The Nine Realms
9 months, 22 poets and writers, 22 Artists, 3 composers, 1 Viking boat= a magical reworking of Norse Mythology for contemporary audiences
(the realm of the Dwarves)
Happy New Year! Here we are at the beginning of January, with the deadline for the poetry and writing for the 3nd realm Jotunheim coming up: Monday 12th January. The poetry and writing inspired by the realm Vanaheim will continue to be posted out. This month we are outlining the realm of Nidavellir and the deadline for all writing, poetry and mp3s for this realm is Thursday 12th February 2015.
These monthly posts will draw from a range of primary and secondary source materials and focus on selected gods, themes and stories that circle around the highlighted realm. They will not attempt to cover everything, and writers can embrace any other stories and characters within their writing which is not covered. Month by month we will be building our own magical, contemporary norse world whilst exploring the themes of POWER, NATURE and RELIGION. The project’s overall intention is to embrace orality, translation, storytelling and rhythm all of which are inspired by the origins of the oral tradition of the Norse Sagas.
I may well put out little mini-posts intermittently focusing on orality and poetic form as necessary.
What is presented below is designed to inspire, present basic information and offer a starting point for individual creativity within the project inspired by the themes, characters and spirit of the myths and stories.
1. A brief Overview of Nidavellir
Nidavellir (Niðavellir) is the realm of the dwarves. Nida means ‘dark’ and vellir means ‘dwelling’, and Hreidmar is the King of the realm. Dwarves are consistently mentioned in the Voluspa poem of The Poetic Edda (see below):
Stóð fyr norðan, / á Niðavöllom / salr úr gulli / Sindra ættar
There is some confusion as to whether Nidavellir is actually the realm of the dwarves or the dark elves. They are often confounded, and associated with the realm called Svartalfheim (world of black elves). Snorri Sturlson refers to this in The Prose Edda calling the realm Svartálfaheimr. Dark elves or black elves, were generally conceived as being horrifying and hideous. In later storytelling traditions they became what we know as goblins. The light elves, became equated with the notion of fairies.
You can find the whole of the Voluspa here.
Dwarves are known for their wisdom, and alongside giants have a mortal fear of sunlight, as it turns them into stone. This is well highlighted in the story The Lay of Alvis (see Story Focus, below). As a consequence the sun is often called ‘Dvalin’s Delight (after Dvalin the dwarf who came to a similar end as Alvis). See Point 4 below.
1. The Creation of Dwarves
Having created the world Odin and his brothers then created beings to live in the world. He created the dwarves first. They grew from maggots infesting Ymir’s corpse. The gods gave dwarves a consciousness and then placed them underground so they could search for gold. The dwarves lived alongside trolls who also resided underground.
The dwarves live in darkness, breed in the earth and are often depicted as miners. In stark contrast to the Light Elves who live in Alfheim. They dwell amidst the rocks and hills, and were considered great craftsmen creating gifts for the gods.
2. Hreidmar (Hreiðmarr)
Hreidmar is the lusty King of the dwarves who captured three gods by using unbreakable chains. He was the father of Fafnir, Ótr and Regin, and lived in a bejewelled house built for him by Regin. Son, Fafnir guarded the palace on the King’s behalf. The story goes that Ótr was accidentally killed by Loki. The Aesir, in order to make amends for his death, choose to repay him with what is known as ‘Andavari’s Gold’. Andvari was a dwarf who lived underneath a waterfall and had the power to change himself into a fish. The dwarf possessed a magic wealth-making ring called Andvaranaut. Under duress Loki makes Andvari give up his ring and his gold to him. However, before he leaves Andvari curses the ring. The ring and gold are passed to Hreidmar as repayment for his loss. but out of greed, Fafnir and Regin kill Hreidmar to get the wealth and ring. Fafnir then gets even more greedy and turns himself into a dragon so that he can forcibly drive Regin away through his transformation.
3. Lit (Litr ) and the Death of Balder/Baldr:
Litr, the dwarf appears in the story of the death of Balder/Baldr (who is the second son of Odin. He is occidentally killed by his brother (Höðr) with a magical spear made from Mistletoe created by Loki). Baldr, in the mythology, is seen to be a paragon of graciousness and wisdom. Baldr’s death is signalled as being one of the many important stories in the sequence of events that lead to Ragnarök. Nanna, Balder’s wife, also throws herself symbolically into his funeral pyre. At Ragnarök, Balder will be born into the new world.
Here is the reference to dwarf Lit in The Prose Edda.
Next Thor stood up and blessed the pyre with Mjolnir. A dwarf named Lit ran in front of his feet. Thor kicked the dwarf with his foot; it landed in the fire and burned to death.
Gylfaginning tr. by Jesse Byock (Penguin Classics, Section 49, p67).
You can also find the story of Baldr outlined in Kevin Crossley Holland’s Penguin Book of Norse Myths, under the title Balder’s Dream (p147).
Frigg then sends Hermod (Hermóðr) to Hel (ruler over Helheim) to try and bargain Baldr’s life back from her. Hel stimpulates that in order for Baldr to be returned all things must weep for him. Trees, animals, metal and stones all cry for him, except a giantess called Thokk (who is said to be Loki in disguise). As Thokk does not give in, Baldr cannot return from Helheim .
You can find the text of the entire Gylfaginning here.
4. Dvalin, and ‘Dvalin’s Delight’:
Dwarf Dvalin alongside his brothers Alfrigg, Berling and Grerr are responsible for the fashioning of the golden necklace Brísingamen (belonging to Freyja) which Frigg covets hugely. The only other reference to Dvalin in The Poetic Edda is in connection to ‘Dvalin’s Delight’ (see realm overview 1) where Dvalin gets turned into stone, which is ultimately the fate of dwarf Alviss too (see below).
