Berserkers : mythologie nordique et définition

Berserkers: Legends in Norse Mythology and Definition

In Norse mythology, Berserkers were Viking warriors equated with the god Odin . Couldn't be stronger, mightier and more ferocious, these beast-warriors fought with immense fury. They were capable of the most incredible feats.

Who are the Berserkers in Norse Mythology?

Who are the Berserkers?

“Berserk” comes from Old Norse and means “bear skin” . In Norwegian, it is also possible that the word is translated as "without protection".

Today, the term "to go berserk", in English, means "to go berserk". And these various translations say it all.

Indeed, the Berserkers were very tall Viking warriors , whose strength could be compared to that of a bear. They often fought without any protection, and their mad rage allowed them immense exploits.

Berserkers: wild beast warriors with incredible exploits

The Berserkers were Viking warriors, filled with mad rage and immense bloodlust. Associated with the god Odin, these skilled and highly dangerous fighters possessed incredible destructive power.

For this, they were always placed forward on the battlefields , as at the level of the bow during the clashes at sea. During their attacks, the Berserkers howled as loud as their vocal cords could, and even bit their shield, intoxicated with the desire to fight.

According to legends, nothing could reach them . Neither water nor fire could hurt them. Or in any case make them abdicate. Some texts also tell that the Berserkers did not know pain .

But inevitably, once the battles were over, it was not uncommon for the Berserkers to be completely drained, both physically and psychologically.

What are the Berserker totem animals?

Berserker Totem Animal

Most often, the Berserkers had bears, wild boars and wolves as animal totems . Sometimes, the Viking warriors also dressed in their skin , thus convinced of being endowed with the spirit of the animal .

Did Berserkers Really Exist?

Berserkers and their powers lie on the border between myth and reality . It is indeed very complicated to imagine that such warriors could one day really exist.

Yet the Berserkers were well and truly the living equivalent of the Einherjars , the legendary warriors of Odin. Their brotherhoods developed at the beginning of the Viking era, around the year 800. Then more and more institutions of this kind developed until the Middle Ages before disappearing in the 1300s.

The Berserkers: a brotherhood of professional warriors

Did Berserkers exist?

The Berserkers were part of an elite unit , like our special forces today after all. Very often, the guard of the king, or of the chief of tribe, was composed of ten Berserkers.

But while often admired for their strength and exploits, Berserkers were also despised. Indeed, their uncontrolled behavior and neglect of tactics sometimes harmed their own clan.

How to become a Berserker?

How to become a ceremonial Berserker

It is possible that the title of Berserkers was passed down from father to son in the Viking Age. One of the best-known families of Berserkers is the Egil Skallagrimson family . The grandfather, the father and the son were indeed in turn Berserkers.

But to enter the brotherhood, it was still essential to pass an initiation . Hrolf Kraki's saga gives some details. The aspiring Berserker would ritually kill the bear image and then drink its blood to instill the beast within him .

What were the Berserkers' paraphernalia in battle?

Berserkers were relatively easy to spot on the battlefields. On the one hand because they were all very tall , and measured almost 2 mothers for many of them. Then because they fought almost naked . Indeed, unlike other warriors, the Berserkers had a priori no protection to go into battle, except an animal skin on their shoulders to scare the opposing troops. In contrast, fierce warriors possessed weapons, such as the sword and the axe, as well as a shield .

The Berserker from the Battle of Stamford Bridge

Berserker at Stamford Bridge

In 1066, Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, experienced a very difficult year. Nearly 300 Viking ships sail towards England alongside his own brother, with the aim of stealing the throne from him.

But when the English troops arrive in the north, the Norwegians are completely surprised . Some Vikings were then massacred by the Anglo-Saxons, others fell back behind the Stamford bridge. But when the time comes to cross the latter to continue the battle, the troops of King Harold II find themselves cornered. In front of them comes running a huge, angry Norwegian, brandishing an ax at arm's length . Legend has it that the latter, a Berserker therefore, succeeded in killing 40 Englishmen before being pierced by the spear of a warrior who passed under the bridge.

King Harald's troops were finally able to defeat the Norse , making the Battle of Stamford Bridge the historic end of the Viking Age.

Did Berserkers Consume Magic Mushrooms Before Fights?

Berserker's Rage

This theory may seem crazy, and yet. To give themselves courage during the First World War, soldiers consumed alcohol afloat before going to the front. Decades earlier, it is not impossible that the Viking warriors also had their little "trick" to go fight with ardor.

In 1784, a priest named Ödmann, expounded the theory that Berserkers could consume hallucinogenic mushrooms in order to "go mad". However, none of this is mentioned in the various Norse sagas. So myth or reality…?

Psychiatrists have come up with a second theory as to the "madness" of the Berserkers. Through rituals - such as biting their shields for example - Norse warriors would enter a sort of self-induced hypnotic trance . Once in this daze, Berserkers could then have reduced awareness of pain as well as increased muscle strength . On the other hand, entering this kind of state was automatically followed by intense exhaustion.

Want a more mystical explanation? At the time of the Vikings, the peoples simply thought that the gods themselves plunged the Berserkers into this state of fury so particular , in order to win the battles.

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