Frequently Asked Questions
I originally created my berserkergang page and this somafera site for a number of reasons. Primary amongst them was finding others of my kind, so that I might learn from them and enjoy the company of people like myself. I also wrote in the hopes of beginning a dialogue with the greater spiritual community about this little-known phenomenon. I'm trying to present the biological processes underlying the phenomenon, especially in light of the unusual approach I'm using, because I am of the opinion that there is no conflict between scientific description and spiritual description. I also believe that the world of spiritual practice can be greatly improved by applying scientific method. Lastly, I wrote in the hopes of being able to help others like me, for the process of coming to terms with an inherent somaferan nature is difficult.
Over the years that this site has been up, I have received a large number of responses. The number of recent responses has increased to the point that I am somewhat pressed for time trying to answer to them all. I am going to give some examples of typical email questions and issues I receive, and my responses to them. If your questions are answered by them, good. This will save me some time. If your questions are not answered in this section, please do feel free to write.
Far and away the largest group of people I get responses from are other somaferans, or people who suspect that they might be somaferans. Typical questions from potential somaferans are:
Q: Can I join the somafera forum?
To do that, just email me. Include your reasons for wanting to join. What do you feel that joining the forum will give you? What do you have to offer it? Have you had past experiences with the somafera state, and if so, what were they? Do you think of yourself as a somaferan, and if so, why? Membership on the forum is by a majority vote of current active members, and these are the minimum questions we will need answers to for consideration. There is no need to write a dissertation on the subject, but we're looking for more than just a sentence or two. Include your age as well. Minors WILL need parental permission to access this forum.
Q: I feel that I am some form of somaferan. I cannot control going into somafera states/berserk rages. I wish to prevent them from occuring when I don't want them, and maybe even learn how to trigger them when I do want them. How do I control it?
Please look at the following articles:
Individual somaferans may have more specific questions than are answered here, but these sections should cover the basics.
Q: Am I a somaferan?
There is no simple way to answer that. There are telltale signs, but not every somaferan has all of these. It does seem that the more points of similarity there are, the higher the likelihood of being a somaferan. The most common ones are:
There may be more than this to the question of whether or not you are one, but this is a good basic set of indicators.
Q: Is a religious framework necessary?
No, this can be done even by atheists, although a religious framework certainly helps, and those lacking one will have a much more difficult time.
Q: Is any particular religious framework superior?
Q: Is an initiation necessary?
In almost every case, yes. The experience of somafera is an experience of transforming the physiology of your body into a completely new and unusual state. Outside life-or-death crises, this is extraordinarily difficult to do, and usually (although not invariably) requires something like an initiation ritual to trigger reliably.
Q: Must you be born to the practice in order to pursue it?
This is a somewhat controversial topic. Most somafera practitioners feel that one must be born to this practice in order to effectively do it, or even to do it at all. The argument runs that most of those who practice this are clearly different than other people. We tend to be born prone to the uncontrollable release of adrenaline. Certain physical traits are common, such as excessive hairiness, indicative of a particular hormonal balance. Also common are broad shoulders, which indicate an expanded lung capacity. This may be necessary to prevent collapse due to hypo-oxygenation during the altered physiological state. Certain physical features such as ugliness or the "Neanderthal" look are also common, indicating that all of this goes along with certain gene combinations. In addition, those of us who are born to the practice cannot help but go into somafera states. We do not have the option of not doing so. It is theorized that this is necessary to the development of the practice, that we can develop it because we have no choice. Someone without that goad might inevitably be given to holding back, relaxing, not pushing, and so be unable to truly effect the change. Despite all of this, there is no reason why someone not born this way couldn't learn the techniques, and it is even possible that they could lead to the real transformation. We do know of some people who are approaching it like this.
In addition to responses from somaferans, we also get a lot of responses from mundane (non-somaferan) academics, scientists, and scholars. The most common questions from them are:
Q: Can I quote your work in my/our upcoming documentary/dissertation/book/school paper?
Yes. We've put these sites up for public use. The only requirements are that the quotes are accurate and properly attributed in conformity with modern professional standards. I would also personally appreciate it if you pointed out a copy of your documentary/dissertation/or work so I could see it when you're done. Unfortunately, I do speak only English.
Q: Would you be willing to be interviewed for my/our upcoming documentary/dissertation/book/school paper?
