Anglo-Saxon Belief in Fate and Christianity

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  • Topic: Anglo-Saxons, Germanic peoples, Religion
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The Unity of the Unknown and the Eternal Security: The Anglo-Saxon Belief

in Christianity and Fate Imagine a life in which one is simply a pawn at the

hands of a mysterious higher force stumbling and meandering through life's

tribulations. Until Pope Gregory the Great was sent to spread Christianity

throughout England, the Anglo- Saxons believed solely in this passive,

victimizing philosophy. These pagans still clung to much of their heathen

culture after the wave of Christianity swept through England leaving no one

behind. Literature derived from this period (including Beowulf, "The Seafarer,"

and "The Wanderer") directly reflects the maintaining of Christian ideals, as

well as the belief in fate's unknown and often grim path. For example, the epic

poem, Beowulf , declares, "...Fate will unwind as it must!" (line 284).

Meanwhile, the same work implies God has the authority in this great world

by stating, "And all his glorious band of Geats/Thanked God their leader had

come back unharmed," (598-599) as if God was the deciding factor in the

great protector's health. The joining convincedness in God and fate influences

the culture, outlook on life, and the various independent life paths of Anglo-

Saxons. These early Germanic people believe "fate"- an anonymous power -

controls the present, future and past; yet, they also believe the power of God

is a resolute supremecy not to be denounced. Our earliest warriors put aside

their heroic independence and let wyrd's foreign agency control their views

and their lives' paths time and time again. These pagans even allow destiny to

influence their view of life which was fatalistic and desolate. "The Wanderer"

proves the Anglo-Saxons had little to live for and much to fear as it tells the

tale of an anonymous man stripped from his gold-lord. This literary work

illustrates stoic solitude and grim hopelessness by using phrases like, "...what a

bitter companion/Shoulder to shoulder sorrow can be,"(lines 26-27) and

"Wretchedness fills the realm of earth," (98). Along with their outlook on life

as a whole, fate controls the pagans decisions and lack there of. "The

Seafarer" shows an example of the Anglo-Saxons submissive role by voicing

the story of a sailor suffering through hardships because he was meant to be a

sailor and is drawn to the familiar sea. The sailor explains his painful lifestyle

by stating, " soul/Called me eagerly out..." (lines 36-37) implying this

harrowing lifestlye is not a conscious choice, but more of an obligation to

something other than his mind and heart. Even the bravest warrior fell victim to

this unsafe and unpredictable fortress. Beowulf, who is "...-greater/And

stronger than anyone anywhere in this world, " (110-111), explained on his

deathbed that "Fate has swept our race away,/Taken warriors in their strength

and led them/to the death that was waiting. And now I follow them."

(834-836). The destiny pagans face is often sorrowful, beguiling and unfair.

While Anglo-Saxons' lives are consistently at the mercy of destiny, they are

still very influenced by their value of Christian ideals. Although these pagans

believe fate is a force beyond their control deciding life's every turn, they also

believe loving, honoring and obeying God will result in salvation and eternal

happiness. These seemingly 'new' joys of God intrude their views on death,

peace, humility, warfare and life in general. Christianity eases the vicious

warriors' conduct and morale. Religious civility plays a key role in the

softening and decrease of battles. "The Seafarer" reflects the Anglo-Saxon

belief that depending on one's religious actions, heaven is one's reward and

death one's punishment: "Death leaps at the fools who forget their God./He

who lives humbly has angels from Heaven/To carry him courage and strength

and belief." (106-109)....
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