Bersærkere optræder i meget fantasy rollespil og brætspil, som nogle krigertyper, der kan gå amok i kamp, og når der er i deres vildskab, er der angreb langt farligere, men i nogle tolkninger risikerer de at angribe deres allierede, fordi de er ude af stand til at skelne mellem ven og fjende, og efter raseriet er de udmattede og mindre farlige. Der er ingen tvivl om at bersærkere er hentet med inspiration i virkelighedens verden, men vores egen viden er rig på myter og fantasifulde ideer om bersærkere, så lad os derfor kigge lidt på, hvad sagaerne siger om bersærkere. Igår var det Egils saga, i dag er det Grettirs saga.
I Grettes saga (kilde) er der flere episoder med bersærkere, men få af dem er dueller. Her dækker vi en kamp mellem Grette og bersærken Snaekoll:
It was no uncommon thing throughout Norway that robbers and other ruffians came down from the forest and challenged men to fight for their women, or carried off their property with violence if there was not sufficient force in the house to protect them. One day at Yule-tide there came a whole party of these miscreants to Einar’s house. Their leader was a great berserk named Snaekoll. He challenged Einar to hand over his daughter to him or else to defend her, if he felt himself man enough to do so. Now the bondi was no longer young, and no fighter. He felt that he was in a great difficulty, and asked Grettir privately what help he would give him, seeing that he was held to be so famous a man. Grettir advised him to consent only to what was not dishonourable. The berserk was sitting on his horse wearing his helmet, the chin-piece of which was not fastened. He held before him a shield bound with iron and looked terribly threatening. He said to the bondi:
“You had better choose quickly: either one thing or the other. What does that big fellow standing beside you say? Would he not like to play with me himself?”
“One of us is as good as the other,” said Grettir, “neither of us is very active.”
“All the more afraid will you be to fight with me if I get angry.”
“That will be seen when it is tried,” said Grettir.
The berserk thought they were trying to get off by talking. He began to howl and to bite the rim of his shield. He held the shield up to his mouth and scowled over its upper edge like a madman. Grettir stepped quickly across the ground, and when he got even with the berserk’s horse he kicked the shield with his foot from below with such force that it struck his mouth, breaking the upper jaw, and the lower jaw fell down on to his chest. With the same movement he seized the viking’s helmet with his left hand and dragged him from his horse, while with his right hand he raised his axe and cut off the berserk’s head. Snaekoll’s followers when they saw what had happened fled, every man of them. Grettir did not care to pursue them for he saw that there was no heart in them.
Episoden udspiller sig ved juletid – og det er der mange episoder i sagaen som gør, også et af Grettes andre møder med bersærkere. En anden jul er møder Grette brødrene ‘Thorir Paunch’ og ‘Ogmund the Bad’, der er bersærkere, som han også overvinder, men det ser vi på en anden gang. Sammenlignet med Egils saga er bersærken igen en styg karl, som plager folk med at ville røve deres kvinder og udfordre dem gennem dueller, og dette motiv optræder flere steder i Grettes saga. Også i lighed med Egils saga er ‘bersærkergangen’ noget som sker inden kampen, og det består af at brøl, bide i skjoldkanten og skule. Alt sammen ting, der er gode til at true folk med, men stadig ikke nogen tegn på vildskab i kamp, og Snaekolls forsmædelige nederlag tyder ikke på nogen overnaturlig evne til at holde sig i live, ligesom Ljot heller ikke havde det, og samme gælder de to førnævnte brødre.