Dvergar, Dvärgar

Dvärgar or Norse dwarves (Old Norse dvergar, sing. dvergr) are highly significant entities in Norse mythology, who associate with rocks, the earth, deathliness, luck, technology and forging. They are identified with Svartálfar ('black elves'), and Dřkkálfar ('dark elves'), due to their apparently interchangeable use in early texts such as the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda.

In later Scandinavian folklore, other kinds of nature spirits (Vćttir), like the Troll and the Nisse, seem to take over many of the functions of the Dvergar.

In the Dvergatal section, the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá divides the dwarves into what may be three tribes, lead firstly by Mótsognir their first ruler, secondly by Durinn, and finally by Dvalinn. Hávamál mentions Dvalinn brought the runic alphabet to the Dvergar.

Extraordinary small member of a race of normal stature; also a being in folklore. Historically, household dwarfs were kept as curiosities in ancient Egypt and were especially prized in Rome, where slave children were sometimes stunted to increase their price. In medieval and Renaissance Europe they occasionally held responsible positions but served primarily as entertainers and household fools, espeically in Italy, Spain and Germany. Russian noblemen in the 18th and 19th centuries kept innumberable dwarfs; elaborate dwarf weddings were celebrated at court, and in 1710 a dwarf couple spent their wedding night in the tsar's bedchamber. Few household dwarfs were kept after thei 18th century in western Europe.

In Germanic folklore the dwarf was a species of fairy inhabiting mountain and mine interiors and were sometimes confused with gnomes. There should be no difficulty in distinguishing between the two races because gnomes are perfectly formed while dwarfs have twisted bodies, big heads and gnarled faces.

Considered to be approximately the height of a two-year-old child, they were sometimes beautiful but usually resembled grave old men with long beards and humped backs. Mountain dwarfs belonged to kingdoms or tribes; they had chieftains and armies and lived in subterranean halls belived to be full of gold and gems.

Dwarfs normally live underground but emerge from time to time to celebrate various festivities such as weddings and anniversaries. They are wary of mankind but when the weather is inclement they may occupy men's homes in order to enjoy their festivities in comfort. In such instances the househoulder and his family are always welcome to join in, but if they reject the invitation the dwarfs will inevitably bring ill fortune on the dwelling and its occupants.

Dwarfs are particularly skilful miners, metallurgists, and metalworkers, with magical powers which enable them to find the richest veins of precious metals and work them into every kind of weapon or artefact. One well-known example of dwarf craftsmanship is the Ring of Odin, made for the wife of Thor, which bestows perpetual wealth upon its wearer. The dwarfs also work in base metals and they have made numerous magic swords and spears, possibly including Excalibur.

Dwarfs have a strong ability to foretell the future although they never employ this for commercial purposes and rarely if ever use it for the benefit of mankind. They do not have any written language and pass on their craft knowledge through centuries in learing the magical properties locked into the hearts of base or precious minerals.

They could also become invisible, and assume other forms. Services rendered them might be repaid with gold; those who stole their treasures met with great misfortune or found the gold turned to dead leaves.

They helped humans in farmwork, but sometimes stole grain, teased cattle, and abducted children and young girls. They appear in the ancient lays of the Icelandic Elder Edda, in the prose Völsunga Saga, and in the middle German epic Nibelungenlied.

Mine-dwelling dwarfs, usually more spiteful than the mountain variety, were heard by miners moving about their lower levels. Miners sometimes met dwarfs when they broke through into one of their underground workshops, or into a seam which a gang of dwarf miners were exploiting. If the miners withheld gifts and exchanged the proper courtesies of food or observed the little men with their picks and hammers do not resent these accidental meetings, they might even help the miners to a rich discovery. But if the men looked at the dwarfs too closely and were rude, they ignited firedamp, broke tools, or pulled the roof down. In England the mine dwarf survives in legends of the knockers that inhabit Cornwall and Staffordshire mines.

See also
Dwarf (Dwarves in later folklore) | Myths and Legends
Elves | Myths and Legends
Jötunn | Myths and Legends
Troll | Myths and Legends
Wight | Myths and Legends