Paganism and the flood destroyed the tribe of giants.

Paganism
and Christianity remain closely tied throughout the poem. It is startling how
those two warring beliefs co-exist in this poem. The ‘wyrd’, which means fate
is another pagan belief present in ‘Beowulf’. Just like it was Grendel’s fate
to be slain, it is believed that it is Beowulf’s fate to be taken down with the
dragon, as he went against his ‘wyrd’ controlled by the three norns who were
believed to have the destiny of God and humans in their hands, “… and for the
first time in his life that famous prince fought with fate against him…”
Another pagan overtone that we encounter is the hilt of Beowulf’s sword called
Huntring. The sword was believed to be alive and had runes all over and
messages addressed to the pagan gods. As Hrothgar examines the hilt, he realizes
that it was a “relic of old times. It was engraved all over and showed how war
first came into the world and the flood destroyed the tribe of giants. They
suffered the terrible severance of the Lord; the Almighty made the waters rise,
drowned them in the deluge for retribution.” Here again, a Christian doctrine
gets mingled with paganism. This is a direct reference to the story of Noah
found in Genesis 6:5 whereby God saw that “man’s wickedness was great on earth”
and had to wipe the wicked.

The
all encompassing power of God is highlighted many a time in the poem. After the
fight with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf declares that “the fight would have been
over at the start if God had not guarded me.” He thanks the Lord through these
words “to the everlasting Lord of all, to the King of Glory, I give thanks that
I behold this treasure here in front of me, that I have allowed my people so
well endowed on the day I die.” (Beowulf, Heaney, P.109) Christianity seem to
be the principal backbone of the poem here but paganism remain nonetheless
highly present. Rituals and customs of the pagans are clearly seen in the poem.
Aoife Moloney states in his essay “The Danes and the Geats nations practice
crematory rituals as can be seen in the funeral pyres of their former Danish
King Hnaef and of Beowulf himself; The Geat people built a pyre for Beowulf,
stacked and decked it… with helmets, heavy war shields and shining armor.”
R.G Owen interestingly points out in his book how pagans believed that those
whose wealth would be needed in the afterlife. The ship burial performed for
King Scyld was also a common pagan practice. The ritualized offerings to
wayland the smith by the Thanes is yet another aspect of paganism to be
considered.

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In
his article ‘The Pagan influences in Beowulf’, Johnson points out “Beowulf’s
Pagan side is his invincibility.” His over confidence is seen when he says, “…
my hands alone shall fight for me.” The critic argues that Beowulf has fallen
into the pagan trap of pride and he enhances this idea by using the hero’s
words “They have seen my strengths for themselves, have watched me rise…”
Johnson continues “The bible states that you may enjoy the righteousness but
not gloat about it.” Ride is condemned in Christianity and in the Greek tragedy
of Sophocles, ‘Oedipus Rex’, it is even considered as ‘hubris’, which means a
tragic flaw, leading to downfall. The Christian philosopher St. Augustine
attacks this flaw in his work ‘City of God.’ Even Hrothgar warns Beowulf
against the danger of pride, by telling him that our life is “loaned” and in
the end, it “Weakens and falls doomed.” There is also an allusion to the Ten
commandments found in the bible when Hrothgar uses the phrase “he covets” while
warning Beowulf against selfishness. Another presence of Christianity in the
poem is the cardinal sins of the characters according to Erica Hurley in her
article ‘Christianity in Beowulf.’ Grendel embodies gluttony. “Greedy and grim,
he grabbed thirty men,” while “his mother represents wrath and the dragon
represents avarice or greed.” (2015) Grendel’s mother is “driven to avenge her
Kinsman’s death” (1340) while the dragon, referred to as a “hoard-guard”
represents the deadly sin of greed.

Instead
of pointing our attention to which of paganism or Christianity is more ubiquitous
in the epic poem, let us focus on appreciating the queer co-existence of those
two warring beliefs in the same narrative while they provide the reads with
opportunity to dig deeper into the intricate roots of religion followed by the Anglo-Saxons.