Sleipnir is best known as the eight-legged horse of Odin, but also as the son of Loki. Stay with me while we get a little weird. Sleipnir is actually the child of the Norse God Loki, and the stallion svaðilfari. How is a Norse God who is usually depicted in a masculine form, able to mate with a stallion? Good question. Loki is known as the trickster for a reason.
Loki and Svadilfari
The Prose Edda tells us that Loki (the trickster) was kicking around during the early days of Asgard. Asgard is where the cool Gods like Thor live. One day an unnamed builder made a deal with the gods to help build a fortification of Asgard. He offers to build a protective wall. The gods think this is a good idea because people are always chewing on Asgard. The deal stated he was not allowed to have any help from any man.
The builder agreed, but asked that he was able to have the help of his horse, the stallion Svadilfari. The gods thought this was ok. However, in return they agreed to pay the unknown builder, the goddess Freyja. Not cool to be bargaining with women guys. They also agreed to give him the sun and the moon. A little over the top if you ask me. I know guys who will build a fence for a cold beverage and a sandwich. But these gods always offer ridiculous stuff in return for favours. They are super dramatic. They find out this guy is from the land of the giants. The gods kinda dislike the giants. They really don’t want to have to give this guy anything now. So naturally they blame Loki. They task him with preventing the giant from finishing the project.
The Birth of Sleipnir
So naturally Loki disguised himself as a beautiful mare. Not exactly my first choice but sure. This gorgeous white horse led the stallion into the woods, where it is suspected they did the deed. Sometime later, we hear of Sleipnir: the son of Loki. Unsurprisingly, he has eight-legs and some magical powers. The story of Sleipnir’s origin might seem a little whacky, but it’s actually perfectly in line with the worlds of the Norse cosmos. They were a whacky bunch.
The horse Sleipnir was gifted to Odin (the god of gods) and became a great compainion of the All-Father. The story of Sleipnir has also become an important staple in Norse mythology. In the Poetic Edda, we are told that the god Odin will ride Sleipnir during Ragnarok. He is described as the best horse, the fastest horse, and an all around good boy.
Sleipnir’s Role in Ragnarok
Unlike the other children of Loki, Sleipnir is not a negative character in Icelandic folklores. During Ragnarok, Loki and his other children (often described as monsters) need to be defeated. We are told in the sagas that leading the charge will be Odin riding Sleipnir.
It might also be natural that Sleipnir is sometimes regarded as a psychopomp. This means “guider of souls”. We know that Odin welcomes the fallen warriors to Valhalla. There are representations of Odin guiding fallen warriors quite a bit. We also have archeological examples, like the Tjangvide runestone that show Sleipnir ushering warriors to Valhalla.
For more information about Sleipnir’s role as a psychopomp and his depiction on the Tjangvide runestone, check out “Of Horses and Men” by the independent scholar, Emiliana Konopka.
Evidence in Literature
A riddle found in the Old Norse Hervarar saga ok heiðreks, mentions the great horse Sleipnir, the son of Loki. Sleipnir’s name appears again in the 13th century Volsunga Saga. Here he is said to be an ancestor of Grani. Grani was an equally powerful horse owned in later years by the hero Sigurd.
Most Old Norse texts speak of the speed of Sleipnir, and describes him as an extraordinary horse. He is also known to be able to slide easily through the nine realms. This might be linked to Sleipnir’s name, which is said to translate to “the slider”, or “the slipper”.
There is a rare case where we see Sleipnir being ridden by someone other than Odin. In the story of the death of Balder (Old Norse Baldr), we see Sleipnir being ridden into the realm of Hel, by Baldr’s brother Hermóðr. The story says that Sleipnir easily jumped the gates of Hel and was then able to return Hermóðr to the Asgardian Gods.
The Giant Hrungnir and his Horse Gullfaxi
Another mention of Odin’s horse is in the tale of a race between Odin and the giant Hrungnir. In this story, Hrungnir enters Asgard and challenges Odin to a race. He claims that his own horse Gullfaxi was Sleipnir’s equal.
Sleipnir is of course faster and wins this race. The giant Hrungnir is eventually destroyed by Thor in a story I will tell a little later. Do not challenge the gods. Even though this one involved Odin and his horse, you will often hear of Thor cleaning stuff up. He likes to involve himself in feuds and settle them with causal aggression.
Sleipnir in Pop Culture
Modern Viking enthusiasts still like to work in these mythical creatures when they can. So, you might actually be familiar with Sleipnir if you were ever a gamer. The eight-legged horse of Odin made an appearance in the very popular Final Fantasy games as an enemy. The game misuses Sleipnir a bit, since he is kind of an evil character in the game. You need to destroy Sleipnir three times in order to release a boss.
Lots going wrong there. Remember that Sleipnir was the only child of Loki who actually wasn’t thought of as a monster? He was also supposed to be the best and fastest horse, with the ability to fly, and slip between realms. So he totally could have gotten away from any mortal teenager chasing him in a video game.
That’s ok though. I think it’s important to be inspired by popular culture and its references to these ancient and very real characters, so long as you are inspired to go investigate their backstory. This blog seeks you fill you in a bit more on some of these references you may very know!
- There are plenty of other Viking Symbols to learn about. Go check out the “Viking Symbols and Their Meaning” page to see what else we use today!