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Mythology and Cryptids

The Hidden Truth Behind the Viking Berserkers and Mushrooms

Vikings Berserker Intro
No one is questioning the valor of the Vikings. But the history of them using the mushrooms is a bit dubious

It seems that our penchant for a good buzz traces back way beyond the invention of happy hour, possibly even before we could properly call ourselves human. Turns out, getting a little tipsy isn’t just a human hobby; our primate cousins were metabolizing alcohol up to 21 million years ago. And it’s not just primates; from the ocean’s dolphins to the forests’ moose, the animal kingdom has its own version of a Friday night. Enter ethnobotany, the science that looks at how humans and plants have been BFFs throughout history. This field doesn’t just stop at what we eat or how we decorate our homes; it dives deep into our ancient medicine cabinets and party supplies, examining the use of plants for both healing and kicking back.

Now, for a wild ride back in time, let’s talk about the Viking berserkers, the ultimate party animals of their day.  This tale dives into the heady mix of psychedelics and ancient bravado, teasing out the secret sauce behind the Vikings’ legendary rave reviews in warfare. Enter the berserkers, the original wild boys of the north, whose name probably comes from the Old Norse for “bear-shirt” or “bare-shirt” (because who needs armor when you’re high on mushroom power?). These guys took the concept of “fighting like there’s no tomorrow” to new heights, charging into the fray with all the caution of a toddler at a cake smash.

The genesis of these mushroom-munching warriors is a bit of a historical brain teaser. Were they a merry band of Odin’s own fanboys or the ancient equivalent of a special forces unit with a penchant for fungal delights? The jury’s still out, but one thing’s clear: they were the life of the party on any battlefield. The intriguing notion that the Berserker Mushroom might have been the secret ingredient in their pre-battle smoothie offers a fascinating twist. Imagine a group of burly Vikings huddled around a cauldron, brewing up their battle potion, all psyched (quite literally) to get their berserk on.

What Is The Berserker Mushroom?

Imagine stumbling upon a mushroom that looks like it just bounced out of a fairy tale, decked out in a snazzy red cap with polka dots. Meet the Berserker Mushroom, also known by its stage name, Amanita muscaria. This isn’t just any fungus among us; it’s the alleged secret weapon of the Viking warrior’s pre-battle ritual. With its hallucinogenic kick, this mushroom could turn a Norseman’s battle experience into something out of a psychedelic rock concert. Now, chomping down on this little red number could send you on quite the mental journey. We’re talking full-blown cinematic experiences in your head, complete with special effects like warping senses and an emotional rollercoaster that could flip from ecstatic joy to a horror movie level of panic. Thanks to its cocktail of mind-melding chemicals, muscimol and ibotenic acid, this mushroom could mess with your brain’s receptors like a hacker in a sci-fi movie.

Berserker Shroom

The Amanita muscaria, which is known to be the Berserker Mushroom

But let’s rewind the tape. The Vikings weren’t the only fans; ancient shamans would pop these mushrooms like spiritual tic tacs, diving deep into the metaphysical realm for religious ceremonies. The theory goes that Viking warriors would snack on these to pump up their battle rage and strength, turning them into ancient versions of Hulk. Yet, this wasn’t an exclusive club for burly, axe-swinging dudes. The Berserker Mushroom was a bit of a social mixer, reportedly enjoyed by everyone from granny to the kids, adding a whole new layer to family game night. Despite its popularity, the historical records are a bit hazy, leaving us to wonder just how widespread this trippy tradition was. So, next time you’re thinking of a Viking, picture them not just with a horned helmet but maybe with a stash of magical mushrooms, ready to party like it’s 999.

The Viking Ritual of Berserker Mushroom

Vikings used these trippy substances in rituals and ceremonies like nobody’s business. Picture a rave, but with more furs and chanting, aimed at reaching a higher state of mind. It was less about seeing dragons and more about dialing up the gods on the cosmic phone. Speaking of parties, the Blót was the event of the season. Think of it as a divine favor festival – a mix of barbeque and spiritual Kickstarter, where Vikings made offerings to the gods for good weather or successful looting. This shindig usually involved sacrificing Mr. Goat or Ms. Pig, followed by a meaty feast, some quality mead time, and of course, a round of Amanita muscaria mushrooms to get everyone in the right headspace for godly chats. Ah, the Amanita muscaria, aka the “flying mushroom,” possibly the first “soma” of the rave scene. With its flashy red and white cap, this fungal celebrity was the go-to for achieving that trance state, making it a prime candidate for divine conference calls during Viking rituals.

