Mircea Eliade - The Smith and Blacksmiths
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Mircea Eliade – Shamanism Archaic techniques of ecstasy
The craft of the smith ranks immediately after the shaman’s vocation in importance. ‘Smiths and shamans are from the same nest ‘says a Yakut proverb. ‘A shaman’s wife is respectable, a smith’s wife is venerable’ says another. Smiths have power to heal and even foretell the future. According to the Dolgan, shamans cannot ‘swallow’ the souls of smiths because smiths keep their souls in the fire; on the other hand, a smith can catch a shaman’s soul and burn it. In their turn, the smiths are constantly threatened by evil spirits. They are reduced to working unintermittingly, handling fire, keeping up a constant noise to drive away hostile spirits...............
........Their ‘power over fire’ and especially the magic of metals, have everywhere given smiths the reputation of redoubtable sorcerors. Hence the ambivalent attritude entertained towards them; they are at once despised and venerated. The antithetical behaviour is found especially in Africa. Among a number of tribes the smith is spurned, regarded as a pariah, and can safely be killed; in others, on the contrary, he is respected, assimilated to the medicine man and even becomes the political chief…. The Balolo of the Congo attribute royal origin to smiths. The Bantu Wachaga at once honour and fear them. The partial idntification of smiths with chiefs is found in several Congo tribes – the Basongo, Baholoholo etc…..
This ambivalence is explained by the contradictory reactions aroused by metals and metallurgy and by the differences in level between various African societies – some of which came to know metallurgy late and in complex historical contexts..
The presence of smiths in the initiatory societies is documented among the ancient Germans and the Japanese. Similar relations between metallurgy, magic and the founders of dynasties have been found in Chinese mythological tradition.
Sources – Eliade – The Forge and the Crucible; Walter Cline – Mining and Metallurgy in Negro Africa