What would the story of the building of the great wall around Asgard be without Svadilfari, that great work horse that allowed the Jotun to keep ahead of schedule to gain his prizes of the Sun, the Moon, and Freyja. Things became so desperate that the Gods threatened Loki to do something to prevent this. His solution was to turn himself into a mare and distract Svaldilfari away from the Jotun builder, foiling the Jotun's plans. This "distraction" lead to Loki bearing the eight - legged foal named Sleipner, who is deemed the " best of horses", and given to Odin. In the story of Balder's funeral Hermod is given Sleipner to ride to the land of the dead, where not even the great height of its gates can stop Sleipner, who leaps over them easily.
Other animals that are used for transportation in the Eddas are Freyja's cats,( unnamed as far as I know ), Gullinbursti,( Freyr's golden boar ), and Tooth -Gnasher and Gap Tooth, Thor's goats. It further says in Gylfaginning that the Gods ride everyday to the Spring of Urd for their court of justice on the following horses. Sleipner, Glad, Gyllir, Glen ( my favorite ), Skidbrimir, Silfrtopp, Sinir, Gils, Falhofnir, Gulltop, and Lettfet. Balder had a horse also, but it was burned on his funeral pyre with him.
These wonderful animals are not confined just to the use of the Gods and Goddesses either. The Jotuns make use of them as well. The Ogress Hyrrokkin, who is summoned because the Gods cannot launch Balder's great ship Ringhorn, rides to the funeral on a huge wolf which has, " vipers for reins".This wolf was so strong that four berserks could not hold it down after Hyrrokkin dismounted, so it had to be killed. In another story involving animals the Giant Hrungnir on his horse Gullfaxi, races Odin but is defeated by swift Sleipner. This of course leads to the great duel between Thor and Hrungnir, when Thor catches the Giant drinking in Odin's hall.
Companionship is another attribute of the animals of the nine worlds. Odin has his two pet wolves, Geri and Freki, at his feet in the dining hall at Valhalla. He feeds them with the food from his own plate, it is said, because for Odin wine is both food and drink. Odin also has two winged friends. They are his ravens Hugin and Munin. In the Eddas it states that Odin sends out these two birds at daybreak to fly out over the world to gather information. They return by breakfast and sit on Odin's shoulders and whisper the events that have taken place into his ears. Hugin and Munin mean thought and mind, and some like John Lindow believe that these ravens represent Odin in his shamanic trance state watching over the world. I prefer them being ravens.
These animals also are a never ending source of food for the Gods and warriors of Asgard. Thor for instance can sacrifice his two goats, and boil them for food. As long as the bones are not damaged, Thor, using his sacred hammer Mjolnir, can resurrect them the next day. Thor was infuriated the time that a farmer's son named Thjalfi, cut one of the bones to get at the marrow inside. The next day one of the goats came up lame after being resurrected. Thjalfi and his sister Roskva then are taken by Thor as servants as reparation. A very good punishment for Thjalfi and Roskva indeed !
The warriors of Valhalla also utilize animals to sustain themselves with both food and drink. The boar, Saehrimnir is boiled everyday to feed the Einherjar of Valhalla. It is said that there will never be too many warriors in Valhalla for this great boar to feed. The boar, like Thor's goats, is resurrected that evening, I imagine this time by Odin himself. The warriors of Valhalla get their drink from a goat named Heidrun. It " stands up on its hind legs in Valhalla biting the buds off of the branches of that very famous tree called Laered. " From her teats she, " she everyday fills a cauldron so big that all of the Einherjar can drink their fill from it." This is similar to the story of the giant cow Audhumla, who fed the Giant Ymir in the beginning times.
A few more animals of note are :
Ratatosk - A squirrel that runs up and down Yggdrasil relaying insults between Niddhog, who gnaws at the roots, and the great eagle that sits at the top.
The Harts - Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr, and durathror who nibble at the branches.
The two swans - Though unnamed they swim in the Spring of Urd.
Arvak and Alsvin - The horses that pull the sun's cart.
Habrok - Described as the best of hawks.
Hrimfaxi - The horse that pulls Nott' s cart.
Skinfaxi - The horse that pulls Dag' s cart.
Vedrfolnir - The hawk that sits between the eagles eyes.
And that is why my friends I honor these wonderful animals on February 4th of every year. I hope that others will join in, if not on this date but on one of your choosing, and honor these splendid animals, ( and of course the ones in our world as well which I had to neglect because this article was getting just a little long), for all that they do for humans and Gods alike. All Hail the great beasts of burden ! All Hail also to our little friends and companions !
Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart )