Happy Mythical Monday, friends! Let’s start today with a question–how would you like to face a towering, snarling, foaming-at-the-mouth Norse warrior whose sole purpose in life was to bring destruction and death?
No? Well, “Berserkrs” as they were known, lived for the sole intent of wreaking havoc on their enemies. Brutal, blood-thirsty kill-at-all cost havoc. These guys were specialized warriors who normally dressed in a shirt or coat made from the pelt of a bear–which they probably mauled to death with their teeth and hands. Okay, author opinion. Point is they were lethal.
As much as I’m a fan of Norse mythology, the legend of Berserkrs is not one I can warm up to. When under the influence of the berserkergang (the fit of madness that drove normally sane men to become killing machines), a Berserkr didn’t have the mental capacity to tell friend from foe. Bad news if you had one in the family.
The fit could befall them in battle but also when engaged in physical labor. Intense toil of any kind paved the way for a trance-like state, during which the Berserkr could perform feats impossible for mere mortals. The onslaught usually began with a bout of shivering and teeth-chattering. The man’s face swelled and changed color, all signals for anyone in the vicinity to hightail it in the opposite direction. Once consumed by the berserkergang, the man flew into a blind rage, howling like an animal, destroying everything in his path. Neither fire nor iron had any effect on a Berserkr. Clubs and blunt instruments were the best defense, but the odds of bringing a Berserkr down were slim. When the episode was over, the man succumbed to a feeble state of mind which could last for days.
There are some people who attribute the werewolf legend to Berserkrs, one an offshoot of the other. In some tales, a Berserkr is able to change into animal form and become a bear or wolf. It’s also rumored certain medical conditions or consuming food or drink with psychoactive drugs was responsible for creating the berserkergang.
Some Nordic warriors deliberately sought to induce the madness by working themselves into a blood fury before combat. Many times they strode naked into battle but for a bear skin. Reputation and terror were great for leveling a battlefield. If you saw a gigantic nude warrior charging toward you howling like an animal, impervious to swords and fire, you’d hoist the surrender flag and turn tail. Exactly what many of the Norsemen’s foes did.
I enjoy reading about Vikings. I especially love a good Viking romance with a Norse hero. Just leave the berserkgang tendency someplace else please. What about you? Are you a Viking girl/guy or do you prefer another type of hero/heroine in your stories?