Norse Dwarves, Elves And Other Beings Explained
Of Dwarves and Elves has a list of names of strange beings that appeared in Norse myths and legends. Beings such as dwarves, elves and spirits.
These wondrous beings were later to transmitted into later Germanic folklore and fairy tales. From here they filled the world of fantasy novels, such as J. J. R. Tolkien’s great masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings.
Dwarves appeared frequently in Norse and Germanic myths and legends. The dwarves were said to inhabited Nidavellir, one of the Nine Worlds created by the gods, though they also seemed to live in Midgard as well, the world of men. According to Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, the dwarves were created from the maggots that fed from the flesh of the primeval giant Ymir. These maggots were transformed into dwarves. The first dwarf was named Modsognir, while the other was named Durin.
There was another group of dwarves, known as the black elves or Svartálfar, who lived in the world of Svartalfheim. Snorri couldn’t distinguish these so-called black elves from the normal dwarves, except that these Svartálfar lived underground.
The dwarves were frequently seen as great smith, where they make magical items for gods or heroes. However, the dwarves also had bad reputations in the dark age and medieval writings, because they were usually seen as greedy thieves.
|Modsognir and Durin|
|Sons of Ivaldi|
|Brokk & Eiti|
|Fjalar and Galar|
|Modsognir (“frenzy-roarer”) and Durin (“sleepy”) were the first two dwarves, who were created by the gods. They were originally maggots that fed from the flesh of the giant Ymir. These two dwarves became the first ancestors of the dwarves. The Voluspa (from the Poetic Edda) says that they were created from |he blood and bones of Blain (Blain is probably another name for Ymir). Then were dwarves from the earth, and the prophetess goes on to list the name of some dwarves. There were also another group of dwarves, who were known as dwarves of the rocks.||
|Lofar appeared to be one of the early dwarves, whose descendants lived in Ioruvellir (Iara’s plain). Dvalin, one of the leaders of the dwarves, and his descendants, appeared to be the people of Lofar.||
|A dwarf. The name of Dvalin is mentioned several times in the Poetic Edda, as well as in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda. Dvalin appeared to be the chieftain or leader of the dwarves.
In the Voluspa, the dwarves were descendants from Dvalin and his daughters. The poem go on to say that these dwarves were people of Lofar, which indicated that the Dvalin and his descendants came from the dwarf Lofar.
|Dwarves. The four sons of Ivaldi were master craftsmen.
On Loki advise, the sons of Ivaldi (“bowman”), created three gifts for the Aesir. They created the magic gold wig to replace the beautiful hair of Sif (wife of Thor). They also made the collapsible boat for Freyr, called Skidbladnir. Whenever the god was not using the boat, he can shrink the vessel to a size where he can placed Skidbladnir in his pocket. The sons of Ivaldi also made the invincible spear Gungnir for Odin.
See Gifts of the Dwarves for full story.
|Brokk and Eiti (Sindri) were dwarf brothers. They were master craftsmen, who created the Gullinbursti (“golden bristles”) for Freyr, the Draupnir (Ring of Power) for Odin and Mjollnir (magic war hammer) for Thor.
Bokk and Eiti were jealous of the craftsmanship of the sons of Ivaldi. Loki made a wager with Brokk and Eiti, that they could not make anything better than the sons of Ivaldi. The bet was that Loki would lose his head if Brokk and Eiti made something better.
The Aesir were very pleased with the gifts from Brokk and Eiti. Loki lost his bet against the dwarfs. Though, gods refused to allow the dwarfs to take Loki’s head, the gods did agreed to allow Brokk to sew Loki’s mouth shut. When Loki tried to escape, Thor brought the terrified Trickster back, while Brokk sealed Loki’s lips with wire.
See Gifts of the Dwarves for full story.
|The Brisings or Bristlings were the name of the four dwarfs or dwarven brothers. They were named Alfrigg, Berling, Dvalin and Grer.
