Dear Viking Answer Lady:. I always heard that Vikings were nothing but a bunch of barbarians who foamed at the mouth and gnawed on their shields (hard on the dental work, I'll bet!) Yet you tell us that they had culture and civilization. What gives. (signed) I Really Want to Know. Gentle Reader:. The reputation of the Viking as a ferocious, animal-like warrior is a misconception. This type of image better describes a highly specialized type of Viking warrior, known as the berserkr.
"The Viking Hunger Games!" When a clan of Viking ' Berserker ' warriors terrorise Saxon youths in a ritualistic manhunt, the youths must fight. The Hunger Games heads back to the Dark Ages when a group of five young Saxons is captured by a clan of fearsome Viking warriors and used as prey in a.
Berserkers, so prominent in Hrolf's Saga, are the remnants in Christian times of older In pre-Christian Scandinavia, berserkers seem to have been members of. The meaning of the word originates with the Viking berserkers, the fierce warriors who were known for battling in an uncontrollable, trance-like.
In Dark Ages Britain, a group of young Saxons are captured by a clan of fearsome Viking warriors and used as prey in a ritualistic manhunt. As the odds stack.
For more information about these elite warriors, read on. Part I: Description of the Berserk. The modern popular conception of the Viking warrior is one of a murderous savage, clad in animal skins, howling into battle. This conception probably owes more to literary tradition than to historical fact: it reflects not the ordinary Scandinavian warriors, but rather a special group of fighters known as berserks or berserkers.
The etymology of the term berserk is disputed. It may mean " bare -sark," as in "bare of shirt" and refer to the berserker's habit of going unarmored into battle. Ynglingasaga records this tradition, saying of the warriors of Óðinn that "they went without coats of mail, and acted like mad dogs and wolves" (Snorri Sturluson. Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. trans.
Lee M. Hollander. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press. 1964. p.
10). Others have contended that the term should be read " bear -sark," and describes the animal-skin garb of ther berserker.
Grettirs Saga calls King Harald's berserkers "Wolf-Skins," and in King Harald's Saga they are called ulfhedinn or "wolf-coats," a term which appears in Vatnsdæla Saga and Hrafnsmál (Hilda R. Ellis-Davidson,"Shape-Changing in the Old Norse Sagas," in Animals in Folklore. eds. J. Porter and W.
Russell. Totowa NJ: Rowman and Littlefield. 1978. pp.
132-133), as well as in Grettirs Saga (Denton Fox and Hermann Palsson, trans. Grettir's Saga. " Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press. 1961. p.
3). This image available on T-shirts and other merchandise via the Gift Shop. Óðinn. The berserker is closely associated in many respects with the god Óðinn.
Adam of Bremen in describing the Allfather says, " Wodan --- id est furor " or "Wodan --- that means fury. " The name Óðinn derives from the Old Norse odur or óðr. This is related to the German wut. "rage, fury," and to the Gothic wods. "possessed" (Georges Dumezil. The Destiny of the Warrior.
Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press. 1969.
p. 36). This certainly brings to mind the madness associated with the berserker, and other Óðinnic qualities are seen to be possessed by the berserk. Ynglingasaga recounts that Óðinn could shape-shift into the form of a bird, fish, or wild animal (Snorri Sturluson, p.
10). The berserker, too, was often said to change into bestial form, or at least to assume the ferocious qualities of the wolf or bear. Kveldulfr in Egils Saga Skallagrímsonar was spoken of as a shapechanger (Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, trans. Egil's Saga. NY: Penguin. 1976. p.
21), and Hrolf's Saga tells of the hero Bjarki, who takes on the shape of a bear in battle:. Men saw that a great bear went before King Hrolf's men, keeping always near the king.
He slew more men with his forepaws than any five of the king's champions. Blades and weapons glanced off him, and he brought down both men and horses in King Hjorvard's forces, and everything which came in his path he crushed to death with his teeth, so that panic and terror swept through King Hjorvard's army. " (Gwyn Jones. Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas. NY: Oxford Univ. Press. 1961.
p. 313). Dumezil refers to this phenomenon as the hamingja ("spirit" or "soul") or fylgja ("spirit form") of the berserker, which may appear in animal form in dreams or in visions, as well as in reality (Georges Dumezil. Gods of the Ancient Northmen.
Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press. 1973. p. 142). Another Óðinnic quality possessed by the berserk is a magical immunity to weapons.
In Havamál. Óðinn speaks of spells used to induce this immunity:. An eleventh I know, if haply I lead. my old comrades out to war.
I sing 'neath the shields, and they fare forth mightily;. safe into battle. safe out of battle. and safe return from the strife.
(Lee M. Hollander, trans. Poetic Edda.
Austin. It is likely that the berserk was actually a member of the cult of Óðinn. The practices of such a cult would have been a secret of the group's initiates, although the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII refers in his Book of Ceremonies to a "Gothic Dance" performed by members of his Varangian guard, who took part wearing animal skins and masks: this may have been connected with berserker rites (Hilda R.
Ellis-Davidson. Pagan Scandinavia. NY: Frederick A. Praeger. 1967. p.
100). This type of costumed dance is also seen in figures from Swedish helmet plates, scabbard ornaments, and bracteates which depict human figures with the heads of bears or wolves, dressed in animal skins but having human hands and feet. These figures often carry spears or swords, and are depicted as running or dancing. One plate from Torslunda, Sweden, may show the figure of Óðinn dancing with such a bear figure.