Weird History

Crazy Facts About Viking Berserkers, History's Extreme Norse Warrior-Shamans  

Phil Gibbons
989.2k views 14 items

The Vikings were known throughout Europe as fierce warriors, and no discussion of Viking warrior culture is complete without an examination of the history of berserkers, a particularly wild, crazy, violent sect of Norsemen. Berserkers entered a state of animalistic frenzy before battle. This bizarre cult of crazies was eventually outlawed, even in the warrior culture of the Scandinavian Middle Ages, but not before making their mark on history.

If you're interested in Norse berserker history, look no further than this list. Here you will find crazy berserker facts, and learn about the Viking berserker drugs imbibed before these beastly warriors enter the fray of war. Hold onto your battle ax, because things are about to get kinda berserk.

They Marched Into War Completely Naked, Except For An Animal Pelt
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Photo: John Charles Dollman/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Berserkers were a special group of elite Viking warriors who went into battle without traditional armor. Instead, they wore animal pelts, typically from bears or wolves. The word "berserker" derives from the Old Norse "serkr," meaning "coat" or "shirt," and "ber," the Norse word for "bear." 

Also, they were naked under the pelt. At least according to legend. 

They Lived Like Marauders In The Woods, Braving Harsh Scandinavian Winters Alone
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Photo: Knud Bergslien/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Like all traditional members of shamanic secret societies, berserkers acquired their power through ritualistic practice. These practices included spending periods in extreme isolation, fasting, exposure to extreme heat and cold, and engaging in group weapon dances prior to battle. In the wilderness, berserkers lived like their totem animal, adopting its mannerisms and habits, sustaining themselves by hunting and raiding settlements.

They Entered Battle In A Psychotic Frenzy And Ripped Enemy Soldiers To Shreds
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Photo: Christian Krohg/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Berserkers are historically described as taking part in rituals that, before battle, would induce a trancelike collective state called berserkgang

This fury, which was called berserkergang, occurred not only in the heat of battle, but also during laborious work. Men who were thus seized performed things which otherwise seemed impossible for human power. This condition is said to have begun with shivering, chattering of the teeth, and chill in the body, and then the face swelled and changed its colour. With this was connected a great hot-headedness, which at last gave over into a great rage, under which they howled as wild animals, bit the edge of their shields, and cut down everything they met without discriminating between friend or foe.

While in this frenzied state, berserkers lost all human capacity for reason or self-cognizance, and were known to scream and howl constantly, and rip enemies to shreds with their bare hands.  

They Ingested Psychedelic Mushrooms And Alcohol Before Battles
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Photo: Andreas Bloch/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Though there's no definitive proof as to whether or not berserkers got blitzed before charging into battle, it's hypothesized the used both magic mushrooms and obscene quantities of alcohol.

Writing in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Howard Fabing explains berserkers may have taken Amanita muscaria. a psychedelic mushroom containing bufotenine. In trials, bufotenine has been shown to cause hallucinations and psychophysiological effects consistent with those described in Norse sagas. 

It's also possible they drank butt tons of alcohol. Both shrooms and booze consumption fit contemporary knowledge of Viking rituals, though other reasons for the berserker rage-trance have been suggested, including self-induced hysteria, epilepsy, mental illness, and even genetics. 

"What do you want to be when you grow up, little Morten?"

"Well, my daddy flies into an uncontrollable rage and rips off all his clothes and runs into battle wearing nothing but a bear pelt, so I think I'll probably get into that racket, too."