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Berserkers by Gunnwar Skadhasdottir


My name is Wayland Skallagrimsson, moderator of the somafera forum. Many years ago, when I first took my initiation into the practice of the berserkergang, I looked around online to find others like me, in the hopes of learning from those more experienced than myself. The best resource I found was a pair of websites by Gunnwar Skadhasdottir. Unfortunately, She left no contact information. Over the years I have tried looking for her, to no avail. Friends said she had dropped out of contact. There were rumors she was dead.

Eventually I formed the somafera forum, to attract other berserks to me, and this proved to be very successful. Eventually I found that Skadhasdottir's sites were down. I searched around, and found a copy of only one of them. But then a fellow berserker saw that site and wrote to me, telling me that years ago he had downloaded the other site for himself and sent me its text. So I am putting it up here so that it is not lost as a resource. If she is no longer online, I guess she won't mind. If she is... maybe my use of her writing will bring her to me, finally.


The unfairness of it, the sheer rudeness of it, brought a red-hot rage rising up like a column of force from deep within me until it choked my throat, and tried to run out my eyes and nose in tears. But even if I could have spoken, there would have been nothing to say, because in her eyes, I had no rights. Only she had those. And I dared not show my reaction. There would only have been more talk of doctors and medications to 'control' my feelings, and 'counsel' me out of being what I was. And the doctors hadn't a clue as to what that was, nor would they have believed me had told them. So I fled into the night, and ran, and ran, until the sheer physical exertion had drained me of feeling. But I was still afraid to return, knowing that my flight was but another sign of 'not being able deal with things.' Knowing that what I felt and what I was would never, and could never, be understood. And she would never know how close she had come to dying with my teeth buried in her throat.

-- from the diary of a berserker

A Berserker warrior. What does this word conjure up for you? The most common picture associated with a berserker is a rage-filled, frothing at the mouth, shield-biting, uncontrollable armed man, who will destroy anything in his path. Rage, in fact, seems to be the prime ingredient to "make" a berserker. The very phrase, "to go berserk," is part of our modern English language to describe someone who has gone mad with rage. That the phrase is almost a literal translation of the term "berserkergangr," which actually denotes the battle trance of a berserker warrior is unfortunate. It is unfortunate, because, in truth, rage and anger do not a berserker make. It may very well break him or her, but it does not define that person.

What then, does define a berserker? The picture drawn from many of the sagas does not paint a very clear image of what, exactly, a berserker is. The nature of the berserker demands that the definition not be left to scholarly studies or historical documents, nor to modern practitioners of pseudo- "Northern Warrior Traditions" who are not themselves berserkers. Unlike other paths, which may be donned or doffed at one's whim, berserkers cannot ever evade or escape their pathways. In a way, they are living, breathing manifestations of what we once were as a people.

One does not wake up one morning and decide to "become" a berserker. Wo/man is either born a berserker, or s/he is not. You are either born with green eyes, or you are not. It is that simple. A berserker is the result of inherited physical, emotional, and mental differences from the average, ordinary person. Training can produce physical conditions which can simulate a berserker's physical makeup, which is the actual intent of most military special forces training. Abnormal psychological states can remarkably resemble some of the berserker's "weak" emotional points. But only a berserker will possess the physical differences, emotional make-up, mental functioning, and sheer intensity that distinguishes them from others.

A berserker's physical body is very different. Their lungs, hearts, and adrenal glands an larger than normal. Their hands are large in proportion to the norm. Their self-healing abilities are higher than average. Despite this, a berserker tends to suffer from exercise asthma, and digestive disturbances are quite common. Intestinal gas, ulcers, gastritis, and diarrhea are a lifelong plague. While it is possible for an ordinary person to change some bodily systems, like heart size, it is not possible to change others. Nor, in the opinion of most berserkers, should anyone really want to.

Although the sagas tend to promote berserkers as being ugly, troll-like people, this is not an entirely correct picture. A large lung-size can make them look "squatter" because of the bigger chest size for their relative height. The larger shoulder widths of most berserkers also contributes to the "squat" impression. The body shape of berserkers can vary widely from small and delicate, to large and hefty. Whatever the body type, berserkers are able to quickly develop and add muscle mass to their bodies.

A physical ability that is actually a combination of their built-in agility and intensity of mental focus is the ability to move very fast. And their abundance of energy (even when tired) keeps them moving fast, physically and mentally. They may get a bit uncoordinated when they are tired, leading sometimes to injuries, but normally their coordination ratio is quite high.

The apparent appearance of a berserker can change from moment to moment from old to young, ugly to beautiful, short to tall. It makes remembering what they actually look like difficult, even for the berserker. This particular aspect of berserkers is a result of their shape-changing abilities, and is usually driven by their emotions, though it can be deliberately controlled as well.

