Posted on April 11, 2013 by The Dwarrow Scholar
As we know Tolkien provides very little information with regard to the customs of the dwarves, compared to that of the elves it’s almost nonexistent. So when we want to delve into something like the topic of marriage, the procedures of a marriage, the methods of finding a spouse, the form of the wedding ceremony, and the nature of the marital relationship we are forced to think in terms of conjecture. In other words, what do we think could be true (without breaking any of Tolkien’s lore).
So what do we know from Tolkien related to the marriage customs/relations of dwarves… our “core facts on the topic” are:
* Only 1 in 3 dwarves are female, and not all females choose to marry.
* Few dwarves wish to marry (some are more interested in their crafts than a spouse)
* When dwarves marry they marry for life, choosing only one partner in their life.
* Female dwarves are never forced against their will to marry.
* Dwarves marry late, seldom before they are ninety or more.
* When dwarven women marry they join their husband’s family.
* If female dwarves could not marry the dwarf of their choice they would have none.
With the above in mind, how do we proceed to expand what we already know ? My way of working has been to look at Jewish customs (as Tolkien often used the Jewish people as a base for his dwarves).
It has been quite a study, of which the details can be found in this article. For those of you who however wish to know the basics of the dwarven marriage, here is an extremely brief chronological summary:
The female dwarf would select her husband to be
The male dwarf would have the right to accept or deny
If he denies she will not marry any other for the rest of her life, If he accepts he will do so by offering her his “acquirement sum, which can be a contract (“zarb”), sum of money or sexual relations (or a combination of these). The groom will usually visit the halls of the bride and give the acquirement sum to her, after which they will together make the zarb.
An acceptance by the bride means the couple enter the stage of betrothal, or “azlâf” (“sleep”).
During this period the male is required to make a home where the couple will live (an extension of his Halls). While the female dwarf will make the clothing she will wear for the wedding.
Shortly before the father of the groom approves the new house of his son he will inform family and friends that the Halls of this son near completion, meaning that the guests should make their way to the halls of his son as the wedding is near.
When the father of the groom approves of the house his son has made he will allow this son to inform his bride that the betrothal will end soon and the marriage, or “abkân” (“awakening”) will take place (usually the week after). A friend of the groom will blow a horn in the Halls of the bride informing all of the wedding and the wedding date.
The week before the wedding the groom enjoys a bachelor party (be it in a different form) and the bride receives gifts from her guests.
The family of the groom will prepare the Halls of the groom for the ceremony and the festivities. The family of the bride will prepare to leave their halls in safety to travels to the Halls of the groom.
On the day of abkân the family of the bride travels to the halls of the groom (a well-armed force to protect the bride on her first voyage)
When arriving at the halls of the groom they are met with great celebrations
The ceremony proceeds (explained in detail below):
There is a feast for seven days
The newlyweds go to their new home and have sex
The couple will start to save for the acquirement sum of their own offspring.
For those brave amongst you… or those that wish to know more about the above summary, read on and enjoy
Delving Deep, a prepared study.
The first thing I did however was not related to the Jewish community at all… I tried to look at other cultures around the world (both present and historically) where the men outnumber the woman greatly, looking at the impact on marital relations and seeing if there is something that we could learn that would fit the dwarves.
Seeing that this article is already very long as it is, I have decided to spare you the study of skewed man/woman gender radios of China and Qatar, as frankly they did not provide any new insight.
Which leads us to our best possible source for more on the dwarven culture, one that Tolkien openly used… the Jewish culture.
The method of finding a spouse, the form of the wedding ceremony, and the nature of the marital relationship are all explained in the Talmud.
Obviously copy/pasting what we find here won’t do. We need to find aspects of these customs that fit our core Tolkien facts established at the start of this article.
Reading all what I could find related to Jewish marriage customs in the Talmud has proven to be an education on its own, one I would recommend to all regardless of your own faith. Though it must be said, I’m sure I only scratched the surface as it would take a life time to truly read all on the topic.
