Article ID: CBB816628342

Wearing the wolf skin: psychiatry and the phenomenon of the berserker in medieval Scandinavia (2021)


This paper examines the berserker, a frenzied warrior attested to in both the written and material sources of medieval Scandinavia, and elucidates the characteristics that define him. It critiques explanations for the phenomenon offered in the existing historiography and whether this can be explained as a psychiatric diagnosis. It concludes that the berserker cannot be simply defined as a culturally bound or other psychiatric syndrome, or accounted for by psychogenic drugs alone. Instead, it proposes that berserk frenzy constituted a transitory dissociative state shared among a small warband steeped in religious/spiritual ideology. In entering this state, the psyche of the berserker was reconstituted in an almost archetypal pattern. Further research is required into this phenomenon in other contexts, including modern conflicts.

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Authors & Contributors
Waller, John C.
Kraemer, Sebastian
Houston, R. A.
Deutsch, Yaacov
Cho, Philip S.
Kressing, Frank
History of Psychiatry
History of the Human Sciences
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Historical Journal
East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Medizin, Gesellschaft, und Geschichte
Editions EHESS
Oxford University Press
Columbia University
Medicine and religion
Medicine and culture
Medicine and the military; medicine in war
Foucault, Michel
Morselli, Enrico
Yap, Pow Meng
Time Periods
19th century
16th century
20th century
20th century, early
17th century
18th century
Great Britain
Tavistock Clinic

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