Anvil translated from its early root anfilte roughly means “build-on” — the object which the smith builds things on.

The anvil is the altar at which the smith shapes the world; it has a kind of magical appeal. It is solid and massive. It is a symbol of weight and heaviness. It embodies gravity. When you lay a hot piece of metal on the anvil and strike it, the anvil is unyielding forcing the iron to submit. When you lift the forged iron, the side which touched the hard surface has taken on its character. There’s something satisfying about this anvil-surfaced iron which is smooth and flat and slightly reflective.

Many smiths during the later Iron Age in Atlantic Europe, the British Isles, and Scandinavia, seem to have been itinerant, traveling from place to place working their magic. They’ve found several toolboxes which attest to the diversity of crafts the smith practiced— woodworking, boat building, forging iron and non-ferrous metals. Because of this wandering, the smith’s tools would have been important symbols to him. The tools represented the smith’s status in society. Without them, the smith might have been an outlaw with no rites in the Iron Age world— a world where slavery was common.

I feel that the anvil has inherited this weight of symbolism. It’s the thing that represents the act of smithing, not only blacksmithing, but the art of changing shapes from one thing to another. The word “smith” in its early Anglo-Saxon form means to create, not specifically to shape with a hammer. So for me the anvil is a symbol of creating the imagined from the raw materials of reality.

Here are two anvil sketches. The top is an historical anvil, which I’ve imagined a hexagonal stand for. If you’ve visited the Higgins Armory you may have met it already. The second is an imagined anvil with alcoves housing gods or saints and a solid bronze body with a steel face.



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Jake Powning

Jake is a professional swordsmith, artist, and writer who explores the strange place where traditional culture and the land meet.


  1. Well said Jake. Great seeing you guys today

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