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Norse Dwarves

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Norse Dwarves


In Germanic mythology, a dwarf is a being that dwells in mountains and in the earth, and is variously associated with wisdom, smithing, mining, and crafting. Dwarfs are often also described as short and ugly, although some scholars have questioned whether this is a later development stemming from comical portrayals of the beings.[1]

Etymology and usage

The modern English noun dwarf descends from the Old English dwarȝ. It has a variety of cognates in other Germanic languages, including Old Norse dvergr and Old High German twerg. According to Vladimir Orel, the English noun and its cognates ultimately descend from Proto-Germanic *đwerȝaz.[2]

Beyond the Proto-Germanic reconstruction, the etymology of the word dwarf is highly contested. By way of historical linguistics and comparative mythology, scholars have proposed theories about the origins of the being, including that dwarfs may have originated as nature spirits, as beings associated with death, or as a mixture of concepts. Competing etymologies include a basis in the Indo-European root *dheur- (meaning 'damage'), the Indo-European root *dhreugh (whence, for example, modern English 'dream' and German Trug 'deception'), and comparisons have been made with Sanskrit dhvaras (a type of "demonic being").[1]

Modern English has two plurals for the word dwarf; dwarfs and dwarves. Dwarfs remains the most commonly employed plural. While recorded as early as 1818, the minority plural dwarves was popularized by the fiction of philologist and author J. R. R. Tolkien, originating as a mistake and employed by Tolkien since some time before 1917 (for Tolkien's beings, see Dwarf (Middle-earth)).[3] Regarding the plural, Tolkien wrote in 1937 that "I am afraid it is just a piece of private bad grammar, rather shocking in a philologist; but I shall have to go with it".[3]

Norse mythology and folklore

Norse mythology, as recorded in the Poetic Edda (compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources) and the Prose Edda (written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century) provide different mythical origins for the beings. The Poetic Edda poem Völuspá details that the dwarfs were the product of the primordial blood of the being Brimir and the bones of Bláinn (generally considered to be different names for the primordial being Ymir). The Prose Edda, however, describes dwarfs as beings similar to maggots that festered in the flesh of Ymir before being gifted with reason by the gods. The Poetic Edda and Prose Edda contain over 100 dwarf names, while the Prose Edda gives the four dwarfs Norðri, Suðri, Austri and Vestri (Old Norse 'North, South, East, and West') a cosmological role – they hold up the sky.[1] In addition, scholars have noted that the Svartálfar (Old Norse 'black elves'), who, like dwarfs, are said in the Prose Edda to dwell in Svartálfaheimr, appear to be the same beings as dwarfs.[4]

Very few beings explicitly identifiable as dwarfs appear in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda and have quite diverse roles: murderous creators who create the mead of poetry, 'reluctant donors' of important artifacts with magical qualities, or sexual predators who lust after goddesses.[5] They are primarily associated with metalsmithing, and also with death; as in the story of King Sveigðir in Ynglinga saga, the first segment of the Heimskringla, the doorways in the mountains that they guard may be regarded as doors between worlds.[6] One dwarf, Alvíss, claimed the hand of the god Thor's daughter Þrúðr in marriage, but when kept talking until daybreak, turned to stone much like some accounts of trolls.[7]

After the Christianization of the Germanic peoples, tales of dwarfs continued to be told in the folklore of areas of Europe where Germanic languages were (and are) spoken.[8] In the late legendary sagas, they demonstrate skill in healing as well as in smithing.[9] Whereas in the early Norse sources there is no mention of their being short, in the legendary sagas they are "small and usually ugly".[1] Anatoly Liberman suggests that dwarfs may have originally been thought of as lesser supernatural beings, which after Christianization became literal smallness.[10] Whereas Old Norse dwarf-names include Fullangr ('tall enough') and Hár ('high'), Anglo-Saxon glosses use dweorg to render Latin terms such as nanus and pygmaeus ('pygmy').[11][12]

Dwarfs in folklore are usually described as old men with long beards.[12] Female dwarfs are hardly ever mentioned. The dwarf Dvalinn has daughters and a 14th-century romantic saga, Þjalar Jóns saga, gives a feminine form, Old Norse dyrgja, but the few folklore examples cited by Grimm in Teutonic Mythology may be identified as other beings.[13][14] However, in one Swedish ballad, "Herr Peder och Dvärgens Dotter" (Swedish 'Sir Peder and the Dwarf's Daughter'), the role of supernatural temptress is played by a dwarf's daughter.[15]

Anglo-Saxon medicine

The Anglo-Saxon charm Wið Dweorh, Against a Dwarf, appears to relate to sleep disturbances. This may indicate that the dwarf antagonist is similar to the oppressive supernatural figure, the mare, that is the etymological source of the word "nightmare", or possibly that the word had come to be used to mean "fever".[11][16] In the Old English Herbal, it translates Latin verrucas; warts.[11]

Scholarly interpretations

Lotte Motz theorized that the Germanic dwarfs, particularly as smiths and gatekeepers, constituted a reminiscence of the Megalithic culture in Northern Europe.[17]

Some scholars have proposed that the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá may contain an account of the first human beings, Ask and Embla, as having been created by dwarfs. A preceding stanza provides a catalog of dwarf names, and stanza 10 has been read as describing the creation of human forms from the earth. This may potentially mean that dwarfs formed humans, and that the three gods gave them life.[18]

In popular culture and games

In the Prose Edda, the dwarfs are equated with the svartálfar and dökkálfar ("dark elves"); in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the dwarves (Tolkien's spelling) and the Elves of Darkness or Moriquendi are distinct. Games beginning with TSR's Dungeons and Dragons have continued this distinction; Dungeons and Dragons calls the dark elves drow, which according to Gary Gygax derives from the Scottish being, the trow.[19] Games including Warhammer, Magic: The Gathering, and The Elder Scrolls feature dwarfs. The dwarfs in Terry Pratchett's Discworld universe are derived from Tolkien's.

See also

Notes

References

  • Gilliver, Peter. Mashall, Jeremy. Weiner, Edmund (2009). The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199568369.
  • Gundarsson, KveldulfR Hagan (2007). Elves, Wights, and Trolls. Studies Towards the Practice of Germanic Heathenry, 1. iUniverse. ISBN 978-0-595-42165-7
  • Gygax, Gary (1979). "Books Are Books, Games Are Games". Dragon, 31. Repr. (1981) in: Kim Mohan, ed. Best of Dragon, Volume 2: A collection of creatures and characters, opinions and options from the first four years of Dragon magazine. Dragon, ISBN 9780935696943
  • Griffiths, Bill (1996). Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic. Anglo-Saxon Books. 1-898281-15-7
  • Hafstein, Valdimir Tr. (2002). "Dwarfs" as collected in Lindahl, Carl. McNamara, John. ISBN 978-0-19-514772-8
  • Jakobsson, Ármann (2005): "The Hole: Problems in Medieval Dwarfology," Arv 61 (2005), 53–76.
  • Liberman, Anatoly (2008). An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816652723
  • ISBN 0-19-515382-0
  • Motz, Lotte (1983). The Wise One of the Mountain: Form, Function and Significance of the Subterranean Smith: A Study in Folklore. Göppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik, 379. Kümmerle. ISBN 3-87452-598-8
  • Orchard, Andy (1997). ISBN 0-304-34520-2
  • Orel, Vladimir (2003). A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. Brill. ISBN 9004128751
  • ISBN 0-85991-513-1
  • Storms, Godfrid (1948). Anglo-Saxon Magic. Nijhoff. OCLC 462857755

External links

Template:Norse mythology

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