The legendary Viking warriors called berserkers were renowned for their ferocity in fight, supposedly combating in a trance-like state of blind rage ( berserkergang), growling like wild animals, biting their guards, and often not able to compare pal and enemy in the heat of fight. However historians know very little about the berserkers apart from spread Old Norse misconceptions and epic legends. One interesting hypothesis regarding the source of their habits is that the berserkers consumed a specific type of mushroom with psychoactive homes. Now an ethnobotanist is challenging that hypothesis, recommending in a recent paper in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology that henbane is a more most likely candidate.
Accounts of the berserkers date back to a late ninth-century poem to honor King Harald Fairhair The 13 th-century Icelandic historian/poet Snorri Sturluson explained Odin’s berserkers as being “mad as pets or wolves” and “strong as bears or wild oxen,” killing people with a single blow. Specific characteristics can differ commonly among the accounts, frequently diverting into magic or mysticism. There are claims that berserkers were not impacted by edged weapons or fire, however they might be eliminated with clubs. Other claims state they might blunt the blades of their opponents with spells or simply by providing the wicked eye. Most accounts at least settle on the primary specifying characteristic: a blind relentless rage.
The start of berserkergang purportedly started with bodily chills, shivering, and teeth chattering, followed by swelling and reddening of the face. Then popular broke out, and as soon as it abated, the berserker would experience both physical fatigue and emotional tingling for a couple of days. Numerous hypotheses have been proposed for why the warriors would have acted in this manner, including self-induced hysteria– assisted by biting their guards and shouting– epilepsy, ergot poisoning, or mental disease. Among the more hotly contested hypotheses is that the berserkers ingested a hallucinogenic mushroom ( Amanita muscaria), frequently called fly agaric, prior to battle to induce their trance-like state.
A. muscaria has a noticeably Alice in Wonderlandlook, with its brilliant red cap and white spots. While it’s technically hazardous to people, the mushrooms are obviously safe to ingest after parboiling them twice. A. muscaria was preferred as an intoxicant amongst Siberian tribes, potentially holding religious significance because of its psychoactive homes. The latter element is because of two substances: ibotenic acid and muscimol, with muscarine( very first discovered in1869 )most likely accountable for a few of the more undesirable side impacts. The ‘shroom typically induces a drunken state with acoustic illusions and shifts in color vision. It can likewise induce throwing up, hyperthermia, sweating, reddening of the face, twitching and shivering, dilated students, increased muscle tone, delirium, and seizures.
Much of that is consistent with accounts of berserker habits. However according to Karsten Fatur, an ethnobotanist at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, henbane(Hyoscyamus niger) is a far better prospect. It’s been around considering that ancient Greece and has been utilized in different cultures throughout history as a narcotic, painkiller, remedy for sleeping disorders, andanesthetic. It’s a typical treatment for movement illness and can produce short-term amnesia. It can knock out somebody for24 hours, and in rare cases henbane can cause breathing failure. It’s also been examined as a possible reality serum
Henbane even found its way into early European beers, gradually being replaced with hops after the passage of theBavarian Pureness Lawin1516
Fatur argues that while both the mushrooms and henbane might represent boosts in strength, altered awareness, delirium, jerking and twitching, and red face typically connected with the berserkers, aggressive rage is not common with the mushroom. Fatur points out a number of cases involving angry habits connected with plants related to henbane, including the same alkaloids.
” This anger result can range from agitation to full-blown rage and combativeness depending upon the dosage and the person’s psychological set,” he wrote. “As this is possibly the most defining element of the berserker state, this sign is of central value in determining the potential causes and offers an extremely critical reason regarding why H. niger is a better theoretical intoxicant for the berserkers than A. muscaria“
Henbane can likewise dull pain( thus the accounts of berserkers being nearly invulnerable), add to a failure to acknowledge faces, cause removal of clothing, and lower blood pressure, which Fatur suggests might account for the assertion that berserkers didn’t lose much blood when hurt with blades.
And berserkers purportedly struggled with numerous adverse effects for a number of days following that battle high. The mushrooms usually do not produce lingering adverse effects; henbane does, including headache, dilated pupils, and blurred vision.
Fatur suggests that A. muscaria would have been much more uncommon in Scandinavia– it usually grows in forests considering that it thrives in a symbiotic relationship with tree roots. Henbane, in contrast, proliferates as a weed and is known to have grown in Scandinavia during the berserker age. And a woman’s grave in Denmark, going back to about 980, consisted of a pouch of henbane seeds, together with clothes and jewelry,