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In Norse mythology, the duergar are highly significant entities associated with stones, the underground and forging.


Etymology

Dvergar (sing. dvergr) means dwarves in Old Norse.

Origin

The dwarves came into existence while Odin and his brothers Vili and fabricated the world from the corpse of the cosmic giant Ymir. They spontaneously generated, as maggots were thought to, in the dead flesh (i.e. earth or stone). The gods later gifted them with intelligence and human-like appearance.

They could also be minor deities, much like the (light) elves, which suggests how they could have acquired the name of dark or black elves . The dwarves Norðri, Suðri, Austri and Vestri support the four cardinal points. Nýi and Niði governs the waxing and waning lunar phase, respectively.

Description/Morphology

The dwarves are described as being rather ugly to the human eye, although there is little to indicate that they were diminished at all from human size. They are mostly seen as selfish, greedy, and cunning.


Powers/Weaknesses

They are skilled metal-workers and the makers of most of the artifacts of the gods, both Æsir and Vanir. Among their most famous creations are the spear Gungnir and the golden ring Draupnir of Odin, Mjolnir the hammer of Thor, the golden hair of Sif, Freyja's necklace Brísingamen and even the ship Skíðblaðnir of Freyr. The dwarves also fabricated a certain kind of helmet, called huliðshjálmr (concealing helmet), or sometimes a cloak, with which they could make themselves invisible. They fear sunlight, which might even turn them into the stone from which they sprang. They are also vengeful and Hervarar saga relates that when king Svafrlami had forced the dwarves Dvalin and Durin to forge the magic sword Tyrfing, the dwarves cursed it so it would bring death to Svafrlami and cause three evil deeds. In Ynglingatal it is told how King Sveigder is lured into a stone by a dwarf.


Places

Their dwelling place is the underground realm of Nidavellir, one of the nine worlds fixed to the world-tree Yggdrasil according to Norse cosmology.


History/Beliefs

Ragnarök

Their role at Ragnarök is not clear, Völuspá only mentions that:

How fare the gods?
how fare the elves?
All Jotunheim groans,
the gods are at council;
Loud roar the dwarfs
by the doors of stone,
The masters of the rocks;
would you know yet more?"

Apart from the Eddas, they notably appear in the fornaldarsagas. They seem to be interchangeable and may be identical with the svartálfar (black elves), and sometimes the trolls (compare also with vetter, a class of beings from later Scandinavian folklore).


List of Norse dwarves

The Völuspá divides the dwarves into what may be three tribes, lead by respectively Mótsognir, their first ruler; secondly Durinn, and finally Dvalinn, who according to the Hávamál brought them the art of rune writing. Völuspá 10–16 contains a list of dwarves:

9. Then sought the gods their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, and council held,
To find who should raise the race of dwarfs
Out of Brimir's blood and the legs of Blain.
10. There was Motsognir the mightiest made
Of all the dwarfs, and Durin next;
Many a likeness of men they made,
The dwarfs in the earth, as Durin said.
11. Nyi and Nithi, Northri and Suthri,
Austri and Vestri, Althjof, Dvalin,
Nar and Nain, Niping, Dain,
Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Nori,
An and Onar, Ai, Mjothvitnir,
12. Vigg and Gandalf, Vindalf, Thrain,
Thekk and Thorin, Thror, Vit and Lit,
Nyr and Nyrath,
Regin and Rathvith — now have I told the list aright.
13. Fili, Kili, Fundin, Nali,
Heptifili, Hannar, Sviur,
Frar, Hornbori, Fræg and Loni,
Aurvang, Jari, Eikinskjaldi.
14. The race of the dwarfs in Dvalin's throng
Down to Lofar the list must I tell;
The rocks they left, and through the wet lands
They sought a home in the fields of sand.
15. There were Draupnir and Dolgthrasir,
Hor, Haugspori, Hlevang, Gloin,
Dori, Ori, Duf, Andvari,
Skirfir, Virfir, Skafith, Ai.
16. Alf and Yngvi, Eikinskjaldi;
Fjalar and Frosti, Fith and Ginnar;
So for all time shall the tale be known,
The list of all the forbears of Lofar.

J. R. R. Tolkien got some of the names of the dwarves in his books from the Völuspá, see Dwarf (Middle-earth).


See also