Uppsala Menu

Alfish Worship

Factions in Asatru

Heathen Mysticism



Please help me continue to write new books, write new blog posts, and keep this site ad-free:

Trollaukin / Berserkergang / Perchtenlauf

Return to the Heathen Mysticism page

The term "trollaukin" means "possession by spirits" (the earlier meaning), as well as "possession by trolls" (the later meaning). It was perhaps the general term for possessionary work with spirits, and was likely a term for the berserkergang, used after the practice of the berserkergang itself was outlawed. It specifically refers to the use of techniques to summon spirits to possess the summoner and grant him with extraordinary strength.

This does seem quite similar to the berserkergang, the martial art of certain Odinists, wherein they became animals in spirit and fought with extraordinary strength. The meaning of the word berserk seems to have varied from place to place. It sometimes seems to mean "bare of sark," referring to the practice of the berserks of fighting without armor. It also sometimes was used as "bear-shirt," referring possibly to another practice of fighting in an actual bearskin or to the belief that the berserk somehow changed into a bear. Some kinds of berserks (in the first sense of the word) were referred to as "ulfhedinn," meaning wolf-coats in the same sense as the second meaning of berserk. There may also have been boar-berserks and cat- (of the large predatory variety) berserks.

Perchtenlauf was the ritual by which the Perchten, devotees of the birch goddess Perchta, worshipped. It was a procession during which various of the dead, such as ancestral spirits, were invoked to a state of possession. Sometimes the goddess Perchta herself was invoked. Great wildness and energy was supposed to come upon the Perchten during the experience.

There are reasons to think that the ability to be truly successful at ecstatic practices of this level of energy and sophistication is not found in everyone. It may be necessary to be born with the "right genes". There are arguments about it both ways. Personally, I am of the opinion that it is at least often or usually necessary. However, I do also think that anyone can get something useful out of them, even a decent success, if they put in enough practice with the techniques.

Decent skills with meditation and with other, lesser forms of ecstatic practice, must be had before attempting any form of trollaukin. With these it must be understood that the key to trollaukin is the creation of high enough levels of stress combined with an open, meditative mind and the right symbolism. The usual way such states come without ritual is in life-and death situations, so the amount of stress that the ritual needs to create is quite high indeed.

There are reasons to believe that ancient berserks learned to enter the state initially through some sort of initiation ritual, one that involved creating either a real or simulated danger. Other than this, though, no indication of any ritual details exists. But there is an initiation ritual used by modern berserks. (Meaning those who are attempting to reconstruct the practice. No direct linear connection with the ancient practice is not implied.) This ritual is written specifically for an ulfhedinn's initiation. (An ulfhedinn is a berserk who becomes a wolf spiritually.) But any other initiatory purpose can be served by writing your own words using this ritual as a template.

Before beginning the ritual spend a month or two studying about trollaukin, and human physiology as well. Also, spend this time in extended prayer and meditation. This readies the mind for the upcoming experience, sensitizing it to certain key elements. Care should be taken in selecting location. It should be remote enough that no one will interrupt the ritual, even if it gets noisy. It should also be atmospheric, and have "energy". A haunted house, a cemetary, old ruins, these are all examples of good places.

The ritual begins with an old Slavic spell for becoming a werewolf. The spell requires a copper knife to be made, and then stuck into a tree. But making a copper knife is not easy. Even if the initiate eschews forging it, and simply files it down out of copper bar stock, no small amount of effort or small amount of time are involved. And this is the reason for the knife. Over that time strong emotions will come to be felt. Boredom and frustration at the least. Perhaps even pain, as it is easy enough to cut a finger when making a blade. The initiate will grow intimately familiar with the blade, its every nick and warping. For these reasons it becomes a powerful ritual tool. It has become a symbol to the initiate. Just holding the blade, just looking at it will call out all of those emotions from the memory. Actually using it in the ritual will connect the words and acts of the ritual to the emotional energy associated with the knife. No need to think to use it, no need to focus upon it, it thus acts in a way as to increase the power of emotion in the ritual automatically, without effort. In this way does the unitary state start to develop. Now the initiate has, floating around in his or her mind, the emotions and images invoked by the location with the emotions and images centered around the brain. These things begin to merge, to become associated with and confused with each other, after being held in the attention a while. This is simply due to the natural tendencies of the way the brain works. The phase shift to unity has begun.

Next the initiate must find a fallen tree. This requires some small act of looking, which is a physical matter of walking about with the intent to perform this ritual. This improves the readiness of the mind to receive the new experience. Then the initiate must stab the knife into the fallen tree. This act symbolically begins the ritual, and causes the initiate's mind to snap to attention. Then the initiate walks around the tree, looking at the knife. The act of walking raises energy levels in the body and so stimulates the mind as well. This gives energy to those thoughts going through the brain, making them stronger. And because the walking can be made into a wolf-like pacing, the image of the self as a wolf joins the other images in the mind, and benefits from their energy if it is held in the awareness long enough for the thoughts to associate.

While walking the initiate intones the following incantation (preferably using diaphragmmatic breathing, as singers and meditators do):

"On the sea, on the ocean, on the island, on Bujan,
On the empty pasture gleams the moon, on an ashstock (or whatever tree it is) lying
In a green wood, in a gloomy vale.
Toward the stock wandereth a shaggy wolf,
Horned cattle seeking for his sharp white fangs;
But the wolf enters not the forest,
But the wolf dives not into the shadowy vale,
Moon, moon, gold-horned moon,
Check the flight of bullets, blunt the hunters' knives,
Break the shepards' cudgels,
Cast wild fear upon all cattle,
On men, on all creeping things,
That they may not catch the grey wolf,
That they may not rend his warm skin!
My word is binding, more binding than sleep,
More binding than the promise of a hero!"

These words are important to the attaining of the unitary state. The incantation begins by describing a wolf doing exactly what the initiate is doing; approaching a tree. This identifies the initiate with the wolf, a sensation that is unconsciously given more sense of reality by the physical action of walking. Any thought or image associated conceptually with an action the brain automatically assigns a greater sense of reality to. In this way the unitary state deepens. The mind now contains multiple sources of emotion, all beginning to be tied in with the image of the initiate becoming a wolf. The second half of the incantation continues this process. By asking for the aid of the moon in stopping people from harming the wolf, the initiate is subconsciously identifying his sense of safety with that of the wolf's. By casting himself in the light of a thing hunted by humans, the initiate is by implication declaring "I am not human!" The last two lines are a standard element of many incantations, and seal the effects of the ritual in the mind by identifying all that has gone into producing a unitary state of mind with the image of unbending strength and resolve to do this. This part of the ritual is ended by springing three times over the tree. By actually *acting* as a wolf, while speaking such sealing words, the unity of the mind with the self-as-wolf image is made strong and durable.

It is the next part of the ritual that actually triggers the change. The initiate goes to a fire, and casts nine herbs on it, herbs traditionally associated with wolves. (Any nine with the right association will do. This is another ritual tool like the copper knife, for some trouble must be gone to to obtain them.) Then the initiate oaths most strongly to hold his or her hand in the fire until transformed. There will be pain, and screaming (so make sure to hold this ritual far away from others), and a moment of almost irresistable need to pull the hand out of the fire. This is the critical moment. Hold on through this moment, keeping to the state of mind produced by the spell, and the change should be triggered. The unitary state results from the enormous NEED to end the pain, and from the overload of adrenaline in the body, and all this incredible energy rips through the mind, firing its contents into ecstatic super-life. Then follows the experience of actually becoming, or becoming possessed by, a wolf spirit.

There are two primary sources of stress in this ritual. One is the effort of extended mental focus. The other is the physical pain of the fire. In using it there is a danger of burning, but those who have completed this ritual said that the pain of the fire was enough to effect the experience in a matter of seconds, before any real damage was done. It is perhaps possible to gain such physical stressors ina another fashion, if the initiate is too uncomfortable with the fire. Prolonged fasting combined with heavy exercise has been suggested. But alternatives have not been tried, and it has also been suggested that, lacking the element of fear the fire induces, the other triggers would not be effective.

Whether an initiation ritual is utilized or not, in the long run it is impractical to rely on such extreme measures for inducing the experience. There are a few clues for elements to such rituals to be found scattered here and there in historical sagas, archaeological artifacts such as the Torslunda Plate, and folklorists' collections. These include dancing, leaping, beard-pulling, and biting on a hard object such as a shield, as well as yelling and howling, in the case of berserks. Trollaukin (in the berserkergang sense) used runes to induce the change. The Perchten used frenzied dance and a cacophonous din, as well as masks representing the dead spirits they were trying to invoke.

So common to both the practice of the berserkergang and the Perchtenlauf is dance. The motion of large muscle groups is a trigger for adrenaline release. So is pain, which is found in the shield-biting and beard-pulling. The yelling and howling would tend to involve deep breathing. Hyperventilation and other forms of deep breathing are also adrenaline-release triggers. So is sensory overload, as with the cacophonous din of the Perchtenlauf. Thus it is obvious that such rituals for inducing the experience of trollaukin in a more everyday fashion can be seen clearly to involve producing large amounts of adrenaline, and that to replace the one great source of stress in the initiation ritual, a larger number of lesser adrenaline releasing triggers are used together. (This is more difficult to learn to do, though, and is why it is not done that way for the initiation.)

The other thing to note is that trollaukin (in the sense of the later term for and form of the berserkergang) used runes, and so engaged the intellectual, symbolic portion of the brain. The Perchtenlauf used symbolism too with its representative masks. It may be possible that the yelling and howling of the berserks was a similar use of symbolism, by mimicing the sounds of the animals the ritual was trying to bring out.

So it can be seen that the key to inducing the experience of trollaukin (in the general sense) involves the three basic elements of any ritual: mental, emotional, and physical. The body moves and suffers pain, which induces the adrenaline emotions of fear, anger, determination, etc. The emotions are appropriate to the mental symbolism, of animal or the wild dead spirits, which the masking and howling represent and evoke. The mental, emotional, and physical elements are all tied very closely together, making for ritual that is both simple and highly effective.

Turn the ritual into a sort of a dance. Crounch low on the haunches, balanced on the balls of the feet. Raise up, return to crouching, over and over again. Tense the muscles of first one arm, then the other, then the first one again. Build up a rhythm. Move the arms, tense, in and out, from one side to the other. Breathe deeply and alternate it with rapid shallower hyperventilation. Suddenly leap to some random other place and land crouching on the balls of the feet. Suddenly spring up onto the tiptoes and whip the head around backwards. (Warning: only do this if you have gymnastics, dance, or martial arts experience AND KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING! It is quite possible to seriously injure yourself doing that.) A little while of this sort of dance, especially combined with vision-inducing techniques and/or prayer will have a great effect on the level of wod experienced, which, when it rises to a great enough level, will induce the trollaukin experience. Combine this also with pain-inducing techniques for greatest effect, and also symbolism like howling, snarling, masking, etc.

Over-much focus in any particular direction emotionally or mentally can have side effects bad for the success of such rituals as this. This is because of the phenomenon of burnt wod.

The mind is a machine, not unlike a computer. Thinking about something is a form of processing like what a computer does. But unlike a computer, thoughts are not exact. Thoughts associate. Seeing a house, for instance, brings memories of other houses that were like it, and of different experiences in houses, all unbidden.

This practice is (amongst other things) a process of combining thoughts with emotions, especially those emotions that reflect adrenaline (such as fury). Wod quickens the blood, makes the mind race. This quickens the racing of thoughts through the mind, makes them more powerful. It also makes them less exact. Each thought requires a certain amount of energy to make it happen. Energy in excess of this "spills over" into other thoughts.

I call this "burning the wod" (because the feeling it produces in the mind is a "burnt" feeling). Unintended associations spring up when the wod is burned. This can diffuse or even stop elevation entirely. This is especially so because, as Jung pointed out, opposite thoughts are stored close together in the brain. Thus "ice" is close to "fire", "don't want to" is close to "want to". So burning the wod during ritual will particularly bring out anti-ritual thoughts and feelings. Additionally, burnt wod can have physical effects. It can overadrenalize the muscles to the point where there is no elevated strength at all, but just debilitating cramps and shakes. In such circumstances it can be difficult to even simply stand up.

It is especially easy to burn the wod when first learning this. This is because you don't as yet really know how to perform the ritual correctly. Subconsciously you are likely to overcompensate and raise the wod up much higher than it needs to be. But as with carrying a cup of liquid, it is better not to fill it right up to the brim. Think of it like trying to free a car stuck in the snow. Using too much gas does nothing more than spin the wheels uselessly. One of the first things a new practitioner will need to do is to learn how to use just enough wod to induce the experience without using too much.

It is for this reason that simply pushing hard to produce the emotion of fury can actually rapidly raise blocks both emotional and intellectual that interfere with rising fury. Therefore breadth of emotion is to be preferred to depth of emotion. Emotional is mental energy, and many lower-strength emotions can be combined to equal one powerful or even transcendental emotion. It will be necessary for the emotions to all run in the same direction, as it were, or else they would blunt each others' effects. But fury of subtly different sorts can be raised up together by, for example, memories of a hated childhood bully, dwelling on current life stresses, and contemplating fantastic dangerous situations. Joy, which also raises adrenaline, can be called up in different ways as well. Because both joy and fury are adrenaline producing emotions they can be conceptually connected if the practitioner looks at them in the right way, and mostly add their effects together. (This provides an additional benefit in that the emotion of joy will tend to counter the worse effects of the fury in the process of the blending.) Other emotions can be woven in as well, depending on the idiosynchracies of the individual practitioner.

It would be appropriate as well to include some sort of noise in the ritual. This can be the cacophonous din of the Perchtenlauf, intended to jangle the nerves and overwhelm the senses. It can be recorded or live, and created by banging on pots, clashing swords, blowing on horns, beating on drums, and more. It can also be drumming, but here the object is not to overwhelm the senses but to get the mind to start moving along a rhythm. This need not involve either a live drummer nor a recording, for the practitioner can drum with his or her fingertips upon the base of the skull, at the back of the head. The sound here reverberates in the eardrum and sounds louder, more like a real drum.