Now there are some things within the Judaic marriage customs that strongly oppose our established dwarven facts, these off course have not be included in our theory of the dwarven marriage customs. Some examples of that would be polygyny (though never common in Judaism it was permitted), remaining unmarried (refraining from marriage is considered to be unnatural in Judaism) or divorce (allowed in Judaism).
I long doubted about using something like the concept of “bashert”. Those not familiar with the concept of “bashert”, according to the Talmud, Rav Yehuda taught that 40 days before a male child is conceived, a voice from heaven announces whose daughter he is going to marry (talk about a match made in heaven!) In Yiddish, this perfect match is called “bashert,” a word meaning fate or destiny, but it is usually used to refer to one’s soul mate. Seeing that most dwarves do not bother with marriage at all, “bashert” could not apply to them. As that would mean that for every dwarf male that would be born Mahal would assign a dwarf female that would later become his wife. There would simply not be enough women to go around. Nor do I believe Tolkien meant for Aulë, “the great smith” to become “the great matchmaker”.
On the other hand Aulë did create 6 spouses for the dwarves, talk about a matchmaker… he not only coupled the dwarves, he literally created their wives for them. So where would a concept like “bashert” fit in with the dwarves ? Seeing that dwarven women would not marry against their will and their choice would be one for life, one could argue that their choice would be a divine one, similar to the one Mahal himself made when he made a wife for 6 of the dwarven fathers. Although “bashert” in its original meaning would not be applicable for the dwarves, it surely would seem logical that the dwarves would relate their marriages to the first ones made by Mahal himself, hence seeing the commitment as a divine choice.
How would the dwarf woman know she has indeed found her “divine choice”? When in doubt she should perhaps hold off on marrying someone for fear that the person she would want to marry might not be her “bashert”, and there might be a better match out there for her ?
Well, this simply would not apply to the dwarven women to begin with. Tolkien tells us that when dwarven women make their choice and they could for whatever reason not marry that dwarf, they would not have another. So, waiting for another is something that would not cross their mind. They would be 100% sure of their choice. So, from the moment she believes she has found her dwarf, that would be it, that would be her “bashert”.
Acquiring a Spouse
Firstly, in all cases, the Talmud specifies that a woman can be acquired (i.e to be a wife) only with her consent, and not without it. Kiddushin 2a-b. I believe Tolkien clearly got his inspiration from this when he said the dwarven women could not be forced to marry.
Mishnah Kiddushin 1:1 specifies that a woman is acquired (i.e., to be a wife) in three ways: through money, a contract, and sexual intercourse. Ordinarily, all three of these conditions are satisfied, although only one is necessary to effect a binding marriage.
Now how would this translate to the dwarves? It is important to remember that “acquiring” a wife does not mean that you buy the woman, who would become a piece of property. In fact, as we have established, the woman is in fact the one that decides if she will take a man, the man can only accept or deny – when he denies he in fact “condemns” the woman into a state of unaccepted love for the rest of her life (as she will not have another). So, “acquiring” a wife is in fact a symbolic demonstration of the husband who accepts his future wife.
Which can be done through money, sexual intercourse or a contract (or a combination of these).
Knowing the love of dwarves for gold and a good contract (referring to Bilbo’s burglar contract). It would seem very logical that the acquiring would solely be done through an extensive contract and a decent sum of money, gold or gems. Some might believe that, considering Tolkien’s catholic belief that sex is the product of a healthy marriage, it would seem unlikely that Tolkien would have thought of sexual intercourse as being a fulfillment to enter into marriage. Well, nothing could be further from the truth, in Morgoth’s Ring by Tolkien (Laws and Customs of the Eldar) we see that for the Elves sex is marriage (more on this on: Realelvish.net). Similar to the Elves, when two dwarves would have sex, it would mean the dwarf male would have acquired his wife for marriage and by doing so would enter into an automatic state of betrothal (more on that later). Unlike the Elves though they would not be married yet.
In case the wife is acquired by a sum of money, why would it need to be a “decent” sum of money, and not a mere copper coin ? In Judaism the amount of money involved is nominal (according to the Mishnah, a perutah, a copper coin of the lowest denomination, was sufficient). So why state a large sum of money would be appropriate ? Well, because these are dwarves, and they value gold and other treasures from the earth above most things in life. Which means that the acquirement by one copper coin would be seen by the dwarven woman as an insult. As the sum of the acquirement would be an indication of how the husband views his future wife.
