Have you ever wanted to be able to control fear? In this blogpost, I will tell how it can be done, and how the notorious Viking Berserkers probably did it. It’s a mental technique that most people can teach themselves and master with some practice. But first, let us bust some myths.
Most people think they know what a Berserker was. «Berserker» means «one who wears a bear’s hide», but when we use the term «Berserker rage» or «going Berserk» today, we refer to people who go into a violent frenzy. Also, the Berserkers are seen as naked madmen intoxicated from eating poisonous fungus. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, there is no evidence that the Vikings took hallucinogens. Secondly, going naked into battle is just stupid and the Vikings weren’t. Thirdly, they were not madmen. These are the Berserkers of the myths. The real Berserkers, on the other hand, were neither madmen or men with «a bear’s strength». They were most likely warriors who mastered a unique and very effective technique for handling and transforming fear into rage.
Let me explain. The Vikings were often outnumbered. That was normal for them. So they had to come up with some kind of technique that would enable them to go into battle even though their chances of surviving were not very good. Their belief system did help, but I doubt that it was enough. They had to find some kind of motivation that was both instant and solid. So they came up with a technique that would transform fear into violence directed towards the enemy.
How did they do that? The key word here is transformation. The Berserker would transform all of his feelings, of which fear probably made up a very large portion, into only one feeling. He would channel everything that went on in his mind into an all-consuming sensation of violent anger. And he would not stop as long as there was some fear left – that fear would only feed his rage, like gasoline in a car engine.
So how did they do it? And even more important, how can we do it? Let me tell you that this is not something a mainstream coach would teach you. Personally, I stumbled upon this technique as a child. My parents had a flat in a large, old building and a section of the basement was used as storage by a funeral company. That part was separated from the rest of the basement by a wooden wall, and someone had told me that they sometimes kept dead bodies there overnight. I don’t know if that was true or not, but for a 6 year old, it was scary as hell. I was sometimes sent down by my mother to get a jar of jam – they were stored down there in the basement for some reason. And I was too proud to admit that I was afraid.
I can’t remember when I first did it, but one day when I was down in that basement, I turned around, faced the door to the undertaker’s section and shouted loudly. You could say I shouted so loud that I would have woken up the dead, and I said «Come on, I’m here!» or something like that. I remember the chilling sensation, a warm feeling in my face and my clenched fists. The fear was gone!
What happened that day was not just a boy facing his fear of the dark. It was in fact quite similar to the rituals that have been used in warrior societies around the world. By using your voice, singing, shouting and inviting what you fear to fight you, your brain gets tricked. You can not feel anger and numbing fear at the same time, so the fear becomes fuel for your anger. Also, by transforming fear into rage, your hormones moves you into a state of «winning», «conquering» and «controlling», which immediately rewards you with a really good feeling that is hard to describe. So your brain learns that this is a positive way to react to fear, it wants more and the next time your transition from fear to rage goes faster. And this eventually becomes your natural reaction to threathening situations.
I know this might sound strange. But if you think about it, you can see it around you in our modern world as well. I have used this technique in my sports career – as a powerlifter I can sometimes be scared of the crushing feeling of the weights and I transform that fear into rage, which easily transforms into a measurable increase in strength.
So again we see how the Vikings can teach us valuable lessons that we can use in our lives today. I’m not saying you should go Berserk whenever life is a bit difficult, but mastering the art of turning fear into rage could help you out of some dangerous situations. Teach yourself both when and how to switch on that Berserker’s rage and let it be your natural reaction to fear. Knowing that you have this skill will in itself add tremendously to your feeling of selfworth and confidence.
-Bjørn Andreas Bull-Hansen
Read more: Adopting a Viking Mentality – Is it for you?
or: Viking skills #1