Meet the Dwarves of Norse Mythology? Who Are They?


Norse mythology is a rich and elaborate tapestry of incredible stories and vibrant characters, including the all-father Odin and the almighty Thor. While they are not revered like the gods and goddesses, nor infamous like the giants and giantesses, the dwarves of Norse mythology are as vital to the major storylines of Viking lore as the Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar.

Known for their intelligence and wisdom and renowned for their craftsmanship, dwarves are often depicted as short-statured, chubby old men with long, white beards. They are among the first beings to exist within the nine realms of the Norse cosmos, and their contributions are prominent throughout the Norse mythology timeline from the dawn of creation through the events leading up to Ragnarok.

Even their handiwork is timeless, according to Norse prophecies, Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, is to be wielded by Thor’s sons to administer justice in the post-Ragnarok world.  

Norse poems and sagas contain the names of many of them, but here are prominent dwarves of Norse mythology that you should know.

Dwarves in Norse Cosmology

As an indication of their stature in the Norse mythology hierarchy, dwarves were among the first beings in the Viking creation narrative.

In the beginning, the earth, the heavens, and all the realms of the Norse universe were created from the corpse of the frost giant Ymir by the all-father Odin and his Norse god brethren.

In fact, Odin himself, along with all humans and all giants, came into being from Ymir.

As the story goes, maggots feeding on Ymir’s rotting flesh eventually became the first dwarves. The fallen giant’s blood and bones were used to complete the formation of Modsognir and Durin, the original dwarves from whom all dwarves are descended.

They were fashioned in the form of humans but gifted with wisdom, skilled hands, and magical powers. [1]

Dwarves also figure prominently in the creation and preservation of the cosmos.  Without the contribution of dwarves, there would be no clouds above or stars at night to gaze upon.

When the formation of the Norse universe was nearly complete, the gods grew concerned that the sky (created from Ymir’s skull) would collapse under its weight and come crashing down to the earth below.

To address this, Odin dispatched four dwarves to each corner of the world to hold the sky up and prevent it from collapsing.

This monumental task was given to Austri (East), Vestri (West), Nordri (North), and Sudri (South). In Norse cosmology, these four dwarves unselfishly perform their colossal responsibility to support the sky above to preserve the earth below to this day. [2]

The Master Craftsmen of Norse Mythology

The dwarves in Norse mythology are perhaps best known not for their exploits and adventures, but rather for their handiwork.

More specifically, two sets of dwarf brothers are responsible for crafting the most recognizable items in the nine realms of the Viking cosmos. Many of these creations found their way in the hands of gods, including Odin, Freyr, and Thor.

While dwarf craftsmanship was without peer anywhere in the nine realms, what truly made pieces created by dwarves so remarkable was the magical attributes imparted into each item, which enhanced their intended purpose to unthinkable levels.

The Sons of Ivaldi

Perhaps the most famous of dwarf artisans were brothers known as the Sons of Ivaldi, who lived and worked in underground caverns deep within the realm of the dwarves, Svartalfheim.

Widely renowned for their unparalleled skill and impeccable work, the Sons of Ivaldi rose to even greater fame with the creation of the following three marvelous pieces, commissioned by the trickster god Loki:

  • Golden locks of hair – The item that brought Loki down to Svartalfheim in the first place was a set of hair to replace the locks he had mischievously cut off the head of Thor’s wife, Sif. Knowing that only masterfully spun golden hair from the skilled hands of dwarves would suffice to replace that which he had sullied, Loki sought the services of the Sons of Ivaldi.

When they created flowing locks that surpassed his expectations, Loki deviously tricked the dwarves into creating two other masterpieces to add to his bounty.

  • Skidbladnir – The second piece created by the Sons of Ivaldi was a marvelous ship named Skidbladnir. Not only was this the finest seagoing vessel ever made, but the dwarves cast a spell that would put favorable winds in its sails wherever its destination.  

In classic dwarf fashion, Skidbladnir could fold up and shrink in size to fit in its owner’s pocket so that it would always be available, ready to launch at a moment’s notice. Loki eventually gifted Skidbladnir to the Vanir god Freyr.

  • Gungnir – The third item crafted by the dwarf brothers was a fine spear imbued with the magical ability always to hit the mark intended by its master.  Gungnir was given to the god Odin, and it was the only weapon he regularly carried with him everywhere he went. [3]

Brokkr and Eitri – Creators of Thor’s Hammer

There is perhaps no Norse god more famous and beloved than Thor, the protector of Asgard (the realm of the gods) and Midgard (the realm of humankind). And just as recognizable as his Viking warrior facade is his trusted hammer, Mjolnir.

Like Gungnir and Skidbladnir, Thor’s hammer was crafted by dwarf hands, only these belonged to brothers Brokkr and Eitri.

Like the creations of the Sons of Ivaldi, the handiwork of Brokkr and Eitri was the result of Loki’s mischief during his stay in Svartalfheim.

Loki’s original purpose for traveling to the dwarves’ realm was to replace the locks of hair he had cut off the head of Thor’s wife.  

Unable to resist the urge to deceive others for his own good, Loki bet Brokkr and Eitri that they could not craft three pieces superior in quality (as judged by the gods in Asgard) to the handiwork of the Sons of Ivaldi.

The dwarves eagerly accepted Loki’s challenge (he had wagered his head) and produced three masterpieces that would be forever immortalized in Norse mythology:

  • Gullinbursti – A magnificent boar with brilliant, golden fur gifted to the god Freyr and served as his constant companion.  Despite being a wild boar, Gullinbursti had the speed to outrun virtually any horse and had the strength to pull Freyr’s chariot over land, through the air, and even across water.
  • Draupnir – An enchanted gold ring that was worn by none other than Odin, the god of all gods. Draupnir’s magical attribute was the ability to reproduce itself eight times every ninth night.
  • Mjolnir – The crowning achievement of Brokkr and Eitri (and the entire dwarfdom for that matter) was the creation of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir.  With the power to level entire mountains and slay giants, Mjolnir was also imbued with the magical ability to always fly true and strike its target and return to its owner’s hand when summoned.

Although Norse prophecies foretold the demise of Thor during the events of Ragnarok (the Viking end of days), as a testament to the craftsmanship and magic of Brokkr and Eitri, Mjolnir emerges post-Ragnarok to be wielded by Thor’s sons Magni and Modi to once again protect the gods and humans from all forms of evil. [4] [5]

Gleipnir – Fettering Fenrir

Another contribution to Viking lore fashioned by dwarf hands was not an object revered for its beauty but rather for its incredible strength. 

Fenrir was a giant wolf that Norse prophecies foretold would kill the all-father Odin during Ragnarok.

Although it would seemingly only delay the inevitable, the gods made every effort to forestall the sequence of events leading up to Ragnarok by fettering Fenrir.

The mighty beast could not be restrained by any manner of chain or leash until dwarves (some sources credit the Sons of Ivaldi) created fetters (named Gleipnir) from which Fenrir could not escape.

Despite being “smooth and soft as a silken ribbon,” Gleipnir was the only material strong enough to impound Fenrir until the arrival of Ragnarok.

(Ultimately, Fenrir did break free once the events of Ragnarok began in earnest.) [6]

Alfrigg, Dvalinn, Berling, and Grerr – Master Jewelers

In addition to being craftsmen without peer, the dwarves of Norse mythology were also master jewelers, and in particular, could fashion beautiful pieces from gold like no other.  

This talent was observed firsthand by none other than the goddess Freyja, who came across the dwarf brothers Alfrigg, Dvalinn, Berling, and Grerr, busily working in their workshop and unaware they were being watched.

The Viking goddess of love and beauty became entranced as she watched a beautiful gold necklace take shape under the skilled hands of the dwarf brothers, with delicate weaves and intricate patterns – the likes of which she had never before seen.

The finished piece, which would come to be known as Brisingamen, would eventually become one of Freyja’s most prized possessions and one for which she was willing to pay any price.

Freyja came out of hiding when Brisingamen was completed and attempted to bargain for the necklace, offering a fortune in gold and silver.

The dwarves turned down all of Freyja’s offers and countered with one of their own: they would surrender their masterpiece to the goddess if she would agree to spend one night with each of them.  

Suffice to say, Freyja held up her end of the deal, and four days later, Brisingamen adorned the goddess’ neck, but not before the four dwarf goldsmiths were compensated in a manner most would consider unthinkable.

(Unbeknownst to Freyja, she was being observed by the mischievous Loki, who reported her infidelity to her lover Odin, which is a notable episode in Norse mythology in its own right.) [7]

A Legendary Norse Dragon was Actually a Dwarf

The theme of fateful greed runs strong in Norse mythology, and one classic tale involves one of the most infamous creatures in Norse mythology, the fierce dragon Fafnir, who, as it turns out, began his life as a dwarf prince.

Fafnir’s tragic tale begins with another dwarf named Andvari, who owned a magical ring known as Andvaranaut, which reputedly had the power to lead its owner to gold.

Andvari’s vast treasure, including the ring, was stolen by Loki but not before Andvari laid a curse on Andvaranaut that would bring death and misery to anyone who had the misfortune to be its owner.

Loki passed the ring to a dwarf king named Hreidmar as remuneration for accidentally killing one of his sons, and Fafnir, along with Regin, were the king’s remaining sons.

In their quest to own the enchanted ring, Fafnir and Regin murdered their father.  Not surprisingly, the brothers turned against each other, and Fafnir transformed himself into a dragon to repel all threats to his treasure. Regin turned to his adopted son Sigurd to vanquish Fafnir and bring him the golden ring Andvaranaut.

Naturally, the ring’s curse continued to exert its influence, and Regin had already planned to kill Sigurd once the ring was delivered to him. However, Sigurd learned of Regin’s intentions and beat him to the punch, murdering his adopted father.

Fafnir’s story is a lesson in the power of greed, as told through the tragic events befalling dwarves who succumbed to the curse of Andvaranaut. [8]

Fjalar and Galar – The Brewmasters of the Mead of Poetry

Like so many ancient stories, old Norse myths and legends were told in the form of poems, and thus poetry was a form of communication that was highly revered.

The Vikings believed that the ability to speak or write in poetic form was a special and rare talent that could only be bestowed upon someone who drank the mead of poetry, which came to be through the ruthless cunning of two dwarf brothers named Fjalar and Galar.

In the events leading up to this enchanted elixir’s concoction, the Aesir and the Vanir settled longstanding differences after years of conflict.

To commemorate the occasion, the two factions of gods created a man named Kvasir, who was given unparalleled wisdom for which he became famous throughout the Norse universe. Kvasir also used his gift of speech to connect with all those he encountered.

Under the guise of an invitation to feast with them, Fjalar and Galar conspired to murder Kvasir and, upon committing the treacherous deed, drained Kvasir’s blood into two large jugs (named Son and Bodn), as well as a cauldron (Odrorir).

The brothers created the mead of poetry by mixing the blood with honey, and whoever consumed the magical blend would be infused with wisdom and a poetic tongue.

Fjalar and Galar soon found themselves on the verge of meeting a violent end when Suttung sought vengeance for the murder of his parents at the hands of the brothers.  

They exchanged the mead of poetry for their lives, and it was not long before word of Suttung’s newfound treasure reached the all-father Odin, who managed to steal the mead of poetry from Suttung and share its gifts with gods and men as he saw fit. [9]

A Dwarf Nearly Became Thor’s Son-in-Law

The almighty Thor is revered for his unparalleled bravery and nearly unmatched physical strength.

When it came time to avert a particularly undesirable situation of personal nature, however, Thor engaged in a battle of wits with a dwarf of legendary intellect rather than resorting to his customary brutish ways victorious.

Alviss was a dwarf who had a reputation throughout the nine realms as a master craftsman, like many of his brethren dwarves.

However, Alviss was also well-known for his sharp wit.  As the story goes, he was promised the hand of Thrud, Thor’s daughter, in marriage, but Thor decided that he did not want a dwarf for a son-in-law and sought ways to get out of the arrangement.

Knowing that Alviss was proud of his intellectual prowess, Thor hatched a plan to rid himself of his little problem permanently. (It should be noted that according to various poems and sagas, because they dwelled underground in Svartalfheim, dwarves could not stand sunlight and would be turned to stone should the sun’s rays shine on them.)

Under the guise of testing his future son-in-law to see if indeed he was wise enough to be his daughter’s husband, Thor began asking Alviss a series of questions on far-ranging topics.

So engaged was Alviss in answering Thor’s questions that he failed to notice that night had long since fallen and dawn was about to break. The moment that the sun rose and shone on Alviss, the poor lovelorn dwarf turned to stone. [10]

Conclusion

The dwarves of Norse mythology may have been diminutive in stature, and by many accounts, they may not have been the most handsome of creatures.

But their significance in Norse mythology cannot be denied, as their handiwork has been sought out by goddesses, their weaponry relied upon by the most powerful of gods, and their exploits have been intricately woven into the fabric that is Viking lore.

References:

[1] https://www.timelessmyths.com/norse/beings.html

[2] https://bavipower.com/blogs/bavipower-viking-blog/10-things-about-dwarves-in-norse-myth

[3] https://mythology.net/norse/norse-concepts/mjolnir/

[4] https://www.ancientpages.com/2019/08/19/brokkr-and-eitri-norse-dwarves-who-fashioned-magical-artifacts-for-the-gods/

[5] https://historyofvikings.com/who-could-lift-mjolnir-norse-mythology/

[6] https://pantheon.org/articles/g/gleipnir.html

[7] http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/mythology/myths/text/freyja.htm

[8] https://blog.vkngjewelry.com/norse-dwarves/

[9] https://thenorsegods.com/the-mead-of-poetry/

[10] https://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/dwarves/

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