When you picture Vikings, you generally think of axe wielding screaming maniacs dressed in fur, raping, murdering and pillaging wherever they went. This picture is not that of an ordinary Viking warrior, but that of a Berserk or Berserker.
These warriors would work themselves into frenzy or “berserkergang” before battle, biting their shields and howling, dressed in wild animal skins, normally either bear or wolf to instil fear into those about them and it was believed that they took on the strength and character of these animals in battle. It was also believed by the sagas that they could shape shift into different wild animals and appear in dreams or visions.
They were ferocious fighters, were without fear or pain whilst in their berserker rage and some (the Ulfheadnar) would go into battle without armour. Whist in the berserker rage they would kill any who got in their way, friend and foe alike and they would continue to fight even when mortally wounded.
They are mentioned in many of the Viking saga’s and it is believed their name derives from either “Bear-Sark” relating to the animal skin worn or “Bare-Sark” with reference to the them fighting without armour and gives us the word berserk in the modern English language.
Berserkers were believed to worship the Norse god Odin, that they were members of a cult, performing sacred rituals to be initiated. The wearing of animal skins would also be part of the cult as Odin could also shape shift into other animals.
Young warriors were often initiated into bands of Berserkers numbering 12, with the leader bearing the name Bjorn meaning bear.
It is assumed that the taking of hallucinogenic, mind altering substances such as certain mushrooms or consumption of huge amounts of alcohol may have been part of the Berserkers preparation for battle and would explain such a rage and inability to tell friend from foe.
After the rage dissipated the warrior would be left in a state of utter exhaustion to such an extent they would have to be helped from the field of battle.
To celebrate these mighty warriors of the past who are so much a part of the history within the Islands we have created the Beserker Export Pale Ale which was the Camra Supreme Champion Winter Beer of Scotland 2006. We are very proud of this beer and feel that the Berserkers thirst of old would have loved to have beeen quenched by it.