How Did The Viking Berserkers Go Berserk?

Posted by Ms Elly on

How Did The Viking Berserkers Go Berserk? 

As we know, one of the greatest Viking warriors were known as the Viking Berserkers who devoted their lives to the battlefield. In any battle, they fought as if it was their last, no regret, no fear, and especially no armour. Those made the Viking berserkers outstanding. Although their historical existence remains a mystery, their story keeps astonishing us to the core. In this blog post, we are to discuss how did the Viking berserkers go berserk. In other words, what source of strength empowered the Viking berserkers that much or what made the Viking berserkers? All viewpoints in this blog post are merely theories

According to the Viking sagas, the Viking berserkers were the most excellent warriors not only because of their fighting skills but also their fighting spirits in battle. They would join the battle in a frenzy trance fighting and believing that the gods were watching them. If they performed well in the battle, they would have a seat in Valhalla. 

The first theory was that these Viking berserkers worshipped bear animal which was among the most powerful and wild animal back then. Bear symbolisation presented the wildness, physical power, resilience toward any challenge in life. Many Viking enthusiasts believed that the berserkers made a sacrifice to the bear and in return, they got the power as fierce as the bear. Many scholars agreed that the bear cult once was very popular in the Viking Age. This cemented the point that berserkers could have drawn their power from the bear. 

Did the Viking berserkers draw their power from worshipping the bear?

Back then, bear cult was quite popular

The second theory was they lived among wide animals like bear and wolves. Living among the animals made them become more like animals, fighting like animals and howling like them. But these berserkers still worshipped Odin the Allfather. They believed that once they died a warrior death in the battlefield, they would have a seat to feast along with the gods up in Valhalla. 

The third theory was these Viking berserkers consumed a kind of hallucination mushroom that brought them to that state. Some scholars supported this theory as they believed that the Viking berserkers once consumed a type of fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria. Nonetheless, this kind of mushroom was considered to be one of the most hallucination drugs. Because archaeological evidence showed that there appeared other "drugs" in the Viking society. For example, in the grave of a Viking woman in Fyrkat, Denmark who was suspected to be a volva (a seeress), there was a quantity of Henbane seeds, This type of seeds was believed to help incite a frenzied state. Another example was the famous Oseberg burial mound which contained the cannabis seeds.

Viking berserkers went into battle without armour. They voluntarily made the ultimate sacrifice for the battle

The Viking berserkers were always ready to make their ultimate sacrifice for their battle

The last theory is about shapeshifting ability. To go berserk means to go "hamask" or to "change form". Therefore, some scholars believed that those who could transform into a berserker was actually "hamrammr". That is literally those who could shapeshift into the form of a bear. For example, in the Saga of Hrólf Kraki, a man named Bödvar Bjarki who was a berserker shapeshifted into a bear and defended King Hrolf Kraki. 

"Men saw that a great bear went before King Hrolf's men, keeping always near the king. He slew more men with his fore paws than any five of the king's champions."


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2 comments


  • Very interesting, Perry! Thank you for sharing this !!

    Ms Elly on

  • The Norse name Asbjorne( containing the words man and bear) is thought to be the origin of the word berserker. It’s also where we get the Anglo translation to Osborne/ Osbourne ( man and god).

    Perry Osborne on

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