Yes. Just email me your questions. If you insist upon a phone conversation, I can do that, but it will need to be arranged well in advance.
The remaining questions tend to come from non-academic mundanes and other types of mystics. Typical questions we've gotten from them are:
Q: Aren't you all just crazy?
Q: Isn't this terribly dangerous?
Q: Will you come join our spiritual/martial arts/general interest forum?
Sorry, but in all likelihood, no. The internet takes up too much of my time already. I'm swamped just dealing with somafera/Asatru matters, and Oenochoe is similarly overwhelmed. One or the other of us might make an appearance on another forum to answer specific questions, but generally time simply doesn't allow for more.
In addition to this, I'm just not the sociable type. My time is primarily spent in developing my own practices and studies.
Q: This is irresponsible! Why are you advocating the use of deliberately painful and dangerous techniques? These kind of ideas need to be kept out of the reach of people who could hurt themselves with them.
Obviously, we have different philosophies. Some people think that the key to public safety lies in keeping other people ignorant of the possibilities of danger, and in controlling people's lives so that they have no ability to take risks, often through legislation.
This is the sort of thinking behind banning guns. Yes, gun deaths can sometimes be reduced in the short term by banning guns, but this approach ignores the right of innocent people to defend themselves against predators. It also ignores the caustic long term effect that gun bans have on the social fabric, which occurs due to a reduced incentive for criminals to avoid committing violent crimes and reduced respect for the rule of law. Violent people who want to hurt others will just find different weapons, and criminals, being criminals, will obviously pay no attention to such laws. This leaves those laws affecting only those who aren't much of a risk with guns in the first place.
This is also the sort of thinking behind censorship. I am not a fan of censorship. It is impossible to accomplish any benefit of lasting significance by trying to keep dangerous ideas out of the public mind, as former Eastern European communist countries exemplify so well. The process of trying to do so also seriously erodes your own credibility, as seems to be the case with the current government approach to the drug problem. I remember that as a kid, it was teachers', parents', and policemen's censorship of information about drugs that made all of my peers interested in drugs! It is simply human nature to be curious about forbidden information, and the curious will always find a way to experiment. Unguided, uninformed experimentation with somafera is FAR more dangerous than anything we're advocating.
Historically, the attempts of the Catholic Church to keep people from seeing entertainment and ideas they don't like has similarly been very counterproductive. It was their massive protests outside movie theaters that made Monty Python's movies so popular, and it was their vocal public condemnation of Madonna's Like a Prayer video that sent it to number one on the charts.
Many martial arts/spiritual traditions have kept their practices secret, but this too is counterproductive. Let me use the example of Shaolin. A harsh martial art in its true form, training involves many dangerous and pain-inducing practices, such as extreme fasting followed by rigorous physical training, placing the hands or arms in or against superheated metal or sand, and full contact sparring with no holds barred. A notable result of this secrecy has been the emergence of a wide variety of charlatans proclaiming themselves to be real Shaolin Grandmasters. The practices such charlatans often advocate are not only dangerous, but also pointless and useless.
The plain truth is that fools will always be fools. There is just no helping that. Those who have no regard for their personal safety, who are convinced that they're invincible and that they know everything will find some way to hurt themselves. If they don't hurt themselves with somafera, they will simply find some other extreme or dangerous practice and foolishly trifle with that. Fools interested in somafera practices like the berserkergang would still mess with it even if this site did not exist. Even if we kept our lore secret, rumor of it would inevitably spread simply from overheard conversations, individual somaferans who don't believe in censorship, or other means. There has even been an instance of a disgruntled/disillusioned former somafera forum member who wanted to stroke his ego and so set himself up as a somafera master/teacher. The information WILL get out, inevitably.
You can't kill ideas.
I would rather have people messing with information that is as accurate and as complete as possible, because that is the safest approach.
It is not possible to make the world perfectly safe. What are you going to do, wrap everything and everyone in foam rubber? That's plainly ridiculous. Ban all dangerous information? Not only is this impossible, such extreme and blanket censhorship is highly immoral. Are you going to ban all sports shows? BASE jumping is dangerous. So is Ultimate Fighting and football. Are you going to ban recruitment commercials for the Marines? Are you going to ban all dangerous practices? The military? Weight lifting? Eating red meat? Salt? Coffee? Are you going to ban electricians? Commercial fishermen? (Commercial fishing is THE most dangerous job on the planet.) Going to ban law enforcement? That's dangerous too.
