Berserkers

What were they about?

The most accurate surviving account of the Berserkers was made by Snorri Sturluson in Ynglinga Saga around 1225 A.D. Most of the other accounts of Berserkers are just rehashes of this Saga. Snorri describes Odin's warriors this way:

'(Odin could make his enemies in battle blind, or deaf, or terror-struck, and their weapons so blunt that they could cut no more but than a willow wand) His men went to battle without armor and acted like mad dogs or wolves. They bit into their shields and were as strong as bears or bulls. They killed men (with one blow), but neither fire nor iron harmed them. This madness is called berserker-fury.

Doesn't it seem that here are about five things here that are impossible? * The Berserkers pulled off one of the greatest 'con jobs' I have ever seen.

I have the memories** a Norwegian girl about eight years old in the 13th century and I did trapping. It was when I was checking them that I went around a corner into a clearing and I walked right into a camp of invading Berserkers. There were two and one was sitting looking the other way but the other one did not see even as I backed away. I thought these are not supernatural men because that one did not see me so he had to be half blind. So I watched them for a day and a half until hunger drove me home and this is what I saw.

In the afternoon I watched in terror and fascination as they worked out. Each one swung a hammer around in circles for 20 minutes to strengthen their arms. No wonder they could swing a sword a faster, harder and longer than any other man. That is why they were considered to be 'as strong as bears'.

Many tales say of their berserkers, "no weapon could bite them" or "iron could not bite into him." This immunity to weapons may also have been connected with the animal-skin garments worn by the berserk. As we saw above, while in animal form, "blades and weapons glanced off" Bodvar Bjarki. Similarly, Vatnsdoela Saga says that "those berserks who were called *ulfhednar* had wolf shirts for mail-coats" Here.

They did have armor but I saw them putting it inside of pouches that were hidden inside the fur they wore in battle. They used small disks and some were rings and they were tied together and they looked large. (This was just different type's of common armor and some was mail but to a little girl who had never seen metal, they looked large) The metal disc's were tied together to fit the precise shape and size of pockets. Their dark brown helmets had holes and loops that the furs were tied to.

The furs were then tied together by leather straps into a suit of fur and armor. The suits fit the skin precisely. It appeared the Berserkers just threw the furs on haphazardly but they were very well placed to protect them.

That is why people thought they didn't have armor.

Since people used hunting as practice for battles the Berserkers knew that their enemies would automatically try for the furs.

This was the real reason sword blows had no effect on them. It was very cunning and very few of their enemy ever lived another five seconds to think about why their swords bounced off the skins 'like their swords were as dull as a willow wand'.

 

Then some of the Berserkers played a game of tug of war using a leather strap they held by their teeth. They had all built up their jaw and neck muscles to incredible strength.

You have probably seen people who can lift up others with teeth or like 20 year old Seema who pulls airplanes and even two trucks at a time with her teeth.

Then I realized what that was about.

This 12 th century chess pieces on the left show Berserkers that are using their teeth to hold their shields. It pretty clearly shows they are in control of their senses and there is not a bit of insanity in evidence.

In essence the Berserker shield was a large breast plate. They used a longer shield unlike the round ones most of other Viking used. The shields also had a harness that went around their back They could disconnect the shield from the harness with one hand in about two seconds and that converted from a breast plate to a regular shield. The shields could be held another way too. It had a clip like a handle that was open at the bottom so it slipped over and clipped on to their belts. That held the bottom of the shield firmly in place against their body while they bit the top of the shield to hold it steady. As I recall for a bite plate many used a small piece of leather that covered the edge of the shield while some had a wooded plate that protruded in the back. The shape of the lower part of the shield was tapered to a point so they could still walk when it was held tightly against thier body. That is why their shields were this unique inverted diamond shape.

That way they had both hands free and that gave them ten times the likelihood of survival in battle. One hand had a sword or axe but the other hand usually held a short sword or a battle axe. That was all the advantage they needed but they didn’t take any chances. They had everything else as well. That was how come they always won! They killed everyone so their secrets never got out.

No wonder no one ever lived through those attacks. All the reports that people read today like the one above by Snorri Sturluson were made by people who saw the battles from far off in the distance.

So, I snuck away from their camp and thought about what I had seen. I decided that if they did a lot of tricks like this then they also probably threw something in people eyes to make them 'blind'. I thought about what we could do about it. When I got back to our village I had a solution.

We took many swords and ground the blades thin near the point and added serrations.

We made 6' handles of wood so they could not easily throw anything in the eyes of our men. Then we attached heavy weights of maybe 20 or 30 pounds near the handle so a blow from their sword or battle axe would not knock it aside easily.

[Later I was looking at artefacts and saw pictures of old bone points that people used to use for harpoons head like these (right).

I realized then that we were making our spears look like our bone tipped harpoons to fool the Berserkers into thinking that all our harpoons were metal. We put away our bone harpoons because they would break when they hit the Berserker shields and be useless.]

Our men put little pieces of animal skins on our their helmets just to let the Berserkers know that we knew exactly what was under the skins.

We were a fishing village and they attacked us there. They came at us as a group with their leader in front. He was the biggest and strongest and so our biggest and strongest stood up in front of him and picked up a spear [harpoon] from a stack of them and simply thrust it into the Berserker as he ran right into it. It went right through the Berserker's shield and about 12 inches into his chest. I do recall he had two swords he was swinging madly in circles windmill style so he couldn't just stop and that caused our spear [harpoon] to tear him up inside. About ten seconds later all the blood went from his face and he went white and just fell over dead.  We thought he must have been on some drug because he just stood there as if nothing was happening until he fell down dead.

All the other berserkers just stopped in mid scream and looked at each other. Then they turned and ran away.

I was not in on this part of it but apparently our men hunted them down and killed them all. That way they never came back. Since they never learned what we did or how we defeated them without loosing any of our own men they did not know how to counter it. They didn’t want to lose any more men to find out either.

The Berserkers illusion of the insane invulnerable warrior who with limitless power could defeat anyone was projected for many years. For a long time that illusion alone sustained them and protected them from all challengers. We got lots of gifts after that and nobody ever bothered us.

* Here is a page with a whole lot more that you can get confused about..

**I have a soul-mate or a person who I can understand so well that I understand their past lives and see their memories almost as strong as I can see my own. So these memories may be from of their past lives. It's easier to tell than you might think. There are no emotions attached to someone else's memories. It's like watching a TV. If they are memories of a past life I get all wrapped up in them.

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© 2003 John Pinii