And then there was the Seiðr, the ancient Norse’s answer to shamanism. Run by the local seiðr-witch, this ceremony was the equivalent of a spiritual spa day, where you could detox your soul, peek into the future, or get some celestial advice on curing Aunt Gudrun’s mysterious ailment – all facilitated by a healthy dose of psychedelics to make sure the connection to the spirit world was crystal clear. Since the dawn of time—or at least since our ancestors were swinging from trees—humans (and our primate cousins) have been no strangers to the occasional tipple or psychedelic experience. It turns out, the animal kingdom is full of nature’s party animals, from dolphins getting euphoric on pufferfish to moose drunkenly binging on fermented apples. Yes, the desire to occasionally escape reality is not just a human quirk; it’s a natural phenomenon.

Viking Berserker Story

It is said that the vikings used the mushrooms to enter into a psychadellic reality and was immune to pain

Enter ethnobotany, the science that gets into the weeds (literally) of how humans interact with plants, not just for food, shelter, or the ‘gram, but for that sweet, sweet botanical buzz. This field sheds light on our long-standing relationship with plants, be it for healing, tripping, or a bit of both. Cue the Viking berserkers, the original battle ragers, whose pre-combat psychedelia might have been fueled by something more organic than sheer bloodlust. These “bear-shirts” (cool name, right?) might have been getting their war trance on through natural substances, leading to their legendary fury in battle. Was it divine inspiration, ancient PTSD, or just a really potent plant-based concoction? The jury’s still out.

Amanita muscaria is packed with ibotenic acid and muscimol, chemicals that can take you on a wild ride, inducing everything from hallucinations to a curious mix of twitching, drooling, and overheating. It’s the sort of experience that could potentially hype you up into a berserker’s rage—or so the theory goes. But wait, there’s a plot twist: hensbane, the lesser-known contender for the berserker’s drug of choice. According to Dr. Karsten Fatur, a cool cat ethnobotanist, hensbane (from the same family as potatoes and tomatoes, but way less salad-friendly) might be the real MVP in inducing the berserker’s battle frenzy, thanks to its own special blend of neurologic party tricks, including that all-important rage. However, as exciting as going full Viking sounds, the side effects of a night out on A. muscaria or hensbane include not-so-fun activities like vomiting, seizures, and a potential trip to the afterlife (and not in a Valhalla kind of way). So, a word to the wise: maybe leave the berserker rage to the history books and LARP with a little less authenticity. After all, roleplaying is much less likely to end in a real-life quest to the emergency room.

But is the legend of the Berserkers actually True?

Howard D. Fabing, with a distinguished career straddling both neurology and psychiatry, emerges as a formidable figure in the realm of medical research. His credentials are impressive: a private practice in neurology and psychiatry, previous teaching roles in physiology and neurology at the University of Cincinnati, and a pivotal position during World War II as the director of the School of Military Neuropsychiatry in the European Theater of Operations. Fabing’s investigative pursuits spanned a broad spectrum of neurological disorders, including parkinsonism, narcolepsy, epilepsy, the impacts of wartime blast concussion syndrome, shock therapies, and the neuro-chemistry underpinning mental health conditions.

Despite Fabing’s extensive expertise in neurological and psychiatric fields, his foray into the domain of medieval Scandinavian history, particularly in his examination of the Viking berserkers, suggests a departure from his more familiar territories of inquiry. In his 1956 article, “On Going Berserk: A Neurochemical Inquiry,” which saw publication in both The Scientific Monthly and The American Journal of Psychiatry and was based on a paper he presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting, Fabing embarks on a historical analysis without the direct citation of primary sources pertinent to the Viking Age. This oversight implies a possible unfamiliarity with the era’s foundational documents—many of which were accessible in translation at the time, albeit rendered in an archaic style of English that bears little resemblance to any historical vernacular.

