The Search for Gungnir
With a sense moral obligation, this essay will dispel the theologically based Old Testament interpolation of Christian references to the “Almighty,” as a means of restoring the period’s authenticity and mystic potential, with regard to the epic poem Beowulf. The sole written record of the great English Epic still in existence, transcribed by monastic priests, dates back only to the later portion of the Early Medieval period (500 – 1000 A.D.). Due to this lack of textual reference, as well as theological biases, much of the rich Germanic and Nordic history has been editorially removed; however, due to the cryptic and initiatic nature of the ancient society, the monk(s) who presented the modern world with the epic, were unable to identify, and therefore remove, the totality of the pagan influences within the text. Thus, upon close examination of the culture surrounding Beowulf, there emerges ever steadily, the appearance of the pagan All – Father, (Odin) rightful King to the Germanic and Norse peoples.
According to Germanic and Norse cosmology, Odin arrives during battle, throwing his spear Gungnir; thus, declaring the victor. In accordance, three specific passages will be dealt with in this examination of pagan influences within Beowulf, which denote the appearance of Odin, and his willful – way in determining the outcome of battle. Appropriately, the visitation of lines 1223 – 1228, 1615 – 1617, and 2573 – 2586 will be pursued in hunt of the rune [ᚨ] Ansuz.
Due to the fact that there remains only one copy of the Beowulf text, it is difficult to make definitive conclusions, acceptable to all parties. However, using a broader scope of reference, one which includes literature of the same time – period and culture, one can surmise that the lack of reference to the All- Father within Beowulf, is peculiar, irregular, and inconsistent with the literature and culture of the time period. As a matter of textual support, The Saga of the Volsungs, having established dates correlating to that of Beowulf, represents one such example of the unquestionable integration of Odin within the literature and culture surrounding the oral – tradition of Beowulf. Likewise, there arises numerous instances where the All – father dictates the outcome of battle. One such example can be seen when Hjalm – gunnar engages in a battle that “Odin had promised [him] the victory” (Byock 67). With such an obvious proliferation of Odin within the culture surrounding the Volsungs and thereby, Beowulf, it must be inferred that the original oral tradition of The great English epic was in fact congruent with the culture’s sagas and prominent religious traditions, that pre – date Christianity. The next task will then be to reveal the remaining, non – direct reminisces of the All – father, that were mistakenly missed when being eradicated by the church.
Within the text of Beowulf, there arises three incidences when a famed war – sword fails or disappears in the wake of its use. With regard to this essay, it will be argued that the treatment of each weapon in question, suggests the appearance of Odin. Furthermore, that Odin also dictates the outcome of the battle in which he has appeared.
The first textual appearance of Odin comes with lines 1223 – 1228. Accordingly, the audience discovers Beowulf’s “battle flame would not / bite through to kill” (Chickering 137). This marks a very peculiar instance, due to the fact that, “in many hand – fights / it often had carved through strong helmets, / mail – coats of the doomed. That was the first time / a word could be said against the great treasure” (137). Therefore, the audience becomes aware of the great history of the blade, Hrunting, lent to the great warrior by Unferth. The text makes it clear that the famous war – blade has championed many great victories in its time. Baring the prowess of the sword in mind, the question must be raised: what does the failing of Hrunting, in its battle with the lady Grendel, denote or insinuate? The answer will reveal what has been suppressed by monastic influence for over a thousand years, the appearance of the All – Father. A sword of such renowned, and a wielder of such skill would not be prone to shattering his prized weapon. The failing of Hrunting signifies something extreme and foreboding, since it leaves the warrior defenseless. Therefore, the failing of the war – sword is not a plot device, but rather a symbol of Odin’s presence during the battle.
Next, in the same scene with lady Grendel, the text divulges the Giant – sword, which Beowulf uses to behead the enemy. However, after the use of the “victory – bright blade,” the weapon does not endure: “Already the sword had melted away, / its blade had burned up” (143). This curious disappearance of the sword, which slays the Grendel, must confer a significant source of power. The Giant – sword succeeds where even Hrunting fails, thus denoting the substantial power of the magical object. Therefore, the melting of the sword must be an incident of highest importance. The sudden appearance of the Giant – sword remains a mystery to readers. In particular, the weapon’s “uncracking edge,” and “magic” quality of the blade (Chickering 139). The fact that the sword is “uncracking” creates a curious paradox when, after battle, the same weapon melts away. This mysterious appearance and disappearance, therefore, must be considered an act of divine intervention. Consequently, based on the culture and literature surrounding the epic, the one who dictates the outcome of battle must be invoked. Hence, Odin’s presence must be acknowledged.
