The Warrior On A Flying Steed

One of the fiercest gods of ancient times was Odin, with a shining breastplate and golden helmet. To the 2nd-century Germanic people, he was the god of night storms who rode through the skies on his magical horse, Sleipnir, whose eight hooves could gallop over land or water or glide through the air.

They imagined him leaping through the lightning-streaked sky, grasping his spear, Gungnir, made by dwarfs. In battle, the warriors sought Odin’s help, and the Angles and Saxons called upon him to be on their side before they invaded Britain in the 5th century.

Odin’s horse was the swiftest of all stallions. One day, Odin was riding in the land of the Giants when one of the inhabitants, Hrungnir, admired Odin and his horse and claimed, “I have a stallion which is even stronger and swifter than yours.”

Odin challenged the giant to prove this, and the two raced across a vast plain.

However sharply Hrungnir prodded his horse with his spurs, he could not catch up with Odin. Each time he reached the crest of a hill, he saw Odin flying on Sleipnir ahead of him towards the following range.

Hrungnir was not the only person to have reason to wonder about the magical qualities of Odin’s horse. Another man to be amazed by these was Hadding, whose ruthless enemies were chasing him. Odin picked up Hadding and wrap- ped him up in a large cloak, and lay him on the saddle before him. While the horse was galloping home with him, the young man curiously glanced out through a hole in the cloak.

He was shocked by what he saw. They were travelling over the sea, and Sleipnir’s hooves were pounding the ocean like he was on the road paved with stones.

Odin’s home was a large golden palace called Valhalla, where he lived with his favourite heroes who had been killed in battle.

Gleaming gold covered the roof, and the heroes’ breastplates lay on benches. The palace hall was enormous with 540 doors, each wide enough to admit 800 soldiers abreast. Odin watched these heroes feasting and fighting each evening, their swords flashing, reflecting the vast fires burning in the middle of the hall.

Two crows perched on Odin’s shoulders, whispering in his ear. Every day, they flew all over the world, speaking to the living and the dead and came back before breakfast to give Odin the news of the world.

In Valhalla lived two supernatural women, Valkyries, who were guardians and servants. Apart from waiting on the warriors, they had more war-like duties.

Whenever a battle was fought, the Valkyries went among the fighters and decided who should die and which side should win.

As they flew tirelessly through space on their fiery steeds, they looked like warriors in breastplates, helmets, shields, and flourishing spears of shining steel.

But they were invisible to all except to the heroes chosen to die and go to Valhalla. To the selected, they would suddenly appear and tell them of their fate, then speed through space to warn Odin of the warriors about to become members of his big band.

His believers gave him different names. The ancestors of the Scandinavians called him Odin, but to the Germans, he was Woden or Wotan.

The Angles and Saxons regarded him as their kings’ ancestor, and the fourth day of the week, Wednesday (Woden’s day), bears his name. How he was invented is exciting.

This came about in parts of Europe where people believed that, on stormy nights, they could hear the gallop of horses’ hooves through the sky. They said the ghosts of dead warriors rode these, led by a raging fighter. They called this leader Woden from the German word for “rage”, which is wuten.

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