While berserkers are known for their physical fighting abilities, these are actually the result of factors other than the mere physical attributes they possess. The body is the mere means of the intensity and locus of berserkers, and is "designed" to allow the berserkers' abilities to be expressed, and survived. The real "heart" of berserkers is the mind and emotions, and their abilities to focus intense mental and emotional states.

Most berserkers, unless they have undergone real training, are totally vulnerable emotionally. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, and neon signs on their foreheads. Unless they have been "burned" enough to learn to "turn it off." Berserkers are driven by their emotions, their feelings, and their desires. They are much closer to these than the average person.

Imagine, if you will, enough energy to blow up a small city block, and everything on it. Now, lock that inside a person and flavor it with emotion. Does it scare you? It scares most berserkers. It is not a comfortable feeling to get so angry at someone that you would like to tear his head off (especially with someone close to you). It is not comfortable to be so sad that you are dying inside. Squelching all these emotions can feel like someone threw your heart against the wall doing about 70 mph (the adrenaline "rush").

Berserkers can do a good imitation of a manic-depressive, which can be confusing to those around them, themselves, and any doctors who may try and "treat" them for their "disorder." A berserker's moods logically follow a stimulus, unlike a manic-depressive's mood swings. The intensity of the response is what leads to the confusion. The intense moods can also prove infectious to those around them (do not poke a concentrated berserker - you will have to apologize after your face has been smashed in). The plus side, however, is that the positive emotions are equally as intense. when berserkers love something or someone, it is not half-way. when they are happy, they radiate joy in waves around them.

Most berserkers learn very early in life that they do not seem to fit in well with other people. It is hard to say for sure why this is so, but perhaps the very intensity of the berserker makes it difficult for others. Trying to scale down and "turn down" their emotions to the same level everyone else's are at can help produce another malady to which berserkers are prone in today's society: chronic depression. Unfortunately, most modern medications have not been formulated with the berserker's body chemistry in mind, so "treatment" can be difficult, and even sometimes dangerous.

other drugs, as well, do not interact the same in a berserker's body as most of the test subjects used to develop these drugs. This can mean an exceptionally high tolerance to pain medications, anesthesia, and certain forms of antihistamines, and extremely low tolerance to other medications, or some other weird reaction. Most of the time, this is but a minor annoyance, though there are times when it may become life-threatening. A point to be kept in mind for any berserker contemplating using street drugs (or anyone else, for that matter).

Berserkers are, in a sense, a more primitive type of person. They are closer to the natural world around them, and their shape-changing abilities garner them the instincts that are usually possessed only by animals. Smell, taste, sight, hearing, can all be developed in extraordinary ways within a berserker, as can the "sixth sense" abilities of animals, such as direction-sensing, seeing in dark light, etc.

Spiritually, they are a "doorway" between the inner realms of mankind, and the outer realms that lay beyond Midgardr. Another way of putting it is that they have one foot in the twilight zone, and one foot in the real world. They also possess the natural talent for drawing forth massive amounts of focused energy, the "berserkrgangr."

The berserker nature is to nurture. Their instincts are very strong to protect that which is dear to them. The horrible irony of most berserker's lives is how much they need the very society that usually rejects them for their abilities.

All too often, under the stress of strict parents, an over-demanding boss, or the demands of a "normal" modern world that neither accepts, nor believes, in those things that cannot be measured or felt, a berserker learns to reject and hate the very part of himself that is his heart and soul. The "seeing" into the realms beyond is turned off, or rationalized away.

Anger, and other emotions, that cannot be allowed to be felt lest the berserker act inappropriately, or "offend" someone else's sensibilities, are repressed. It is easy for an untrained, unschooled berserker, who has not the slightest idea of what he or she is to turn those emotions inwardly, for lack of anything else to do with them. This is not only the primal cause for the chronic depression mentioned earlier, but it can also lead to bodily sickness, the overuse of drugs and alcohol and other forms of self-destructive behavior, which generally only serves to further reinforce a berserker's negative self-image.

The best summation of a berserker is of a person who melds all that is opposite within the soul. They are deadly killers, yet they are the most gently and loving people you can imagine. They will sacrifice their lives in a heartbeat to protect a friend, or stranger, yet none possess a stronger drive to survive. Berserkers embody a bundle of contradictions, and perhaps no one is more confused than they are themselves.

in order to create a true place for the berserker in the modern world, and to understand the warriors of old as well, the "raw" berserker must be understood. Berserkers truly need the Norse gods to balance the berserk half of themselves, and to provide direction for the awesome powers that rage within them. As Thorr symbolizes, might without wisdom is an etin-force that needs the stroke of the hammer to contain it.