Sleipner is a metaphor for the funeral pall as well. A man on each corner of a casket will provide 8 legs total, the same as Sleipner. This relate's to Odin Allfather's role as King of the Dead, and Lord of the Valkyries.

Being a retelling of the legend of Sleipnir by a wandering talespinner of Midgard...

And so in those days there was a battle between the Aesir and the Jotun, and it was great and terrible. Thus it was that there was much ruin in the high places of Asgard near the end of battle, and everywhere were great things cast down and made broken. And the south wall around Valhalla was laid in pieces by the Jotun, and mighty was it in its time and thunderous was its fall. And the Aesir asked who had the strength to build again the wall, for it streched for 20 miles and rose 300 spans into the sky. And none save Thor had the power, but he had been wounded in battle. And so the wall of Valhalla laid desolate.

Then there came a traveler to Asgard from Mannheim, a large man, noted for his much strength. He rode upon a great steed, huge and gray and fell to look upon. And he offered to build again the wall around Valhalla in ten days, if the Aesir would yield him Freya to be his wife. Now there was much debate in the councils at that time, but at last Thor prevailed upon then, saying that none had his strength, and so this man could not succeed in ten days. Yet, Thor said, much good would he do in the attempt, and save the Aesir great labor. So it was agreed that the bargain should be struck, and the man began his labors.

Eight days did the man labor, and had nearly finished the wall, for his steed was tireless, and did haul stone from the farthest quarries. And the man did build the wall without rest, save for an hour of sleep each night. And Odin and Thor were angry that this was done, and on the ninth day, as the wall was close to done, they sat in thought. And they could in no way devise to stop the man from his task, nor keep him from Freya's hand. But Loki knew a way, and his mischief seemed good to Odin.

And so it was that on the ninth night, Loki became a great mare, beautiful to look upon, and while the man slept, Loki caught the attention of the man's steed, and they ran far across the plains of Asgard and rutted all the night long. And the man awoke, and found not his steed. And he searched far and wide until the dawn, but found him not. Then returned Loki with the steed, and the man looked and beheld that the mare was for a truth the god of mischief, and he was filled with rage. Then in his wrath his disguise slipped, and Thor and Odin saw that he was a fire giant of Muspellsheim. And Thor took up Mjollnir and slew the giant, and Odin captured the steed. And the next day was born to the mare-Loki a foal with eight legs, and his eyes were dark, and Odin claimed him, naming him Sleipnir.

And from that day Odin rode Sleipnir, and he was fearless, and swift, and did not tire.

Copyright 2002 SigmaVirus. Reproducible if a link to my E2 homenode is included.

Sleipnir (pronounced either SLAYP-nur or SLEP-nur) was the mighty gray steed of Odin, the king of the Norse gods. Sleipnir had eight legs and was the fastest horse of all the gods or mortals. He had the ability to run not only on land, but also over water and in the air. This is why the runes making up Sleipnir's name roughly translate as a journey through ice, sun, trees and water.

As SigmaVirus documents above, Sleipnir's beginnings are odd indeed. A giant disguised himself as a mason and offered to build a wall around Asgard, the home of the gods. He bragged he could finish the wall in one winter with only the help of his mighty stallion, Svadilfari. In return for the wall, the gods were to give him the goddess Freja. The gods laughingly agreed, but over time they became concerned when it looked like the giant would actually finish his task. The trickster god Loki took the form of a mare and enticed the stallion to stop working on the last day of winter. The wall was not finished and the giant revealed himself in his anger and was killed. Several months later Loki returned to Asgard leading a colt he called Sleipnir. He presented the horse to Odin:

"'Take him!' said Loki. 'I bore him and he'll bear you. You'll find he can outpace Golden and Joyous, Shining and Swift, Silver-Maned and Sinewy, Gleaming and Hollow-hoofed, Gold Mane and Light Feet (the mighty horses of the gods and giants), and outrun whatever horses there are in Jotunheim (the realm of giants). No horse will ever be able to keep up with him.'"

Besides running through water and air, Sleipnir could also easily move between the Nine Worlds inhabited by the gods, giants, man, and elves. On two occasions he traveled into Niflheim, the forbidden lands of the dead. Once Odin, concerned about his son Baldur's visions of his own death, traveled on Sleipnir to visit Hel, the goddess of Niflheim. Later when Baldur had fallen, Hermod, Odin's other son, rode Sleipnir back into the depths of Niflheim to attempt to resurrect Baldur.

On the day of Ragnarok, Odin rode Sleipnir into battle with the Fenris wolf. There Odin was swallowed by the wolf and perished, but the fate of Sleipnir was unknown.

Where did the idea of a horse with eight legs come from? One possibility lies with a unique Viking horse that was bred in Iceland. These horses have two unusual gaits called "Tolt" and "Flying Pace" which can give the illusion of a horse running with eight legs. Another possibility is that the eight legs are merely symbolic. Vikings thought of horses as symbols of death and horse bones were often found buried in graves. Therefore, Sleipnir's eight legs may represent the eight legs of four mourners that commonly carried a casket as clampe notes in his writeup above.

Interestingly, Odin and Sleipnir may have inspired the legend of Santa Claus. The Norse people thought that Odin and Sleipnir rode through the sky during the winter solstice. Children who left hay and sugar for Sleipnir were rewarded with gifts. Over time bearded Odin morphed into Santa Claus while Sleipnir with his eight legs turned into the eight reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh. Children today leave out cookies and milk for Santa, in the hopes that he will bring them presents.

Quote and other info from "The Norse Myths" by Kevin Crossley-Holland

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