Berserker

December 31, 2021 7 min read

Everything you need to know about Viking Bersekers! | Viking Heritage

Everything you need to know about Viking Bersekers!

Want to learn more about the Viking Berserkers? Between history and legend, it's hard to know where to start! After all, many researchers have tried to trace the lives of these warriors. But it is not necessarily easy when the evidence is missing. Anyway, we are going to explain you everything about these ruthless warriors!  

The berserkers: who were they?

Before we get into the heart of the matter, it would be interesting to know what exactly a berserker is. If you are familiar with video games, but also with historical movies, you should certainly know what berserkers are. They are "warrior-falcons", who went into a rage when they went into battle.

It is important to know that these warriors, when they went into a trance, could look like real beasts. In other words, in Nordic mythology, they frightened everyone because they became uncontrollable.

But it is also important to know that in mythology, the berserkers were considered the army of the God Odin. The latter is the main god that can be found in Norse mythology, but also in Germanic mythology, mainly. The role of the latter is rather complex to understand.

Indeed, many gods of Germanic mythology are difficult to understand. Nevertheless, he is the god of death, of victory, but also of knowledge. But it is also important to realize that in mythology he is also considered the patron of magic, poetry, prophecies, war and hunting.

Berserkers dressed in bear skins or wolf skins, which was mainly used to impress the enemy. But, it is logical to wonder if these warriors really existed or if they were just a legend. This is what we will see in the following article!

A story of legend...

It should be known that it is above all a legend. Indeed, in the Nordic mythology, it should be known that there were three kinds of warriors of the same order:

  • The svinfylgingars : the warrior-boars.
  • The ulfhnednars or ulfarks : the wolf-warriors.
  • The berserkers : the bear-warriors.

The bear-warriors would therefore be the army of the God Odin. In other words, they would be the equivalent of the Einherjar. What is it about? It was simply an exceptional army that died bravely, with the weapon in their hands. In other words, the berserkers were truly sacred warriors in Viking times.

But it is also important to know that the berserkers were strong. And for good reason, they entered a state of trance, when they went into battle. Of course, their state depended on the type of animal they were: either a boar, a bear or a wolf. But what would that have to do with? Simply to the totem animal that represented the person concerned.

In the legend, it is also important to know that the berserkers are not only warriors. They also have a function of priest of the Nordic Gods, in particular for Odin. Note also that the berserkers were seen as the bodyguard of the latter, but also of the Scandinavian kings. They were, in general, by troop of 12.

It is also important to know that each warrior of Odin belonged to a brotherhood. Nevertheless, each person who wanted to join the berserkers had to follow a very precise ritual, but especially to succeed:

  • To kill a bear in a ritual way.
  • Drink the blood of the latter. Why? Simply because this is how the blood and power of the animal could spread inside the warrior concerned.

So he became a berserker. Not to mention that he obtained, at the same time, his power of transformation. Thus, the new warrior could have another perception of his environment, but also show himself in animal form.

When a Berserker warrior goes into a trance, it is no longer his mind that controls his body, but his animal side, which can sometimes do a lot of damage.

The last element we can give you is that berserkers could be confused with wolf-warriors. Indeed, the skins being rather similar, it was difficult to distinguish them from far.

... But also a true story?

Nevertheless, we must not forget that behind each legend, there is a part of history. That's what we'll see in this part and you're not at the end of your surprises!

It is important to know that little material evidence has appeared over the centuries. Indeed, at the present time, we are not able to affirm or not if these warriors really existed. Nevertheless, if they were alive, the first ones surely made their appearance with the Hari people. The latter existed until the 1st century AD and were a nomadic proto-Germanic people. They were rather recognizable: shields painted in black, without forgetting that they attacked essentially at night. Let us also note that they appreciated the surprise effect and their means of attack was none other than to frighten their enemies. It is also important to know that the Hari people were considered as the warriors of the God Odin. In other words, the berserkers can find their origins in this people.

What we can easily find in the history of these warriors is simply the fact that they had a function of loan for the God Odin. But they also constituted the close guard of the various Scandinavian kings of the time.

