Monsters of Europe: Sleipnir, the Eight-Legged Horse of Norse Mythology


While not a “monster”, I suppose, Sleipnir is definitely what we’d call a “legendary creature” around here;his parentage is quite interesting. His father was Svaðilfari — a stallion that had “dealings” with the god Loki who was at the time in the form of a mare.

Long story short,  a stonemason (who so far has been unnamed) offered to build a fortification for the gods that would keep out invaders in exchange for the goddess Freyja, the sun, and the moon. He claimed he could complete it in three seasons.

The gods agreed, after some debate, but put many restrictions on the builder, including that he had to complete the work with the help of no man. Only one request was made from the builder–could he use his horse, Svaðilfari to haul the stones?Through the influence of the god Loki, this was allowed.

Utilizing his almost supernaturally strong stallion, the builder began to complete the fortification well ahead of schedule, and the gods realized that they may have had to live up to their deal with the him. They held Loki responsible for this mess, and proclaimed that he deserved a horrible death if he couldn’t figure out a scheme to make the builder forfeit his (well-deserved) payment.

So one night, Loki disguised himself in the form of a mare–in heat, to boot–and pranced out in front of the builder and Svaðilfari. Svaðilfari broke his tack and made a dash for the mare, who led the frantically amorous stallion on a wild goose chase through the woods all night. The builder lost all momentum with building the fortification, and Loki ended up birthing an amazing eight-legged grey foal somehow, sometime later.
In addition, it was discovered that the unnamed builder was a hrimthurs, in disguise,and he was later killed by Thor with his hammer.

Sleipnir, having eight legs and tremendous speed, was described as “the best horse among gods and men.” He is mentioned in the writings Prose EddaHervarar saga ok Heiðreks, and Völsunga saga, and the horse in Gesta Danorum is generally considered to be Sleipnir.

There are also picture stones from the island of Gotland, Sweden, that date from the 8th century and depict eight-legged horses: the Tjängvide image stone and the Ardre VIII image stone. Most scholars believe the images depict Sleipnir. On each stone a rider(generally considered to be Odin) can be seen sitting atop an eight-legged horse.

There is a poem in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks— Heiðreks gátur, that has a riddle mentioning Odin on Sleipnir:

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!”
Heithrek said:
“Good is thy riddle, Gestumblindi,
and guessed it is:
that is Odin riding on Sleipnir.

A Box from Mother’s House, Part II!

Wow, this is a doozy! As my two brothers and I plowed through boxes of our old stuff at our mother’s house, a big pile of comic books came to light. They were all spooky,scary, mystical titles that I remember sneaking into my brothers’ closet and trying to read. I didn’t understand much but I loved it. My brothers gave me the books, and at last I can read them at leisure. I’ll post the pics, and feel free to review any you might  might have read. Here goes!

Dragons of Europe:The Zmaj of Serbia!

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In Serbia, the zmaj is revered(usually) as a benevolent being that is similar to the dragons of East Asia. A common description of these dragons states that they  have a ram’s head and a serpent’s body. In addition to having great strength and wisdom, they are said to protect the people from the Ala, or Azjada, another creature that was  believed to bring bad weather and storms that destroy crops.

The zmaj are also reputed to be able to take on different forms, including those of human beings. In human form, they were able to engage in one their favorite pastimes–the pursuit of women. Some zmaj are thought to be so engrossed in this activity to the extent that they abandon their duties protecting farmlands from bad weather. If the crops were destroyed by storms, villagers would gather to oust the zmaj from the houses of local women. The lust of the zmaj for mortal women is also a major theme in a Serbian folk tale known as The Tsarina Militza and the Zmaj of Yastrebatz.

Unicorns: The Karkadann!

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The Karkadann, or Persian Unicorn

I have seen and read so many versions of what the Karkadann looks like.
An early description of the karkadann comes from the eleventh century Persian scholar Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī. His description of the animal says that it has “the build of a buffalo…a black, scaly skin; a dewlap hanging down under the skin. It has three yellow hooves on each foot…The tail is not long. The eyes lie low, farther down the cheek than is the case with all other animals. On the top of the nose there is a single horn which is bent upwards.“ In the work of another author, a part of al-Bīrūnī’s description exists that adds: “the horn is conical, bent back towards the head, and longer than a span…the animal’s ears protrude on both sides like those of a donkey, and…its upper lip forms into a finger-shape, like the protrusion on the end of an elephant’s trunk.”
Undoubtedly, the Indian Rhinoceros was the creature that he had described. However, the future confusion between the rhinoceros and the unicorn was already in progress, as the Persian language uses the same word– karkadann– for the mythological animal as it does for the rhinoceros. In illustrations of the karkadann this confusion is obvious.
Taking this description, scholars described continuously more fanciful versions of the “Persian unicorn”, complicated by the absence of first-hand knowledge and the difficulty of reading and interpreting old Arabic script.
A very notable difference concerned the horn: where Al-Biruni had listed a short, curved horn, later writers made it a long, straight horn. The horn then traveled in artists’ interpretations from the beast’s nose to its forehead.

In the 14th century, Ibn Battuta, in his travelogue, calls the rhinoceros he saw in India a karkadann, and described it as a rather pugnacious beast, driving away other animals—-even those as big as the elephant—from its territory, allowing no one else to graze there.

The name karkadann is a variation of the Persian kargadan, or Sanskrit kartajan, which is said to mean “lord of the desert”.


Werewolves: The Loup-Garou!

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The Loup Garou is common in Cajun legends, deriving either directly from French settlers to Louisiana or via the French Canadian immigrants centuries ago. It haunts the swamps and sometimes the fields and woods. The Loup Garou is often described as having a human body and the head of a wolf or dog, similar to a werewolf.

Stories of this Cajun werewolf instill fear and obedience, such as warning Cajun children to behave. In other tales, the Loup Garou will kill Catholics who do not follow the rules of Lent. Coincidentally, according to French Loup Garou stories, one who breaks Lent seven years in a row will turn into a werewolf.

The Loup Garou is under the spell for 101 days. During this time, the curse can be transmitted from person to person if the Loup Garou spills another human’s blood. The beast returns to human form during the day.