one of the most important pieces of ancient English literature (originates from
the 7th century) features both elements of paganism and Christianity ideology
in the Anglo-Saxon society. The poem is also a depiction of the political,
social and cultural environment at a time when the German civilization had not
long separated from its warrior-code based pagan heritage and was increasingly
adapting to a warlike Christian society. Consequently, the poem attempts to
infuse Christian concepts with pagan elements to depict how two different belief
systems can be blended to create a unique social-cultural identity. Therefore,
this essay seeks to juxtapose pagan beliefs and Christian religious practices in
the Anglo-Saxon society
features pagan images of magic and monsters, for instance, Grendel is a demon
and monster who commits atrocities against the Danes; Grendel’s powers of
destruction were plain; he never showed remorse when killing (Beowulf, 11.126-138).
Grendel’s mother is also described as a monstrous being. The poem also
elaborates on serpentine creatures in the lake and the sea monsters Beowulf had
been fighting in the past and on the dragon Beowulf must fight at the end. The poem
uses two of the main monsters, Grendel and the dragon, to symbolize Christian
beliefs. Grendel represents societies sins and internal strife where the dragon
symbolizes the devil and greed. The
story illustrates pagan elements through the brute strength used by Grendel to
annihilate his enemies. Consequently, Beowulf’s superhuman potency takes over
him in the fight with Grendel and he ends up ripping Grendel’s arm. Beowulf is
always sure to attribute his victories to God.
portrays pagan beliefs and practices through wyrd, which is akin to fate and
three women who influence the path of human beings. In fact, when discussing
his encounter with Grendel and victory over him, the protagonist and Geatish
hero asserts that it was through wyrd. It was also through wyrd that Beowulf
not only received the call to fight Grendel but choose not to stay at home;
Beowulf opted to fight for the lives of the Danes. As fate would have it,
Beowulf’s courage could not save him from predetermined events, he had to die
fifty years after defeating Grendel and his vile mother during his last fight
against the Dragon. Despite going to fight the dragon with “the glory of
winning” Beowulf was killed by the dragon’s deadly poison; “Beowulf
discovered deadly poison suppurating inside him and despite his mortal wounds
he spoke as he knew his days were numbered.” (Beowulf 183,185.2715- 2724).
The use of special swords exemplifies pagan beliefs;
Beowulf used a hilted, ancient and rare sword dubbed the Hrunting against
Grendel’s mother. The Hrunting was believed to have special powers that lied in
its ill-boding patterns that had been tempered in blood; whoever used it in
battle would be guaranteed of victory against adversaries even when faced with
the most imminent danger (Beowulf 101.1459-1460). Such swords confirm
pagan mindsets as they were believed to have blessings, offer protection and
invocations from the gods. Also, the ship burials found in Beowulf are
reminiscent of pagan practices predominant in Anglo-Saxon societies. For
instance, in the beginning of the poem one of the legendary Danish kings who
enjoyed wealth and immense power, King Scyld, later in his life was buried
alongside gods and wealth that he would need in his next life. Moreover,
cremation was evident in the Anglo-Saxon society, after the death of Beowulf;
the Danes set his body on fire.
ideals in a way surpass paganism in the Anglo-Saxon society as depicted in Beowulf. To begin with, upon the
completion of King Hrothgar’s mead hall, Grendel who was of the lineage of the
Biblical Cain attacked the Danes as they sang songs of rejoice and praise every
evening. According to the poet, Grendel was the name of the grim demon that
haunted the marches and wondered the heath and desolate fens (Beowulf 9.105-106).
Furthermore, Grendel dwelt in misery for a long time among the banished
monsters who had not only been outlawed by God, but were also rendered outcast
(Beowulf 9.110). The belief in
monsters is a pagan ideal that the poet turns into a Christian view by implying
that Grendel is a descendant of Cain.
Beowulf’s killing of the man-eating monster
illustrates Christianity as King Hrothgar praised God for his accomplishment.
Grendel was a burden to the king as he wreaked havoc and brought humiliation
upon Heorot (Beowulf 33.473-475). The Attacks on the Danes had made
the king lose hope; Hrothgar states to Beowulf “it seemed I would never be
granted the slightest solace or relief from any of my burdens: the best of
houses glittered and reeked and ran with blood” (Beowulf 63.931-934). Therefore,
the king was belated and acknowledged that it is God who grants victory and
requites people well. Besides Hrothgar’s illustration of Christianity, Beowulf
affirmed his faith and acknowledged the existence of God after the dragon
wounded him fatally; he gave thanks and praise to God for allowing him to leave
his people in safety and prosperity on the day of his death. Beowulf did not
attest his victory to himself; this illustrated the shift from the conventional
pagan practices and beliefs to Christianity among the Anglo-Saxon society.
battles against Grendel and the serpent are a reflection of the suffering of
Christ for the world. In this context, Beowulf’s victory over Grendel
illustrates the eradication of evil and threats to Christianity as Grendel was
a cursed phantom that brought misery and death. The actions of Grendel also
pushed the Danes back towards pagan beliefs and rituals. The battle against the
monster represents a situation in which the efforts of a single person benefit
the whole society. Moreover, during the fight, the protagonist relied on God’s
strength, comfort, help, and support that he would need for victory (Beowulf 89.1270).
Also, the death of Beowulf after his encounter with the serpent is in a way a
representation of Jesus’s crucifixion and the redemption it brought the world.
Nonetheless, this is similar to pagan beliefs on fate; it was Beowulf’s destiny
to die to save others.
practices, the ability to bring joy and to empathize with others illustrates
Similarities between Beowulf and Christ. Beowulf knew of the oppression of the
Danes as Christ did with the Jews, consequently, through the desire to relieve
others of misery they participate in life-threatening activities to help
others. As a result, they bring joy and receive blessings, for instance, the
king Hrothgar adopted Beowulf in his heart (Beowulf 63.946). Beowulf is just
enough to tackle Grendel without any weapon showing his fairness in a battle.
conclusion, Beowulf successfully
juxtaposes Christianity and paganism. To start with, Beowulf features pagan images of monsters, but still show the
Christian symbolisms of Grendel and the dragon. The use of unusual swords,
cremations and the Ship burials illustrate pagan beliefs and practices by a
seemingly Christian Beowulf that praises God for all his victories and
blessings. Nonetheless, Christianity and
paganism share the belief in fate and that your life is already written out for
you as highlighted in the essay many instances of wyrd, belief in fate and gods
who influence someone’s destiny, takes place. Fate and is a common Christian
view as well. The Beowulf poem is a
great literary work that takes pagan heroism and adds a tinge of Christian
beliefs and symbolism.