Variations: Dvergr, Dvergar, Duergr, Duergar (Old Norse); Dvärgher (Old Swedish); Dweorg, Dweorh (Anglo-Saxon); Twerg (Old High German); Dökkalf, Dökkalfar, Svartalf, Swartalf, Svartalfar, Swartalfar (Dark Elf, Black Elf); Dverge (Norway); Bjergfolk, Troldfolk (Denmark); Dvärg (Sweden)
“Dwarf” is a broad term that has been used to describe any supernatural being of short stature, often stunted and ugly in form, and living under the earth. Here it is used to refer specifically to the Scandinavian dwarfs, the chthonic master craftsmen who emerged from Ymir’s corpse, the personifications of the earth’s might and riches. They are also known as Dark Elves or Black Elves, distinguishing them from the elves living on the surface.
When Odin and his brothers slew the frost giant Ymir, they used his body to make the world. From his blood they made the seas and rivers, from his flesh the land, from his bones the mountains, and from his teeth the stones. The vault of Ymir’s skull was the heavens, and fire from the land of Múspellheim became stars.
Living inside the ruin of Ymir’s body were maggots digging through his flesh. Odin gave them consciousness and human form, but, much like maggots, they continued their existence digging through earth and stone. Odin tasked four dwarfs – North, South, East, and West – with holding up Ymir’s enormous skull.
Dwarfs were twisted, hunchbacked, bearded, short-legged, pallid like corpses, shunning the sun – which turned them to stone. As there were no female dwarfs, they carved new dwarfs out of the rock. While small and ugly by the Aesir’s standards, they were also unequaled as artisans, smiths, and jewelers.
The greatest of the Aesir’s artifacts were made by dwarfs. After Loki cut Sif’s hair as a prank, the other gods forced him under penalty of death to restore her beauty. The trickster god went to the sons of Ívaldi, who not only fashioned perfect golden hair for the goddess, but also the ship Skídbladnir, and Odin’s spear Gungnir. Impressed with their work, Loki dared the dwarfs Brokkr and Sindri to do better, wagering his own head in the process. Despite Loki’s best efforts to stop them, which included turning into a fly and biting them at crucial moments, he was unable to prevent the creation of the golden boar Gullinbursti, the gold ring Draupnir, and Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. All those gifts were presented to the gods, who decided that the hammer was the greatest item made by the dwarfs. Brokkr made for Loki’s head, but was outwitted by the god. “I wagered my head only, and not my neck. You’re welcome to it – if you do so without touching my neck”. Frustrated, Brokkr settled for stitching the impertinent Loki’s lips together.
Dwarfs also made Gleipnir, the silken ribbon that was used to bind the Fenris-wolf. It was made from a cat’s footfall, a woman’s beard, a mountain’s sinews, a rock’s roots, a fish’s breath, and a bird’s spittle. The wolf was immediately suspicious of the fragile-looking thread, and the god Tyr had to put his hand in the wolf’s mouth to humor him. As expected, the dwarfs’ cord held fast and bound the Fenris-wolf, but at the cost of Tyr’s hand.
The dwarf Alvíss, the “all-knowing”, lusted after Thor’s daughter. The god consented to give him her hand in marriage, but only if he could answer the questions he asked. Thor then proceeded to ask Alvíss questions about the world and the universe, which the wise dwarf answered proudly. In fact, Alvíss was so engrossed in showing off his intelligence that he failed to notice the approach of dawn, and the unfortunate dwarf was turned to stone by the rising sun.
Known Eddic dwarf names include Ài, Àlfr, Althjófr, Alvíss, Andvari, Austri, Báfurr, Bifurr, Bömburr, Brokkr, Dáinn, Dólgthvari, Dóri, Draupnir, Dúfr, Durinn, Dvalinn, Eikinskjaldi, Falr, Fidr, Fili, Frosti, Fundinn, Gandálfr, Ginnarr, Glóinn, Hárr, Heptifili, Hledjólfr, Hörr, Hugstari, Ívaldi, Kili, Litr, Mjödvitnir, Módsognir, Náinn, Nár, Nidi, Nípingr, Nordri, Nóri, Nýi, Nýr, Nýrádr, Óinn, Ónarr, Óri, Rádsvidr, Rekkr, Sindri, Skáfidr, Skirfir, Sudri, Svíarr, Thekkr, Thorinn, Thróinn, Thrór, Váli, Vestri, Vídr, Vindálfr, Virfir, Vitr, and Yngvi.
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