Dwarves In Norse Mythology

Dwarves in Norse mythology: A guide to Norse dwarves

Dwarves in Norse mythology are among the most well-known fantasy creatures to emerge from the Nordic landscape. Often aligned with elves, another popular Nordic creature, dwarves were considered to be beings of incredible strength and skill.

The image most people associate with dwarves today is usually a short, stocky creature, covered in muscles and facial hair. Indeed, some depictions of dwarves in popular culture and books make them seem a little like miniature versions of the classic Viking.

However, if we take a look at the Viking dwarf, depicted in old texts like the Prose Edda, we get a slightly different view of what ancient Norse dwarves may have been like.

Today, we’re going to share everything you need to know about the Nordic dwarf.

What did dwarves look like in Norse mythology?

Let’s start by considering the appearance of Dwarves in Norse mythology. The term “dwarf” comes from the Old Norse term “Dvergr”.

While we don’t have an exact translation for what this term means, scholar believes there’s no reference in the title to the short stature we commonly associate with dwarves. Rather, dwarves where seen by the Vikings as the opposite to the elves.

In Norse mythology, elves were beautiful, tall, and statuesque creatures, often connected with concepts of light and life. Alternatively, dwarves were usually described as being humanoid in appearance, with pitch-black skin.

They were usually described as being quite short and stocky, which aligns with the image we have today. However, they were also highly magical creatures.

In some Norse mythology stories, certain dwarves had shape-shifting capabilities, and were able to turn into a multitude of different animals to hide from people. Interestingly, some stories also suggest dwarves are unable to thrive in the sun.

When the dwarf Alviss approached Thor to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage, the sun rose and turned him into stone.

Dwarves In Norse Mythology
Credit: Axel Kirch

Where are dwarves from in Norse mythology?

The origin of dwarves in Norse mythology is linked to a rather famous Old Norse tale. According to ancient Nordic myths and legends, at the beginning of existence, the heavens, the earth, and all the 9 realms of the Norse universe were created by the corpse of a frost giant named Ymir.

Odin, the “all father” in Norse mythology, designed the various realms and different creatures living within them from the components of the giant’s body.

The story suggests the maggots feeding on the rotting flesh of Ymir were eventually transformed into the first dwarves. Similarly, the blood and bones of the fallen giant were also used to form Durin and Modsognir, the original Nordic dwarves, from which all future lineages descended.

While Dwarves were designed in a similar fashion to humans, they were gifted with various talents, including magical powers, skilled hands for craftmanship, and incredible wisdom.

Among the nine worlds of Norse legend, the dwarves were said to dwell mostly in Svartalfheim, where the dark elves could also be found.

What do dwarves represent in Norse mythology?

The Nordic dwarf is an interesting creature in Norse mythology. Their pitch-black skin and connection with maggots and decay have often led them to be associated with death.

However, dwarves aren’t always depicted as being “evil” in Viking stories. Indeed, many tales shared throughout the Norse landscape connect dwarves to the creation of the universe.

Dwarves figure prominently in stories about the development of the cosmos. They’re also responsible for holding up the “corners of the universe” according to some tales.

When the formation of the 9 realms was almost complete, Odin became concerned that the sky (made from the skull of Ymir) would eventually come crashing down onto the creations below.

To address this concern, Odin dispatched some of the world’s most famous Norse dwarves to “hold up” the edges of the world. Austri held up the east, Vestri the west, Nodri, the North, and Sudri the South.

According to Norse mythology, these dwarves have selflessly protected the world for centuries, preventing the destruction of the world.

Dwarves are also defined as skilled craftsman by the Vikings and Norse people. They were responsible for creating some of the most incredible objects in the world.

Eitri and Brokkr were the two dwarves responsible for creating Draupnir, Odin’s magic ring, Mjolnir, Thor’s Hammer, and Skidbladnir, the ship owned by Freyr.

According to the stories, the Dwarves placed exceptional skill and magic into every item they created, making them the most sought-after group for those in search of incredible possessions.

Dwarves In Norse Mythology
Credit: Lorenz Frølich

Famous Viking dwarf characters

Most of the dwarves in Norse mythology are male, which may be why we generally see bearded, manly versions of these characters in pop culture. However, there have been a handful of female dwarves who appeared throughout old tales too.

For instance, in Egil’s saga, there’s a female dwarf named Einhenda. There are also female dwarves in the Poetic Edda.

Perhaps the most famous Nordic dwarves are those tasked by Odin to hold up the edges of the cosmos, Nordi, Sudri, Austri, and Vestri.

However, there have been various other famous dwarves depicted in older texts too, such as:

Fjalar and Galar

In the story of the mead of poetry, Fjalar and Galar are the two dwarves responsible for killing Kvasir, a being of extraordinary knowledge.

After they kill this creature, they drain his blood and mix it with honey to create the “mead of poetry”, a liquid capable of turning anyone into a talented poet.

Alviss

Depicted in a story from the Poetic Edda, Alviss is a dwarf promised to wed Thor’s daughter. When Alviss approaches Thor to ask for the marriage, the God keeps him up all night asking questions to deem whether he’s “worthy” for his child.

Eventually, when the sun rises, Alviss turns to stone.

Fafnir

The story of Fafnir in Norse mythology is often connected to the modern tale of the Lord of the rings. Fafnir was originally a dwarf prince, who stole a magic ring from his father, given by Loki as a gift after the god accidentally killed the dwarf’s brother, Otr.

To prevent others from getting the ring, Fafnir transformed himself into a dragon.

Regin

Another dwarf from the story of Fafnir, Regin is listed among the dwarves of the Voluspa chronicles. He was defined as being fierce, skilled in magic, and extremely wise. However, he was also described as a “Jötunn”, which was another word for the Norse giant.

There’s a little overlap in some Norse tales between the Jötunn and various other forms of Nordic mythological creatures.

Alfrigg, Dvalinn, Berling and Grerr

These famous Nordic dwarves were masters of jewellery craftmanship. The Viking goddess of beauty and love became entranced by a necklace she saw the brothers create, and offered them a fortune in gold and silver in exchange.

However, the brothers instead asked for one night each with Freyja in exchange for the piece, which she agreed to.

Brokkr and Eitri

Perhaps the most famous Viking dwarves in Norse mythology, Brokkr and Eitri were the master craftsmen responsible for creating Thor’s hammer. The dwarves also ended up creating Odin’s ring Draupnir, as well as various other famous items from Viking tales.

The evolution of the Viking dwarf

Looking at the dwarves in Norse mythology, we can certainly see how these creatures inspired the modern iterations of dwarves we commonly see throughout pop culture today.

In many modern tales, the image of the dwarf has been mixed somewhat with the traditional aesthetic of the Viking, which may be why the two groups are so commonly linked.

Above all else, dwarves in Norse mythology were creatures of great wisdom and skill. They created some of the most important possessions the Nordic gods ever owned, and played an important part in the evolution of the Nordic realms.

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. Stay tuned and we’ll bring the essence of Scandinavia to you.

Advertising enquiries

Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. To advertise your brand to a global audience, contact our advertising team below.

advertising@scandification.com