The Úlfheðnar (Ulfhednar) from Viking age history was actually chronicled during the Viking Age and they have been described with definite specifics. A fascinating “Special Forces” of the Viking forces during raids and even on homelands these warriors were said to have a spiritual ability to shapeshift into Wolves. Many like to adopt the title of Úlfheðnar in modern times but my personal opinion is that is as ridiculous as someone calling themselves a modern Viking. I will expand on this opinion in a future Blog post. Now I for one am of the Wolf Spirit animal kind and give much respect to that which is why I feel this post must be looked upon as what once was and preserved with due respect.
The oldest extended description of Viking beast men comes from a 9th-century poem called Haraldskvæði, describing the army of Harald Fair-Hair:
I’ll ask of the berserks, you tasters of blood,
Those intrepid heroes, how are they treated,
Those who wade out into battle?
Wolf-skinned they are called. In battle
They bear bloody shields.
Red with blood are their spears when they come to fight.
They form a closed group.
The prince in his wisdom puts trust in such men
Who hack through enemy shields.
The Ulfhednar wore wolfskins (Wolf-shirts, vargstakkar) over coats of mail, and unlike the Berserkers, who fought as squads, entered combat singly as guerrilla fighters. There were also the Ulfhamir, the wolf-shirts, who are believed to have fought, like the Berserkers, without armor.
Some had hammered, metal plates on their helmets used to magically protect them. There is a carving from the eleventh century showing these warriors. It depicts a wolf-mask with a human head looking out and armed with a spear.
Similar masks are used by shamans, acting as spirit receptacles when worn. One of the by-names of Odin, Grim, means ‘the masked one’ and the old Norse warriors wore a literally grim visage when going about their business.
The Ulfhednar used the superhuman strength of the wolf as their basis for martial arts. Their techniques were fraught with dangers, especially for the uninitiated.
From the Volsunga Saga we can learn some secrets about the Ulfhednar. Sigmund and his son put on wolf skins, agreed to follow certain rules when they fought, ‘They spoke in wolf-language,’ both understood that speech. The wolf-language is a form of ‘call’ like the Kiai of oriental martial arts, which has a momentary lowering of the blood pressure of opponents, allowing the warrior to strike. “The Beserks bayed…..the Ulfhednar howled!”
The tradition of the wolf-warriors is not just Nordic. A wolf-like cult is also ascribed to the Celtic race. From the Irish book, “The Wonders of Ireland”, “For by an evil craft they can at will change themselves into the shape of wolves with sharp tearing teeth.”
Feats of arms attributed to members of these warrior clans, and also others bearing names of wolf and bear, are legendary. The greatest Anglo-Saxon poem is about a wolf-cult warrior; “Beowulf”. Beowulf is a compound name composed of the Saxon fertility god, Beow and the wolf. SOURCE
Beast Men: Berserkir and Úlfhéðnar in the Viking Age
Úlfhéðnar, Werewolves, Warriors and Winter Sacrifices