This may be a relatively short post, especially on my part for there is not too much known of the dwarves of Germanic/Scandinavian culture. However, we do know that where there are elves, there are dwarves. They go hand in hand, even if they do not get along sometimes.
One area where a great deal of confusion comes in, and it is well founded for I still do not know, is what are the differences between Dark Elves, Light Elves, and Dwarves? Many believe, including myself, that the Dark Elves are Dwarves, and that Light Elves, are well elves.
Dwarves were created by the three brother gods, Odin, Vili, and Ve. What were created from? Well something not to pleasant... When the three gods slew Ymir, maggots came to feast on his flesh, and the gods took the maggots and created the dwarves from them. Thus the race of dwarves were created. (Personally I would not be happy if my ancestors were maggots but I suppose we cannot choose!) Odin then took four of the recently created dwarves and set one in each corner of the universe. Their names (in English) were North, South, East, and West, and they hold up the top of Ymir's skull, which is the sky.
"Dvergar (dwarves) are wise and skilled in crafts. Dwarves made the treasures of the gods (such as Þór’s hammer), and they are the repository of secret wisdom. They live among the rocks away from light, because sunlight causes them to turn to stone. There is no evidence that the dwarves were worshipped, but men were wary of them and took care not to offend them." (1) As can be seen from this quote, Dwarves are subterranean creatures of great skill with craftsmanship.
"In Germanic mythology, a dwarf (Old English dweorg, Old Norse dvergr, Old High German twerg, German Zwerg) is a being that dwells in mountains and in the earth, and is associated with wisdom, smithing, mining, and crafting. Dwarfs are also sometimes described as short and ugly, although some scholars have questioned whether this is a later development stemming from comical portrayals of the beings.
The etymology of the word dwarf is contested, and scholars have proposed varying theories about the origins of the being, including that dwarfs may have originated as nature spirits or 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 modern German Traum/English dream and trug "deception"), and comparisons have been made with Sanskrit dhvaras (a type of demonic being).
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 ofBláinn. The Prose Edda, however, describes dwarfs as beings similar to maggots that festered in the flesh of the primal being 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 a cosmological role – they hold up the sky.In addition, scholars have noted that the Svartálfar, who, like dwarfs, are said in the Prose Edda to dwell in Svartálfaheimr, appear to be the same beings as dwarfs. Very few actual dwarf characters appear in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda and have quite diverse roles: murderous creators of the mead of poetry, 'reluctant donors' of important artifacts with magical qualities, or sexual predators who lust after goddesses.
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 to the account of the creation of Ask and Embla in Völuspá 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." (2)
I know that this blog is about heathenry, but we cannot talk about dwarves without Tolkien! Most, if not all of Tolkien's influence for his world of middle earth is from Norse Mythology and Culture. I challenge you to find five thingns that are not related in some way to Norse Myth!
One of the most apparent is the dwarves. Their language is runes, while not Futhark, they are Anglo Saxon. All of their names in The Hobbit, (including Gandal's) are taken straight from the Eddas as dwarf names. Their descriptions and qualities as smiths are mirrored in the Norse belief system. It is as if Tolkien just copy and pasted the Dwarves, and thanks to him they, and thus at least a small portion of Norse Culture is brought back into pop culture (not including all of the other norse things he brought back to the commons).
Along with the dwarves, there is a very interesting tale involving Freya...
"Freya, beautiful, blue-eyed, blond goddess of love, beauty, and fertility had a weakness for beautiful jewels. She was wed to handsome Odur, the sunshine, and bore him two lovely daughters. They lived in her palace, Folkvanger, in the land of Asgard. One day Freya was out for a walk along the border of her kingdom. This was the boundary of the kingdom of the Black Dwarfs. As she walked she noticed some of the dwarfs making a beautiful necklace. It glistened as golden as the bright sun and caused Freya to stop to admire it. Freya was told this treasure was the Brisingamen, or the Brising necklace and of great value to the dwarfs.
"Oh, you must sell me the necklace. I will give a treasure of silver for I cannot live without it. I have never seen one as beautiful."
The dwarfs told her that all the silver in the world could not purchase the Brisingamen. Believing she could not endure without owning the necklace, she asked:
"Is there any treasure in the world for which you would sell me the necklace?"
"Yes, you must buy it from each of us." answered the dwarfs, "for it is the treasure of your love. If you are wed to each of us for a day and a night, Brisingamen shall be yours."
Bewitched by the sparkle of the beautiful necklace, Freya was over come with madness. She forgot Odur, she forgot her two lovely daughters, she even forgot she was the Queen of the Aesir. In her madness, she agreed to the pact. No one in Aesir knew about the weddings of barter except the mischief-maker Loki, who seemed to always be around when evil was brewing.
After four days and nights of these unholy unions, Freya returned to her palace to live in shame. She hid the necklace she had given her honor for. But Loki came to Odur in inform him of what had taken place in the land of the dwarfs. Odur demanded proof of these scandalous tales. To provide evidence, Loki set out to steal the necklace. Turning himself into a flea, he flew into Freya's chambers and bit her on the cheek while she slept. The bite caused Freya to turn so he was able to remove the necklace.
Loki went to Odur and showed him the evidence of her infidelity. Odur tossed the necklace aside, left the kingdom of Asgard, a traveled to far distant lands. Freya woke the next morning to find both her necklace and husband gone.
Weeping, she went to Valhalla to confess to the father god Odin whose palace was near the amber valley of Glaesisvellir. At the entrance to Valhalla was an amber grove called Glaeser, with trees that dripped beads of amber. The kindly Odin forgave Freya for her evil, but demanded a penance. Taking the Brisingamen from Loki, he commanded Freya to wear the necklace for eternity and wander the world in search of her lost love, Odur.
As she wanders the world she continues weeping. The teardrops which land on soil turn to gold in the rocks, those which fall in the sea are turned to amber.
The necklace was said to be an emblem of the stars or of the fruitfulness of the earth. The necklace enhanced Freya's beauty so much that she wore it day and night. According to some sources, it came to be so well associated with her that when Hymir stole Mjollnir, Freya loaned the necklace to Thor to complete his costume." (3)
The dwarves can be very mischievous creatures. So if you come across them, be wary!
(1) My blog