berserks (bear-shirt) In northern countries, warriors who wore bear-skin garments (serkr) and became possessed during the fury of battle. The Viennese Mythological School of the 1930s and 1940s interpreted them as part of ancient Germanic ecstatic cults. They were dedicated to the god Odin and believed to be under his control. They would enter battle, seemingly impervious to wounds and danger. One medieval Nordic source says they “went without mailcoats, and were frantic as dogs or wolves; they bit their shields and were as strong as bears or boars; they slew men, but neither fire nor iron could harm them.” This behavior was known as “running berserk.” In Scandinavian society berserks were viewed as holy because they were sacred to Odin. However, the god would at his will desert them in battle. For this reason Odin was often called the Arch-Deceiver.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow-Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante