Svartalfheim (Nidavellir) in Norse Mythology: Elves, Dwarfs and More


Svartalfheim, sometimes spelled Svartalvheim, is an exciting part of Norse mythology. However, in popular culture, it doesn’t get as much attention as Asgard or Midgard. 

Svartalfheim, also known as Nidavellir, is one of the nine realms in Norse mythology. It’s the home of the dwarves, the master craftsmen of the Norse tales. The name Svartalfheim translates to “Homeland of the Black Elves,” while Nidavellir means “Dark Fields” or “Low Fields.” 

This article will shed some light on Svartalfheim and the creatures who live there. It will also touch on what dwarves were like in Norse mythology and the difference between Dökkálfar and Ljósálfar Elves.

What are dwarves like in Norse mythology? See below (Image: Prose Edda manuscript)

What Does Old Norse Literature Say about Svartalfheim?

The original Völuspá poem from the Poetic Edda never mentions “Svartalfheim.” It does, however, talk about Nidavellir, saying simply that it was in the North and that Sindri’s family lived there in a golden hall. Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda talks about Svartalfheim in more detail. 

Most people agree that the beings who live in Svartalfheim are dwarves; however, in the Prose Edda, Sturluson calls them “dark elves” or “black elves,” which is confusing for some readers of Norse mythology. 

However, the general consensus is that the inhabitants of Svartalfheim are dwarves. 

The world itself is dark but not grim. It’s the darkness of caverns, mines, and underground forges, not the darkness of Hel or other lonely, desperate places. The caves and caverns where the dwarves live are also home to their workshops, where they make some of the most powerful things ever forged. 

What Are Dwarfs in Norse Mythology Like?

In Norse mythology, dwarves are short, stocky, and extremely skilled craftsmen. They made nearly all the fantastic things that belong to the gods, such as Odin’s magic ring and spear, Thor’s hammer, Frey’s collapsible ship, and the ribbon-like chain that bound the mighty wolf Fenrir. 

In Sturluson’s Prose Edda, he also describes the dwarves as being inky black. (Not all tales portray them this way, though.) They were created from the maggots that came from Ymir’s rotting flesh after Odin and his brothers killed him. [1]

In addition to being great craftsmen, they are also magical creatures, and many of the old tales portray them as shape-shifters. They’re also sensitive to the sun. In one notable story, the dwarf Alviss comes to Thor to claim Thor’s daughter, who was promised to him in marriage. 

Thor, unwilling to let his daughter marry Alviss, tricks the dwarf into talking with him all night, answering questions to prove that he’s the wisest of the dwarves. When the come comes up the following day, it turns Alviss to stone, solving Thor’s problem for him. 

Despite their diminutive size, dwarves are also incredibly strong. Two dwarves, Brokkr and Sindri, forged Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. This means they also held and carried it, which very few beings could do, proving that they had exceptional strength. 

Odin tasked another four dwarves, Austri (East), Vestri (West), Nordri (North), and Sudri (South), to hold up the corners of Ymir’s giant skull, which makes up the sky and the heavens in Norse mythology. 

Although few stories mention them, there were female dwarves as well as male dwarves. Not much is known about them, however.

Snorri Sturluson Prose Edda
What are dark and light elves? See below (Image: Snorri Sturluson)

What Are Dökkálfar and Ljósálfar Elves?

In Norse mythology (and various other mythologies), Dökkálfar are dark elves, and Ljósálfar are light elves. Dark elves live underground or within the earth and are sometimes considered malevolent. Light elves live in Alfheim, are beautiful and radiant, and inspire musicians and help things grow. 

The following sections examine these two creatures in more detail. 

Light Elves (Ljósálfar)

According to Norse mythology, there are nine worlds (or realms) all connected to Yggdrasil, the world tree. One of those realms, Alfheim, is Norse mythology’s closest thing to a Christian Heaven, although people don’t go there when they die. 

Instead, it’s a gorgeous place with perpetually blue skies, green grass, lovely trees and rivers, and everything else a person would expect to see in a “perfect” world. That’s where the light elves live. 

In appearance, they’re similar to Legolas, Galadriel, and other blonde-haired, blue-eyed elves from the Lord of the Rings movies. People often equate them with the sun, nature, and all things bright, beautiful, and alive.

They were magical creatures who were tied to nature, the harvest, fertility, and music. The gods Frey and Freya are often associated with light elves.

Dark Elves (Dökkálfar)

In his book, Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, John Lindow speculates that Dökkálfar are the same as svartálfar (black elves), which would actually make them dwarves. [2] However, most readers of Norse mythology separate the two creatures. 

For people who agree with Lindow, dark elves would be just like the inky-skinned, short craftsmen mentioned in the sections above. They aren’t beings of pure light, but nor are they evil creatures of darkness. They’re just dwarves; some are good, while others aren’t. 

However, those scholars who believe dark elves were distinct, non-dwarven creatures have a different view of them. [3]

First of all, dark elves were exclusively male, and although they were occasionally seen as protectors, they were also vicious to those who crossed or offended them. They live in dark places, usually underground, and in that way, they’re very much like dwarves. 

These dark elves (Dökkálfar) played less of a role in Norse mythology. They were more prevalent in Germanic and Scottish folklore, where they were traditionally “evil” or “mischievous” creatures. 

Modern Day Depictions

Today, people can find depictions of dark elves and light elves scattered throughout books, games, movies, and television. World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls, and other role-playing games feature both races prominently.

Additionally, the elves in any Tolkien-based movie or show are closely associated with light elves. At the same time, the villains in Hellboy II: The Golden Army are clearly representations of dark elves. Both Marvel Comics and the popular books, games, and television show The Witcher feature both races of elves, as well. 

Final Thoughts

Svartalfheim isn’t as well known as other Norse mythology worlds, such as Asgard or Midgard, but many great tales take place there nonetheless.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source

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