I snapped this picture of our little gas forge the other day, and joked that it reminded me of a salamander nest. The blues swirling around the air next to the red insulation look very mysterious indeed.
Since times of old, blacksmiths and forges have been linked to magic and folklore. To the uninitiated, it seemed that only magic could turn raw metal into weapons, and therefore, smithing became tied to the sacred and arcane arts. Smiths often worked at night when the light was better for their art. To be able to work metal properly, one must be able to see what color its been heated to. As such, it must have seemed to the ancients that the village smith consorted with the spirits of the night to bend metal to his will.
Along with other liminal persons in ancient times, such as gravediggers, elderly childless women, midwives, ect. smiths were often associated with malevolence. There are many tales of smiths selling their soul to learn the art of smelting, or pulling metal from ore. Many Iron Age forges were built outside of settlements, as if the smiths were ostracized; though also feared and respected, because of their skills.
Although the blacksmith was one of the most useful members of society, they were also the most powerful. I’ve heard many people argue that smiths were kept on the edges of village society because if they became too powerful, then they would control not just industry but also government, making them an unstoppable force. This fear combined with the visual of a blacksmith at work could certainly have made ancient people uneasy.
If you’ve never been to a forge and seen a blacksmith shape hot metal, let me tell you, it’s a pretty awesome sight. And I mean awesome in the sense that it inspires awe. Sparks shoot off the hot metal, a material that was once immovable melts and bends, flames leap off the forge, bellows roar, soot flies. Combined with the loud ringing bang of the hammer and the dark setting of traditional forges, I can easily understand how villagers would have been frightened. Many medieval depictions of hell match the blacksmith’s forge perfectly; with souls burning in eternal flames and black smoke rising in the air.
Many cultures have folk tales and myths which feature smiths. Traditionally, dwarfs are metal workers, and have their forges deep underground in the heart of the earth.
Iron, the “black metal” which gives blacksmithing it’s name, has often been associated with charms and talismans. Iron is said to ward off faeries, ghosts, witches, and other malevolent spirits. Cemeteries were traditionally surrounded with iron fences to contain souls of the dead. Gypsies make pendants out of iron horseshoe nails to protect their children with.
Our shop, of course, is named after Wayland the Smith, also called Volund, the legendary master blacksmith. Wayland was so prominent, he lends his name to one of the most impressive neolithic burial chambers in all of England, Legend has it, if you leave your horse tied up in the entrance of the chamber overnight, when you come back in the morning the horse will be expertly shod.
Volund’s Wingtips, was initially imagined as only a forge, but we’ve kind of expanded our definition of what it is we do. Essentially, we make whatever kind of art strikes our fancy. But metal is a material we both always seem to come back to. There really is something mysterious and magical about red hot metal and the sound of the hammer as it rings off the anvil.