Civilization cannot be made to work under the premise of keeping everyone completely safe. Trying to do so violates the right of every adult to make his or her own choices, including the dangerous ones.
We have posted a disclaimer on the home page. It is very nearly the first thing anyone sees when looking at the site. I have one on my berserker page as well. Both pages are full of warnings that these practices should not be engaged in and warnings that they are not for minors. There are warnings that somafera requires years of study and practice, deep self-knowledge, an understanding of your capabilities and limitations, and the risks involved. If you go ahead and practice these things despite such warnings then either you are capable of dealing with the dangers, in which case you need the information, or you're an idiot, in which case you can't really be helped.
If you're the sort of person who DOES want to wrap everything and everyone in foam rubber, ban all dangerous practices and the expression of all dangerous ideas, then don't write to us. Neither of us have any respect for your ideas. They're simply asinine.
Q: Pain may have been a part of religious/spiritual practices at one time, but haven't religions evolved beyond this?
Actually studying religion will reveal that pain inducing techniques are found EVERYWHERE in the world today. They are common in many indigenous and often shamanic religions, where scarification, firewalking, and tattooing are practices engaged in by most people practicing the religion. The Native American Sundance is a famously agonizing ceremony that leaves significant scars, but one that is widely acknowledged to bring the participants closer to spiritual understanding and the flow of life itself. Native American Vision Quests likewise rely heavily on the deprivation of food, water and sleep, often resulting in life changing spiritual insights. These practices are also an integral part of Vajrayana Buddhism, where practitioners sit naked in snow and ice, undergo starvation, fasting from water, and more. Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu practitioners of all different sorts practice cutting themselves, piercing their bodies with skewers, fire walking, coal handling, and more. Many of these practitioners demonstrate these feats annually at the Kataragama. Sufis the world over sometimes engage in piercing and cutting rituals. Pentecostals and other Charismatic Christian churches practice fire handling. Catholicism has a longstanding tradition of particularly holy men and women scourging themselves, fasting, bathing in brine, and other such things designed to bring them closer to their god. Judaism has a long tradition of going alone into the wilderness and fasting, to commune closely with their god.
The use of pain to induce religious/spiritual states is widespread. It is true that these practices tend to be uncommon in most modern Western societies, but this isn't because religion has "evolved away" from such practices. Rather, this is because the current popular religion in most modern Western societies happens to be prejudiced against such practices. It is also because modern Western societies tend to be rather wealthy and easy to live in. Wealth and ease tend to breed an abhorrence of risk and pain, but it is important to recognize that this is nothing more than a cultural prejudice.
If pain doesn't work for your spiritual approach, fine. No single spiritual path is right for everyone, and these techniques likewise are not for everyone. No one is suggesting that you have to engage in such practices, but please recognize that religious tolerance is a two way street. If, after understanding where such practitioners are coming from, you maintain that pain inducing techniques are simply inappropriate for everyone, you are being intolerant. If you continue to hold that only "primitive" religions use such "barbaric" techniques, unlike "evolved, superior" religions, then you are being bigoted. If you continue to maintain that ancient and modern spiritual practices that use such things are wrong, and that we ourselves are so stupid or crazy that we wrongly think that we find real benefit in these practices, then you are simply a religious bigot. We don't try to foist our beliefs on you, so keep your bigotry to yourself.
It is also possible that you may simply be misunderstanding somafera itself. Somafera is not a single practice limited to one cultural or religious/spiritual expression. Rather, it is a term used to describe a wide variety of practices, not all of which use pain or dangerous techniques.
Q: Aren't you all just faking this? You're really not berserks, maenads, or whatever. You're just trying to feel special.
Get bent. We know what we are. I am not in the business of claiming that you are not really a Christian, Mason, plumber, Republican, environmentalist, or whatever. Why? Because I don't know you well enough to know what's really going on in your life. I expect the same simple respect in return.
Most somaferans I know, including myself, don't feel that this practice makes us special. It's just who we are and what we do. Other people have their own unique interests, talents and abilities. While somafera does give us some unusual capabilities, it also makes us susceptible to some unusual problems and dangers. On top of this, many somaferans just aren't good people. Although many of us are decent people, naturally uncontrolled rage can easily lead to bad people who do bad things. This doesn't in any way qualify us as special.
