Of the Viking warriors, the most fierce and powerful were the berserkers. Before
battle they would get into a frenzy that allowed them to ignore pain and throw thoughts
of survival and safety out the window.
They also dressed
themselves in bear or wolf skins to make use of the fear
common people had for wild animals. They would whip
themselves into the battle frenzy by biting their
shields and howling like animals. They were
ferocious fighters and seemingly unstoppable
while this madness lasted. Many tales say the berserker was actually
magically immune to weapons. This
concept of immunity may have evolved from the berserker's
rage, during which the berserk might receive
wounds, but due to his state of frenzy take no note of them
until the madness passed from him. A warrior who
continued fighting while bearing mortal wounds would surely
have been a terrifying opponent. The berserker is closely
associated in many
respects with the god Odin. Legends say
that Odin could shape-shift into the form of a bird,
fish, or wild animal. The berserker, too, was often said
to change into bestial form, or at least to assume the
ferocious qualities of the wolf or bear.
Snorri Sturluson wrote in his Ynglinga Saga:
Odin could make his enemies in battle blind, or deaf, or panic-struck, and their
weapons so blunt that they could cut no better than a willow-wand; but his own
men dashed forward without armour, and became as frenzied as dogs or wolves. They
chewed their shield-rims, and became as strong as bears or bulls, and slaughtered people
at a single stroke, but neither fire nor iron could touch them. It was called
Piece from Lewis chess set depicting a Berserker biting his shield.
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