So, there’s this story, dusted off from the pages of a 1910 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which would have you believe that Berserkers were the twelve action-hero sons of a guy named Berserk. Berserk, aside from having parents who were very on the nose with naming conventions, was supposedly the grandson of Starkadder – a chap with the handy feature of eight arms, and not a Stark in “Game of Thrones.” Berserk, living up to his name, preferred to go au naturel into battle, sans armor, and his dozen sons were apparently chips off the old block. Now, Starkad (or Starkadder, if you prefer the anglicized version with a bit more bite) is a character you might bump into across a few key Norse texts. He’s like the Forrest Gump of Norse sagas, popping up everywhere, but with more fighting and less running. However, the saga soap opera thickens because neither version of Starkad, young or old, boasts about having a grandson named Berserk. This raises eyebrows and questions about where this legendary lineage came from.

Howard D. Fabing

Howard D. Fabing in a file picture

The plot thickens with “The Saga of Hervor and Heidrek,” a narrative smoother than a Viking’s beard after a raid. This saga introduces us to Arngrim, the berserk dad of twelve berserk sons, without any direct mention of our buddy Berserk. However, in a twist worthy of a daytime drama, a different version of the saga gives a nod to Starkad being the granddaddy of Arngrim, adding another layer of mystery to our already convoluted Viking family tree. Howard D. Fabing’s foray into the Viking era feels a bit like someone trying to navigate a Norwegian fjord with nothing but a bathtub and an enthusiastic imagination. He delivers a tale that’s more knotted than a Viking’s beard, drawing from a mishmash of sources that might leave purists shaking their heads in despair. According to Fabing, without so much as a nod to the primary sagas, we’re told of berserkers experiencing symptoms that sound suspiciously like they’ve just come back from a dubious mushroom foraging expedition, rather than from historical texts. Fabing introduces us to the theory that these ancient warriors’ rage could have been fueled by toxic mushrooms, a notion he claims has the stamp of approval from Scandinavian scholars – courtesy of a personal chat with Henning Larsen. Larsen, while undoubtedly a sharp mind in the realms of English and Scandinavian studies, might not be the first person you’d turn to for a deep dive into Viking pharmacology. This theory, while spicy, isn’t exactly the talk of the mead hall among Norse scholars today.

The leap from Siberian shamanic practices to Viking battlefields would be a tough sell for even the most skilled Viking longship captain. Fabing draws parallels between the berserker rage and the effects observed in Siberian tribes indulging in Amanita muscaria, the party mushroom of choice. Yet, the image of a berserker dancing, singing, and chatting up imaginary foes mid-battle paints a picture more akin to a psychedelic music festival than a fearsome skirmish. One guy who unintentionally overindulged in hallucinogenic mushrooms experienced an abrupt onset of diarrhea, excessive perspiration, excessive salivation, and dizziness. He dozed off and woke up. Utterly insane, violent, and bewildered. He reacted to pinprick stimulation but not to deep pain stimulation. In all three domains, he was lost. The intern, nurses, and attending physicians were perceived by him as Christ, Satan, God, or angels, leading him to believe that he was in hell. As quoted by Arthur Drew in Fabing 233.  Rascal violence and insensitivity to pain are characteristics of berserkers. It would seem that hallucinations, vertigo, diarrhea, and confusion are disadvantages for a warrior.  Samuel Lorenzo Ødman, a Swedish theologian, read the sagas, or at least some of the fornaldarsögur, and concluded, as Fabing notes, that “these ecstasies can be explained as effects of a peculiar temperament or of autosuggestion because…they were not able to keep up their hated arrogance between paroxysms.” This is where the theory that Berserks used some sort of mind-altering substance first emerged. as quoted in Fabing 234. Fabing’s Ellipsis. No, sir! These were no ordinary mood swings; these were full-on, nature-infused rumbles brought to you by the mystical powers of “the vegetable kingdom.”

The Myth of the Berserker Mushrooms

Ødman, in a stroke of speculative genius, suggests that the berserkers were basically the ancient equivalent of that friend who insists they’re fine to drive after a few drinks because they have a “secret technique” to sober up. The berserkers’ secret? Some unspecified botanical cocktail that they kept under wraps to maintain their street cred in the Viking ‘hood. The logic leaps here are Olympic-level: because the berserker rage wasn’t a permanent state, it obviously couldn’t be sheer willpower or mental trickery. This theory, as fun as it is, comes with a tiny hitch—the absolute absence of any concrete evidence. Not a single saga pause to mention, “And then Bjorn took a quick mushroom break before unleashing his berserker fury.” But why let something as trivial as evidence get in the way of a good story? According to Ødman, the berserkers were just really good at keeping secrets, especially about their pre-battle rituals.

