Imagine this: it’s the beginning of the (Norse) World, and the Gods (the Æsir) have just constructed their first realms. However, the world has no walls to speak of.
A mysterious builder shows up, and makes a questionable offer:
In exchange for the Sun (Sól), the Moon (Máni) and Freya, the Goddess of love, beauty, fertility, sex, war, gold, and seiðr – a form of magic concerned with foretelling and shaping the future – he will build them an impenetrable wall.
Sensing a trick, the Gods placed restrictions on the builder, including that no man could help him, and it would have to be completed in a season.
The builder countered with his own request: the assistance of his stallion, Svaðilfari.
Loki weighed in, and the builder was allowed the help of his horse – after all, where’s the harm in a horse?
That was a mistake…(of course, given the involvement of the trickster Loki, was it?)
Svaðilfari was, simply put, a beast.
He was at least twice as powerful as his master, who was at least as strong as the average Æsir.
Boulder after boulder, they built up the massive barrier.
Finally, there were only three days until summer…
Three days until the Gods were bound, by oath, to give the builder the Sun, the Moon, and the Lady Freya.
Angry eyes turned towards Loki; after all, he had persuaded the Gods to let the builder use Svaðilfari.
This part of the story is typical:
- A) after being tricked, the Gods threaten Loki with his life.
- B) Loki then proceeds to come up a plan worse than his original scheme(s).
- C) Barring the events leading up to Ragnarok, he somehow gets away with it, though not without consequences…
So we’re at step B), the part where Loki devises a plan.
That evening, the builder and his stallion went out to fetch more boulders for the wall. Suddenly, from out of the forest came a mare. When Svaðilfari noticed the female, he bolted, breaking free from the builder’s reigns.
Svaðilfari didn’t come home until early the next morning, exhausted from the night before.
Construction was effectively derailed.
Meanwhile, the Æsir discovered that the builder wasn’t a human as they had been led to believe, but was rather a hrimthurs, another term for jötunn (giants or anti-Gods). This allowed them to disregard their oath; Thor was called-in to dispatch with the hrimthurs, which he did with the help of Mjöllnir, His hammer.
Remember step C): Loki somehow gets away with his schemes, though not without consequences..
To quote the Prose Edda, (book Gylfaginning, Chapter 42)
Loki “had such dealings” with Svaðilfari that “somewhat later“, Loki gave birth to an eight legged gray foal, the horse Sleipnir, “the best horse among gods and men“.
[Sleipnir’s name translates as the “slipper”, as in one who slips past; his father, Svaðilfari, might translate to “unfortunate traveler”, though that isn’t universally accepted]
Loki gifted the foal to Odin, who used the steed, as attested to in the Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (The Saga of Hervör and Heidrek, 13th century (poem: Heiðreks gátur)):
[incidental note: Loki and Odin shared a deep and unwritten bond, so Loki giving Odin an actual gift isn’t out of keeping with their relationship]
36. Gestumblindi said:
“Who are the twain that on ten feet run?
three eyes they have, but only one tail.
Alright guess now this riddle, Heithrek!”
“Good is thy riddle, Gestumblindi, and guessed it is:
that is Odin riding on Sleipnir.”
[incidental note: J.R.R. Tolkien openly took inspiration from Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks]
However, Odin wouldn’t be Sleipnir’s only rider:
Hermóðr, son of Odin, brother of Baldr, would literally ride the horse over the Gates of Hel…
But that’s a tale for another day, and another of Loki’s antics, one that would Blindly take Beauty from the World, and eventually pave the road to Ragnarok.
The take-away? Well, you just received a story about Loki as a hermaphroditic were-horse who engages in bestiality, resulting in the birth of a cryptozoid. Sorry dear readers, but I think I just blew my mythic-mind open; today’s take-away’s on you!
Mythcrafts’ page with academic and pop culture links to Norse Mythology.
2 thoughts on “Sleipnir, Odin’s Eight Legged Horse”
It still amazes me that I totally missed that detail about Loki being Sleipnir’s mother until I read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. I don’t know if the older book of Norse tales I had just kind of breezed past it like a medication commercial listing side effects or if I just wasn’t paying attention. But now it is one of my favorite stories! 😄