Beowulf Pagan or Christian Epic
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 pass that the Dane-folk gathered in the heathen temples. And there, they offered sacrifices to their idols” (p.388). Instead of praying to the Christian God for support, they
make sacrifices to pagan idols.
A second pagan reference concerns the monster Grendel. Grendel is a fierce and
loathsome creature who roams the moors and despises all people and their pleasures. He is the enemy of everything pure and true. The monster is known for his taste for human flesh and for drinking the blood of his victims. “That frightful fiend drank down his [Beowulf’s] war-comrade’s blood and then devoured him piece by blood-smeared piece” (p. 394). In the Christian belief system, the drinking of any type of blood of any kind is specifically forbidden. “Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood--I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people”. Beowulf is more troubled by Grendel’s larger actions of destruction rather than the breaking of this Christian belief. Although it is the evil force rather than the good and pure hero that participates in the drinking of blood, the inclusion of the practice adds to the pagan undertones of the story.