Beowulf – Religion and Anglo Saxons
Though “Beowulf” focuses much on the life story of the character Beowulf and his great heroic feats, the unknown author of this epic poem often references respectively ideologies that are contained in the Pagan and Christian religions. This may have been due to the author’s beliefs or the beliefs of the Anglo Saxons. It is debatable, but it is perceived that these religions have major impacts on the people of this time, strong enough to make an appearance in the poem.
Christianity and Paganism are extremely similar but are ultimately different in their customs and beliefs. “Let your sorrow end! It is better for us all to avenge our friends, not mourn them forever! Each of us will come to the end of this life” (1384-1387). This explains that it is of great significance to avenge your fallen comrade, not come to an abrupt stop of combat, but instead to fight even harder. This was very popular among Pagans due to them not wanting their brothers in battle to die in vain, if they died in vain, they’re afterlife would not be pleasant.
The concept can fall in line with Christianity also because Christianity also supports justice. This point is important relevant because the author fuses these together displaying the similarities. The reason for this is Paganism and Christianity were the major influences of faith during this time period. An example of all this is when Beowulf avenges Aeschere’s death, which could possibly mean Beowulf was a strong believer of this. Paganism is strong in this culture, but Christianity has a strong presence.
We care about this due to the fact that Beowulf was the first piece of literature written in English, or “Old English. ” This style of writing would influence writers over the centuries. The Anglo Saxons were already exposed to Christianity but still held and practiced the traditional Pagan Values and ideas. Whenever the narrator describes the heroic feat of a man, the narrator references God’s will and power, explaining God’s power enabled this to happen.
This could mean the author thought more deeply about these Christian values and took them into account. This is displayed when Beowulf exclaims he will fight Grendel without armor or sword, because he believed God would assist him during this encounter. Also Pagan ideologies are also displayed during scene because monsters are seen as common figures in Pagan stories. On the contrary, it is said that Grendel is a “God cursed brute,” and is a descendent of Cain, again displaying the Christian influence.
Over time Pagan beliefs were mostly overthrown by the overwhelming Christianity uprising. This is important because as we all know, Christianity has the most members around the world, and it all started in Europe, where Beowulf takes place. Though Christianity was making appearances, Paganism was still the dominant faith. Pagan beliefs are most often seen when describing Beowulf’s powers. Several examples include when Beowulf wields super, unnatural strength to fight many of his opponents, including Grendel and his mother and the Dragon.
Christianity makes a hint of an appearance towards the end of the book, when Wiglaf sort of gives Beowulf his last rights, which is a Christian practice; when he tells Wiglaf to gather the treasures. But this is followed up when Beowulf’s burial ceremony is hosted, when he set off into the ocean in a shrine like boat. This is a great Pagan value. In Beowulf, Pagan beliefs are perceived and expressed than Christianity’s. This does not mean that Christianity does not have an influence during this time period, if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be mentioned in the poem.
It feels like the author knew Christianity would outlast paganism someday, it may have been because since Beowulf was the strongest man known to live, that he will strongly carry those Christian values with him and pass them on. The last important main idea is the influence on the Anglo Saxons. If this poem had reached the Anglo Saxons in a personal way, it is possible many aspects of today’s society would be different. This is because many ideas like the ones of faith were spread to different cultures during this time, and they were spread across the world.