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Berserker Warriors: Truth or Myth? (by Asa Maria Bradley)

A 6th century Swedish bronze plaque with
Odin and a berserker wearing a wolfskin.
(Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)
I've been fascinated with Norse mythology ever since my grandparents gave me a children's picture book based on the Icelandic Sagas. Growing up in Sweden, I learned even more about my Viking forefathers (and mothers ;-) ) as I studied history and archaeology in school. In seventh through ninth grade (what we in Sweden call högstadiet or highschool), my history teacher noticed my interest and gave me books to read outside of class. This is when I first learned about the berserkers, Odin's fierce warriors who could whip themselves into a battle frenzy that made them feel no pain and allowed them to become such superior fighters that they always defeated their enemy.

Viking Warriors Book 1
A double 2016 RITA finalist
In my contemporary paranormal Viking Warriors series, immortal king Leif and his band of warriors have been sent back to Midgard (the human realm) to protect humanity from the evil half-god Loki and his genetically engineered creatures. I tweaked the berserker myth a little in that each of my immortal Viking and Valkyrie has an inner warrior spirit--a berserker--that they can tap into whenever they are fighting. When they do they become not only incredibly strong and fast, but also create a connection with their fellow Vikings and Valkyries that enables them to always know the location of their battle brothers and sisters. The drawback is that a berserker becomes more restless the longer a Norse warrior is on earth and there's a risk the berserker takes full control over the Viking's body.

The Vikings try to calm their inner warriors through fights with Loki's creatures, by drawing on the energy that rise from humans on the dance floor of a nigh club, and even through sex. If a warrior's berserker takes control, they succumb to permanent battle fever and become a danger to themselves and their fellow battle brothers and sisters. When that happens, Odin has to call them back to Valhalla and entrance them into an endless slumber. The only thing that can calm a berserker once it is in full battle fever is a Viking's or Valkyrie's själsfrände, or soulmate.

Viking Warriors Book 2
An RT Book Reviews Top Pick!
The word "berserker" comes from from the Old Norse words ber-serkr (plural ber-serkir) meaning a "bear-shirt." The Icelandic Sagas--prose narratives that are the oldest written records describing the Vikings and their customs--also include ulfhednar as part of the fierce warriors that worshiped Odin. Ulf means wolf and hednar means pelt in Old Norse. Both the wolf and the bear were sacred animals to the Vikings.

The berserkers have long been thought to be only a myth, but historians and other scholars now think that there is plenty of proof that these elite warriors actually existed. In the book Germania, the Roman historian Tacitus describes amazing elite warriors in northern Europe. These fierce Norsemen worshiped Odin in a cult-like fashion and would enter the battle field howling like wolves, wearing bear and wolfskins. They operated in smaller independent groups that were widely sought after by kings and chieftains. However, they were difficult to control in formation warfare. Other historical records describe how Olav Haraldsson (St Olav) put berserkers on the front lines at the battle of Stiklestad in 1030, but instead of holding the line as ordered, the wild warriors attacked and thereby contributed to the king’s defeat.

So there you have it. The berserkers probably did exist, but you had to take the uncontrollable with the undefeatable if you wanted to hire them. Kind of like the immortal fighters in the Viking Warriors series, although their berserkers can be calmed by their själsfrändes which they all of course eventually meet. I write romance after all. ;-)

If you're interested in learning more about the berserkers, I recommend these two articles:
"The truth about Viking berserkers" BBC History Extra on Sep 9, 2016.
"Berserkergang" The Viking Answer Lady, last updated on Nov 11, 2016.

And if you are a fan of Viking romance, in addition to the Viking Warriors series, I highly recommend TALES OF THE VALKYRIES an anthology of short stories by myself,  Gina Conkle, Harper St. George, Emma Prince, Anna Markland, and Lisa Hendrix. It's currently free across most e-retailers. 

Asa Maria Bradley grew up in Sweden surrounded by archaeology and history steeped in Norse mythology, which inspired the immortal Vikings and Valkyries in her paranormal romances. She came to the US as a high school exchange student and quickly fell in love with ranch dressing and crime TV series. Asa currently resides on a lake deep in the pine forests of the Pacific Northwest with a British husband and a rescue dog of indeterminate breed. Booklist has attributed her writing with “nonstop action, satisfying romantic encounters, and intriguing world building.” Her debut book, Viking Warrior Rising, was a 2016 double RITA® finalist and her  most recent release, Viking Warrior Rebel, received Top Pick! status by Romantic Times Book Reviews, which described the book as “filled with action and passion from the first page until the last.”
Visit her at, follow her on Twitter @AsaMariaBradley, or connect with her on


  1. I always love your Viking posts. Thanks!

    1. Me too! ;-)
      Thanks for stopping by to comment, Shana.

  2. Thank you for sharing, Asa!
    I have just completed Astrid's story and loved both of these books!


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