Discussion Question: How does the poet mix Christian and pagan elements, especially beliefs and habits?Â
In Beowulf, the author incorporates elements of Christianity and paganism by using the charactersâ€™ beliefs and habits to show how the people use religion to react to different situations. Â Â The author establishes a chief Christian tradition for the Danish people but also suggests a slight conversion to paganism during troubled times, which indicates that although Christianity is recognized and accepted, paganism was the back- up religion for society.
The characters of the poem often thanked the Lord for blessings and for successes, but acts differently when the situation changes.Â The poet implies that the Danish people claim to believe God as the â€œAlmighty Judge of good deeds and bad, the Lord God, Head of the Heavens and High King of the World,â€ (180-82) and constantly refers to God for the reason behind problems.Â The poet indicates that the reason the creature Grendel is an evil demon from hell is because he is a banished monster along with the rest of Cainâ€™s clan, all of which â€œthe Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcastsâ€Â (106-07). Godâ€™s judgment is the reason why Grendel is banished.Â The poet uses Christianity to explain how Grendel came to be and uses Christianity as the basis of the peopleâ€™s beliefs because God is conveyed as having answers to questions.Â However, the people are shown to worship pagan deities instead when God has not provided an answer or outcome.Â When the time came where Grendel attacked the people of Heorot, they turned away from God and instead, at â€œpagan shrines vowed offerings to idols, swore oaths that the killer of souls might to their aid and save the peopleâ€ (175-78). The people worshiped pagan deities instead of the one God that they have once depended on for understanding.Â Â The poet uses this example from Beowulf to show that although Christianity is the main tradition that people have depended on, they still have tendencies to turn to paganism and pray to pagan deities, hoping to be relieved from their problems.Â Both the aspects of Christianity and paganism are in the minds of society.
After Grendel was defeated, the poet expresses that Beowulf had won because of the â€œwondrous gifts God had showered on him: he relied for help on the Lord of All, on His care and favorâ€ (1271-72). The poet reveals how the people thank the Lord again and not the pagan deities that they were praying to earlier.Â God was thanked because he had provided gifts to Beowulf so Beowulf could win over Grendel.Â God is once again an understanding and answer to how Beowulf beaten Grendel. Â Â This habit they have reflects how people tend to switch between Christianity and paganism when they are in trouble.Â They relied other gods to get an answer or solution to Grendel, but once the problem is gone, they revert back to Christianity to thank God for giving power and being the judge.
The poet uses the characterâ€™s tendencies and beliefs to mix in pagan and Christian elements.Â Although the Christian tradition seems to be well established and incorporated into daily lives, when Grendel attacked, the people chose paganism over believing in God. Christianity may be recognized, but paganism still stood as a back-up for people to depend on.
Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney.Â The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed.
Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012. 41-108. Print.