You can find the reference to Dvalin in the Voluspa of The Poetic Edda (see link above).
4. Story Focus:
A. The Binding of The Wolf/Fenrir:
Fenrir is a monstrous wolf, who was brought up in Asgard. In order to protect themselves some dwarves forge a chain to hold Fenrir securely. It is made up out of ‘the secret and impalpable things of the world’ (Ellis Davidson: 31):
- the roots of a mountain
- the noise of a moving cat
- the breath of a fish.
It is delicate but is equally very strong, and Fenrir would not allow the chain to be placed on him unless a god’s hand was placed in his mouth as a ransom. Tyr, the only god who dared feed the wolf , managed to bind Fenrir with the chain. In so doing the gods were happy, but Tyr lost a hand in the process.
B. The Lay of Alvis (Alviss):
The Alvíssmál ( a poem in The Poetic Edda) outlines a discussion between a dwarf called Alviss (all-wise) and Thor. The conversation is relayed in a series of kennings which are features of skaldic poetry (Things of Interest 3. see below). Dwarves were often seen to be centres of knowledge and song, and were known to occasionally pass on their wisdom to the gods.
The story goes that Alviss approaches Thor to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage, saying that Thor had agreed to this earlier. Thor denies this, but says that Alviss can have his daughter if he answers a set of questions correctly. The dwarf’s answers act as an all-encompassing list of mythological entities ranging from giants to elves:
- Himinn heitir með mönnum,
- en hlýrnir með goðum,
- kalla vindófni vanir,
- uppheim jötnar,
- alfar fagraræfr,
- dvergar drjúpansal.
- —Guðni Jónsson’s normalized text
- ‘Heaven’ men call it,
- ‘The Height’ the gods,
- The Wanes ‘The Weaver of Winds’;
- Giants ‘The Up-World’,
- Elves ‘The Fair-Roof’,
- The dwarfs ‘The Dripping Hall’.
- —Henry Adam Bellows’ translation
There are some discrepancies in relation to the naming of the various objects. However, the poet-writer of the Alvíssmál, as Crossley Holland points out (224), does not seem to mind as he is more keen to demonstrate an aspect of poetic technique (skaldic diction) than he is about proving he is 100% correct. So Alviss fulfils on his task, but is unfortunately turned into stone as the sun rises.
You can find the full Alvíssmál here.
Themes, Relevance and Questions:
Poetic Form and Language: Many stories in connection with the dwarves seem to draw on either their status as wisdom-givers, or highlight their role as conduits of magic and transformation. However, the dwarf stories are more complex, particularly in the case of The Lay of Alviss which interestingly, combines this emphasis on magic and play with an overt engagement with poetic form and the flexibility of language/meaning. It is maybe worth thinking about how the Sagas , and the stories therein, blend an engagement and celebration of language with the mythic and the supernatural. What does this say about language, and what does this say about power?
Things of Interest:
The Death of Balder:
2. The Children of Odin
[Norse Mythology Audiobook] Thor, Loki, Asgard, Valhalla:
3. Skaldic Poetry and Diction:
‘Skald’ means poet, and makes reference to the poets ‘who composed at the courts of Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders during the Viking Age and Middle Ages. Skaldic poetry forms one of two main groupings of Old Norse poetry, the other being the anonymous Eddic poetry’ (Wikipedia, see next link).
Skaldic poems which consisted of elegies and eulogies (by contemporary poets of the time celebrating their peers) were a huge resource for the myths outlined in The Poetic Edda and other Eddas. Skaldic poetry is delicate, syllabic, alliterative and full of internal rhymes and consonance. Above all skaldic poetry is known for its many ‘kennings, or condensed metaphors that contain part of their diction. Many of the kennings are rooted in myths with which the poem’s original audience were clearly familiar. So for instance, four of the kennings of gold are ‘Freyja’s tears’, ‘Sif’s hair’, ‘Otters ransom’ and ‘Aegir’s fire’.’ (Crossley-Holland: xxxiii). The kennings used by the poets not only make a nod to the myths that endured through the years and but also to those that had not. The kennings chosen by the poets always reflected the oral heritage that goes with them.
Skaldic Prose Poetry Part 1.
4. The Icelandic Sagas: Europe’s most important book?
Optional Poetry and Writing Prompts:
Anaphora, comes from the Greek meaning up or back, and consists of lines where lines or phrases in sequence begin with the same words. A single word can be repeated or a phrase. It is often used in devotional poetry and a favourite of the Romantic poets. Sonnet No 66, by Shakespeare is an example of this (see link below). The form creates a forceful rhythm and often repeats the same sound.
See here for more details.
Writing Word Prompts: Chains, Creation, Bites, Transforming, Power, Stealth, Stone
To confirm, the deadline for all writing, poetry and mp3s for the Nidavellir realm is Thursday 12th February 2015.
Thanks so much for your interest.
Allan, T (2010) Vikings, The Battle at the End of Time, London: Watkins Publishing
Crossley-Holland, K (1993) The Penguin Book of Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings, London, Penguin Books
Ellis Davidson, H.R. (1990) Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, Penguin Books
Hollander, L.M. (1996) tr. The Poetic Edda, Austin: University of Texas Press
Larrington, C. (1996) tr. The Poetic Edda, Oxford University Press
Sturluson, S. (2005) The Prose Edda, Penguin Classics, tr. Jesse L. Byock