Religion in Beowulf

Religion in Beowulf

Beowulf is a portrayal of a stark of contrast between Christianity and paganism and was written in the eighth century A.D. it includes passages on human will and fate. Beowulf presents an early and intresting portrayal of two religious traditions: the newer beliefs found in Christianity and the old pagan beliefs of the Scandinavian.

The tale of the hero Beowulf is found in the old English work and tells about his encounter with three monsters. In the work, the first monster-Grendel, is described as being related to Cain of the biblical story (Cain slew his brother Abel and after that, he was forced to live life of a wonderer).

Grendel is thus considered as a wicked force of nature yet it is coming from the bible. This evident blending of the older Pagan traditions with the newer religion as an attempt by the anonymous author to justify Christianity when it was still in its early stages in England.

Pagan Belief is ineffective.

Beowulf visits the Danes with the effort to destroy Grendel, and from the poem, the Danes are described as having a pagan belief. These beliefs are evidently not as helpful as they might seem to be due to the fact that despite the gifts that they give to various sites and shrines, the trouble still hovers over the land because of the destructions of Grendel. The Danes thus does not have knowledge of the Christian deity, but rather a tribute to “the killer of souls”. The heathen Grendel is said to be going to hell after being defeated by Beowulf.

There are frequent reminders of the importance of the Christian deity in the poem. At many instances come statements like “The truth is clear:/ Almighty God rules over mankind/ and always has.” Also “he who wields power over time and tide, he is the true lord.” There are arguments that are still made as to which God or gods are the most valuable and successful to be worshiped.

According to the poem, there are many other factors which influence the unfolding of events. At the point when Beowulf is struggling with the mother of Grendel, he wavers a hand at which point he becomes victorious. In the poem, it reads “It was easy for the Lord, Ruler of Heaven, to redress the balance/once Beowulf got back on his feet.”

According to a translation from the Old English by Seamus Heaney, the line seems to indicate that there some degree of room for difficulty on the part of the lord to intervene if Beowulf did not do his part. There is also a strong notion of fate which coupled with the power of God. The word ‘wyrd’ which now according to the modern English is weird- is translated as event or fate in the modern English version of the poem (Paul 65).

The faith and courage of Beowulf can be seen throughout the entire poem. Beowulf repeatedly acknowledges God throughout the story. In the fight with Grendel’s mother, he mentions that the fight would have not ended well if God could not have been by his side. He goes further to state that “most often He has guided the man without friends (1.5)”, and it is also evident that there is some sense of mystical protection that can be seen permeating in his actions.

On the other side, there is also a strong sense that the protection of God must be earned and in order to do so, a warrior must first be true to his values, honesty, courage, pride, and humility, and it is only after all these is when one can win the protection of God. In addition to the provision of the earthly protection, there is also some sense that all the good of the earth, be it wealth or success, all are derived from God. An example is when Beowulf wants to fight with Grendel’s mother; he sees a great weapon hanging on the wall. But he never takes credit for this perception.

Work sited

Paul Cavil. The Christian tradition in Anglo-Saxon England: approaches to current scholarship and teaching. DS Brewer (2004)