The Curse of Andvari's Ring is the lively epic that inspired Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Bear in mind that this is one of the versions of the Norse saga, not the tale of Wagner’s opera The ring of the Nibelungen, which has several deviations from the classic.
According to the Völsunga saga, one day Odin, Loki, and Hœnir, (the god of silence, spirituality and poetry) were traveling. They came across Ótr (the dwarf son of the king Hreidmar and brother of Fafnir and Regin), who was shape-shifted as an otter. So it happens that the gods found the fur of the otter beautiful and wanted to have it, so Loki killed the otter (which was Ótr shape-shifted as an otter) with a stone and the three Æsir, Odin, Loki, and Hœnir, skinned the otter.
Later that day, the gods came to King Hreidmar’s dwelling and showed off the otter’s skin. Hreidmar, King of the Dwarves recognized the otter skin as being the hide of his son Ótr and demanded justice.
King Hreidmar and his remaining two sons, Fafnir and Regin, seized the gods and held them captive while Loki was sent to gather a ransom (weregild). Loki was to have the otter skin of Ótr stuffed with gold and have the outside of it covered with red gold. This was the weregild demand as reparations for slaying Ótr.
Unsurprisingly, Loki had a mischievous idea when he remembered about another dwarf who was incredibly rich. The dwarf Andvari, meaning “careful one” in Old Norse, used to live underneath a waterfall and had the power to change himself into a fish at will. Andvari had a sizable treasure of gold and a magical ring named Andvaranaut, which helped him become incredibly wealthy. Loki had found his target.
Using a net Loki caught Andvari while he was shape-shifted as a pike. Loki then forced Andvari to give up his gold and his magic ring, Andvaranaut. Furious at Loki for losing his most precious possessions, Andvari cast a curse upon the stolen gold and magical ring that destroy anyone who possessed them.
The curse did not distress Loki in the least, since he would not keep the treasure, which he used to pay for Odin’s and Hœnir’s ransom.
The cursed treasure causes Fáfnir to kill his father Hreidmar and take the ring and all the gold for himself. He became very ill-natured and greedy, so he went out into the wilderness to keep his fortune, eventually turning into a dragon to guard his treasure, having denied his brother Regin his share.
Thirsting for retribuition, Regin seeks the aid of the famous hero Sigurd, who agrees to slay Fafnir to avenge him and his father Hreidmar.
Sigurd kills Fafnir, who now was a dragon, and drinks some of its blood, gaining the ability to understand birds. The birds advise Sigurd to kill Regin because he’d been corrupted by the ring and was plotting Sigurd’s death. Sigurd beheads Regin and keeps the ring and treasure for himself.
Sigurd then meets the shieldmaiden Brynhildr, who Odin himself had condemned to everlasting sleep until a man “Fearless enough and skillful to essay successfully the wall of fire and gain the rock within”. Sigurd accomplishes such task, however he was already married to Gudrun, and so helped arrange the marriage between Brynhildr and the king Gunnar, Sigurd brother-in-law.
Without knowledge about the curse, Sigrid gives the ring of Andvaranaut to his wife Gudrun, who immediately falls under the curse. Under the ring's influence, Gudrun begins to suspect of an affair between Sigurd and Brynhildr, making her plot Sigurd and Brynhildr demise.
The deaths of Brynhild and Sigurd soon follow and the treasure falls into the hands of Gunnar. King Gunnar, however, realizes that there may be something wrong with the treasure, and and hides it in a cave where it remained forgotten for a long time.
Years later, Andvari discovers the cave and finds his hidden lost gold. However, his ring, Andvaranaut was lost forever. Legend claims he spent the remainder of his days in search of his lost ring, his Andvaranaut.
The story of Sigurd has at least a dozen variations and this one is only one of them. In one of them, Sigurd’s wife Gurun still has possession of the ring, and ends up marrying Attila the Hun, causing his downfall because of the ring. One thing will remain always constant: the heroic saga of Sigurd and the cursed Andvari’s ring will continue to inspire for generations to come.
The ring in the featured image is sold here.