Within the poem “Beowulf”, the narrative tone conveys a struggle between Christianity and Paganism. The poet explores the two beliefs, throughout. Christian behaviors are shown when the characters pray to God and thank him. Also, there are biblical references to Cain and Able. Grendel, the monster, is descended from Cain. The Geats and The
Danes see Beowulf as a god. They turn to God to save them from evil. Yet, many of their actions do not coincide with being Christian. As it is with humans, still.
The warriors are always killing for revenge. Reputation is the only form of immortality. Beowulf speaks about fame and fortune and how that’s what he wants. Greed is a Pagan quality – a punishable sin to Christians. Also, Beowulf went to battle with an ogre, a sea witch and a dragon; all pagan creatures. Some of the people were heathens. They had a “heathen hope.” They did not pray to God. Also, the warriors celebrated victories with huge feasts and lots of beer which is not exactly Christian behavior, i.e. greed and gluttony.
Beowulf believes in fate, another pagan element. He believes in and has confidence in God, yet he thinks fate will tell who wins the battle. There are two sides to Beowulf. Beowulf did have God within him, when he was battling Grendel. That is why he had the strength of thirty men in his one hand. Here, Christianity proves stronger than Pagan beliefs. Beowulf is able to defeat Grendel. He pulls Grendel’s arm off, at the socket, mortally injuring him. Grendel goes back to his swamp to die. Evil defeated, more feasting and beer drinking ensues. Not for long, though. Evil lurks.
Grendel’s mother comes, seeking revenge for her son’s death. Beowulf slays her as well; in her sea cave. He cuts her head off with a sword made for a giant. Blood flows everywhere and up through the water. He decapitates Grendel’s corpse, for good measure. Again, Christianity overcomes Paganism.
One more time, late in life, Beowulf defeats a dragon, but not without being mortally wounded by the dragon’s poison. This is how Beowulf lost his life. He turned out, of course, to be but a mortal.
I choose the element of Paganism to study further because the text made me curious. The poem sways toward the Christian ways, in a pagan time. I know about Christianity. I don’t know much about Paganism. I always thought that being Pagan meant worshiping nature, which appeals to me. This poem equates being Pagan with being evil aka not Christian. That is not how I see it. My favorite lines were about the land and see. I appreciate Mother Nature. My favorite lines from the poem come from a visualization of nature, before the arrival of Grendel:
“and braided bright the breast of earth
With limbs and leaves, made life for all
Of mortal being that breathe and move”
This is my idea of religion.