Home History & Archaeology Viking Drug Use: From Riotous Events to Berserker Fury

Viking Drug Use: From Riotous Events to Berserker Fury

Viking Drug Use: From Riotous Events to Berserker Fury


The Vikings stand as legendary figures, their exploits on the seas and battlefields shrouded in delusion and thriller. But past their tales of conquest and exploration lies a lesser-known facet of Viking tradition: their relationship with mind-altering substances.

From the halls of Valhalla to the depths of the darkish Nordic forests, some consider the Vikings indulged in a wide range of intoxicants, from potent mead brewed from honey to hallucinogenic mushrooms harvested from the wild and perhaps even hashish. It’s even stated the Viking’s most fearsome warriors, the Berserkers, had been fueled by narcotics.

As is so typically the case with Viking historical past, separating reality from fiction isn’t simple in terms of Norse drug use.

A Match Made In Valhalla?

The Vikings have a fairly wild fame, they usually had been certainly no strangers to revelry and celebrations. Feasts, gatherings, and festivals served as integral elements of their social material. Very similar to many social gatherings at the moment, imbibing sure medicine was a central a part of how Vikings socialized.

Their main drug of alternative was, unsurprisingly, alcohol. Not only a technique of rest and merriment after a tough day’s raiding, it was a logo of social standing and hospitality (a key facet of Viking tradition). Mead, sometimes called the “drink of the gods,” held specific reverence among the many Norse with reference being made to it all through numerous mythological tales, sagas, and rituals.

However it’s possible they didn’t cease there. Through the years there was a lot hypothesis over what different medicine the Vikings could have consumed, particularly the potential use of hallucinogenic substances among the many Norse.

It has long been suspected that Vikings used mushrooms such as this Amanita muscaria for their psychoactive properties (Holger Krisp / CC BY 3.0)

It has lengthy been suspected that Vikings used mushrooms resembling this Amanita muscaria for his or her psychoactive properties (Holger Krisp / CC BY 3.0)

References in sagas and folklore trace on the consumption of psychoactive mushrooms, resembling  Amanita muscaria, recognized for his or her mind-altering properties. Whereas proof for widespread use stays elusive, the opportunity of occasional experimentation can’t be discounted.

However earlier than we start speculating as to what the Vikings could have used, let’s concentrate on what we all know they positively used. In Viking society, alcohol consumption was a deeply ingrained cultural follow that permeated each facet of life. Suppose British pub tradition, however much more basic and far more religious.

Mead halls had been central to Viking social life. They served as venues for feasting, oral storytelling, and inspiring camaraderie. Greater than only a journey to the native pub or bar, these gatherings had been typically extra like sacred rites, the place the bonds of kinship had been strengthened and the deeds of heroes, useless and alive, had been celebrated.

Mead halls had been actually so central to Viking life that their model of heaven, Valhalla, was normally portrayed, partially, as a mead corridor. In Norse mythology, Valhalla was pictured as an excellent mead corridor the place the king god, Odin, acquired half of those that died in fight.

These warriors, chosen from the slain by the Valkyrie, had been often known as the Einherjar. Whereas there they engaged in feasting and ingesting, consuming heavenly mead whereas ready for Ragnarök.

There was definitely a lot of drinking in Valhalla (Emil Doepler / Public Domain)

There was positively a whole lot of ingesting in Valhalla (Emil Doepler / Public Area)

The mead itself was nearly sacrosanct. Generally known as “the drink of the gods,” its manufacturing wasn’t only a sensible a part of life. It had a religious bent, with mead symbolizing abundance, fertility, and the divine.

Moreover mead, ales had been one other staple of the Viking eating regimen. Brewed from barley and different grains, every family normally brewed its personal, tailor-made to the tastes of those that lived there. Alehouses often known as “skáls” dotted the Norse panorama. These provided weary vacationers and warriors a heat fireplace, tasty meals, and a mug of ale to push back the day’s woes.

This isn’t to say it was all optimistic. The Vikings clearly weren’t resistant to alcohol’s extra unfavourable results. Extreme ingesting typically led to bouts of raucous habits and feasts might descend into drunken brawls. This typically led to chieftains enacting legal guidelines to curb extreme ingesting to take care of order inside communities and keep away from drunken brawls devolving into blood feuds.

So, in some ways, Viking alcohol consumption wasn’t that completely different from what number of cultures drink at the moment. It formed their social interactions, spiritual rituals (like Catholic Communion), and even political alliances.

