Berserker Training for the Poor and Urban

It is not always easy to train as a berserker, or somaferan martial artist. We have no established schools. Our training methods are generally not welcome in most gyms. Many of us do not live in or near the woods. If you are in an area that is urban or suburban enough to not have any public space you could have a little privacy in, then you may be forced to train in your own home, for the most part, and on your own. Do not despair, though, there is still a lot you can do. I have used these techniques to train for more than one martial arts tournament, including some I won.

One of my favorite solo indoor exercises was hanging several coins or small rocks in a circle from the ceiling, using twine. I would stand amongst them and, using only my outstretched fingers, strike them all while standing in the middle. The key is to keep them all moving without letting any of them hit you, without leaving the circle. A good variant on this is blindfolding yourself first. This trains you to greater awareness of your other senses, and helps you develop a good spatial memory.

Bodyweight exercises are your friend! You know Charles Atlas’ work? This kind of exercise tends to build a lean, muscular fighter’s body without bulking up. Good for speed as well as strength.

Got a hallway? Use HIIT, or wind sprints. If you can, go jogging around the block a few times, on a regular basis. Developing endurance is the most important thing you can do as a fighter. Gentleman Jack Johnson, an old-time boxing champ, ONLY trained endurance, and simply outlasted all of his opponents.

Throw punches like in shadow boxing. Seriously. Doing thousands of punches, concentrating on your form, will do more for you as a fighter than almost anything else will. Aiming at your moving shadow will keep mixing it up, avoiding the problems that forms give.

Of course, this approach does require you to be able to elevate as a berserker inside, without bothering or freaking out your hosuemates, if any.

Good luck.

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Gender Differences and Somafera

Somebody recently asked about female somaferans in one of the comment threads, and an important question like that should get a spotlight, so here goes.

There seem to be fewer female berserkers than male ones, in my experience. However, as far as I can tell, there are roughly equal numbers of male and female somaferans. I have noticed that female somaferans tend to more often be of one sort of madspace variety or another. Maenadism is a common form of female somaferan, but women who experience more intellectual types of madspace than spiritual types are just as common. In other words, female somaferans tend to have the kinds of somaferan natures that give them easy access to deep ecstatic spiritual trance states, such as those experienced during Vodoun rituals, or the kinds of intellectual eureka revelations that drive science and other forms of problem solving.

Insofar as female berserkers go, they can be just as dangerous as the male variety. Now, the gangr only enhances whatever strength is already present through changes in body chemistry and muscle use, so male berserkers tend to still be much stronger, even in a gangr. However, this strength difference does not matter as much as one might think.

There were two types of initiations that the berserkers of the old Pack used to use. Trial by fire was one, but trial by combat was another. One of our few female berserkers decided that she wanted to have an initiation ritual, and requested trial by combat, with me as her opponent. It went as most such experiences do, with me just playing with her enough to trigger fear and anger without putting her down. When she suddenly broke through, however, she put me down quickly. I may have been stronger, but her smaller size meant that the extra oomph the gangr state gave to her speed was greater than mine. She rushed in faster than I could react to. While I might have been strong enough still to clobber her even in her gangr rage, she struck with an adrenaline-enhanced power, well placed, that put me down so fast that my extra strength didn’t matter. She jumped on top of me to pin me long enough for a win. I was surprised. I have fought a great many opponents, and there have only ever been two I could not lift off of me. One was a 500 pound sumo. The other was her 160 pound frame. She kept pushing me down with great power and shifting her position so quickly that I could not effectively oppose her.

I will note also that, in the Poetic Edda, Thor boasts of having defeated women berserkers as if this was such a mighty undertaking that even a god might boast of it.

The Paratrooper’s Prayer

This prayer was found on the body of a dead paratrooper in World War Two. I first heard it at a somafera Gathering. These are good words for any berserker to live by.

I’m asking You God, to give me what You have left.
Give me those things which others never ask of You.
I don’t ask You for rest, or tranquility.
Not that of the spirit, the body, or the mind.
I don’t ask You for wealth, or success, or even health.
All those things are asked of You so much Lord,
that you can’t have any left to give.
Give me instead Lord what You have left.
Give me what others don’t want.
I want uncertainty and doubt.
I want torment and battle.
And I ask that You give them to me now and forever Lord,
so I can be sure to always have them,
because I won’t always have the strength to ask again.
But give me also the courage, the energy,
and the spirit to face them.
I ask You these things Lord,
because I can’t ask them of myself.

I Am a Conversation

Many people think that all those who have multiple personalities have a mental illness. This isn’t really the case, however. It is not only possible to be relatively sane and functional with multiple personalities, it is even somewhat common.

