6. Berserkers were fearsome warriors who entered the battle in a great state of rage and without armor, but were unable to identify friend from foe in their bestial fury
Berserkers, or berserks, were legendary Viking warriors who are believed to have often entered battle without armor, protected by merely their rage and fury. The word “berserk” is derived from the Old Norse words “ber” and “serkr”; the former means either “bear” or “bare”, with interpretations differing, whilst the latter translated at “shirt”, rendering an ultimately clear meaning: an individual who does not wear traditional armor into battle. This fury, “called berserkergang” and thusly described, “occurred not only in the heat of battle but also during laborious work. Men who were thus seized performed things which otherwise seemed impossible for human power. This condition is said to have begun with shivering, chattering of the teeth, and chill in the body, and then the face swelled and changed its color. With this was connected a great hot-headedness, which at last gave over into a great rage, under which they howled as wild animals, bit the edge of their shields, and cut down everything they met without discriminating between friend or foe. When this condition ceased, a great dulling of the mind and feebleness followed, which could last for one or several days.”
Several theories have been proposed concerning the precise cause of the berserk rage these warriors entered into, with many early academics suggesting the voluntary consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms, in particular Amanita muscaria, to induce a state of rage. Recent investigations have queried this conclusion, instead proposing that henbane petals were rubbed on the skin to provide a numbing effect and a mild hallucinatory sensation. Other less popular theories include factors ranging from mental illness, to epilepsy, but little evidence exists to support these hypotheses.