Berserker

Entertainment / Literature / Berserker: (Old Norse Ber-sirk, 'bear-skin', becomes Modern English 'berserk') The Icelandic, Scandinavian, and Norwegian sagas give accounts of fearsome Viking warrior-shamans who could entrance themselves and enter a frenzied hypnagogic state. During this period of rabid ferocity, the berserker no longer felt the pains of cold, injury, or fear. The berserkers simply became immune to such effects in their altered state of consciousness. In the Ynglinga Saga and other legends, they would enter combat either naked or wearing nothing but bear-skins, howling and roaring, biting the edges of their shields until blood flowed from their tongue and gums. (Thus we get the modern term 'going berserk' to describe an insane frenzy.) In combat, they were apparently equally likely to attack both friend and foe, so the other Vikings kept their distance from them. The name berserker comes from the bearskin garments worn by these shamans, who believed that through their magic they absorbed the spirit, stamina, and strength of the bear into their own bodies, being effectively possessed by the soul of the bear. At the end of their trance, they were not expected to be able to recall their actions, since it was the bear-spirit fighting rather than the Viking himself. The tradition of the berserker gradually died out after Viking althings and jarls elected to accept Christianity, at which point such pagan practices become socially unacceptable. See saga and Viking.

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