The dwarfs were responsible for creating a beautiful gold necklace (some say it was a belt), known as the Brísingamen (Brisingamen). It was so beautiful that the goddess Freyja wanted the Brisingamen for herself.
The story of Freyja and the Brisingamen was told more fully in the work known as Sottr Thattr, written about 1400.
At this time Freyja was Odin’s favourite mistress. I don’t know what was special about this necklace, but it was probably to enhance the wearer’s beauty, but Freyja was already considered to be the most beautiful woman/goddess in the world.
One night, Freyja left her bed and her palace, wandering through the woods and came before a cave where she heard dwarves working on a piece of jewellery. Loki secretly followed the goddess, spying on Freyja. When Freyja saw the Brisingamen, she became obsessed with the beautifully crafted necklace.
The dwarfs refused to accept Freyja’s gold and silver for the necklace in trade. The Brisings would only give the goddess their Brisingamen only if she slept with each one of them. In desperation to possess the Brisingamen, Freyja willingly agreed to their price. For four nights, she spent a night in each of the dwarf’s bed.
Loki discovered Freyja’s wantonness and informed Odin of her conduct. Odin was disgusted that Freyja was acting like a whore, by selling herself for the Brisingamen. Odin had Loki steal the Brisingamen from Freyja.
Most people could not enter her hall, called Sessrumnir, without Freyja’s permission, no matter how powerful a god or giant was. Loki entered Sessrumnir, by transforming himself into a flea.
Freyja was sleeping, while still wearing the Brisingamen. As a flea, Loki bit so that the goddess would turn around in the bed. This allowed Loki’s to unlock the clasp and slip the necklace off Freyja.
When Freyja woke and found that her necklace was missing, she knew that it was Loki who had stolen them. And Freyja also knew that the sly god would not have done so without Odin’s order. Freyja went and confronted Odin, demanding the return of her Brisingamen.
Freyja told Odin that it was disgraceful that he would take her necklace. Odin countered that it was she who was even more disgraceful for her, because she had slept with four dwarves to gain the Brisingamen.
Odin agreed to return the Brisingamen to Freyja, only on the condition that she starts war in the world of men, between two kings. Freyja had no choice, if she wanted the Brisingamen returned to her.
This war was fought over a woman named Hild, between Hogni, king of Norway and Hedin Hjarrandason, which was known as Hjadningavig were found in several different sources.
According Snorri Sturluson, who based his brief legend on one of the stories in the Lay of Ragnar (Ragnarsdrapa), written by 9th century poet named Bragi. Hogni had a daughter named Hild, whom Hedin Hjarrandason abducted during Hogni’s absence from his kingdom. When Hogni returned and found out that Hedin had raided his kingdom and abducted his daughter, he gathered his forces in his kingdom and set out against Hedin. Hogni found Hedin and her daughter in Orkney.
Hild tried to make peace between Hedin and her father, because she was now Hedin’s wife. Hild tried to appeal to her father, to not fight her new husband, but he ignored her. When the two armies deployed for battle, Hedin offered his wealth as atonement, in order to avert war. Hogni answered it was too late for peace offering, because he had drawn his sword, Dainsleif, and it can’t be sheathed until the blade has tasted blood.
So that day, they fought until nightfall, so both sides retired to their camps, leaving the dead behind. Hild walked among the dead, and with her magic, she brought the slain back to life, to fight the same battle on the next morning.
In the new morning, the dead on both sides, fought again with the living, until nightfall ended the battle. During the night, Hild used her magic again on the dead so that they would rise again to fight the same battle. This happened again and again. The two armies fought during the day; at night the dead turned into stone, but when morning comes, the dead would pick up their weapon and fight another day.
The two armies were cursed to fight one another until the day of Ragnarok.
This was the endless war that Freyja would start, to regain her necklace.
The Brisingamen was frequently mentioned from works earlier than the Sorla Thattr.
In Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson, the Brisingamen was mentioned several times. It mentioned that Freyja was the owner of the Brisingamen. It also mentioned Hjadningavig, but unlike Sorla Thattr, in Snorri’s version there are no connection between the theft of the Brisingamen and the ever-lasting battle.
