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Monday, February 12, 2018

The wise men in the mountains

I, as surely many others, have throughout the years been both spellbound, and terrified, when watching Disney's famous cartoon Snow White and the seven dwarfs. During the production, Swedish artist Gustaf Tenggren was included as an art director, and under his guidance, each of the seven dwarfs was given an individual persona and names to go with it; Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey. Their work song is knowledge known, even for those whom never seen the movie.

When consulting the legends however, one might find that the dwarfs where in fact a mythological creature. They do "dig dig dig in their mine the whole day through", yet are characterized by features far less cheery than Disneys magnificant seven. If one wish to draw parallels to popular culture, they have far more in common with Tolkiens dwarfs than with Disneys. According to the Silmarillion,
Aulë made the dwarves strong to endure. Therefore they are stone-hard, stubborn, fast in friendship and in enmity, and they suffer toil and hunger and hurt of body more hardily than all other speaking peoples; and they live long, far beyond the span of Men, yet not forever.
They were typically blacksmiths and stoneworkers by profession, unrivaled in some of their arts even by the Elves. Knowing that professor Tolkien had great knowledge and was highly inspired by Norse mythology, its interesting to spot the relations.

From the age of time, metals and metalwork have been the subject of many strange beliefs. In Norse mythology, the dwarves were described as small human-like beings who lived in rocks and mountains and did not tolerate sunlight. In Völuspá ("the prohecy of the Volva") it is told:
Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,
holding councils | To find who should create the dwarfs
Out of Brimir's blood | and the legs of Blain.
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.
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.

Vigg and Gandalf | Vindalf, Thrain,

Thekk and Thorin, | Thror, Vit and Lit,
Nyr and Nyrath,-- |  I have now accounted--
Regin and Rathsvith-- | the list aright.

Fili, Kili, | Fundin, Nali,

Heptifili, | Hannar, Sviur,
Frar, Hornbori, | Fræg and Loni,
Aurvang, Jari, | Oakenskield.

The likes of the dwarfs | of Dvalin's kin

Down to Lofar | I know have let heard;
The rocks they left, | and through wet lands
They sought a home | in the fields of sand.

Brime is probably a different name of Ymir, the ancestor of all jötnar. The first dwarfs were arose from the body of Ymir, after being killed by Odin and his brothers Vili and Vé. After which the gods gave them knowledge and human form, yet they spent their lifes accommodated underneath the ground and within the stones.

Nyi and Nithi are probably the dwarves who ruled the moon. Northri (north) and Suthri (south), Austri (east) and Vestri (west), in this correlation, are dwarf names. In Gylfaginning, the first part of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, it was told that Borr's sons (Odin and his brothers) og of Ymir's head had made a sky with four corners. They placed the sky above the ground, and under each of the four corners, a dwarf. The dwarf Dvalin is mentioned several places in the Poetic Edda. In Hávamál ("the high speach of Odin") he is a master of the ancient runes. Of Lovar we do not know other than that he seems to be the ancestor of the dwarfs that are mentioned in Völuspá.

Lorenz Frølich, King Svafrlame Secures the Sword Tyrfing, 1906
 In Hávamál, Dvalin is said to have introduced the writing of runes to the dwarfs, as Dain had done for the elves and Odin for the gods.The name translates as "the dormant one" or "the one slumbering" (akin to the Danish and Norwegian "dvale" and Swedish "dvala", meaning "sleep", "unconscious condition" or "hibernation").

Overall, these creatures were called the veggbergs visir - the wise men in the mountains, blessed with great knowledge of runes and witchcraft. But above all they ruled over the metal - gold, silver, copper and iron - in possession ofexceptional skills as blacksmiths. The most precious belongings of the æsir were made by the dwarfs; among them were Skidbladnir, the ship of Frey, the god of virility and prosperity, Odin's ring Draupnir and his spear Gugne, as well as Mjölnir , the hammer of Thor. If they were forced to give up gold, or to forge a sword against their will, they took revenge by laying a curse upon this gold, a common motive in the heroic legends. For the gold grew richer as long as it remained untouched in the depths of the mountain, and the iron became stronger the longer it remained in the soil, it was said.

Theodor Kittelsen, Groundwork, 1907

Younger folklore has prolonged most of the legends related to ancient dwarfs. Although in a more or less converted shape and form, these creatures have always been presented as the rightful owners and guardians of the ore. Breaking into their territory, retrieving their treasures into the light could be devastatingand even fatal. One notion tell of man named Andreas Madsen, who fell into a mine shaft of the magnesite plant where he worked, being killed by the fall. Prior to the accident, a workmate of Andreas had seen a big hag dressed in a black cloak. She took a turn, went out again and then sank down to the ground.

In different ways, the creatures of the mountains, in any shape of form, made sure to prevent greedy and unworthy people from exploit its riches, by making it dangerous and cumbersome to extract. Mining accidents were therefore considered to be their doings, and although often notifying the victims in question, it was only to confirm the inevitable.

One story proclaims, that in Smeddalen ("the valley of the smiths") on Filefjell, a long time ago, there used to be a local ironworks. In that very same location, where also the mines of the dwarfs, and there they processed all the iron they used. But when the churchbells from the church of St. Thomas frightened them further up in the mountains, they left the anvil and their tongs by the mountain wall. When the church was demolished early in the 19th century, word got out that "the dwarves eventually had returned to old plots".

It was the mountain people who ruled over the mineral resources, and so it should remain.

Nisser and dwarfs, at large in the mountains.
Illustration by Theodor Kittelsen, 1907


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