07 June 2009

Prayer Beads, Week 5: Svartalfheim, Niflheim, Helheim

The last three of the Nine Worlds, these are often represented as the "lower" of the Nine Worlds. Some workers, such as the Galdr practitioner Kaedrich Olsen, view these three as the "dark" or "negative" worlds.

I tend to think of them as realms like the others. They each have their own characteristics, but none of them are "evil."

I honor the shadowed world of Svartalfheim, for the dark elves gift of song and mystery, and the deep kingdom of Nidavellir, for the duergar's skill and craft.
I honor the misty world of Niflheim, and the frost-etins who teach tenacity and survival.
I honor the dark world of Helheim, and all the ancestors who gave me life, learning, and hope.


I honor the shadowed world of Svartalfheim, for the dark elves gift of song and mystery,

Kaldera makes a distinction between Svartálfaheimr--the land of the dark elves on the surface--and Niðavellir--the land of the dwarves. I'm going to keep that distinction here.

Svartálfaheimr is the land of the døkkálfar, or the "Dark Elves" (or Svartálfar, "black elves") as distinct from the Ljósálfar in Ljossalfheim. There is a lot of confusion on whether the Svartálfar are actually the same as the duergar, and they seem to be frequently confused in available sources. Kevin Crossley-Holland stated that "No valid distinction though can be drawn between the dwarfs and the dark elves; they appear to have been interchangeable."

If they were mixed up at some point it certainly wouldn't be the first set of races to get confused by later authors (Frigg and Freyja seem to get regularly confused even during period, and Jotuns later got conflated together with trolls).

There is one thing, however, that I consider noteworthy in etymology that may indicate a distinction. The duergar are renowned craftsman who one never gets the particular impression of being malicious (at least from what I've seen of them in the available sources). Meanwhile, the German word for "nightmare" is albtraum or, literally, elf dream. Nightmares were the domain of the døkkálfar, and they were also blamed for night hag syndrome.

Whatever the case may have been a thousand years ago, spirit workers today report very different things living in the forests of svartálfaheimr and in the tunnels of niðavellir. The døkkálfar are described as a group that split off after a great war with the ljósálfar. My own experience agrees with this. I have also, despite the general reputation, generally had a more positive reception among the døkkálfar than among the ljósálfar.

Appearance is less certain, with varying reports. The gylfaginning refers to them as "blacker than pitch," though the word svartr appears to refer to hair color rather than skin color. An african from Nigeria is referred to at one point as blámaðr--blue man--in reference to his dark skin.

They also exist in multiple other cultures, as one would expect for a fey race.

The døkkálfar in the nine worlds live mostly in a coniferous forest on the surface world. Their "domain" in my experience is a smaller portion of the forest itself and not every forested area, though they may be found there. Their language and their magic are frequently musical in nature and they delight in song and dance. They have a capacity for "malevolent illusion" which they turn on intruders and from what I could gather a substantial portion of their magic is on protecting an area and all within it, rather than on a specific individual or group of individuals (UPG 2008). They can also feed on the dreams and emotions in others.

Kaldera mentions a spider goddess, but my experience indicated they didn't follow one.

In my journeys, I probably spend more time in svartálfaheimr than anywhere else. My recent string of dreams that I've described as a "fey catalog" seem to have all taken place in various parts around there.

The second part, "song and mystery" is also important. Song is one of our key ways of connecting with the Divine. Vibrations created by music can help us entered altered states of conscious, from chanting to drumming to singing. The Taizé Community uses song as a mechanism to further the participants individual spirituality both individually and as a group. it brings to mind "breath," since it is with breath that we produce song.

Breath is extremely important in the Norse Tradition, from the concept of "Ond"--meaning breath, or soul--to YHVH Elohim. It is the root of spirituality and the root of psychology.

Mystery is similarly important. While today the word brings to mind spooky attics and errant adventures, the word derives from the word "mystic," which in turn derives from either mustēs (an initiated person) or muein (close the eyes or lips). Either way, we get the impression of things that are not spoken to just anyone, secrets of the universe and our place in it. Things that either were not or perhaps could not be shared.