Seeing that a dwarven father would not wish to have his family shamed when his son would marry (in case the acquirement sum would be viewed by the bride as an insult), it would be a custom for dwarven families to set aside gold, gems and coins for the marriage of their son, often from the moment that the newlyweds move into their new home before any child is born. Seeing however that only 1 in 4 male dwarves marry, a family would usually set aside one of these acquirement sums.
Tolkien writes that dwarven women were fiercely protected by the male dwarves and seldom left their halls. Which means that their fathers would have protected them within his halls as long as they were unmarried. When a male dwarf would offer the acquirement some, this would be accepted by the female dwarf, who at that time would still live in the halls of her father. Her property would in effect than also belong to her father. Meaning that the acquirement sum would in fact be a payment made by the daughter to her father for shielding her during her youth. She would off course not be “obliged”, in the strict sense of the word, to offer the entire acquirement sum to her father, but on the other hand, whatever sum she would take with her to the halls of her husband would be a public insult to her own father.
To satisfy the requirements of acquisition by wealth, the sum of acquisition must belong to the groom. It cannot be borrowed, although it can be a gift from a relative (in most cases the parents of the groom). It must be given to the wife irrevocably. In addition, the value must be known to the wife, so that there can be no claim that the husband deceived her into marrying by misleading her as to its value.
The wife keeps (from the moment it has been signed by both parties) the marriage contract, in Khuzdul the “zarb” (from roots ZRB – as in mazarbul – “that which is written” / in Judaic custom the “Ketubah”, meaning “writing”). The “zarb” spells out the husband’s obligations to the wife during marriage, conditions of inheritance upon his death, and obligations regarding the support of children of the marriage. There are standard conditions; however, additional conditions can be included by mutual agreement. Marriage agreements of this sort were commonplace in the ancient Semitic world and considering the fondness of dwarves for a good contract, I can imagine these would have been at least as extensive as Bilbo’s contract.
Although the zarb has much in common with prenuptial agreements, it should not be compared to it. As prenuptial agreements automatically suggest the events in case of divorce. The zarb has nothing to do with divorce as it is a concept unfamiliar to dwarves. Its purpose is to declare to the Halls of both bride and groom in what manner the couple will care for each other till death (a more symbolic part of the contract) and ensure their offspring will gain the riches which they are entitled too (in effect an insurance of wealth).
The zarb would have been written in Khuzdul, the language taught to the dwarves by Mahal. Seeing that khuzdul is considered a secretive language of the dwarves it would not be framed or displayed in the home (unlike the Judaic custom) but would be guarded as a treasure and heirloom of the family until the conditions of the zarb were fulfilled (in most cases after the settling of the child(ren)’s inheritance after the death of the both parents), which meant the “zarb” would be a well-guarded contract of tremendous worth for usually over 160 years.
The Process of Marriage
Bethrohal (sleep – azlâf)
In Judaism, the process of marriage occurs in two distinct stages: kiddushin (commonly translated as betrothal) and nisuin (full-fledged marriage). Kiddushin occurs when the woman accepts the money, contract or sexual relations offered by the prospective husband. The word “kiddushin” means “sanctified”, it reflects the sanctity of the marital relation, however also connotes something that has been set aside for a sacred purpose. In short, the woman has been set aside to be the wife of the particular man and no other.
This stage of betrothal is far more binding than any engagement as we understand the term in modern English; in fact, Rambam speaks of a period of engagement before the kiddushin. Once kiddushin is complete, the woman is legally the wife of the man. The relationship created by kiddushin can only be dissolved by death or divorce. However, the spouses do not live together at the time of the kiddushin, and the mutual obligations created by the marital relationship do not take effect until the nisuin is complete.
Translating this to the dwarves would seem rather straightforward, without breaking any of our core facts. The two stages would be the “azlâf” (the sleep – referring to the betrothal) and the “abkân” (the awakening – referring to the full-fledged marriage). These terms refer to the times where the fathers of the dwarves slept together with their spouses (safe Durin) and awaited the moment of awakening so they could live the remainder of their lives together.
