berserker and Ulfhednar
Where does the word "berserker"(berserkir in plural) come from?
It is not clear. Some argue that comes from berr ("naked") and serkr (similar to the shirt ), so that would mean "shirtless", in relation to their clothing during the battle, but also thought that might come from German berr ("bear", in English ), since the only clothes they wore animal skins such as bears and wolves( in the case of ulfhednar we will see below).
So in general, uniting all, we have a kind of warrior who had to battle just wearing animal skins, bare-chested. What reason had to do? Almost all ancient cultures, not only Nordic, were as certain that, by eating the flesh of an animal or wear their skins, their strength is acquired. In a more contemporary way, "we are what we eat".
But while they had to battle bare-chested and with a sword or spear at best, most of the remaining army (note that berserkir were an elite) was to the battle armed with helmets, chain mail, shields, spears, swords, axes and throwing weapon...
In short, who were armed to the teeth. So how these berserkir they got into battle without more help than his dagger or spear without any defense? Were they at a disadvantage against those who were armed from head to toe?
"They fought like ravenous wolves, biting their shield and possessed the strength of a bear. They are massacring opponents and neither fire nor iron made nothing in them "
-Adam von Bremen-
What causes this anger?
As we can tell, these berserkir would be used by its king as an elite team to send as an advance. But this elite team was said that they were under the protection of Odin, father of the gods. Odin is called in Anglo-Saxon Germanic Wotan and Woden (which give the name to the English word for Wednesday), which means "anger" or "rapture". This outburst which would infuse the berserkir, making them completely irrational but also practically invincible.
The rational explanation for this indifference to pain should be, reputedly, the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms (Amanita muscaria as the photo), or eating bread or beer that had been contaminated by a fungus known as "ergot rye ", with high lysergic acid compounds, precursor of LSD. In addition, also they ate plants such as black henbane(Hyoscyamus niger) or belladonna, which made her feel weightless and have a great fury and violence. Belladonna alkaloids are highly toxic, what would motivate that after the passenger rush of invincibility, they became extremely weak and even die without being wounded.
The ulfhednar (Úlfhedinn singular) would be warriors very similar to those of berserkir features, also with a major trance and irrational, but with the difference that these would dress wolfskins (hence the name Ulfhedinn that could be translated as "wolf's clothing." This image remind largely werewolves present in many cultures). In addition, they were armed with a spear, the weapon par excellence of Odin. Spear and clothing made with wolfskins (note that Odin always had at his side two wolves, Geri and Freki) reaffirm these elite warriors like Odin.
In any case, today there are still many doubts about the Vikings elite warriors