Samuel Lorenzo Ødman, diving into the murky waters of Norse mythology and berserker behavior without a life jacket, makes a leap of faith straight into the arms of a theory as solid as a puff of smoke. In his quest to explain the unexplainable, he turns to the exotic tales of eastern Siberian tribes, where the consumption of fly agaric mushrooms was a cultural staple. Ødman, with the enthusiasm of a detective uncovering a clue in a cold case, suggests that because these tribes enjoyed a good mushroom feast, and since Odin and his celestial crew supposedly Airbnb’d their way from Asia to the frosty realms of the North, there must be a connection to the berserkers’ rage. This theory is as sturdy as a house of cards in a hurricane, relying on a highly imaginative reading of history. It traces back to Snorri Sturluson, the medieval Icelandic historian/poet/fanfiction writer, who claimed that the Norse gods were actually refugees from Troy. Yes, that Troy. According to Snorri, these guys took the scenic route via Asia, hence their label, the Æsir (from Asia, get it?). Along with this, we get some linguistic gymnastics that would make even a crossword puzzle blush. Hector magically morphs into Tror, who then somehow ends up as Thor. It’s the kind of logic that makes you wonder if Snorri wasn’t sampling some of Ødman’s theorized mushrooms himself.

Samuel Lorenzo Ødman

Samuel Lorenzo Ødman who wrote about the Berserker mushrooms

Ødman’s theory on Viking berserker rage being fueled by magic mushrooms reads like a conspiracy theory that not even the most dedicated internet sleuths would touch with a ten-foot pole. Based on a foundation as sturdy as a house of cards, it attempts to navigate through a fog of assumptions, conspicuous by the complete absence of evidence, and leans heavily on “historical” accounts that wouldn’t stand up in a court of mythology. To paint a picture: Ødman’s argument is essentially the academic equivalent of trying to bake a cake without flour, eggs, or milk, and then trying to convince everyone it’s still a cake because you really, really believe it should be. He finds himself in the awkward position of having to justify why, despite the berserkers’ legendary rages, there’s not a single crumb of evidence suggesting they were munching on psychedelic fungi to get in the mood for battle. His solution? “They kept it a secret.” Right, because Vikings were known for their subtlety and not their ability to write everything down in sagas.

Fast forward a century, and F.C. Schübeler hits the replay button on Ødman’s remix of Viking history, nodding along to the same tune. Schübeler, too, was convinced that the berserkers’ secret sauce was the fly agaric mushroom, despite other substances lurking in the shadows, probably feeling a bit left out. The plot thickens, but the evidence remains as thin as ever. Enter Howard D. Fabing, stage left, with a syringe full of bufotenine and a lineup of remarkably chill prisoners. Fabing’s foray into the effects of hallucinogens aimed to mirror the berserker rage but ended up more like a spa day, with subjects laying back, enjoying the ride, and probably wondering what the fuss was about. If these were your berserkers, their battles would have been fought with pillows rather than swords, drifting through the fields of battle in a blissfully impaired daze.

The magical mushroom theory, thus, stands on legs as wobbly as those of our bufotenine-tripping volunteers. It’s a classic case of picking the parts that fit the narrative, squinting really hard at the historical record, and hoping for the best. Between the shaky justification that dismisses auto-suggestion due to the temporary nature of the rage (because, apparently, long-lasting anger is the only real kind), and the reliance on a history as real as unicorns, the theory would hardly pass muster. In the end, the notion that berserkers used any form of mind-altering fungi or substances to whip up their battle frenzy is as substantial as a Viking helmet with horns (they didn’t actually wear those). The saga of the berserker rage, it seems, remains grounded more in legend than in a psychedelic reality.

Viking myth of mushroom berserkers

The vikings were fierce warriors, but over the years facts and fiction have merged

So, if you’re ever tempted to explain away ancient mysteries with your own theories, remember: it’s not about the evidence you have; it’s about the secrets others might be keeping. And who knows? Maybe the berserkers were just really into their private stash of magical Viking herbs.

Next, read about the Bizarre Disappearance of Kenny Veach and then, about the Amazon Review Killer!

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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