Let us also note that it was rather difficult to beat a berserk. Why is that? Simply because his bestial side was far too present during the fights. When an enemy managed to kill one, he was considered a real hero.

But it should be noted that according to the story, the warriors could really do real feats: the exorbitant eyes, howling worthy of a wild beast or having the ability to crunch a shield were not within the reach of everyone. It is also worth noting that they could easily pass through fire, but also be invulnerable to their enemies' attacks.

But in history, these warriors have evolved. Indeed, according to the Icelanders, with the arrival of Christianity, the berserkers were rather seen as bandits, people who stole other people's goods, even the wife of his opponent. Little by little, he becomes the bad guy. Far from his image of hero, he takes on that of the person who killed. Berserkers are killed by heroes, in general, at that time.

As you can see, it is still difficult to know who they really represented. In Norse mythology, berserkers were either seen as bandits or as heroes. But we will never really know the end of the story!

How did the berserkers go into a trance before a fight?

Everything you need to know about Viking Bersekers! | Viking Heritage

It is now interesting to know how he went into a trance during their fight. Indeed, as we have seen in the previous parts, the berserkers fought like beasts. But how could simple humans transform themselves like that? That's what we'll see now!

You may be surprised to know that it doesn't have to go very far. Although the story doesn't give us enough information to know what was really going on for these warriors, some hypotheses could still be born:

  • The first plausible explanation is simply that the warriors took a hallucinogenic mushroom before the fights. Indeed, this allowed them to have behaviors quite different from humans. This could also explain the fact that the warrior's vision was very distorted. The favorite mushroom? The fly agaric. Deadly, it could make warriors enter a second state, which could largely explain their change in behavior.
  • But it is important to know that other hypotheses can also be brought to light. Indeed, the use of the black henbane. This plant was used in antiquity as a narcotic, analgesic or medicine against insomnia. This could also bring a lot of explanations concerning the transformation of the warriors. But it should also be taken into account that the black henbane is much more widespread in Scandinavia than the fly agaric. The theory would therefore be much better.

Nevertheless, it is not possible to affirm anything. Indeed, the berserkers did not write anything down. Everything was done orally, so that researchers do not necessarily find reliable sources to learn more. It is therefore up to everyone to come up with their own theory, in general.

Berserkers in popular culture!

Nowadays and for several centuries, it is necessary to know that the berserkers are part of the popular culture. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to find these warriors in various places:

  • Books: many books have been written about these warriors. Of course, some books date back to the 13th century, while others are much more recent. Whether it is books to learn more about their history or simply to put them on stage, you can find a large choice.
  • Cinema: many films deal with the past. If you are interested in berserkers, it is perfectly possible to find them in various movies. The most recent one is "Alita: Battle Angel" from 2019. But if you want to expand your culture further, you can perfectly opt for an older movie.
  • In some TV series, it is perfectly possible to find the berserkers too. Indeed, you can see a representation of them in "Teen Wolf", "Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." or "SleepyHollow". Fans of series, it's time to watch some new ones!
  • Comic books and manga are also two books in which you can easily find the berserkers. Whether it's "Naruto", "Dragon Ball Z" or "Blood Lad", there is a wide range to choose from!
  • The music has its long work on the berserkers too. The titles are not necessarily known, but you can listen to "Berserker" by Gary Numan, "Rabiosa" by Shakira or "Berzerk" by Eminem.
  • Video games are certainly the elements where it is possible to find the maximum of things concerning berserkers. Indeed, whether it is on phone, on tablet or on console, there too, you have a wide choice. Among the most famous titles, it is possible to find "The Elder Scrolls", "Kingdom Hearts" or "Final Fantasy".

As you can see, although this is largely a legend, berserkers have inspired many people over the centuries and will continue to do so over the next few centuries through different jewelry and popular cultures.

It is rather difficult to know if the berserkers existed or not. The most convinced will certainly think that these warriors were indeed alive. But others are much less convinced. The lack of evidence is therefore difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, many researchers have tried, in vain, to learn more about these shadow warriors. Nevertheless, you can easily find them in popular culture. You can imagine yourself in their place while playing a game or watching a movie. It's up to you to believe the story or the legend!