One thing Stronger?

No person is prone to discover it stunning to be taught that the Vikings preferred a pint. It’s like stating pirates drank rum. Extra fascinating, maybe, are the tantalizing clues that recommend hallucinogenic substances could have labored their approach into Norse rituals and practices. There’s little concrete proof however references in sagas and folklore trace on the potential use of psychoactive vegetation and fungi by the Vikings.

The preferred candidate is the fly agaric mushroom,  Amanita muscaria. This vibrant red-and-white fungus is well-known at the moment for its hallucinogenic properties.

Broadly distributed throughout Scandinavia, this mushroom is depicted in numerous Norse artworks and will have held mystical significance for the Vikings. Some students speculate that it was consumed by berserkers earlier than battle to induce a trance-like state and improve their ferocity in fight.

One other sturdy candidate is the hallucinogen henbane or  Hyoscyamus niger. This poisonous little plant comes with some fascinating psychoactive results. We all know that it was broadly utilized in medication and witchcraft throughout the Center Ages so it wouldn’t be too stunning to be taught it was recognized to the Vikings. Its inclusion in magical rituals and its affiliation with the Norse goddess Freyja suggests a doable function in spiritual ceremonies or shamanic practices.

As to why the Vikings might need imbibed hallucinogens, the explanations had been possible diversified. All through historical past, numerous cultures have used such substances for religious, medicinal, and leisure functions and that’s in all probability true for the Vikings.

In spiritual contexts, psychoactive substances could have been employed to induce altered states of consciousness, facilitating communication with divine beings or ancestral spirits. Moreover, hallucinogens could have been used medicinally to alleviate ache, induce visions, or deal with numerous illnesses.

Proof from Archaeology and Sagas

Hypothesis is all nicely and good, however do we’ve any proof? Whereas the written information of the Vikings provide thrilling glimpses into their doable use of hallucinogens, archaeological discoveries present further insights into this intriguing facet of Norse tradition. Excavations throughout Scandinavia have unearthed artifacts and residues suggestive of psychoactive substance use among the many Vikings.

The Oseberg ship burial contained evidence of Viking drug use, including a bucket of alcohol (Petter Ulleland / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Oseberg ship burial contained proof of Viking drug use, together with a bucket of alcohol (Petter Ulleland / CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of many strongest items of proof comes from the Oseberg ship burial, excavated by Swedish archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson and Norwegian archaeologist Haakon Shetelig in 1904–1905. The location dates again to the early ninth century and among the many artifacts recovered from this Viking treasure trove was a small picket bucket (often known as the Buddha Bucket) containing what was in all probability a beverage. Chemical evaluation of residues from comparable vessels discovered at this and different Viking websites has revealed traces of assorted substances, together with alcohol and probably hallucinogenic compounds.

Moreover, the presence of botanical stays related to psychoactive vegetation additional helps the speculation of Viking drug use. Pollen evaluation from archaeological websites has recognized the presence of vegetation resembling henbane, a recognized hallucinogen, suggesting that these substances had been cultivated or collected by the Vikings for ritual or medicinal functions.

Extra speculatively, hashish seeds have been discovered at quite a few Viking websites, together with the Sosteli Iron Age Farm and the Oseberg ship burial mound. We all know for a proven fact that the Vikings cultivated hemp to be used in textiles and twine making, however did they ever strive smoking it? We will’t be certain.

Nonetheless, the hashish seeds discovered on the Oseberg ship web site had been present in a pouch belonging to an outdated lady aged between 70 and 80. Scans have proven she had numerous well being issues, possible together with most cancers that led to her demise. Some scientists consider she was possible utilizing hashish for ache reduction, very like many victims do at the moment.

Exterior of archaeological proof references to hallucinogens (however not hashish) crop up within the Norse sagas. Within the poem “Völuspá,” a part of the Poetic Edda and courting again to the thirteenth century AD, the seeress recounts her journey by the 9 worlds after consuming a mysterious potion, hinting on the transformative energy of visionary experiences. Equally, the saga of the berserker Úlfheðnar describes warriors getting into a state of frenzied rage after ingesting a potent brew, probably containing psychoactive substances.

Did Berserkers Take Medication?

This brings us properly to the berserkers. These are a few of the most iconic figures of Norse mythology, legendary warriors famend for his or her unrelenting ferocity and fearlessness in battle. Often depicted as clad in bear or wolf skins and wielding weapons with unmatched prowess, these elite warriors struck terror into the hearts of their enemies and impressed awe amongst their allies.

