Nordic mythology has no shortage of incredible viking steeds that played grand roles throughout history which is why they are remembered even today. Without doubt, the most famously known Viking steed is the horse of Nordic God Odin, who was called Sleipnir. This majestic horse was unlike any other to ever exist. Sleipnir, which means the slippery one in Old Norse, had eight legs instead of four.
The birth story of the extraordinary Sleipnir is one that is extremely unique and very interesting.
The father of Sleipnir was a stallion named Svaolifari and the mare who bore Sleipnir was no other than Loki himself in the form of a mare! Many are astonished when they first come across this knowledge and question it. But in fact, according to some of our earliest sources on Nordic mythology, the Prose Edda explains the story for our clarification.
Legend has it, the Gods of Asgard were approached by an unnamed hrimthurs who offered to build walls around Asgard as a protection from giants and other dangers. He asked for three seasons to build it but asked for a price that seemed a little too much even for these Gods. He demanded that the goddess Freya become his bride in addition to receiving ownership of the Sun and the Moon. Freya being the most renowned Norse goddess, she was associated with love, fertility, battle as well as death. She was incredibly important to the Gods and as such they weren't too happy with the conditions set forth by the hrimthurs but decided to set the condition that he would have to do so all by himself in just one season rather than three. They were hesitant in even this deal but Loki convinced them it would be impossible for the builder to complete his task and that they should let him do it. The hrimthurs asked for assistance not from any man but just his stallion, Svaolifari, and agreed to the one month deadline with the Gods relying on Loki's confidence.
However, much to their chagrin, Svaolifari was all the help the hrimthurs needed anyway to build the walls in just one season. So close to earning Freya as his bride in addition to the Sun and Moon, the hrimthurs was ecstatic. On the other hand, the gods were all angry with Loki for pushing them to agree to this deal. They told Loki clearly that he would have to suffer greatly if the builder and his stallion succeeded.
And so, out of desperation, Loki devised a plan to distract the stallion.
He took on the form of a mare in heat and emerged from the forest in front of Svaolifari who abandoned his master to chase after this mare into the trees. The hrimthurs failed to complete his task before the deadline as a result and it was soon understood that Loki would indeed give birth as part of his struggle to fix his mistake. He named the horse he gave birth to Sleipnir, giving him as a gift to none other than Odin the Allfather himself.
Odin greatly valued Sleipnir, partly due to his superiority over all other horses. Sleipnir, with his eight legs, was uniquely able to traverse through all nine worlds of the Norse cosmos to exist within Yggdrasil. Since Odin was a warrior god, he is often depicted riding the eight legged horse into battle. Having the ability to gallop over air, water, and land quickly made him hard to compete with.
Incredibly we know how important Sleipnir himself was to Vikings thanks to a depiction of Odin riding Sleipnir through Midgard on the Tjängvide image stone which is dated 700-1000 AD and was found in Gotland, Sweden as seen below.
Even today, many viking steeds are remembered and honored in various ways such as designs that adorn naval ships or even household centerpieces, vessels, or cutlery. Many ships today have the name Sleipnir, hoping to take strength from the horse's incredible agility and ability to travel throughout the different worlds.