Beowulf’s Secrets

Beowulf has been studied from many angles. But few have seen Beowulf as a critical cultural reference to the ancient European mind and culture that still haunts our Modern Western Culture today.

Beowulf has been attributed to original Saxon sources possibly laid down in story in the 6th century. This would make Beowulf a relic of the European myths that spawned it and not as closely associated with Britain as most have thought.

However, Beowulf is much more than a “victory myth” or hero-worshipping tale. It is both a Patriarchal hero-tale so common among the Germanic and Scandinavian people, but like so many Greek myths, an amalgamation of earlier myths and cultures the Saxons would have come in conflict with in the previous centuries. For Grendel’s mother and the dragon represent relics of non-Germanic myth, and clearly represent the Matriarchal myths of the enemies the Saxons conquered and encountered as they invaded other lands, including those of the British Isles.

In fact the tragic end of Beowulf fits the pattern of what I call the “Ancient Earth Mother Cycle” of the year, including the birth and death of the Sun at the Winter Solstice, when the two sons of the earth mother, the light and dark, the Green Knight and the Dark Knight, battle for dominion over the earth. The Dark Knight slays his twin brother and is victorious for one half of the year until his brother reigns again supreme in spring. This is the classic cycle of the sun we see in so many myths and faery tales. The same conflict can be seen in Beowulf when he slays the Mother’s son Grendel but then is forced to face her in her cave. Slaying her fits the classic story of victory in Patriarchal myth. Yet the end of Beowulf later suggests he has become the Mother’s other Grendel, and the Earth Mother who is eternal has not died, but has changed masks to become a serpent to slay the shining son on the Winter Solstice whose yearly cycle is now complete with the Sun-hero’s death.

You will notice that she is responsible for both Grendel’s and Beowulf’s deaths. For the Earth Mother controls the cycle of life and death in these myths. You see a similar tale among the Vikings in the story of Frigga and her cursed son Baldr who is another Beowulf “light hero type”, representative of the Sun in Northern European Myth, and who perishes. His mother Frigga tells the secret that her son would be slain by mistletoe. So does the more modern tale of King Arthur in conflict with Sir Lancelot for Gwynnevere fit the Earth Mother cycle.

Its the Sun’s death in myth by the Earth Mother’s hand that is the secret ceremony in the British and Irish Celtic Winter Solstice celebrations. For the Sun cannot return unless it dies and is reborn from her. As May Day and Beltaine represents the celebration of her as new virgin and he as her bright lover, so she becomes the hag at Halloween to devour his dark twin.

This cycle in Beowulf thus matches the Sun’s disappearing on the Winter Solstice and reappearing to give life and light again in January, but to tragically die again at the end of the solar year by a dragon; the same theme that we see in all these tragic stories of hero battles and death that must form a yearly cycle of conflict. For this was the secret meaning both the Britains and the Saxons saw in Nature and in the cycle of the Sun each year, why Stonehenge was raised long before them, and why the story of Christ was modified to fit this same theme over time, giving new meaning to an ancient theme.

Its the redemption and resurrection of the world and the life-giving Sun in the Northern Hemisphere that is the hidden theme in not just Beowulf but all of Western Culture that fills our story arcs in fiction, in movies, in our holidays, and in our religions. We do not see it but need to understand and embrace it. For it explains our success and our failures, the fatal view of life we often have, and the often conflicted cultural views we embrace that more equatorial cultures do not understand.

For the story of Earth Mother and her Dark and Light Sons – Grendel and Beowulf – is the secret source of meaning in these ancient tales and why they have unconsciously stirred the imaginations of Western people for eons. Their mythological connections to the Earth and Sun have filled our culture for ages, far beyond the later hero-worship and victory-myths of the Germanic invasions from the east that came much later. Though the male hero of Beowulf still dominates our Patriarchal Societies and government systems we now live under today, the Earth Mother still subverts Western Culture to her purpose, revealing the older cycle of tragedy, death, sacrifice, and spiritual rebirth that still fills all our movies, books, and culture.

– EM Stokely, September, 2018



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