While iron-smelting is not unique to the Indo-European civilization, the mythical significance of iron can raise questions concerning the similarities between the mythologies of the nations in Europe and Asia. The use of iron as a sacred symbol is also not exclusive to Indo-Europeans, since there is evidence of this type of symbolism in Anatolia in 5000 BC.
Among the Celtic nations, such as the Gauls and the Irish, a smithing god named (in different variants) Gofannon is worshipped. In Germanic mythologies, the Old Norse smithing god, Volundr–otherwise Wayland in Old English–could change shapes, just like iron can. These are just a few examples of the similarities within the various European nations.
Whether it is the Germanic Wayland or the Greek Hephaestus, the use of the blacksmith in the mythologies that span from Scandinavia to Iran showcase an overlooked element of how warfare is valued among these societies. Since blacksmiths play a role in smelting weapons, but also basic implements that are used in everyday life, they provide an even more underwhelmed role, as they provide the symbolism of Iron Age technologies. So these figures would represent warfare and technology. In Norse mythology, the smith Regin forges the magical sword capable of slaying the dragon Fafnir. Considering how iron was also looked upon as a force of destruction in mythology–for good or ill–it would make sense that the forging of swords would be one of the occupations of the smith.
In Iranian mythology, a blacksmith by the name of Kave led a populist uprising against the tyrant Zahak. Archaeologist A. M. Green, as described in Technology, Transformation, and Symbolism, indicated that the blacksmith archetypes in Gallo-British iconography are mediators between humans and the supernatural. This type of relationship would make sense considering how forging is a trained skill, which can be practiced by any humans.
When blacksmiths are not interconnected with the people, they function as the main drivers of the universe. In Finnish mythology, Ilmarinen is the blacksmith known for forging the heavens.
The Finnish epic Kalevala described Ilmarinen as:
“Worthy smith is Ilmarinen,
In this art is first and master;
He, the one that forged the heavens.
Forged the air a hollow cover;
Nowhere see we hammer-traces,
Nowhere find a single tongs-mark”
Another part of the Kalevala which pertains to the significance of iron is its creation. In the 9th Rune, the daughters of the creator god Ukko created iron through their breast milk. Although Finnish or any of its sister-languages within the Uralic language family tree are not related to the Indo-European languages, the Finnish nation does situate within Eurasia, so the similarity is present of iron as a sacred symbol with the other nations in Europe.
Like the other European mythologies, Ilmarinen exists within the peripheries of human civilization. In Volundr’s case, he has to live on a secluded island while forging the rings. In the Greek smith-god’s case, Hephaestus is described as being ugly and therefore not within the company of the other gods.
Throughout Europe and Asia, the symbol of iron is one that can connect mortals to the afterlife, particularly since every form of creation would need some form of process. In the case of implements, such as tools or weapons, that process would involve iron. While the blacksmiths of the earth represent the real-life need for an occupation to forge basic utilities, the blacksmiths in mythology provide a driving force for the universe.
- “Kalevala : the Epic Poem of Finland — Complete by Lönnrot and Crawford.” Project Gutenberg.
- Koch, John T. “Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia: Volume I.”ABC Clio. 2006.
- “Kave.” Encyclopedia Iranica. 2013.
- Kulttuurinavigaattori. “Robert Stigell: Ilmarinen.” Wikimedia. August 14, 2016. CC BY-SA 4.0 International.
- Haaland, Randi. “Technology, Transformation and Symbolism: Ethnographic Perspectives on European Iron Working.” Norwegian Archaeological Review, vol. 37, no. 1, June 2004, pp. 1–19. EBSCOhost.
- Smith, Jackson. “Volundr the Smith.” YouTube. 2017.
- “Uralic Languages.” Wikipedia.