Later, it tells of how Loki stole the Brisingamen, which was different from the Sorla Thattr. Loki tried to escape from Sessrumnir with the Brisingamen. However Heimdall, the guardian of Bifrost (Rainbow Bridge), had keen eyes and saw Loki’s theft. Heimdall immediately set out on pursuit, caught and fought with Loki at Singastein. Heimdall recovered the stolen necklace and returned the Brisingamen to Freyja.
According to the Thrymskvida, a poem from the Poetic Edda, when Thor went to recover his stolen hammer from the giants, Thor had to disguise himself as Freyja and as bride to the giant Thrym. To complete his disguise, Thor had to borrow the Brisingamen from Freyja. See Blushing Bride.
|Fjalar and Galar were two dwarfs who had killed the Vanir Kvasir. They created the Mead of Poetry, by mixing honey with Kvasir’s blood. The mead were stored in two vats, called Bodn and Son, and a pot called Odrerir.
Fjalar and Galar accidentally drowned the giant Gilling when their boat capsized, but they murdered Gilling’s wife, whose howling grief upset the two dwarfs. The giant Suttung would have killed the two dwarfs, for killing his parents. They escaped with their lives, when Fjalar and Galar gave the Mead of Poetry to Suttung as compensation.
See Mead of Poetry for a full story.
|Dwarf in the Völsunga Saga (Volsunga Saga). Andvari had the remarkable ability to change himself into a salmon. Andvari possessed the treasure that included several magic armours, such as the Helm of Awe and Gold Byrnie (byrnie mean corselet or cuirass wore by Norse/Vikings). Andvari also possessed a gold ring allowed the wearer to find more gold, because of its attraction to the precious metal. When Andvari lost his treasure and his ring to Loki, he brought a curse upon any mortal who choose to wear the ring. Loki stole the treasure to release the hostages, and used it to ransomed two bounded gods.
Andvari’s treasure hoard became known as Ottergild (“Otter’s Ransom“). The treasure came into Hreidmar’s possession, before he lost his life and treasure to his son, Fafnir. Then the treasure belong to Sigurd, when the hero killed Fafnir, before it finally belong to the Giukings (Gunnar and Hogni). The Guikings buried the treasure somewhere along the Rhine, to hide it from Atli. The treasure were never found again.
The most precious item that Andvari had made, was the gold ring, Andvaranaut, but the dwarf cursed anyone who wore the ring. Fafnir had worn the ring, until Sigurd won the ring with the treasure. At first he bestowed the ring to Brynhild, before he took it back and gave it to his wife Gudrun. Gudrun used the ring as proof that Sigurd was the hero who rode through the flame to Brynhild, twice, not her brother Gunnar, whom Brynhild thought. This proof brought death to Sigurd and Brynhild.
Gudrun still wore the ring (Andvaranaut), when she was tricked into marrying Atli. She send the ring as a message for her brothers not to come to Atli’s land, because her husband was treacherous, seeking the treasure of Sigurd. She had carved runes as warning, and wrapped a strand of wolf hair around the ring. Gunnar and Hogni came to Atli, despite the warning and the visions from their wives. They were captured and killed.
The ring was behind the cycle of the treachery and violent death. The German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) had used the ring as the instrument of curse that had brought down a hero and the Burgundian family, and had called Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).
See Volsunga Saga about the ring, Sigurd and Guikings (Nibelungs).
|A dwarf in the German mythology, Alberich appeared in the epic poem or saga called Nibelungenlied. Alberich had served as the treasurer first to Nibelung I, whose name was given to the land, Nibelungland, and the people, who lived in this land, were called Nibelungs. The care of Nibelung’s treasure was given to Alberich, as guardian.
At Nibelung’s death, Alberich then served Nibelung’s sons – Schilbung and Nibelung II. The brothers ruled Nibelungland as kings. Seeking adventure in foreign land, Siegfried killed the two kings in battle.
