From Iceland — Icelandic Superstitions: The Fierce Viking Horse Trapped In A Pony's Body

Icelandic Superstitions: The Fierce Viking Horse Trapped In A Pony’s Body

Icelandic Superstitions: The Fierce Viking Horse Trapped In A Pony’s Body

Published April 30, 2020

Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Art Bicnick

First, we worshipped the Viking horse, then we ate him, and then we felt bad about it. Feels like there is a COVID-19 lesson to be learned here.

You’ve heard of the Icelandic horse, right? You know, the small one that you always think is a pony, but isn’t really. Don’t say that it’s a pony around Icelanders, by the way, or they will give you a five-hour-long lecture about the five gaits. Then another hour expounding on the unique gait, tölt. Which is not that unique by the way, the Icelandic horse is just the one that can do all of them (not at once, that would be like a cartoonish tap-dance scene). Don’t mention that either, unless you want Icelandic riders to whip you with their crop.

The retro car

The horse—or the “retro-car” like we like to call it at the Reykjavík Grapevine—was quite the status symbol in the olden days. The Vikings had a deep respect for their horses and often the horse of a fallen warrior was buried with them. Yeah, they slaughtered a perfectly fine horse after the Viking died, and then buried it with them in their warrior armour so it could go with the Viking to Valhalla. Makes sense, right?

Get in my belly!

In the old Nordic sagas, the horse was an important cultural symbol. It was considered a sign of fertility as well as the protector of poetry. Basically all the fun stuff. Horses were also considered holy animals, perhaps not as holy as cows for Hindus, but not that far off either. The main difference was that we also really liked to eat them. It was aligned with the will of the Norse gods. So when Icelanders decided to become Christian, they made a deal. We’re up for it because we didn’t really care what we believed in, but we have to be able to worship our old gods, and we would keep eating horses, even although it was believed to be unchristian and barbaric at the time.

The “horse-eaters”

Slowly, through the centuries, Icelanders became a civilised bunch of fancy pants, and quit eating horse meat, except the poor people of course; they had nothing else to eat. Poor people were even shamed by being called horse-eaters until we realised that the Danes also ate horsemeat. We really liked to lick their boots at the time, so Icelanders slowly started to feast on those small ponies—ahem, I mean, the fierce Icelandic warrior horses—once more. So how is this related to Icelandic superstition? We don’t really now. It’s a confusing time anyways.

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