The presence of smiths in the initiatory societies is documented among the ancient Germans and Japanese....."    From Eliade's book "Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy"  For the curious, Mircea Eliade was formerly Chairman of the Department of History of Religions at the University of Chicago. Another of his works is titled "The Forge and the Crucible" It sounds interesting but I haven't read it yet.

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I am intrigued by this venerated / reviled contrast.  I still ocassionally experience it.  It figures into the fact that bladesmithing is not really accepted among its contemporary crafts... we're an outlaw craft... with possibly one of the deepest understandings of metal in general yet largely outside the culture of metalsmithing.

 

My neighbors think I'm strange, too, but I'm not sure if the smithing has much to do with it.  ;)

 

I'm going to guess that there is a difference in acceptance between the smith who makes weapons and the smith who does not.  The lore of the traditional American blacksmith is different than the lore of the smith who forges knives & swords.  I think when we make blades our Ju-Ju takes a shift to the murkier.

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too true

 

 

in this day an age, for the populous it's hard to fathom why one would even care to take up an odd craft let alone bladesmithing. I believe it is because be they knives or swords they are still potential weapons when it comes down to it, even though us bladesmiths see them as works of art. Also i believe people fear what they dont' fully understand and it's easy to dismiss a guy that makes blades in the 21st century a lunactic

 

It is really quite puzzling that somethings that are so beautiful can be used for such destruction.

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