This, functionally, is what mystery is about: touching that which is beyond us, that which we cannot put into words.


and the deep kingdom of Nidavellir, for the duergar's skill and craft

The "underworld" of Svartálfaheimr, it is mentioned in Völuspá:

Stóð fyr norðan,
á Niðavöllom
salr úr gulli
Sindra ættar
on the Niðavellir,
stands the dwelling place of Sindri's kin,
Covered with gold

Niðavellir is comprised of an intricate series of tunnels and is the home of the Duergar, who are sensitive to light.

The duergar themselves appear throughout the sagas and eddas. They had bush black beards and hair and it is noted in Alvíssmál that they have pale skin, presumably from being underground. They were renowned craftsmen, well known for their great works and they created the treasures of the æsir.

Among them is the duergar Andvari, who teaches the value of things. There is an excellent book out titled Root, Stone, and Bone which is about honoring Andvari and the vaettir of money.

There is a lot of power in so-called honest work: in putting your knowledge, skill, and craftsmanship into creation. This does not--as the stereotype might imply--need to be something physical. Software is crafted just as surely as ships are, novels and poems are crafted the same as hammers. There is power in putting your honest effort--even unskilled--into an act of creation, and there is more power in working to become skilled at it and honing your craft through effort.


I honor the misty world of Niflheim, and the frost-etins who teach tenacity and survival.

Niflheimr is the "land of mists." Nifl is a cognate of Nifol (dark) and nebel ("cloud" or "fog"). The name appears in only two places: Gylfaginning and Hrafnagaldr Óðins. The latter reference is extremely brief, just referring it to being in the north. The former, however, describes it as being one of the primordial worlds.

Niflheimr is home to the Hrímþursar (Frost Giants). Given their environment, it is fairly clear where "tenacity and survival" come from. An interesting coincidence is the names of the giants from the Book of Enoch are the Nephilim (נפלים).

Frequently we in the US tend to think of things in terms of "talent," and believe that this "talent" is something intrinsic to that individual. If you cannot draw, it is because you "aren't talented at drawing." If you aren't doing well, it is because you "aren't talented in academics." Meanwhile, if you succeed with a piano, you must be "talented" with it. Though a full discussion on this will have to wait for another time, I believe this concept is toxic to success. That it dismisses accomplishments and encourages people not to try if things are difficult. I believe what matters most--above and beyond any form of innate skill--is your tenacity. That you keep at it and not give up. As Kageyama says in Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go: Habit is a frightening thing.

In Hapkido we like to say that if you had to practice it a hundred times and someone else only had to practice it ten, what does it matter so long as you both got it by the end of the day? You might have to work more or less than someone else in one area, and they might have to work more or less than you in another, but you both are looking to get to the same location.


I honor the dark world of Helheim, and all the ancestors who gave me life, learning, and hope.

The land of the goddess Hel. Frequently referred to as Her Ladyship, she is the goddess of the death and the Lady of the Underworld. The word "Hel" derives from the word *khalija, meaning "one who covers up or hides something." Helheim is known as a fortress and is widely considered to be more secure than even Asgard.

Helheim is not a place of suffering, and most spirit workers who have been there describe it as peaceful. Snorri's description of it, where he declares it to be a place that "evil men go," was commented to be "chiefly his own work" by H. R. Ellis-Davidson. Instead it is the abode of the ancestors and the place most of us go to when we die. We close the journey through the nine worlds by honoring those that came before us.

The concepts of "life, learning, and hope" are three of the most important aspects that we ever deal with. My ancestors--physical, spiritual, and intellectual--have helped make me what I am today, and to paraphrase: if I see far, it is only because I stand on the shoulders of giants. Those giants are my ancestors, my friends, my coworkers, my spirit guides, my teachers, etc--the people who have taught me, and the ones who have taught them, going back to the wheel and the discovery of fire. Acknowledging this is not a weakness, but a strength.

1 comment:

  1. "I have also, despite the general reputation, generally had a more positive reception among the døkkálfar than among the ljósálfar."

    You aren't the only one. That's been my experience, and that of a few others I know as well.