Alberich, who possessed Tarnkappe, a cloak that rendered the wearer invisible. Alberich used the magic cloak to defend the Nibelung treasure. Alberich lost the magic cloak to Siegfried. Winning the kingdom and treasure, Siegfried became the new lord or king of Nibelungland.
At Siegfried’s death, who was murdered by Hagen, Alberich saw that the treasure rightfully belonged to Siegfried’s widow, Kriemhild. Without the magic cloak (Tarnkappe), Alberich could not properly protect the enormous wealth from invaders, the dwarf thought it was best to give the treasure to Siegfried’s widow.
However, not long Kriemhild gain the treasure, then Hagen stole the treasure from her and sank it in the Rhine River. Kriemhild tried to regain Siegfried’s treasure by marrrying a powerful king, King Etzel. Kriemhild tried to regain the treasure, but it was lost forever when Kriemhild murdered Hagen.
It should be note that after Kriemhild’s marriage to Etzel, the Burgundians became indistinguishable to the Nibelungs.
The elves were also called álfar. The elves were a race of mythical beings, who were, in a way, lesser deities. They weren’t exactly gods in the normal sense, but they did possessed powers. They are similar to Roman household deities, such as the Penates and Lares, where people prayed to them to protect home and household.
People also prayed to the elves for healing, as it was the case for Kormak in the Kormaks Saga (13th century). Kormak had wounded Thorvard. The witch Thordis advised Thorvard to allow the elves to heal him, he sacrificed a bull at the elf’s mound. He first slaughtered the bull, then sprinkling the blood around the mound, before preparing the meat for elves to feast on. The sacrifice was known as álfablót or “elf’s sacrifice”.
There are some scattered references of elves in the Poetic Edda, but their roles in Norse myths were minimal, at best. Snorri Sturluson mention how the gods created a world for which they were to live in, and the difference between the light-elves (ljósálfar) and dark elves (dokkálfar) or black elves (svartálfar), but nothing about individual elf.
What we do know is that the elves or light-elves lived in one of the Nine Worlds, called Alfheim. The Vanir god Freyr has his palace and hall in Alfheim, where he ruled as their god. It was said that the gods gave Alfheim to Freyr, as payment for losing his tooth.
…Alfheim the gods gave to Freyr
in bygone days as tooth-payments.
Grimnir’s Sayings 5, from The Poetic Edda
translated by Carolyne Larrington
There are other types of light-elves such as muntælfen (mountain elf), landælf (field elf), wæterælfen or saeælfen (water nymph) and wuduælfen (wood spirit).
There are several different types of elves, and they seemed to be related to the dwarves, because Snorri referred the black elves (svartálfar) as dwarves, or the black elves are not elves at all. The black elves lived in a different world called Svartalfheim, while the dwarves lived in Nidavellir.
As to the dark elves (dokkálfar), Snorri says that they were black than pitch and lived underground. They are unlike the light-elves in appearance and nature.
I should also mentioned that in the Eddaic poem, titled Volundarkvida – the “Lay of Volund”, the master smith Volund (Wayland) was known as the Lord of Elves. Which type of elves did he belonged to? Or is he really the lord of dwarves, who were known as black elves (svartálfar). Since Volund/Wayland was a master craftsman/smith, a skill often attributed to the dwarves, then Volund could very well be the Lord of the Svartálfar. Volund was popularly known in English speaking countries as Wayland.
The truth is that the writers in the Norse myths don’t have much to say about the elves. Their roles were developed more later in folklore, fairy tales and in the world of fantasy novels, such as by the novelist J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
|Wayland (Volund), see German Heroes.|
|An elf. As far as I can determine, Dain is the leader of the elves in the world of Alfheim. His name is mentioned in the Havamal (“Sayings of the High One”), along with Odin.
Odin for Aesir, and Dain for the elves,
Havamal 143, from Poetic Edda
The following beings come from the spirit world. Some were protective spirits or minor deities.
