Sleipnir, the best of horses

One of the things I love about mythology is the richness of the worlds. Everywhere you look there are strange and wonderful things. Norse mythology is no exception. This week we’re going to be highlighting some of the coolest creatures to be found in the sagas.

This is a horse, not just any horse, but the “best of all horses.” It has eight legs and can run like the wind. Whenever Odin needs to get somewhere quickly, Sleipnir is the horse that gets him there. He has loaned it out to other Asgardians on occassion, most notably when Hermod rode the horse down into Hel to try tobuy back the soul of the god Baldur.

First off, I really dig the name of this one, it just kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Ratatoskr is a squirrel. He serves as a messenger, traveling up and down Yggdrasil, the World Tree, taking messages in-between the wyrm Nidhögg at the roots and an unnamed eagle at the top of the tree. A couple of things make this interesting to me. 1) This is a squirrel, usually a pretty insignificant animal in the grand scheme of things, yet he is running from one end of the World Tree to the other. Yggdrasil is called the World Tree because it stretches from the bottom to the top of the Nine Worlds, essentially the Norse universe. A squirrel runs that distance all the time. 2) We are specifically told that the messages he brings back and forth are “slanderous gossip” that provokes the eagle and the wyrm. So this tiny creature is running incredible distances to carry trash-talk. The furry little guy makes a brief appearance in my book.

Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr
We have a dual-selection here with the goats belonging to Thor. Their names mean Tooth-barer and Tooth-gnasher. They pull Thor’s chariot at incredible speed, moving so fast that they shatter the mountains and set the earth on fire. They aren’t just useful in getting Thor where he wanted to go. Once he arrived, Thor could cook up the beasts. As long as he carefully gathered all of their bones and placed them on the goatskins, he was able to use his magic hammer to bring the goats back to life in the morning. Pretty handy trick although we never hear what the goats think about that.

We have another goat (What can I say, the Norse were fond of their goats.) It is possible that you would be fond of this one, too. Normal goats were a source of milk for Norse. Heidrún was not a normal goat. She fed on a tree that grew in Asgard and instead of giving milk, she gave mead – high-quality mead. Enough of it so that every single one of the warriors assembled in Valhalla could drink their fill every single night.

Jörmungandr is a serpent, but this is not your garden-variety snake. This is the Midgard Serpent, the snake so big that it can circle the entire world and grab its own tail in its mouth. The serpent is one of the children of Loki (Hela and the wolf Fenrir are the other two.) Thor has run into the Midgard Serpent twice so far. Once a king of the giants disguised the serpent as a giant cat and challenged Thor to lift it off the ground. Even his incredible strength couldn’t accomplish a task like that. Another time Thor was fishing with the giant Hymir. Thor used an entire ox-head as bait. He didn’t catch a fish – he caught the Midgard Serpent! When Thor finally pulled the serpent to the surface he grabbed his hammer to kill it. Unfortunately Hymir cut the line and allowed the serpent to escape. Thor is fated to meet the serpent for the final time at Ragnarok.

I know I left out some of the creatures. Which ones did I miss that you love?

I hope you’re enjoying this series on Norse mythology. If there’s any subject you’d like to hear about, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. You can also check out the other entries in this series.

Five Ways Dwarves Get No Respect

Five Magical Weapons from Norse Mythology

Loki’s Five Biggest Tricks

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