Christianity vs. Pagan Beliefs in Beowulf

Christianity vs. Pagan Beliefs in Beowulf

Thesis Statement: The article compares the usage of Christian and traditional Pagan beliefs in the epic poem Beowulf, provides their examples and analyses them.
Table Of Contents

  • Introduction: Symbolism of Beowulf and Grendel and the main conflict in the poem
  • Character’s belief in God’s will
  • Grendel’s connection to Paganism and the Devil
  • Examples of Pagan elements in Beowulf
  • Conclusion: Is the contradiction between Pagans vs. Christians really solved in the poem
  • Work Cited

Although there are many examples of Pagan beliefs in the poem Beowulf, the poem points more toward a Christian influence and meaning. Beowulf is seen as a God to the Geat people, and they turn to the Almighty to save them from evil. Grendel is portrayed as a “monster of Cain” and lives underground. He represents the darkness of the Pagan beliefs, as well as Hell. The battle between good and evil – between Christianity and Pagan beliefs – is continued throughout the poem. Hrothgar and the Danes seem to be protected by the Almighty.

Grendel would not go near Hrothgar’s throne because it was protected by God. When Hrothgar is talking to Beowulf before Beowulf goes to fight Grendel, he says, “Surely the Lord Almighty could stop his madness, smother his lust! ” Beowulf also says that God will decide who dies. They believe in God and his power to control the outcome. Grendel was created after the Lord Almighty drove out all of the demons and the demons split into forms of evil, forever opposing the Lord’s Will. This would explain why Grendel was powered by the hatred of God.

Whenever he terrorized Herot, some people turned to the Devil for help. They were heathens, and prayed to the old stone gods. Up until his battle with Beowulf, Grendel could kill his victims easily. However, Beowulf had the Lord on his side and was more powerful, easily killing Grendel. This proves that Christianity was more powerful than the Pagan beliefs. Grendel and his mother represent Pagan beliefs in the poem Beowulf. The main example is that they live underground, and the lake above their home was described as a “fiery flame”.

This is just like Hell. Grendel is referred to as a “shepherd of evil, guardian of crime” in the poem. For twelve years Herot stands deserted because of the fear Grendel put in people. He represents all things evil and malicious. Towards the end of the battle between Beowulf and Grendel, the poem stated that you could hear shrieks of the Almighty’s enemy in the darkness. Grendel is also referred to as “hell’s captive” before he dies. This makes it seem like Grendel did not choose to be evil, evil chose him.

All of the kennings refer to Grendel and are a part of Pagan beliefs. Grendel’s mother was the same way. Whenever she battled Beowulf, she could not be injured in her home. Her evil character was her shield. Then, the Holy God sent him victory and gave judgement for truth and right. When Grendel’s mother was also slain, there was a light as bright as Heaven’s own candle. Once again, Christianity overcomes Pagan beliefs. Beowulf often refers to fame and says that is all he wants. This is a Pagan belief.

Wryd is also a Pagan belief and is talked about in the poem as well. Wryd means fate, and Beowulf believes that fate will determine who wins the battle. Although he believes in God and has confidence in His existence, he also has a few Pagan characteristics. One of these is greed. To Christians, greed is punishable by sin. Beowulf is extremely greedy for fame and fortune. He genuinely does want to save his people, but he wants them to remember his name more than that. Grendel and his mother often refer to revenge and the drinking of blood, which is also a Pagan belief.

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There has been much debate over whether the author of Beowulf meant for the poem to be a Christian poem, or was originally a Paganistic poem that has turned into a Christian story. There are many influences of both Pagan views and Christian views in the character of Beowulf. He is seen as a Paganistic superhero, but also as a god to the Geat people. Grendel and his mother are seen as monsters, but with human qualities, which is a Pagan view. However, the poem claims that God decided their fate and that is why they were slain. Therefore, the conflict between Pagan and Christianity beliefs is not really ever solved in the poem itself.