Author(s) Høyersten, Jon Geir
Year 2004
Title Berserkene – hva gikk det av dem?
Published in Tidsskrift for Den norske legeforening, Vol. 124, No. 24
Pages 3247–3250
Link [1]
Abstract The terms berserk and going berserk reflect the violent and ferocious warriors and ruthless murderers of Scandinavia and Northern Europe, active from before the Viking age until the advent of Christianity. The main source on the phenomenon is the Old Norse literature, mainly the Icelandic sagas with their sober descriptive accounts of the berserks and their behaviour. The berserks are frequently depicted as having had antisocial character traits; often as bullies who evince, by way of autosuggestion, an enormous and uncontrollable rage, slaughtering and killing. They felt no pain and hardly took in the environment they lived in. The fits were followed by exhaustion or sleep. Although the phenomenon waned completely by the advent of Christianity, it can hardly be discarded as just myth or folklore. Most likely it could be explained as a kind of dissociative reaction. The widespread idea of toadstool as causative agent is at best debatable. The conceptions of pre-Christian heathenism about the human mind are of importance to the understanding of suggestibility and capacity for trance reaction. The condition is considered a culture-bound syndrome. Comparisons are drawn to lycanthropy (werewolf madness), frequently considered an identical phenomenon. Clinically (i.e. historically) it was mainly something different, namely psychotic conditions.
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