Völundr, Wayland, Weland and the Irish Cuillean

Just a quick philological and etymological interlude:

Has anyone noticed the the similarities between the names of the Germanic/Norse Völundr or Wayland and the mystical Manx/Irish blacksmith known as Cuillean, Gullion, Culann or Chullain?

Gutturalisation of the primary consonant in words beginning with a ‘W’ is a historically common form of pronunciation in some parts of Scotland, Mannin, Ireland and Wales. For example, a Hebridean island guest house owner might ask you: “C’when c’will you c’want your c’weetabix?”

‘Cuillean’ or ‘Culann’ can therefore be considered a gutturalisation of the first syllable of ‘Wuillean’ or ‘Wulann’ which sounds very much like a variant of ‘Wayland’! The hill of Slieve Gullion in Armagh, N. Ireland, has its equivalent in the Isle of Man with its ‘Slieau Whallian’, which towers over the historic Thing-field and Thing-hill in the village of St. John’s – still a living, breathing aspect of the island’s Hiberno-Norse heritage. Ireland too had contact with pagan Norse cultural influence, but the mythology of Cuillean appears to predate this contact.

There are in fact quite a few hills named after Cuillean who plays a prominent role in the Ulster Cycle myths as an ally and creator of weapons for king Conchobar mac Nessa, and after whom Cuchullain (‘Hound of Cuillean’) is named. The Cuillin Hills in Scotland are prime candidates, and there are a number of other individual hills with similar names dotted around Britain and Ireland. In the English Cotswolds is an ancient village called Colerne, situated near an Iron Age hillfort, so the name is not just seen in Goidelic language regions. In Wales, there is a tradition of hilltop fairies called Gwyllion… The tough hill-loving tree known in english as ‘Holly’ (OE Holegn, Manx Hollin, Irish Cuillean) has distinct connotations that it might have been forged by a blacksmith in its mythological creation: Its leaves are sharp, shiny and stiff, and it endures (as if ‘man-made’) where others wither in the annual cycle. It is also credited in folklore as a lightning conductor, adding to its ‘metallic’ reputation.

In fact, the transition of the name of Weland to the gutturalised Cuillean can be traced through France, where references in medieval writings to the fabulous weaponsmith ‘Galant’, such as in the Romance sagas of ‘The Knight of the Swan’ (a fairytale romance), and its ‘sequel’, the more contemporary ‘Godfrey of Bouillon’, who claimed to be related to the original Knight of the Swan – an interesting link with the Swan Maidens who loved Volundr and his brothers in the Edda saga. 12thC Norman-Welsh author Geoffrey of Monmouth’s poetic account of Merlin’s madness has King Rhydderic offer Merlin jewels sculpted by ‘Guielandus’ in order to distract and settle his mind. Whether this represents the Irish Cuillean or the continental version is debateable, although given Geoffrey’s cultural milieu, the continental origin seems more likely.

The connection between the ‘Germanic’ Wayland/Volund and an apparently identical Brythonic/Goidelic (or ‘Celtic’) mythological character offers us the prospect that the ‘Germanic’ and ‘Celtic’ indigenous pagan cosmologies were/are closer than we have given them credit for. ‘Germanic’ is, after all, an exonym invented by the Romans,  and Celtic Halstatt and La Téne style culture is identifiable in the archaeology of areas beyond the Rhine which Romans typified as ‘Germania’.


