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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Berserk Reply to topic
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Vegard Stomsvik Pedersen




Location: Norway
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 3:43 am    Post subject: Berserk         Reply with quote

I have read a lot about the viking berserkers. And each time I read something different...
So I (and a friend of mine) want to settle this once and for all...
What is "berserksgangr" and what weapons and armour did they use? Did they run about naked or did they use chainmail or did they wear bear or wolf skin?




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Jim Adelsen
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 4:40 am    Post subject: Re: Berserk         Reply with quote

What we know is that they are warriors who went berserk in battle. Often doing strange things like biting a shield to go berserk. While berserk they felt no pain and had incredible strength. Often they are described as getting their power from Odin himself and that he makes them invulnerable to iron so that they can't be hurt in battle.

My research has lead me to believe they more typically wore the same armor and used the same weapons as everyone else. This would probably be leather or possibly chainmail for armor. And axe, spear or sword for a weapon. That said they seem to want to be as mean and intimidating as possible so wearing a bear skin could add that affect. I however haven't seen much to support them going into battle naked. Hope that helps.



Vegard Stomsvik Pedersen wrote:
I have read a lot about the viking berserkers. And each time I read something different...
So I (and a friend of mine) want to settle this once and for all...
What is "berserksgangr" and what weapons and armour did they use? Did they run about naked or did they use chainmail or did they wear bear or wolf skin?




Skål!

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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 5:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The viking answer lady can say it better than I.
http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/berserke.shtml

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Alex Oster




Location: Washington and Yokohama
Joined: 01 Mar 2004

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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 6:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nothing to do with drugs?
Maybe I'm thinking of the celts... didnt they have some kind of berzerkers(SP?) with wode (SP?)?

The pen is mightier than the sword, especially since it can get past security and be stabbed it into a jugular.
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Jim Adelsen
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 6:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have never seen a historical reference to drugs being used. It is however a modern theory.

Alex Oster wrote:
Nothing to do with drugs?
Maybe I'm thinking of the celts... didnt they have some kind of berzerkers(SP?) with wode (SP?)?

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Alex Oster




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 7:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Its just the records of the trembling and other symptoms before the fight and the long term suffering afterwards that perked my thoughts.
The pen is mightier than the sword, especially since it can get past security and be stabbed it into a jugular.
This site would be better if everytime I clicked submit... I got to hear a whip crack!
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Michael Clark




Location: Welland, Ontario
Joined: 31 Mar 2007

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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 8:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not that my ill-informed answer can account for much, but I have heard a few things.

I've spoken with my step-cousin about this particular subject at length.. To this day, I don't know WHY, yet we have nonetheless. He often recalled that they did take some form of drug with which to psychologically enhance themselves. In my cousin's words, "it made them crazy, and that's where everyone gets the idea that they were psycho rapists and torturers." I can certainly ask him about where he got this information, as he is an avid reader.

Hope that little bit can help.
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Mikael Ranelius




Location: Sweden
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 8:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

According to the Ynglingasaga, the berserkers fought unarmoured because they believed they were protected from injury by the god Oden.
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Sam Barris




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 10:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I thought wode was just blue paint. Did it produce drug effects too?
Pax,
Sam Barris

"Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools." —Thucydides
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Jim Adelsen
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 10:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One thing to keep in mind is that what might be true for one berserker might not be true for another. Certainly there would be differences from a Swedish to a Danish berserker. Also tales of berserkers start way before the Viking Age begins so it's quite likely an early berserker would be different than a later one.
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 11:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sam Barris wrote:
I thought wode was just blue paint. Did it produce drug effects too?

It did. The dye used to create the blue causes a certain intoxication, and with long term exposure, insanity...

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 10:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Psychosis or some form of suggestion/self hypnosis produced rage and a big hit of adrenaline ? Drugs maybe ? A warrior mindset all or nothing suicidal rage " A good day to die " ! if you survive the fight you are pleasantly surprised ( or even depressed/tired/ exhausted ) if you get killed you don't really care at the time: !00% attack mode 0% defensive mode and all your focus is on killing the enemy while your selfpreservation instinct has gone on vacation.

