By Andrew M. Weisse,
On a cold battlefield in Scandinavia sometime around 900 A.D., legend has it that a Norse Viking Berserker Warrior, adorned in nothing but a severed Bears head repurposed as a helmet, devoured the edges of his shield before gulping down fiery coals and snatching live embers with his mouth. He howled and made loud animal noises. He entered a trance-like state. His demonic-like rage would result in the brutal killing of six of his foes.
Stories like this from the Norse Viking Berserkers are common. From 872 – 930 A.D., these warriors guarded Norway’s King Harald I Fairhair. They were elite warriors feared by enemies and allies alike.
In battle – they were known to roar and make loud noises. They would adorn their otherwise naked bodies with Bear or Wolves skin (fighting naked may have been a way to show vulnerability to the gods). They became the wild animals they emulated. They were filled with rage. They were unstoppable.
The legend of these warriors is one of demonic brutality. They would not only kill their enemies, but often turn on one another. Killing indiscriminately was a key tenant of the Berserker Warrior.
One particularly interesting fact about the Berserkers was the infamous trance-like state they would enter before battle. Chattering their teeth, shivering & getting the chills. Their faces would become red and swollen. Soon after, rage would set in. They would savagely kill as many of their foes as possible. It wasn’t until after this trance-like state ended that the survivors of the battle would be left physically & emotionally exhausted for days.
What turned the Norse Viking Berserkers into crazed killers? One theory is a Psychoactive plant called ‘Henbane’ was responsible. The symptoms of consuming Henbane include:
- hallucinations, visual illusions, dilated pupils, restlessness, flushed skin, confusion & bizarre thoughts.
Another theory posits the Psychoactive fungi ‘Amanita Muscaria’ was responsible for putting the Vikings in a rage-filled state. The symptoms of consuming this famous red-capped mushroom (pictured below) include:
- hallucinations, twitching, auditory & visual distortions, mood changes, euphoria, agitation.
Not all Psychedelics result in a strong connection with nature and feelings of being bathed in love. The effects of both Henbane & Amanita Muscaria are perfect for priming a Warrior for battle. They turned men into warriors.
The Norse Viking Warriors harnessed the power of naturally occurring Psychoactive plants or fungi to augment their performance in battle. In doing so, they developed a reputation of ferocity that has been memorialized in movies, TV shows & books. They were the ultimate warriors; hellbent on destroying their enemies with little to no consideration for their own lives.
In addition to being fueled by a Psychoactive plant or fungi – Berserker warriors also enjoyed a pretty compelling why behind their ferocity in battle – they believed if they died in battle defending Odin (their god), they would be greeted in the afterlife by beautiful, supernatural women.
Their days of glory were short-lived. The Berserkers were outlawed by Norway in the 11th century. By the 12th century, they were completely gone. Only survived by the stories of their drug-induced fighting.
The Norse Vikings use of Henbane or Amanita Muscaria changes the narrative surrounding our historical relationship with Psychedelics. While many cultures used these medicines for religious ceremonies, mystical experiences & to heal…the Vikings found a far different benefit. Henbane or Amanita Muscaria turned them into the perfect soldiers. Despite the disparate effects of these Psychedelics and say…Psilocybin, one things remains consistent – Psychedelics offer humanity a different way of looking at and operating in this world. Both assist in achieving a desired outcome. All of them possess the ability to fundamentally change who we are. Once one has had such an experience – they are never the same.
Postscript – Taking performance-enhancing chemicals to optimize for battle wouldn’t die off with the Vikings. The Wehrmacht, Hitler’s army in WWII, took methamphetamines (aka crystal meth) prior to the successful invasion of France in 1940.
Andrew M. Weisse is a tech executive, fitness addict, psychedelic traveler and a proponent of consciousness expansion. This post originally appeared on The Psychedelic Blog’s Substack. It’s free to subscribe.