In Judaism the second stage is the “nisuin” (meaning “elevation”) which completes the process of marriage. The husband brings the wife into his home and they begin their married life together. In ancient times these two ceremonies would routinely occur as much as a year apart (today however these are performed together). Between these two ceremonies the husband would prepare a home for the family.
When translating this to the world of the dwarves, this however might not be as straight forward as it looks. We should not forget that the dwarven women were considered to be true treasures of the Halls and they were guarded fiercely. This meant that the father would not let his daughter from his sight when moving beyond his own halls until the time that “abkân” was completed, and his daughter would be entrusted in the keeping of her new husband. In practice this would mean that when “azlâf” was accepted by the groom he would bring his bride her acquiring sum, in the halls of her father. This would be a solemn (and very public) moment as the dwarves of the Halls of her father would judge the sum carefully. The groom would then return to his own halls and prepare them for his wife to be. In the meanwhile, while azlâf continued, the bride would guard her acquiring sum, while her father would guard her. During “azlâf”, the bride would naturally remain in the halls of her father.
The Marriage (“awakening” – “abkân”)
Dwarves have a betrothal, that usually lasts about a year, followed by a wedding. The actual wedding ceremony would only take place when the father of the groom believes his son has done the required preparations for the new home of the couple. Meaning that when the father of the groom would give the “go” and with that approves the home he has prepared for his bride, the groom would see to announce the marriage in the halls of the bride (similar to ancient Hebrew customs).
This means that dwarves can never know in advance the exact date of the wedding, in fact the bride would not even know. When the new home is as-good-as-finished however the father of the groom would send out letters to both his own family and that of the bride. The letter would serve as an early warning that the wedding would happen soon, stating: “The Halls of my son near completion”, basically meaning: “start your travel to the halls of the groom* as the wedding is about to happen soon”. When the father of the groom finally approves the home his son has delved for his wife, he would call his son to him and give his blessing. The groom would than appoint a herald (usually a close friend of his) to travel to the halls of the bride carrying a horn. Once arrived at the halls of the bride the herald would sound the horn and announce “The groom of …. cometh”. Which for the bride would be like winning the lottery after having waited for a year or so. In all fairness this time would have been used by the bride to fashion her own wedding clothing. The herald would also announce the date of the actual wedding. Unless the bride and groom would live more than a week of walking away from each other this would usually be the next week.
*Note that the closest relations of the bride will in fact leave with her and her father from their halls.
The period between the proclaiming of the marriage date and the actual wedding ceremony the couple do not see each other (this refers to the same period in Judaism). In this period the family of the groom would welcome the arriving guests. During this period the bride and groom are treated as Queen and King and are to refrain from any laborious activity. For the groom this usually means a lengthy feast (from dawn till dusk). While for the bride this means she receives gifts from all who visit her.
When the day of “abkân” finally came the father of the bride would lead a hoste of dwarves from his halls. The larger the hoste the better, as this would ensure greater safety for the bride (who in most cases would venture out her halls for the first time). We must consider that at this time the acquiring sum also would normally remain in the Halls of the father of the bride. At the same time, in the Halls of the groom, a large hoste of the groom’s kin would make prepare “the welcoming”. “Admâ” in khuzdul, is a welcoming feast that calls in the end of the “azlâf” and the start of the “abkân”. When the hoste of the bride and her father would arrive in the halls of the groom the “zarb” would first be read aloud. This would normally be done by the father of the bride, as the “zarb” is kept with the bride during the “azlâf” (reason for this is that in case the bride would die during azlâf the father of the bride would burn the zarb and dissolve the marriage, while in case the groom would die the bride would burn the zarb herself and live the rest of her life unmarried).
Though the dwarves honour Mahal as their creator and Eru as the father of all and giver of life they do not worship either in what could be called an organized religion, hence there are no religious officials of any kind involved in the marriage. The name of Mahal and Eru are spoken in the ceremony, reminding all of the beginnings of the dwarves, their first marriages and the seed of their life (referring to the offspring that will grow from the marriage).