Oh, your reputation as a crazy berserker would tend to make more survival aware opponents hesitate ! (Their hesitation kills opponents )

The historical reality I don't know for sure ? But the above is a guess at the state of mind of a berserker.

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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 11:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vegard,

Since it appears that there are different ideas floating around about berserkers here on the forums, the best idea might be to track down several historical sources that describe men going berserk. That way, you're not depending upon other people's ideas and perceptions, but rather you can interpret what the actual sources say for yourself.
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Gavin Kisebach




Location: Lacey, Wa US
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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2007 2:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with Craig. A good place to start would be here:

http://omacl.org/.
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Peter Bosman




Location: Andalucia
Joined: 22 May 2006

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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2007 5:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Why not look at the obvious.

A thing called 'runners syndrom' is one face of the same phenomena. Another example is a offroad(motorcycle)rider who finishes a rain with a broken leg.
Also fairly 'common' and related is the red haze some people can get into when angry or in response to pain.

I myself are 'prone' to the above and can work myself into a state where I can do things that are say 150% of my normal capacities and yes that damages my body.

To me 'berserk' is nothing more or less than this fairly 'irrational' state of 'hyper-physical'-activity.
It may very well be that certain persons from specific tribes were genetically more prone or that pesrons with the basic ability were 'trained' to induce it. Possibly bóth seem logical to me.

Peter
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2007 9:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think there is definately something to this phenomenon that we haven't reached an understanding of. One thing which has borne out with the Viking Sagas, fancicful as some of them are, many have proven to have a basis in fact. Lief Erikson being the stand out example, but there are many others. There have been revelations about the longships, about iron smelting techniques, many other issues.

One important thing to keep in mind, there were actually at least two distinct types of "Berserker" in Norse society, the so called "Ulf-Hednar" or wolf-shirts, and the Bare-Serk (some argument as to whether this refers to Bear shirts or Bare shirts)

The Ulfhednar were used as shock troops and royal bodyguards in some key battles during the Viking era.

Egils Saga mentions both types. Egils father was called Kvedulf which means "evening wolf", and he seemed to lapse into a sinister mood when night fell, almost killing Egil on one occasion. Egil himself later kills a Bare-serk in a traditional duel. The Berserker was using his ability to fight duels with people and take their money, as they often did, and Egil killed him as a favor to a man he had challenged.

There seems to be considerable evidence of this in other cultures as well. The Celtic myths (Culchullan) mentions the "Warp-Change" which sounds very similar to a berserk fit. The German Nibeling cycle mentions the hero (sigifried?) and his father living for a while as exiles in caves wearing wolf-skins, ambushing and IIRC even eating? pepole.

The latter has some very sinister connotations. In the Sagas Berserkers were often exiled when they started killing too many people, in the letter of the law or not. Imagine a guy who flies into rages and was a professional duelist, ending up living alone in the woods for the rest of his life.

The details of the fit and the way they acted while in the grip of it seem remarkably consistent. You hear these tales of them having to leave a ship and go wrestle trees and rocks until their fit passed so that they wouldn't attack their comrades. Sleeping and disorientation for several days after a fit is also frequently mentioned, in fact this was often used by enemies of Berserkers to kill them while in this weak state.

Jean

EDIT: this may have a cultural echo later in the Medieval and up to almost the modern period in Europe, with the phenomenon of Lycanthropy, which was a common mental illness which seems to have now disappeared, and the similar condition of "Lunacy" (I am talking about documented cases of mental illness here, No I am not claiming anybody ever turned into a wolf!)

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Last edited by Jean Henri Chandler on Fri 06 Apr, 2007 9:56 am; edited 1 time in total
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2007 9:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robin Smith wrote:
Sam Barris wrote:
I thought wode was just blue paint. Did it produce drug effects too?

It did. The dye used to create the blue causes a certain intoxication, and with long term exposure, insanity...


Thats very interesting I wasn't aware of that...


Jean

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James R





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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2007 10:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
Robin Smith wrote:
Sam Barris wrote:
I thought wode was just blue paint. Did it produce drug effects too?

It did. The dye used to create the blue causes a certain intoxication, and with long term exposure, insanity...


