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Fear and Surprise: The Dangers of Petrification

PetrificationOne day, a dwarf named Alvíss showed up at Bilskírnir, Thor’s hall, to collect his bride (one of Thor’s daughters). Since Thor was away at the time of the betrothal, he took issue with this, saying that he would only allow Alvíss to leave with his daughter (Thrud) if the dwarf could tell him everything he wanted to know. Thor proceeded to ask Alvíss a series of questions, mostly having to do with the names of things and their classifications, running from the cosmic to the mundane. A takeaway from this story might be “don’t engage in contests with the gods,” because after keeping Alvíss busy through the night, daylight shone through the hall, and Thor’s trap was sprung: he declared Alvíss “dayed out” as the sunlight petrified (or possibly shattered) the poor dwarf, whose only mistake was looking in the wrong place for a life partner. So it goes, but why is there so much petrification in mythology, anyway, and what does it mean, to be turned to stone?