Pagan Elements
1- "I have avenged the evil deeds, the slaughter of the Danes, as it was 
     right to do" [Norton,48]. 

    This quotation contrasts with the Christian belief of "turn the other 
    cheek." According to Abrams, "Relatives who failed either to exact 
    wergild or to take vengeance could never be happy, having found
    no practical way of satisfying thier grief for their kinsman's death"
    [Norton,23]. For the medieval warrior, it was honorable to avenge his
    murdered kinsman. When vengeance could not be taken, payment
    was to be exacted (wergild). 

    It is interesting to note that even in modern times, wergild still exists
    in the form of the civil court system. Even though a man could escape
    capital punishment, he can still be sued in  civil court for monetary and 
    compensatory damages.

2- "At times He lets the thoughts of a man's high lineage move
    in delight, gives him joy of earth in his homeland, a stronghold of
    men to rule over, makes regions of the world so subject to him, ..."

    Hrothgar is reciting a lesson to Beowulf, so that Beowulf may 
    understand how a good ruler should behave. In this passage,
    Hrothgar is explaining how Gd ("He") makes certain men of
    "high lineage" rulers of other men. In most religions, all men 
    are created more or less equal and in the image of Gd. The pagan
    belief that Gd has chosen some men to be rulers over other men
    goes against Judeo-Christian beliefs.

3- "...the guest slept within until the black raven, blithe-hearted, 
    announced heaven's joy" [Norton,50].

    The raven, a pagan symbol in Norse mythology, was the messenger
    for the mythical war king Odin, father of Thor. 
    According to 
    The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer:
    The fatal raven, consecrated to Odin, the Danish war-god, was
    the emblem on the Danish standard. This raven was said to be 
    possessed of necromantic power. The standard was termed Landeyda
    (the desolation of the country), and miraculous powers were attributed 
    to it. The fatal raven was the device of Odin, god of war, and was said
    to have been woven and embroidered in one noontide by the daughters
    of Regner Lodbrok, son of Sigurd, that dauntless warrior who chanted 
    his death-song (the Krakamal) while being stung to death in a horrible
    pit filled with deadly serpents. If the Danish arms were destined to 
    defeat, the raven hung his wings; if victory was to attend them, he 
    stood erect and soaring, as if inviting the warriors to follow.

    The necromantic powers, or "black-magic", allowed the ravens to 
    communicate with dead spirits and therefore predict the future.
    Brewer continues: 

    The two ravens that sit on the shoulders of Odin are called Hugin 
    and Munnin (Mind and Memory). One raven will not pluck another's 
    cyes out (German, ``Keine krähe hackt der anderen die augen ques'').
    Friends will not ``peach'' friends; you are not to take for granted all
    that a friend says of a friend. 

    This passage seems to imply a duality of mind and brain, where one
    cannot succeed without the help of the other. It is interesting to 
    note this distinction in Norse mythology, considering that questions
    concerning brain/mind duality continue to exist. For example, is there
    a distinction between mind and body, or does the brain simply furnish
    our sense of spirit? In Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett's book 
    The Mind's Eye, a compilation of thought provoking essays on metaphysics
    and computer science, there is an essay that proposes a simple 
    experiment in order to provide the respondant with an interesting 
    perspective on the subject: Ask yourself the question "Am I 
    a brain, or do I have a brain?" The writer advises the respondant
    to answer in the way that is most comfortable. Most people tend to
    easily respond that they have a brain. Therefore, the question
    is "What are we that have brains?" From the above passage, one
    can make the suggestion that the Norsemen may have made this 
    brain/mind distinction.

* Raven clip art from T/Maker Company - Royalty Free Usage

[Main page |Important Concepts, Places and Things |Important Characters ]
[Christian Elements |Reflections |Citations ]
[Other Related Links |Information about the authors ]