Thats very interesting I wasn't aware of that...


Jean


What, nobody here has lifted weights or done something else physically strenuous and felt the effects of a testosterone surge? Increased strength, stamina, mental acuity, at least for a couple of hours. Certainly long enough for a raid or battle. It's possible to do it at will, and it has both immediate effects and aftereffects (increased fatigue, etc).

I never thought of the intoxicating effects of woad having any great effect except either as a painkiller or as an intoxicant. Note how people who are either high or drunk fight...lots of pain tolerance and hard to bring down (at least without something handy like a spear or axe) but very, very tactically unsound.

The vikings never struck me as the type that would get riproaring intoxicated and then fight a battle...as much as they honored dying in battle I thought the point was survive the battle and claim your share of the booty. A little something to "take the edge off" would help, I'd think, but being drugged would just make you easy for a disciplined fighter to kill.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2007 11:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For a somewhat less romantic view of the berserkers I recommend that you look into The Viking Art of War by Paddy Griffith. Griffith, who was a lecturer in War Studies at Sandhurst for sixteen years, mentions the berserkers in several places in the book and devotes a brief section of one chapter to them. Overall he feels that they were probably warriors of some renown who had been specially selected as shock troops by their overlord. He points out that while the sagas mention berserkers as being at the forefront of battle and apparently actually placed there by their commanders, it would be quite impossible to control the actions of the wild men described in the sagas in any meaningful way. It is partly that on which he bases his theory that they may have simply been the elite of the warrior band.

The sagas themselves, which are full of fantasy and fact, probably took a normal situation, the use of hand-picked warriors as the spearhead of a formation and magnified it by adding the idea that berserkers were raving mad when they went into battle. Some of what is in the sagas relating to the battle-fury of the berserkers may go back to the Celtic tales of Cuchulainn. For example, here is a description of Cuchulainn when he was fully aroused for battle:

Quote:
Then it was that he suffered his riastradh or paroxysm, whereby he became a fearsome and multiform and wondrous and hitherto unknown being. All over him, from his crown to the ground, his flesh and every limb and joint and point and articulation of him quivered as does a tree, yea a bulrush, in mid-current.

"Within in his skin he put forth an unnatural effort of his body: his feet, his shins, and his knees shifted themselves and were behind him; his heels and calves and hams were displaced to the front of his leg-bones, in condition such that their knotted muscles stood up in lumps large as the clenched fist of a fighting man. The frontal sinews of his head were dragged to the back of his neck, where they showed in lumps bigger than the head of a man-child aged one month. Then his face underwent an extraordinary transformation: one eye became engulfed in his head so far that 'tis a question wheter a wild heron could have got at it where it lay against his occiput, to drag it out upon the surface of his cheek; the other eye on the contrary protruded suddenly, and of itself so rested upon the cheek. His mouth was twisted awry till it met his ears. His lion's gnashings caused flakes of fire, each one larger that fleece of three-year-old wether, to stream from his throat into his mount and so outwards. The sounding blows of the heart that panted within him were as the howl of a ban-dog doing his office, or of a lion in the act of charging bears." From The Cuchullin Saga translated by Eleanor Hull.


It goes on, but I think that is enough to give you the general idea. I think it is clear to us that the description is fanciful in the extreme, but is probably meant to convey with no uncertainty that Cuchulainn was one bad dude when he decided to fight!

As others mentioned in this thread, extreme physical activity or perhaps the idea of going into battle can create a rush of adrenaline or testosterone sufficient to enable a fighting man to perform feats that might be considered nearly impossible in normal circumstances and the saga writers may also be referring to that as well.

Whatever the truth, the story of the berserkers is an interesting one and will continue to be so.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2007 12:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James R wrote:


What, nobody here has lifted weights or done something else physically strenuous and felt the effects of a testosterone surge? Increased strength, stamina, mental acuity, at least for a couple of hours. Certainly long enough for a raid or battle. It's possible to do it at will, and it has both immediate effects and aftereffects (increased fatigue, etc).


Yeah, I know what that feels like, I meant I wasn't aware that woad was an intoxicant.

J

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