Paganism In the story of Beowulf, there is a noticeable struggle between Christianity and Paganism, and the characters personal battle between the two.
After reading Beowulf the author clearly shows how Beowulf is a man who is filled with Christian customs and is willing to die and defend the world against evil using the help of God....
The heroic elegiac poem, Beowulf, is a reflection of many Anglo-Saxon ideals and concepts. This work was written after the Anglo-Saxons were already Christianized, yet the pagan traditions that had dominated their lives were still present in their minds. Overall, Beowulf contains many pagan themes and concepts, but yet it also contains many clear references to Christianity. It is an Anglo Saxon work with a �peculiar spiritual atmosphere.�
In order to evaluate the fusion of Christian ideas and pagan-heroic characteristics, the development of religion in Britain must first be considered. Originally dominated by the Celtic faith, Britain�s belief structure underwent a significant change with the conquest of the Anglo-Saxons and their Germanic paganism.
In these and the following centuries, Britain was gradually converted to Christianity. The Anglo-Saxons� Christianisation began in 597. This conversion and the expression of Christian ideas were founded on the existing pagan terminology and symbols, with pagan temples merely stripped of their idols and used as places for Christian worship. Christianisation involved the conversion of a king rather than the people themselves. It is in Beowulf, composed not more than approximately 50 years after this conversion, that we are able to find a vivid image of a society still struggling to establish their identity within a new belief structure.
The two major societies directly depicted by the narrator of Beowulf are the Danes and the Geats, of Southern Scandinavia, home to the epic�s hero, Beowulf. At first glance, the two societies seem completely converted to the Christian faith. Both Hrothgar and Beowulf, as representatives of their people, acknowledge the power and sovereignty of God in various instances. Regarding his people�s plight, Hrothgar tells Beowulf; � My household guard are on the wane, fate sweeps them away into Grendel�s clutches - but God can easily halt these raids and harrowing attacks!�.
Christian terminology is found in the speeches of various characters throughout the poem even regarding the final burial of Beowulf himself; ��then let us bring the body of our lord, the man we loved, to where he will lodge for a long time in the care of the Almighty.�
Both the characters Beowulf and Grendel represent aspects of both good and evil, Christianity and Paganism, and what occurs when they collide with one another.
Pagan customs are vividly portrayed throughout the poem. The Danes and the Geats nations practice crematory rituals as can be seen in the funeral pyres of the former Danish King Hnaef and of Beowulf himself; � The Geat people built a pyre for Beowulf, stacked and decked it until it stood footsquare, hung with helmets, heavy war-shields and shining armour��.
The heroic individual in Beowulf is subject to two main factors, one stemmed from the Christian and one from the pagan-heroic world. First of all, the hero depends on the attributes God has embodied in him, his physical abilities and prowess; � Beowulf was mindful of his mighty strength, the wondrous gifts God had showered on him�.
Janet Backhouse in her book The Lindisfarne Gospels, says that these gospels, written about 700AD, were made in north-east England “less than a century after the introduction there of Christianity” (Backhouse 7).
In the relation of his fights, Beowulf always acknowledges the powerful influence of God, both favourable and adverse. Beowulf admits himself that he could never have defeated Grendel�s mother without the aid of God. ��if God had not helped me, the outcome would have been quick and fatal.�
Various characters in the poem perceive God�s will as being a direct result of their own actions, and it is therefore that both Hrothgar as well as Beowulf ponder over a reason for incurring the Lord�s wrath when they are afflicted by a supernatural menace; �� the wise man thought he must have thwarted ancient ordinance of the eternal Lord, broken his commandment.�
On the other hand, it is courage and the resulting glory that governs the life of the hero and is celebrated in various speeches; after Aeschere has been killed and carried away by Grendel�s mother, Beowulf consoles the grieving king saying: �For every one of us, living in this world means waiting for our end. Let whoever can win glory before death.