Note that Valkyries moved to new page of it own.
|The dísir were lesser female deities in the Norse religion. They were female fertility beings or spirits with the power to protect home and crops. The dísir also can assist women in childbirth.
The word dísir means “divine ladies” or “goddesses”, but they were lower than Asyniur, which is the female version of the word Aesir. The goddess Freyja was known as Vanadis, which is the “dís of the Vanir”.
In the Icelandic poem, Sigrdrifumal (“Lay of Sigrdrifa”, which is part of the Poetic Edda), the Valkyrie Sigrdrifa (she was known elsewhere as Brynhild) knew a spell called helping-runes:
Helping-runes you must know if you want to assist
Sigrdrifumal 9, from Poetic Edda
Annual festivals were held in honour to the dísir either around the end of autumn or the beginning of winter, called disablót (“Sacrifice of the Dísir”) or disfest (“Feast of the Dísir”).
They were probably the female divinities mentioned in the first spell of the Merseburg charms, as idisi.
|Fylgjur were female protective spirits where each fylgja attached herself to an individual at birth. The fylgja remained with that person for the rest of his or her life. At the person’s death, the fylgja would attach to someone else. In this sense it is sort of like a guardian angel.
It is believed that the fylgjur are usually invisible, and the fylgja only appeared to the person they meant to protect is in danger. They sometimes appeared in the person’s dream.
Fylgjur means “fetches”. The fetches were popular in German folklore and sometimes used in horror novels. The fetches were apparitions of the living person, or their doubles. Other words for fetches are wraiths and doppelgängers. Seeing one’s own double mean that it portend his or her death was imminent.
In Helgakvida Hiorvardssonar, Hedin, Helga Hiorvard’s half-brother, was said to have met his fetch, in the form of troll-woman, riding a wolf, using serpent as her rein. No name was given in the poem. She asked for Hedin to sleep her, but she refused.
|Einheriar or Einherjar were the fallen warriors in battles chosen by the Valkyries to reside in Valhalla with Odin, until Ragnarok. When the god Heimdall blow his horn or trumpet Gjallahorn, these dead heroes will march with the gods (Aesir) to fight the frost-giants and monstrous offspring of Loki.
Only half of those who are chosen by the Valkyries goes to Odin’s hall called Valhalla. The half that Odin received, who had fallen in battle, become his adopted sons. They would follow his lead when Ragnarok arrived. The other half of the brave fallen warriors resided with the goddess Freyja in her hall, called Fólkvangar (“battlefield”).
|A draugar was ghost or walking dead. They weren’t actually ghost in the normal sense as of spirit or phantom. Rather that the corpses were animated and walking again. They inhabited in treasure-filled burial mounds, so they were known as mound dwellers.
Unlike the fylgjur, they are more of an abomination, a pest. They were sometimes said to have glowing baleful eyes. Their figures were usually bloated and their bodies were in the stage of decomposition, so they would smell like rotting meat.
Sometimes, the draugar were seen as harmless, they sometimes choose to haunt where they used to live. However this close appromixity with the dead, usually upset the living, especially relatives and family.
At other times they posed serious threat to the living, because they would attack people and animals near their mounds, particularly during midwinter. The only way to kill something that was already dead, was to decapitate the draugr and placing its head on its own buttocks, before cremating the corpse.
According to the Eyrbyggja saga, there was feud between two neighbours in Iceland – Snorri the priest and Thorolf Twist-foot. Thorolf had been involved with treachery and murders against his former slaves and various neighbours. Thorolf was so upset with his son Arnkel, whom he also betrayed, wouldn’t help him against Snorri that night while still sitting up. Arnkel had difficulty in burying his father, because his body was unusually heavy and the corpse was spooking the horse.
It was soon discovered that Thorolf was haunting his properties, especially at night. Horses and cattles were dying, apparentedly frightened to death. People who were caught outdoor in the middle of night, could die unexpectedly. Among those who had died was Thorolf’s widow because of Thorolf’s haunting. Eventually, Arnkel was forced to move his father body off some isolated location, and built a high wall around his father’s grave.