Religious references in Beowulf
Abraham Kabazie October 10, 2013 Religious Aspects in Beowulf Mr. Morgan Numerous references of Christianity can be found within Beowulf. Christian beliefs clash with pagan traditions and legends to form a unique style of writing that existed during the time period. God is mentioned frequently with a variety of different labels. Characters also remark upon biblical stories, giving the epic poem a relevant Christian vibe to it. But as much as Christianity is publicized to the reader, pagan rituals are sensed equally as much. While contradicting religious practices are both present in poem that was most likely written down by a Christian monk, many wonder why the content never changed throughout the centuries. These aspects all create a peculiar quality to the story as it progresses. The conflicting religious aspects affiliation greatly affects the personalities of the characters in Beowulf. Christian references throughout Beowulf are used in a story originating from a pagan culture. These connections to Christianity only exist because of the monks who originally transcribed the poem onto paper. The most prominent apostolic implication is simply the many references to God.
God is tagged with various titles such as “Eternal Lord”, “The Almighty Judge”, and “Head of the Heavens” and sometimes as blatant as “God”, “The Almighty”, and “Creator”. Biblical practices and references are also found throughout the writing of the poem. The story of Cain and Abel is the most relevant. It is tied in with the very history of Grendel. Grendel and his mother are the descendants of Cain, making Grendel a part of a larger religious scheme of evil and murder. Another major biblical affiliation is that of Beowulf and Wiglaf. Wiglaf was the only man who fought with Beowulf that did not flee.
This connects with the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, who was the only apostle not to hide and face Jesus. These biblical connections are mixed with the pagan customs that were practiced in the culture of people during the time of Beowulf. The original author of Beowulf was obviously a practicing Christian, adding many religious flares to the poem, but surprisingly, many pagan aspects were kept. These pagan rituals are often mentioned in verses right alongside Christian indications. Revenge is a leading element to atheistic belief found in Beowulf. “It is better for a man o avenge his friend than much mourn” (45). Vengeance was a part of the principles of the Anglo-Saxon way of life. The Christian-pagan content, though read side-by-side, is never blended together, but is interchanged like a switch. When the people were being terrorized by Grendel early in the poem, they are told to have fallen back to the worship of the gods, rather than God. The funeral of Beowulf is also noted to be a pagan ritual; he was cremated (cremation did not become an acceptable practice in Christianity until recently). These traditions of pagan culture clash with the Christian beliefs added to the oem. Pagan tradition conflicts with Christian beliefs throughout Beowulf. Many questions arise from these differing customs being read together. A Christian author clearly transferred the spoken Beowulf to paper, but the writer kept the atheistic aspects of the story even after adding a Christian influence. The writer left these pagan customs to allow the reader to understand the culture of the characters. Without this information kept in the poem about paganism, the story would become very unbalanced. Many aspects are based on the rituals of the Anglo-Saxons and would not make sense ithout the knowledge of these practices. Beowulf also possesses a type of heroic code that the characters live by. This code is not a code that Christians would live by without defying their morals. This code involves avenging a fallen warrior’s life or killing as many enemies as possible to gain power. These are immoral to Christians and would prohibit them to practice it. Although, there are good qualities that one can take from this body of ethics. Characters also believe that fate controls the lives of everyone. They do not accept that people choose how their life is lived. Beowulf says “fate often saves the ndoomed man when his courage is good” (34) God has given man free will, therefore, what will happen to man is not controlled by fate, but it is controlled by God. Beowulf is a very cultural poem. It tells about the customs and rituals of the Anglo-Saxon traditions. Christianity gives the story a back-and-forth facet that has the characters trusting in different ways in which they act throughout epic. This religious battle adds to the drama of the plot. This contradicting belief shed light on the culture not only at the time the story is told, but when it was written down as well.