Six Questions XXII: Nathan Zilka (Zilka Forgewerks)

One of the best attested figures in Germanic folklore is a clever and skilled metalworker, Weland the Smith. Weland represents a rare case in which we may discern a common narrative from both North Germanic (Old Norse) and West Germanic (Old English) sources. Concepts and narratives about the entity continue into modern folklore at locations such as Wayland’s Smithy in England, where association with the figure—or smithing, generally—may go back as far as pre-Germanic Britain. In all instances, Weland is an enigmatic entity who seems to exist between worlds, perhaps a deity, perhaps something else, and, as scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson puts it, “when Weland appears in both courtly heroic poetry and in local folkbeliefs, it leads us to believe that at one time men’s interest in and his kind was both wide and deep, leaving long memories behind” (Davidson 1958: 159).

The god Thor, too, was once popularly beloved, and due to popular culture, his hammer, Mjöllnir, has once again become famous. His name ultimately meaning thunder, the god bludgeons enemies with the hammer and protects mankind. The North Germanic archaeological record famously contains numerous examples of these objects, generally recovered from graves. While these items tend to have similar shapes, some examples are extremely ornate, whereas others represent a more minimalist approach. A narrative about the hammer’s creation occurs in the Prose Edda. There, Mjöllnir’s manufacture is attributed to the skills of dwarfs, entities associated with the earth (an appropriate foundation for the production of metal). (On this topic, see for example Lindow 1994.)

With the swell of popular interest in topics such as the Viking Age and the development of Germanic Heathenry in locations such as the United States, Europe, and South America, it’s not uncommon to see people wearing Mjöllnir pendants once again. While some of these hammers are mass-produced alongside other trinkets in distant locations by unknown hands, others are produced by craftspeople who derive spiritual value from their production, much as their ancient precursors. An example of the latter, American metalworker and heathen Nathan Zilka of Zilka Forgewerks practices his craft in Portland, Oregon today.