Yet another instance where a battle – sword breaks can be observed in the third section of the great epic. Likewise, Naegling, the token given to Beowulf by King Hygelac to celebrate the well – tested warrior’s (Beowulf) great deeds in his battle with the lady Grendel. Again, the text acknowledges an “heirloom sword” that fails in the dire heat of battle (Chickering 203). This can be not mistake of coincidence. To the contrary, Beowulf accepts that “fate did not give him glory in battle” when faced by the dragon in the third episode (Chickering 203). This “fate,” that the sword would fail “in need,” points to the final appearance of Odin in the literary text of Beowulf. Irrefutably, the poem dictates that the weapon broke “as it never should have, his [Beowulf’s] best blade” (Chickering 205). Beowulf, being “renowned and brave,” would without dispute be the owner of weapons magnificent in quality and make. However, just as with Hrunting and the Giant’s – sword, Naegling is destroyed in battle. These three instances cannot be overlooked as mere happenstance. Once again, drawing upon the conventional cosmology, religion, and social beliefs of the culture surrounding the great epic, it should be concluded that Odin, the “god of storm and war,” decides the fate of each battle within Beowulf. The physical representation of the appearance of the All – father can be understood within the context of the unusual circumstances surrounding the failure and breaking of three tried and trued weapons.
It is with and by the various battle – weapons that Beowulf’s victory or death in battle becomes secured. In Beowulf’s encounter with lady Grendel, the failing of Hrunting is only rectified with the appearance of the Giant’s sword, which produced victory in battle. Also, with the failure of Naegling, the audience again bares witness to a blade, which is responsible for the outcome of the conflict. These war – swords are no mortal objects, being inscribed with magic, runic symbols, and even, in some cases, “made by giants” (Chickering 139). Rather, they are divine gifts and creations, forged by a magic more powerful than mankind. Thus, the failure of the weapons, in the hands of such a skilled warrior, can only denote the intervention of the divine, Odin.
From this point, it becomes necessary to treat the purposeful breaking of weapons as a sign of the appearance of Odin. As it has been noted, there are no direct references to the All – father within the sole remaining text. However, knowing the sings of the appearance of Odin, one can, without a direct reference, understand when the All – father has arrived. Looking toward the text of Norse Myths, it is revealed that Odin acts as the “god of storm and war” (D’Aulaires 72). Furthermore, armies would call “loudly to Odin, praying for the victory that he alone could bring” (73) Therefore, The All – father serves as the one who “would quickly decide who was to win” a battle, signified when Odin would “throw his spear” (73). Additionally, the All – father, “always tried to make the better warrior win, but sometimes it was a hard choice, especially when good men were fighting one another” (73). Applying this to Beowulf, it becomes possible that Odin could dictate the outcome of Beowulf’s three battles. Furthermore, with each adversary of Beowulf, the “good[ness]” of the enemy increases; likewise, the warrior’s task becomes more difficult. Grendel’s attacks are without question unjust, and the victory is awarded to Beowulf without even the use of a steel weapon. The lady Grendel, however, attacks in an act of revenge, dictating her action as slightly more justified. Finally, the dragon represents the most valiant and noble opponent of Beowulf. Thus, it can be concluded that Odin, recognizing the two character’s greatness, decides to give victory to both parties; thus, both Beowulf and the dragon perish by each other’s own power.
Consequently, an inherit connection exists between Odin and the outcome of any battle. Furthermore, when Odin appears, his presence is made know with a physical representation, in the case of Beowulf, the breaking or failure of a weapon. With this established, the fragmented interpolation of the great English epic can be reunited with its original narrative coherence and purity. In light of this gross misapplication of the oral tradition of Beowulf by the monastic priest(s), it thereby becomes a necessity that the literary codex surrounding the epic be rewritten, using historical and cosmological sensitivity and standard. With the framework of the plot in place, the poem must be re – treated and reunited with its Germanic and Norse origins, which would exclude any reference to the Christian God. Fate within the text Beowulf, represented as “the judgment of God,” must be re –applied (Chickering 221). With regard to the text, (Beowulf) there are several runic references which would pre – date the Beowulf tradition, placing the epic in a period prior to the creation of Christianity. The text reveals, “boar plates,” a “rune – counselor,” a “battle – rune,” “boar – figures,” making any reference to the Christian tradition false interpolation of the text (133, 125, 79, 67). Instead, “the light tap on his shoulder” by the mighty Odin must be re – established within the text, if audiences are to ever derive the epic’s trure, rich and mystical depths (D’Aulaires 73 ).
Byock, Jesse L. The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer.
Pengin Books: London, 1990, Print.
Chickering, Howell. Beowulf: A Dual- Language Edition. Anchor Books: New York, 1977.
D’Aulaire, Ingri; D’Aulaire, Edgar. Norse Myths. New York Review of Books: New York, 1967.