Which brings us to the next part…
A Typical Wedding Ceremony
Before the hoste of the father of the bride leaves his halls on the day of abkân, as part of a well-armed (merely to ensure the protection of the bride) family, the entire party is outfitted with masked helms and simple robes (above their wedding attire), so no distinction can be made between the bride and the rest of the party. The belief here is that in case the party is attacked the bride would not be singled out and would stand a better chance of surviving. Even when the abkân takes place within the same mountain Halls, the tradition stands. It is not uncommon that dwarves with small families would pay a large company of dwarves to guard the party of the father of the bride, after all the protection of the bride when on route to her groom is the prime importance.
Dwarven weddings must take place within a mountain or hill, symbolic of their new dwelling together and the husband’s bringing the wife into his new home. (This obviously refers to the Judaic custom of the “chuppah”).
When the party of the father arrives at the Halls of the groom, there are exuberant celebrations and the family of the groom offer gifts to the members of the fathers party. This is in gratitude for safely delivering the bride to what will be her new home. It is common that the amount and type of gifts would have been decided in the zarb, at the start of azlâf, 1 year prior to the day of abkân.
When the entire party of the father has safely entered the Halls of the groom the mask-helms and simple robes are removed. This reveals to all for the first time the attire of the bride and her party. The wedding attire of both bride and groom are a symbol of the history and wealth of their halls, a showcase of power of both families. It is custom for both bride and groom to decorate their beards with jewels and gold, in addition to wearing robes of gold and silver color, again to emphasize the wealth of the families. As marriages are few and far between it is not uncommon for the bride to wear the robe of her mother (the time of azlâf can be used to either make a new wedding-robe or enrich the one of her mother). Note, that dwarves do not wear a wedding dress, but a formal robe (referring to Tolkien’s statement that dwarven females dress as males), which is often encrusted with a variety of jewels. Though the wedding robe of the groom can be tailor-made, that of the bride cannot, as she must use the time of “azlâf” to fashion her own attire. It is not unheard of that other members of the family of the bride assist her in this.
When the bride reveals her robe, her father will start the actual ceremony by holding up a hammer in the air. At this sign the two families will form a large circle around the bride and groom. This symbolizes the staying of Mahal’s hammer by the grace of Eru and signifies that both families will shield the couple from harm. When the circle is formed the father of the bride lowers the hammer and enters the circle, after which he reads aloud the zarb. The reading of the zarb can take a tremendous amount of time, as dwarven contract can be quite extensive. Though none of the guests would utter any sound while the father of the bride reads the zarb aloud, as this would be a sign of disrespect, protesting to what both groom and bride have agreed to.
After the reading of the zarb, the bride and groom – who have been on opposite sides of the circle approach each other, followed by the groom that circles the bride (indicating he will guard her in his halls). The circling of the bride is a joyous event, met with cheers from both families.
When the cheers fade (which can take several minutes, as one family does not wish to appear less overjoyed than the other) the father of the bride will ask the groom if he accepts his daughter in his halls. The groom would than kneel to the father of the bride as a sign of acceptance, respect and appreciation of the protection the father has given his bride.
The final part of the ceremony then proceeds. The bride and groom will stand facing each and hold each other’s hands and will recite seven blessings (again another Judaic reference, this time to “sheva brakhos”). The Seven Dwarven blessings are (note, I’ll see to update this article soon with the Khuzdul translation of these):
Mamahdûn Mahal ku’ muha sullu khama akrâzu Sulladad. ((Blessed are you Mahal who has created everything for the glory of Eru.))
Mamahdûn Mahal ku’ muha kâmin, abbad ra hanâd. ((Blessed are you Mahal who fashioned the earth, the mountains and the hills.))
Mamahdûn Mahal ku’ muha îbin ra ritîh ni kurdû id-abad. ((Blessed are you Mahal who fashioned the gems and metals in the heart of the mountain.))
Mamahdûn Mahal ku’ muha khazâd ra barraf haded. ((Blessed are you Mahal who fashioned the dwarves and the seven houses.))
