Beowulf: The Blend of Christianity and Paganism
The captivating poem of Beowulf written in the Anglo Saxon time period, is a renowned tale of a heroic warrior and the events that lead us to his death. This epic piece of writing was written in the eighth century, and displays many different surroundings and religious beliefs. During this time period, society was in the process of converting from Paganism to Christianity. By combining these two very different beliefs, the poet was able to emphasize the principles of his era by enhancing the qualities of the Pagan and Christian lifestyles. Some may believe the story of Beowulf portrays pagan beliefs or costumes, and others believe that the poem is more in agreement with Christian ethnicity. Beowulf is essentially a Christian story, showing us that earthly gifts come from God, and that mans survival depends on the protection of God ultimately making him a Christ-figure. But by putting together these two very contrasting beliefs, it was possible for the principles of the poets era to be enhanced by the qualities of both Pagan and Christian lifestyles. He also incorporated these two concepts of fate to promote a system of monarchy where power is passed on through heirs as apposed to the most common system where the strongest and greatest warriors claim the throne.
There are many Pagan influences in the poem of Beowulf. Many of these fit under the superhuman personifications that were given to some of the lead characters. Beowulf was a hero to many of the Herrot people. He had many of the characteristics of a Paganistic superhero. In the first battle against Grendel, Beowulf chose not to fight with weapons, but instead to fight with his extraordinary strength. This same strength is seen again when Beowulf fights the dragon. Although he is of very old age and he still has enough strength within to defeat the evil forces of the dragon. In many pagan stories, the dragon, Grendel and Beowulf represent the rivalry between good versus evil. Another instance in which a pagan strength is brought into the poem, is when Beowulf dives into the lake to reach Grendel's mother and swims without oxygen for days. This passage in the epic poems points out how Beowulf has another superhuman power aside from his strength and how he was blessed with heroic attributes and duties that ordinary humans would not be able to undertake. The poem basically shows us how Beowulf was blessed with heroic duties and qualities that ordinary humans would not be able to take on.
Although the poem seems to have many Paganistic values it also reflects many Christian beliefs. Throughout the poem there are also numerous references to Christianity, mostly referring to God (aka The Almighty). These references are shown right from the begining of the poem. The story starts with Grendel hearing the bard telling the story of creation. The reader hears how the Almighty has made the earth and all that is beautiful, and full of life. "The Almighty making the earth, shaping these beautiful plains marked off by oceans ... made quick with life"(7-12). This shows how God has given his people great gifts like the earth they live on, and the most precious gift, life. Also in other situations it is made obvious where the concept of God is to give his people gifts. This is shown when Wiglaf find the dragons treasure during Beowulfs last minutes of life. Here Beowulf visibly thanks God for his grace in giving him the treasure. This once again shows the Christian influence in the poem because Beowulf recognizes the importance of God in his life. In this poem, like mentioned before, Beowulf represents a Christ-like figure. He was brought to help aid the Danes in their fight of good versus evil. This shows a comparison between two similar situations. When Jesus came to save the Jewish people, Beowulf came to help the guiltless Danish, hoping to save them from Grendel. Both Christ and Beowulf continued to fight the evil forces of nature, even though they realized of the challenges that would face.
Another display of Christian influence in the poem is how the people believe in the protection of God. This is first seen when Grendel dares not to touch Hrothgar's throne because of its protection by God. This is also seen when Beowulf is speaking about fighting Grendel. He is not afraid of the beast because he says that God must decide who will die in this fight. This shows how Beowulf has faith in God because he knows God will protect him, or if he dies it will be with honour. This is also seen when Hrothgar is speaking about what Grendel has done to his people. "Surely, the Lord Almighty could stop his madness, smother his lust!"(212-213). This portrays how Hrothgar has faith in God's protection because if nobody can defeat Grendel, God will protect Hrothgar. Undoubtedly this shows the Christian influence in this poem. Drawing parallels between Grendel and Satan also displays Christianity. Grendel is referred to as a demon and a fiend throughout the poem. He is the epitome of evil and is associated with the family of Cain. "Conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain, murderous creatures banished by God, punished forever for the crime of Abel's death"(20-23). This is a clear Christian reference straight out of the Bible. Grendel's lair is also similar to hell. The water at his lair burns like a torch at night symbolizing the fires of hell. Grendel's lair is where evil lives and thus is like hell.
The Christian elements affect what was essentially a pagan story. In the original pagan poem, Beowulf was a man of extra ordinary human strength. It was by this superhuman power that Beowulf was able to defeat the malice Grendel. Through the pagan ideals superhuman powers are given to supernatural characters. The Christian elements of this poem tell us how man can only survive with the intervention of God and that all earthly possessions ultimately come from the Lord. The pagan sense of this poem shows the heroic side of man with pride and a desire to rise above all and be known among future generations. The Christian fundamentals say that it is not our pride and our wealth that we should hold on to, but that wealth through God's divinity that we should share with all.
The epic poem of Beowulf reflects somewhat of a universal conflict that all people can relate to. All human beings are called to fulfill life goals and destinations. This lifelong journey begins with a simple departure from the simple present life to a complicated life that is ahead. It is a call to adventure and certain willingness to set out in search of new fixations. The combination of such different beliefs and values, really shows us the difference between Pagan and Christian lifestyles. The author of Beowulf was very effective in combining pagan and Christian ideas in his poem. The technique of combining two different ideals made the poem very interesting to read. In mixing Christian and pagan ideas, the poet of Beowulf was able to emphasize the morals of his time and to enhance his characters with Christian values and pagan legends.