14. Oct, 2016
Going Berserk in Iceland
One of the most rugged and beautiful, and most importantly, untouched lava fields in Iceland, is the one called Berserkjahraun. (Berserk-lava). It is located on the northern side of Snæfellsnes peninsula, and just as you come down the mountain highway crossing over the peninsula at Vatnaleið, it it comes into view.
I love this area, the colorful and variably shaped mountains around the lava field, but perhaps most of all the stories and legends associated with this part of the land. One of them tells of how the lava field got its name.
Most people have heard of the phrase, going Berserk.
One of the extraordinary features of the lava field is a ancient road (1200 meters long) that cuts into the field. Many believe it to be the oldest man made artifact in Iceland, still in it's original form. And the story of why its was build and why the field came to be named after the Berserks, is recorded in one of Iceland's Saga the Eyrbyggja. It also explains the old burial mound, and the ancient sheep pen still visible in the lava field.
Most people have heard of the phrase "Going Berserk". Berserkers (or berserks) were champion Norse warriors who are primarily reported in the Old Norse literature to have fought in a nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury, a characteristic which later gave rise to the English word berserk. These Viking champions would often go into battle without mail-coats; the word "berserk" meant going into battle wearing only wolf or animal skins.Berserkers are attested to in numerous Old Norse sources.
The Saga tells us about two Swedish berserks, Halli and Leiknir, who Vermundur the Slim, farmer at Bjarnarhofn, brought to the country from Norway in 982. Vermundur’s brother, Styr the Slayer, was a powerful wretch, who Vermundur wanted to stand up to, and figured he would be able to do so with the aid of the Berserks The problem, however, was that Vermundur could not keep the berserks busy enough to subdue their rage and saw no other solution than to ask his brother to take them off his hands. Styr the Slayer obliged reluctantly and soon found himself in a dilemma in spite of continuous killings. Then Halli, one of the berserks, fell in love with his daughter and asked for her hand in marriage.
Styr the Slayer went to his friend, Snorri the chieftain, at Helgafell to seek advice. When he came back, he told the berserks that he would give Halli his blessing after they had finished clearing a path through the rugged lava field, build a boundary fence across it, and a sheep pen in it. The Berserks went berserk and finished the tasks in a remarkably short time. Before they did however, Styr the Slayer prepared an underground sauna for them and covered it with thick boards of wood. When the Berserks returned tired and sweaty from their work, Styr invited them to relax in the sauna and they accepted. The hole was covered properly, big boulders put on the boards and excessive quantities of boiling hot water poured through the opening styr had prepared, on to the hot stones below. It soon became unbearably hot in the hole, but in spite of the heat, the berserks managed to break out. They were however much too weak to defend themselves against Styr the slayer. He had spread wet and slippery bull hides on the ground around the hole and succeeded in killing both the Berserks. Their bodies were taken into a depression in the lava field, where they were buried close to the bridle path as can be seen up to this date.
The Berserks are probably also responsible for the legends of werewolves we have all become so fascinated with of late. The Úlfhéðnar (singular Úlfheðinn and means Wolf warrior), is another term associated with berserkers and mentioned in the Vatnsdæla saga, were Berserks said to have worn the pelt of a wolf when they entered battle.
Úlfhéðnar are also sometimes described as Odin's special warriors: that is men who went without their mail coats and were mad as hounds or wolves, bit their shields as they slew men, and neither fire nor iron had any effect upon them. This was called "going berserk".
Yet another connection the Berserk have with Iceland is the infamous Berserk mushroom. The Berserk were by many suspected of obtaining their trance like state, by consuming some kind of a psychedelic drug. The obvious candidate is the berserk mushroom or Amanita muscaria that grows in several places in Iceland