Did drug use give Viking warriors the ability to enter a berserk rage? (Unknown Author / Public Domain)

Did drug use give Viking warriors the power to enter a berserk rage? (Unknown Writer / Public Area)

Central to all the joy round berserkers is their supposed means to enter a frenzied state often known as “berserkergang,” throughout fight. On this trance-like state, berserkers had been stated to own nearly superhuman energy, endurance, and an insatiable thirst for bloodshed. The precise nature of berserkergang continues to be topic to hypothesis with some theories suggesting a connection to psychoactive substances.

A well-liked speculation posits that so-called Berserkers could have ingested hallucinogenic substances like fly agaric mushrooms to induce this heightened berserk state. These sorts of psychoactive medicine have been recognized to intensify the senses, uninteresting ache, and induce emotions of invincibility. If true this could make them formidable adversaries on the battlefield, akin to their portrayal within the sagas.

One other concept suggests the berserker rage had nothing to do with drug use. As a substitute, it posits that berserkergang could have been a type of ritualistic possession, whereby warriors invoked animal spirits or ancestral deities to imbue them with divine energy and safety.

The carrying of animal skins and adopting animalistic habits could have served as symbolic gestures to channel the facility of those otherworldly entities. This may set off a psychosomatic response akin to the placebo impact.

The tales surrounding these frenzied warriors fueled by intoxicating substances have lengthy captured the favored creativeness however how correct are they? As is usually the case with Viking historical past, separating reality from fiction proves difficult. Whereas Norse sagas and historic accounts depict berserkers as fearsome fighters, the extent to which they relied on medicine or alcohol to realize their legendary standing stays unsure.

Some students suppose the tales surrounding the berserkers have been blown out of proportion and the concept of them being drug-fueled warriors is probably going exaggerated or misinterpreted. They suppose it’s more likely that the berserkers drew upon psychological strategies, such because the above self-induced trance states or intense battle rituals, to psych themselves up for fight.

If that is true then their precise prowess in battle is more than likely exaggerated. The Vikings wouldn’t have been the primary or final tradition to magnify in spite of everything.

It’s not even sure that the time period “berserker” was used to consult with a particular set of enhanced warriors. Some historians suppose it was possible used broadly to explain any exceptionally fierce or fearless fighter, no matter their strategies or motivations. The affiliation of berserkers with drug use could have been a literary gadget employed by saga authors to boost the mythic high quality of their tales.

Alternatively, nothing concerning the concept of berserkers utilizing medicine to boost their efficiency is that “on the market.” Human beings have been utilizing narcotics of some type or one other since we first got here into being.

Likewise, the supposed “berserker state” isn’t that far-fetched. Loads of medicine, the whole lot from amphetamines and cocaine, Hallucinogens like LSD or psilocybin mushrooms, bathtub salts, and PCP are recognized to trigger comparable results.

Utilizing medicine to boost one’s warriors additionally isn’t notably uncommon. Historical civilizations just like the Greeks, Romans, and Assyrians (amongst others) are all believed to have made use of potent natural concoctions.

Fashionable armies are not any stranger to the follow both. Throughout WW2, the Nazis dosed their troopers with methamphetamines and the English military experimented with LSD in 1963. That’s earlier than you even get began on the plentiful drug use inspired within the U.S. army throughout the Vietnam Struggle.

With all that being stated, it nearly begins to sound unlikely some Viking warriors, particularly the Berserkers, weren’t on one thing.

A Particular Chance

On the finish of the day, much more archaeological analysis must be executed earlier than we are able to draw a definitive conclusion as to what medicine the Vikings made use of. Whereas alcohol undoubtedly performed a big function in Norse society, the extent of hallucinogens and different drug use stays a topic of hypothesis.

That being stated, people have been utilizing medicine for a protracted, very long time and it appears unlikely that the Vikings had been any completely different. The Viking angle in direction of intoxication and social bonding mirrors elements of contemporary society.

Regardless of the temporal and cultural variations, the human expertise typically stays remarkably constant throughout time. By taking a look at Viking tradition, we not solely acquire insights into the previous but additionally acknowledge the common threads that join us to our ancestors.

High picture: Did medicine gas Viking social gatherings and make them formidable and fearless warriors? Supply: ContentHub / Adobe Inventory.

By Robbie Mitchell



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