Beowulf: Pagan or Christian Epic?
Although the story of Beowulf is filled with references to religion and faith, many discrepancies occur throughout the story that suggest that Beowulf is not a Christian epic. The character of Beowulf frequently speaks to God and obviously believes in His existence. However, pagan practices are mentioned in several places. Beowulf often refers to another being rather than the Christian God. Pagan practices of cremation and blood-drinking are included in the epic. There are also frequent allusions to the power of fate, the motive of blood revenge, and praise of worldly glory. All of these aspects make Beowulf a pagan tale with a few Christian elements.
A key pagan reference in Beowulf is the entity Wyrd. “Now if Wyrd, Ruler of All, will permit, my stout sword will sing its greedy war-song....Wyrd always weaves as it must”. The Christian tradition clearly states the existence of only one supreme entity. It also states that anyone worshipping “false idols” is subject to punishment. If Beowulf was truly a Christian, he would not call to Wyrd for any type of assistance. One might argue that referring to Wyrd as “Ruler of All” suggests that this entity is the Christian God. But “God” is referred to throughout the epic. “For Grendel bore God’s anger...Mighty God rules mortals forever!”. These are two separate entities that serve different functions throughout the epic. A true Christian tale would not include any other “God” or all-powerful being rather than the one true God of the Christian teachings. The story also mentions that Hrothgar and his people make sacrifices to idols in an attempt to overcome the monster Grendel. “And so it came to pas...
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In conclusion, the epic tale of Beowulf is a pagan tale with a pagan hero. Although there are Christian images throughout the tale, the story is clearly pagan in nature. The Beowulf poet portrays the culture and people by separating the main ideas like a prism does with light. Although there are the Christian references surface throughout the tale, a look at the epic as a whole clearly shows its true pagan nature. No matter which end of the spectrum you are looking from, all the ideas prove that pagan concepts and principles prevail over the values of Christianity. It is shown on countless occasions through the material rewards, earthly fame, false idols, and burial practices. In the end, the separated lights in the prism come together and become one. This array of light in Beowulf is ultimately the strong presence of a pagan hero and a pagan culture.
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