IRON has, for millenniums, exerted extreme fascination on mankind. 
It is known that the first iron to be discovered came from meteorites that fell from the sky, the place where gods resided, hence the sacredness that it carried since the beginning.
At early stages, meteorite's iron properties were not know to man, so it was worked stone like. However not all were allowed to touch the gift from the gods, as we are talking about the sacredness of it in archaic cultures that were not the property of any given continent. Much on the contrary, meteorites fell all over the world, originating the rise of similar beliefs based on the divine origin. This sacredness that was conferred to iron was to be increased when it was discovered that iron was to be found deep in the ground. Man was digging into Mother Earth's fecund womb, which was an activity considered dangerous for the intrusion it represented. 
Unlike the later rise of alchemy, which acknowledged the liveliness of metals, modern science decided to define just three main realms, spreading the Truth in school books and papers. Minerals, which are lifeless, Vegetables which have a very simple life form, and Animals with its species and sub-species dominated by Man's superior intelligence. These three modern sub-divisions of a recent and profane science based on academically proven facts, contradicted and disdained the relationship that was built over the History of Man between matter, rites and values.
Barba, the XVII century Spanish writer, quoted by Mircea Eliade, stated that an exhausted mine is capable of re-creating its deposits if it is suitably blocked up and allowed to rest for fifteen years. Those who think that metals were created at the beginning of the world are grossly mistaken: metals grow in mines.
It is known that the formation of a ruby takes time until it is ripe. The color itself is a sign of the mineral's maturing. Those who work with iron or with precious metals know how temperature affects coloration. 
The alchemist was a most noble profession pertaining to the superior understanding of Nature, based on factual experiments and consequential discoveries and its relation to a Universal Order. The many legends that surround their work place alchemists in many parts of the world, as being those who, by different paths, discovered the life of metals.
Metallurgy was born subsequently, showing the deep understanding of Nature's language by those who smelted iron, taking up and perfecting the work of Nature. The ultimate role of the smith concerning steel, is very much that of the alchemist who knew how to transform metals. 
It is however imperative to emphasize the close relationship between metallurgy and agriculture, as both feed from the same womb and interact among themselves. Swords were not the only tools made. Agriculture utensils were of paramount importance for the societies to develop and evolve in straight connection with the structure of values, morals, ethics and rites.
Many African tribal smiths were also uncircumcised priests, thus possessing male and female qualities, therefore being complete entities who were the only ones allowed to work with iron, while in other places the change of a metal's properties could only be achieved with the sacrifice of a human life. Such is the Chinese legend of Mo Ye
That is, for something to take another structure, basically through fire, an immolation was required, even though symbolical.
In today's world steel does play and important role, having crossed millenniums of technos, while swords have been rendered obsolete by firearms, therefore being raised to a different level of meaning, understanding and of perception mostly connected with the paradigm of important moral and ethical values as well as paths to self perfection.
Let us think about how the Japanese martial suffix jitsu was transformed into a more spiritual do as in iaijitsu to iaido .
Combat with swords lost its deadly meaning, turning into a more physical and spiritual search path, while the appreciation of East and Western swords became much more relevant.
Some important reading is recommended to further deepen this appreciation, such as
The Forge and the Crucible by Mircea Eliade, The Psychoanalysis of Fire by Gaston Bachelard, and the work of the writer and anthropologist Carlos Morais Josť called Clarity and Virtue.