International Journal of Transpersonal Studies


Largely ignored in transpersonal studies to date, dark magic involves socially-transgressive processes called becoming-intense and becoming-animal that produce non-ordinary states useful in the arts, hunting, sex, and fighting. War magic, a form of dark magic that involves powers of destruction and invulnerability, is ubiquitous and universal, and one of its primary features is the production of helpful, nonordinary states in combat. Berserkergang (going berserk) is one such state, the latest documented in a long history of Indo-European ecstatic warrior cults. Berserkergang was the battle-trance of the elite consecrated warrior-shamans of Odin, god of magic, poetry, battle, and death. Distinguishing features of berserkergang include invulnerability to fire and bladed weapons, shapeshifting, superhuman strength, laughing at death, and transpersonal identification with comrades and Odin. Cross-cultural interpretations have tended to denigrate berserkergang, including modern arguments that attribute it to intoxication, genetic flaws, or pathology. Not only are such arguments inadequate to account for the data, but also the features of berserkergang are considered signs of spiritual attainment in various traditions up to the present day, and the techniques for achieving berserkergang remain in use in many spiritual traditions as well as on the battlefield.