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School essay on BEOWULF – “Fate and Faith”

19 Sep

            The name of the original bard to tell the story of Beowulf has been lost to the ages. Most information about the epic poem and those who passed it down over the centuries is pure speculation based on its content as well as known history. The primary faiths at work in Beowulf are Christianity and Paganism, which both seem to exist without one negating the other. The Christian figure of God is alluded to several times throughout the epic, such as His protecting the throne of King Hrothgar. Wyrd, or fate, seems to share authority with God, guiding Schild’s funerary vessel across the sea and governing who lives and dies.

Fate is unbiased and impassive: Beowulf is depicted as a strong, heroic figure, yet he meets his end with a fire dragon. To be sure, he was no longer in his prime at that point, but that goes to further illustrate that fate keeps things in balance, as opposed to taking “sides.” Grendel was a threat to the human population, and so wyrd allowed him to be slain, and after that, his vengeful mother was also dispatched. The dragon seems to have been a device to rid the world of Beowulf – not because he posed a threat to the demonic population at this point, but because his time on this earth had all but run out. The dragon was destroyed, too: it appears to have been a “use and discard” method of fate, similar to a modern water bottle or a dissolving pill.

God’s grace could also have been at work in the final stand. As previously stated, He seems to be working alongside the pagan fate rather than opposing it (as many others would have Him do) – He seems to have been involved in Grendel’s mother’s spawning as well as that of Grendel himself. Grendel is said to be a descendent of the Biblical villain Cain, the first murderer. Fallen beings, such as Lucifer becoming Satan, often physically transform God’s transgressors into grotesque creatures. While many people can somewhat picture a Western dragon, the forms of Grendel and his terrible mother are left largely to the imagination as “things from Hell.” Art has generally depicted them – mostly Grendel – as being like trolls or ogres: large, brutish, vaguely humanoid monsters, sometimes with scaly patches or horns or cloven hooves. While appearances are not everything, people often do judge others by them. In this context, however, it may be advisable as these beasts are clearly not of the Heavenly sort.

To this day, Christianity spites paganism as being associated with witches or demons. There may be more tolerance now, and hanging is not as common a thing as it once was, but as long as there are humans, it seems, there will be those who judge other beliefs. That being said, God and wyrd are in cahoots in this epic. It is not unlikely that there was a shift in beliefs from bard to scribe: the original poets may have been pagan, and the story may have reached monastery ears and been given Christian elements. If so, it seems to have worked out for the best, as it is a well-known tale which is read to this day.

This illustrates that two or more different faiths may cooperate to achieve great things, such as preserving one of humanity’s oldest recorded writings. Disputes constantly break out between cultures, often due to contradictory religions, but it is not rare for people who are different to work toward the same goal. God worked with wyrd; why should their followers not do the same?