Mamahdûn Mahal ku’ gashara khazâd atrâb d’amzur îbin ra ritîh ni kurdû id-abad. ((Blessed are you Mahal who taught the dwarves the skill to work the gems and metals in the heart of the mountain.))
Mamahdûn Mahal ku’ mahgayada dûmmâ tur naddanhu. ((Blessed are you Mahal who gladdens our Halls through his children.))
Mamahdûn Mahal ku’ mahgayada mayasthûn ra mayasthûna. ((Blessed are you Mahal who gladdens groom and bride.))
These blessings are said by both bride and groom. The groom would start and the bride would repeat.
The ceremony continues by the groom reciting his vow to the bride:
Ni dûmê zasamkhihiya zahar, ni kurduzi zâmkhihi azhâr. ((In my Halls you will find a house, in your heart I will find a home.))
The bride than replies:
Ni dûmzu zâmkhihi zahar, ni kurdumê zasamkhihi azhâr. ((In your Halls I will find a house, in my heart you will find a home.))
With this vow the groom proclaims to all that the bride is now his wife and she belongs to his clan. Though it is not stated as a question he in fact asks her to be part of his house and love him. By the fact that the bride replies in this manner she accepts his proclaiming and vows to love him. This does not mean the groom does not proclaim his own love, in fact the delving of their new home is considered the proof of the love of the groom for his bride.
This would follow with the giving of the rings. The groom would hand the bride a golden ring which had markings of his clan on it, while the bride would hand the groom a plain golden ring. This symbolizes again that the bride is now part of the clan of her husband.
The father of the groom would now hand both the bride and groom the “marriage-ale”, a frothy pint of malt. Once it has been drunk it concludes the ceremonial part of the marriage, met with great cheers and well wishes.
As is to be expected it, a marriage is followed by a festive meal. The festive meal is followed by a repetition of the Seven Blessings. After this the festivities are not over, on the contrary, the dwarves rejoice with seven full days of food, music, dance and celebration – (Referring to the ancient Judaic custom in Jn. 14:10-12).
After the festivities of seven days the husband brings his bride to their new home to live together as husband and wife. At this point it is expected for the newlyweds to have sex which completed the marriage. As most dwarves marry late (usually after the age of 90) this explains why we notice why the first children of dwarves are usually born when their parents are close to 100 (see Fili and his mother Dís who was 99).
Would there be any music during the ceremony ? Though exuberant music and dancing would traditionally accompany the welcoming before the ceremony and the festive meal after the ceremony, the actual ceremony would have no music at all. As this would be very disrespectful and could be seen as an actual sign of protest.
Only dwarves considered to be adult would be able to marry, which in most cases would make the minimum age for marriage for Dwarves 65, for both males and females. However the azlâf can take place before that. Most dwarves (if they would indeed marry, which is the minority still) would wait well past the age of 65. Usually beyond the age of ninety (“Dwarves marry late, seldom before they are ninety or more”).
As mentioned earlier, divorce between Dwarves is not an option. Even when one of the partners dies the marriage is still considered very much alive. Meaning that divorce or marrying a second time is simply not considered. Only until both dwarves would have died and the terms of the zarb would have been fulfilled would the marriage be considered ended, though some would argue that this would only end the marriage on Arda as even then the couple would be in the Halls of Waiting together as husband and wife.
Dwarves cannot marry those who:
Are not dwarves
Are not of adult age
Are a married dwarf
Are a widowed dwarf (as they are still considered married even though their partner has died).
Are relatives (marriages within the same clan are allowed though are prohibited within four degrees of consanguinity)
Dwarves MUST marry those who:
They have sexual relations with. As noted earlier, having sex would in fact mean they entered “azlâf” (betrothal) which cannot be undone (unless one of the partners would die before the “abkân” (actual marriage ceremony) would take place.
As dwarven women stay within the Halls of their father before they get married it obviously might not be ideal for them to find the partner of their dreams. Hence the dwarven female that had a wish to indeed marry would hire a marriage broker or matchmaker (referring to the Judaic custom – “the shadkhan”) that would for her travel to other halls and make arrangements for her to meet other dwarves who she could potentially marry. These meetings would take place within the Halls of her father. Note however that custom would be rarely used.