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The Viking Berserkers

The Viking Berserkers – fierce warriors or drug-fuelled madmen?

Today, the word ‘berserk’ is used to describe anyone in an irrational, agitated state of mind who cannot or does not control his or her actions. The meaning of the word originates with the Viking berserkers, the fierce warriors who were known for battling in an uncontrollable, trance-like fury, and were alleged to be able to perform seemingly impossible super-human feats of strength.

In medieval Norse and Germanic history and folklore, the berserkers were described as members of an unruly warrior gang that worshipped Odin, the supreme Norse deity, and were commissioned to royal and noble courts as bodyguards and ‘shock troops’, who would strike fear into all who encountered them. Adding to their ferocity, and in order to intimidate the enemy, they would wear bear and wolf pelts when they fought, giving them the name Berserker, meaning “bear coat” in Old Norse.

Viking berserkers

The berserkers wore wolf and bear pelts. Image source .

The fury of the berserkers would start with chills and teeth chattering and give way to a purpling of the face, as they literally became ‘hot-headed’, and culminating in a great, uncontrollable rage accompanied by grunts and howls. They would bite into their shields and gnaw at their skin before launching into battle, indiscriminately injuring, maiming and killing anything in their path.

Dating back as far as the ninth century, the berserker Norse Warriors were said to be able to do things that normal humans could not. According to ancient legend, the berserkers were indestructible, and no weapon could break them from their trance.  They were described as being immune to fire and to the strike of a sword, continuing on their rampage despite injury. The Icelandic historian and poet Snorri Sturluson (1179–1241 AD) wrote the following description of berserkers in his Ynglinga saga:

His (Odin's) men rushed forwards without armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild oxen, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon them.

It is believed that this account is partially true and that their trance-like state actually prevented them from feeling pain until after the battle.

While some researchers believe the Berserkers simply worked themselves up into a self-induced hysteria before fighting, others maintain that it was sorcery, the consumption of drugs or alcohol, or even mental illness, that accounted for their behaviour. Some botanists have claimed that berserker behaviour could have been caused by the ingestion of the plant known as bog myrtle, one of the main spices in Scandinavian alcoholic beverages.

Other more esoteric theories surround supernatural beliefs. For instance, some scholars have claimed that the Vikings believed in spirit possession and that berserkers were possessed by the animal spirits of wolves or bears. According to some theorists, berserkers learned to cultivate the ability to allow animal spirits to take over their body during a fight (an example of animal totemism) that also involved drinking the blood of the animal that they wished to be possessed by.

In 1015, Jarl Eiríkr Hákonarson of Norway outlawed berserkers, and Grágás, the medieval Icelandic law code, sentenced berserker warriors to outlawry. By the 12th century, organised berserker war-gangs had been completely disbanded.

Featured image: The Viking Berserkers. Image source: wiki.totalwar.com 

By April Holloway

References:

Berserkers – The Viking Site

Viking Warriors – Legends and Chronicles

Norse power: A brief look at Berserker rage – by Dr Mark Griffiths

Superhuman Strength during a Crisis - Skeptoid

The Viking Berserker – by Clinton Phang and Cameron Anderson

Comments

Another theory is that they used amanita muscaria, either before battle or earlier to contact animals spirits.

Amanita is poisonus when eaten raw, and always poisonus in combination with carbonated beverages.
However if you treat it properly and pick the right species (!) it could be used for intake.

Its propierties is not comparable to that of psilocybin that normally used mind altering mushrooms contain. And it does not make you "high" .
After eating and drinking properly cared for amanita a few times i belivie it could been used before fighting to reach a higher state of mind very you can anticipate and be quicker then the one you are fighting.

I have used it during work and been able to be awake on only amanita for more then 24 hours working without making a mistake and always having a very clear mind. Very clear mind.
Thats what you get from ontake of it, clarity. And if done in a medative state you can get some guidance from its spirit.
Google amanita and santaclaus ;)

Your experience of AM is poles apart from mine, believe me.

what subspecies of amanita are you refering to?

As amanita muscaria is only used very little as a drug even today, I cannot believe that scholars haven't thought about Psilocybe semilanceata, which to my sparse knowledge has a more powerful euphoria and is rather safe to use (meaning, you don't have to be a very skilled botanist to be able to intake it).

Firstly: botanists study plants (I am one)
Mycologists study fungi (actually closer to animals than plants)

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