Q: Perhaps at one time these practices could have been engaged in with relative safety, but that was only in times past when these practices were organized, had long-standing traditions in a living cultural context, and were able to provide the safest information and understanding. Given this, shouldn't you be avoiding such practices as the berserkergang, which no longer have organizations, cultures, and traditions?
This is a valid point. It is true that it would be safer to practice with a living tradition and organization to support us. However, this view fails to recognize two important things. First, most of us practice because we have no choice. We are prone to entering such states whether we want to or not. Secondly, every tradition, every practice, had to start somewhere with unsupported individuals. How do you think those ancient traditions got started? If they can do it, so can we.
Q: You experience some unusual things, such as visions, the experience of becoming a wolf, bear, or other animal, and feeling spiritual forces like wod and chi. Aren't these experiences just the action of the neurochemicals you've released into your brains through these extreme practices? Doesn't that make them not real?
There seem to be a couple of different reasons this question is normally asked. One is a continuation of the arguments advanced by those who hold an anti-pain position. This line of questioning is meant to highlight that these experiences are "unreal" or insignificant, unlike "real" spiritual experiences brought about without the use of pain or stress. To answer the question coming from this point of view:
What do you think is responsible for your "normal" spiritual experiences? You meditate and engage in ritual behaviors as a part of standard spiritual practice. These practices also alter brain chemistry, and in many of the same ways that more extreme practices do. If your argument applies to us, then it also applies to you.
The other reason for asking this seems to be to question the validity of any spiritual experiences. To answer this:
I don't believe that being able to point to a biochemical or neurological process as being responsible for a spiritual experience invalidates the spiritual explanation for these experiences. For example, when you eat an apple pie, your brain chemistry changes. Does this disprove the existence of apple pie? Of course it doesn't. If it doesn't disprove apple pie, the same argument cannot logically be used to disprove the reality of spiritual experiences.
Q: Somafera isn't a practice of Hellenism, Asatru, Christianity, or whatever. Why are you claiming it is?
We aren't. Read what we actually say. Somafera is not monolithic. There is no one single somafera practice, and not all somafera practices are alike. Some practices that are found in various religious traditions do qualify as somafera. This would include maenadism amongst the Hellenics, the berserkergang in Asatru, Isaawiyya or Sufism/dervishes in Islam, Pentecostalism in Christianity, and so on. However, recognizing the presence of these practices within a larger religious context is not the same as saying that somafera is a part of the more orthodox practice of these religions. Look at it this way. Saying that maenadism, for instance, is a part of the larger concept of somafera is no more saying that somafera in general is an Hellenic practice than saying that "I see what I eat," is exactly the same as saying "I eat what I see."
Q: Is somafera the same as therianthropy?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is mostly no. Therianthropy is a modern spiritual/religious/philosophical practice centered around either cultivating certain relationships with animal spirits, or centered around cultivating one's own inner animal nature, depending on focus and belief. Some therianthropic practices seem similar to somafera, including mental and spiritual shifting, but these are, by their very definitions, not somafera. In the first case the mind of the therianthope becomes the mind of an animal. While this certainly does occur in somafera, it is only one component of somafera. Likewise, spiritual shifting is not somafera either, because it involves just the practice of spiritually transforming into an animal, which is only one facet of somafera. There is a rare form of therianthropy called physiological shifting which does seem to be somafera, because it involves mental and spiritual shifting, as well as a transformation of physiology.
Q: Isn't somafera just a particularly aggressive display of uncontrolled temper and rage? Is it not therefore inherently weaker than a controlled, disciplined practice?
Not at all. While some forms of somafera do begin with rage, rage alone is weak. There is a saying amongst martial artists that the first person to lose his temper loses the fight, and this is quite true. Somafera transcends this, as it transcends every emotion, and it is certainly not just some mewling, frothing display of bad temper. It is a state of exquisite balance and control taken to super-normal levels by fuelling that balance with transcendent emotions, which include rage.
Disclaimer: The information and practices described in this site are the result of years of study and dedication to the understanding of the risks involved. These descriptions are provided for purposes of information only. Actually trying to practice anything described in this site would almost certainly lead to injury, perhaps even serious injury or death. We strongly advise against it.
All content © Wayland Skallagrimsson, 2013