5 thoughts on “Völundr, Wayland, Weland and the Irish Cuillean

  1. You are correct in that there is a relationship between Cuilean and Weland but it’s not a linguistic one. Cuilean comes from a standard Old Celtic word meaning Holly tree (see Gaulish colinos ‘holly’). where-as Weland descends from a Proto-Indo-European word *wel- meaning both ‘to rule’ and ‘to smite (as in a smiths-hammer and to smite ones enemy)’ I am currently working on a reconstruction of Western Proto-Indo-European pantheon using newer evidence recently uncovered from Tocharian documents Hittite linguistics combined with the currently revealed culture of the Hindu-Kush Dardic people known as the Kalasha. Why from people that are so far east that it seems even ludicrous to even consider it? Well, I’m glad you asked, First of all as you may be aware Tocharian language shares more commonalities with Germanic, Celtic and Hittite than it does any of it’s closest Indo-Aryan neighbors and when they began recording and studying the Dardic tribe known as the Kalasha is that their language has more in common not with Aryan neighbors but with Primitive or ancient Sanskrit vocabulary and a mix of Hittite, Proto-Balto-Slavic and Proto-Germanic syntactic structure, phonetics and palatal aberrations and then studying their myths and legends you immediately are struck by how dissimilar they are to their Aryan neighbors! The chief god of the Tocharian and the Kalasha is: respectively Welainos (Proto-Tocharian) Weraenos (Proto-Kalasha) [the ‘l’ and the ‘r’ are essentially the same thing the ‘r’ being formed from the ‘l’ by Indo-Aryan influences] – a hammer bearing, sheep herding, smithy, king, archer, storm and weather god who the Hindu and the Buddhist immediately associated with Indra and who the Ancient Greeks immediately identified with Zeus! He has an identical form in Ancient Germanic besides Weland and that is the Nordic Ullr who sat as steward to Odin while Odin was wondering amongst his people, a temporary king, He has an identical form in Gaul and Belgica and later Britain in the Latinized name VELAVNVS or VELLAUNO, which may be rendered *Wellaunos who carried an epithet of Okellos ‘The Sharpener’ a good name for someone who does work on weapons. This name is also an epithet of the deity Lenos in Belgica, whose name is also rendered Courmolenos, Lenos of the beer’ which appears to also be the name of a dedication that occurs in September – a beer drinking event – that coincides with a Wine drinking festival dedicated to their chief god Weraen or Weraenos amongst the Kalasha a living, breathing Indo-European culture on the brink of being extinguished by radical Muslim Taliban in their home in North West Pakistan!

  2. I respectfully disagree with your statement that there is no linguistic link between ‘Wayland’ and ‘Cuillean/Chullain’. The ‘W’ is very often gutturalized/palatalised with an occlusive ‘k’ in the Irish Sea region Gaelic languages – ‘Wayland’ would be pronounced ‘kWayland’. I am not a linguist, but this is how these words would historically have been pronounced where I live, and I feel somewhat obliged to follow this format in my interpretation. I’d love to hear what your take on this is, however!

  3. Well to continue from a strictly a linguistic point of view:
    Germanic Weland and Nordic Ullr are descended from PIE *wel-/*wal- ‘leader, commander || hero|| smiter’ in Gaelic is *Fel-, *Fal- or even a possible *fle-/*fla- ? and in Brythonic it would’ve been rendered as *gwel-, so if you are looking for the literal Gaelic or Brythonic deity name you’ll need to look for mythical characters whose names begin for Gaelic: *fel-/fal-/fle-/fla- and for Brythonic: *gwel-/gwal-.

    Remember that Celtic /k/ is Germanic /h/, thus: Welsh celyn, Cornish: celin, Breton: kelenn, Gaelic: Cullann or Gaulish: collinos is in standard Germanic holly with the same meaning The Holly Tree.

    some examples of personal names and place-names in Ireland, Manx and Scotland:
    Gleann cuillann in Armagh is “glen of the holly”
    Cuilléan in Conamara is a steep uniform holly covered slope
    Cuilleán in Carraroe means the Small Holly Wood
    Cuillen – Cullann, Cullane, Cullaun, Cullen, Cullion, Cullionn – Place of Holly, Holly Land.
    Culann ‘with strength of the holly-tree’ was a divine smith whose house was protected by a ferocious watchdog

  4. Pingback: Wayland Revisited: A Pan-European God? | The Atlantic Religion

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