Introducing Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse
Odin is a warrior god, thus when going to war it is on the back of his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir (The origin of the name “Sleipnir” would come from the Old Norse “the sliding one”, due to his ability to slide between worlds).
Sleipnir was a son of Loki, the trickster god that lived among the Asgardian gods. But, surprisingly, Loki was not the father, but the mother of Sleipnir. Read below to find out why.
The birth of Sleipnir
Traveling north, to the country of Vikings, Iceland, we meet this winged horse that does not simply belong to a hero, but to the leading deity of the Icelandic pantheon, the father of gods and humans, Odin.
Myth wants the Scandinavian gods to reside up in the sky in a castle called "Asgard". In order to build the castle, the gods were looking for a skilled craftsman, whom they found in the face of a giant. The gods promised the giant that if he completed the work in three winters, they would give him the Sun, the Moon and the goddess of love Freya.
But the gods, seeing that the giant was using the magic horse Svadilfari, to carry huge volumes of rock with incredible speed, changed their minds, so that the giant could not meet the terms of the agreement and so did not have to fulfill their promise. They, therefore, invented a trick. The god Loki transformed into a beautiful mare, attracted the giant's magic horse and led it to a forest. From the meeting of the two horses, Sleipnir was born, a winged horse with eight legs. Sleipnir was the famous horse of the god Odin the All-father, with which he descended from heaven to earth and led to Asgard the heroes who fell in battle. It seems that for the northern peoples this winged horse embodied the hope that the heroically fallen would eventually be led to the residence of the gods.
The look of Sleipnir
Sleipnir is the incarnation of a powerful, muscular, great horse. Its fur is grey, while its tail and mane are deep dark grey. According to a myth, its teeth were engraved with runes as Valkyries had requested.
Sleipnir has each leg doubled which is 8 legs in total. Sometimes, it is being shown with a split from the hips and shoulders, as two legs both distinct and joined together, while often, the knee that the leg is divided is focused on. It has been used many times in video games such as Final Fantasy, Ragnarok and others.
It seems that Sleipnir also had his own children, as according to a riddle described in a 13th-century text, Sleipnir is an ancestor of Grani, a horse owned by the hero Sigurd, and probably given to him by Odin himself.
The special strength and speed of Sleipnir are emphasized in many stories from Norse mythology. In the story of the death of Balder, a son of Odin, Hermodr rides Sleipnir down to Helheim in order to treat with the goddess Hel for his return. Only Sleipnir has the strength to jump over the gates that block entry into the realm of the dead.
In another story, Odin rides Sleipnir to Jotunheim, the realm of the giants, where he encounters the giant Hrungir, who complements Odin on the quality of his horse.
The leads Odin into boasting, challenging the giant to find a horse in Jotunheim that is Sleipnir’s equal. Hrungnir’s own horse Gullfaxi is enraged by this, and Hrungnir mounts his horse in order to attack Odin.
Sleipnir is “the best among horses.” It can gallop faster, jump higher, kick harder, and whinny louder than any other horse, whether it is found grazing on the grass of Midgard or feasting in the rich stables of Asgard. Its strength knows no equal, and its heart knows no fear.
In addition to racing over the ground, Odin’s mighty steed can also fly through the air and swim through water. None of the elements slow him down. Famously, it is even able to ferry Odin safely in and out of Hel, the realm of the dead.
How Sleipnir became Odin’s horse?
After several months, Sleipnir had become a very large and powerful horse, perhaps even the most powerful, enduring and fast of the nine worlds.
Gullfaxi, the horse that Thor picked up from the giant Hrungnir as a tribe of conquest before offering it to his son Magni, was also an extremely fast and enduring horse but he did not dethrone Sleipnir.
One day Loki came to Asgard to offer Sleipnir to Odin, the chief god of Aesir. This extraordinary horse will allow him to move through the 9 kingdoms with incomparable speed. The eight-legged horse was at least as fearless as his master and accompanied Odin the allfather in all his battles.
While Loki’s other children were bound and banished to prevent them from wreaking havoc across the nine worlds of the Norse cosmos, Sleipnir, in contrast, became not only the steed of Odin, the king of the Aesir gods but also one of his most recognizable and trusted companions.
Sleipnir was probably born before Loki’s other children, though this is not explicitly stated anywhere. Sleipnir dates from the early days of Asgard. Otherwise, it would seem strange for Loki to give his child to Odin as a gift, considering the Aesir gods’ treatment of his other children.
In one story Odin is described as riding Sleipnir to the land of the giants, while in another story, Odin lets his son Hermodr ride Sleipnir down to Helheim, the realm of the dead. Sleipnir is also thought to have left his imprint on the world of men, with Icelandic folklores attributing the creation of the Asbyrgi, a horseshoe-shaped glacial canyon in the north of Iceland, to Sleipnir.
Books to read about Sleipnir
- Volsunga Saga
- The poetic Edda
- The Edda
- Hervarararar ok Heiðreks Saga
Written by Stefan
Northlord - The Ancient World As One