This is, after all, essentially what a berserker or any other kind of somaferan is. Most have two distinct selves: the normally dominant human self and the usually animal alter. A minority of somaferans just experience changes in their human self when they elevate, without becoming something completely different. Another minority have multiple alters.

My alter is a wolf. As with most berserkers, it comes out in times of great stress, as a defense mechanism. I have another, rarer alter as well, that only rears its head in the most desperate of circumstances. As it does not have a name for itself, I refer to it as The Engine. It is mechanical, relentless, without passion, and completely focused on survival. I also have a couple of other selves which are not alters, in that they do not change my physiology when they take over. This is not uncommon in somaferans, though the majority do not seem to experience more than just the two usual ones.

For a long time I found this state of affairs confusing, even maddening at times. For much of the early part of my life, I felt that I was fragmented, unwhole. My various selves struggled for dominance. This effect was greatly reinforced by the attitudes and narratives of the “normal” world, which always depicted people like us in just this way.

I have learned better in the years since. My different selves learned to work together. I came to feel as if “I” was really a council of voices. This trend has continued to the point where I no longer feel like I am a fragmented being. Instead, all of my different selves are whole, healthy beings in and of themselves. They are not fragments. I am not a battlefield anymore.

I am a conversation.

I am a whole thing, and more than a whole thing. I am more than a sum of my parts. This state of affairs makes me strong. I am never alone. I am always balanced. I always have counsel. If you are a young or inexperienced somaferan, and you feel at war with yourself, know that it gets better. It can get a lot better. It starts with conversation.

Heilsa

Heilsa, I am Wayland Skallagrimsson. I am the author of the Uppsala Online website, and several books on Asatru and related topics. For the past twelve years, I have also run the somafera forum. For those of you who don’t know, somafera is the general term for a related set of practices from all over the world, but which included the berserkergang.

The berserkergang, of course, is the martial art of a type of elite viking warrior known as a berserker. An internal style of martial art, it is also a spiritual practice. Through religious ritual, berserkers worked themselves into ecstatic frenzies, wherein they could access the strength of the hysterically insane. However, because the state was triggered spiritually, it could be directed. There were similar martial arts/spiritual practices all over the world, such as the riastradh of the Celts, the Indonesian “running amok,” and Chinese spirit boxing. There were related states, such as those of the Tunguska, that conferred great endurance, for work, through spiritual ritual. Still others, such as mainadism, existed primarily as spiritual practices, with few practical applications. There are even variants that enhance the intellect. The term “somafera” was coined by modern practitioners as a blanket term for all such practices. It is from Greek and Latin, and means “the body wild.”

In the year 2000, the mainad Dver and I started research into the altered states that we each experienced, her in her mainadic practices and I in my berserker practices. We learned a lot by comparing notes, and learned even more when we found other somaferans from around the world. We created a forum, in order to facilitate the free and easy exchange of ideas. In time, as our group grew, we came to meet every year in person. These Gatherings were an opportunity to learn from somaferans of other traditions, learn new techniques and discoveries by experienced somaferans, and put our ideas to the test. There was a martial arts tournament every year, with a no holds barred open hand format, for the berserkers and the other martial types. There were symposia every day, and spiritual rituals each night.

As time went by we made it our mission to help other somaferans. You see, most people who are drawn to these practices are born prone to entering the somaferan state naturally, without training. An in-born talent, just as talents in art and science can be in-born. Imagine growing up with a tendency to go berserk without intending to, or being able to stop it. It tends to create a lot of psychological and spiritual problems. The forum became a place where somaferans could find advice and counseling, as well as learn spiritual, technical, and even scientific information about somaferan practices.

The membership of the forum kept changing. People found what they were looking for, or failed to, and moved on. The membership changed many times over the years. I remained the one constant member of the forum, and every time the membership shrank to near zero, I built it back up again.

The last time the membership shrank to near zero was fairly recently. I do not have the time or the patience to build it back up again. And I am frankly tired of the constant games and politics that inevitably accompany moderating any group. I have my own work to see to. So I have decided to change the forum into a blog. In this way I can continue sharing any discoveries that I make in the field, any new techniques that I find, as I discover them. I can try to help somaferans who are looking for help. I can provide the resources of the old forum for anyone wanting to have questions answered on topics that we covered. People who have questions can ask me via the comments section. And I can share the basics of the subject, and describe the chief questions that need answering, in the hopes of spreading understanding of who we are, our place in the modern world, and starting dialogues on this fascinating subject.