Religion plays a labyrinthine role in Beowulf. The two prominent types of traits in this epic poem are Christian and pagan. Christian traits describe a person who follows one deity, one God. Pagan traits describe a person who follows no one deity. Christian traits include: wisdom, unselfishness, and the ability to kill to protect. Pagan traits include: strength, courage, fortitude, and the belief in Fate.
Beowulf expresses the pagan trait of strength, which is displayed in the battles he faces against the various monsters. Beowulf wrestles Grendel with his bare hands, and tears his arm off. Beowulf is a firm myrmidon of Fate. Fate guides Beowulf's every move and every event. Beowulf shows courage in the way he goes into battle unaware of what will become of him. When Beowulf died against the dragon, he was cremated on a pyre along with some of his jewels. This burial ceremony is characteristic of paganism. Beowulf also demonstrates the Christian feature of unselfishness. Beowulf's unselfishness is manifested when he leaves his homeland in order to help Hrothgar vanquish Grendel. Beowulf also kills Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon in order to protect the Danes.
Hrothgar, king of the Danes, is very prudent in his reign. He allows Beowulf to come onto his land to help him against Grendel, instead of forcing Beowulf off the land. Hrothgar is also unselfish; he is very grateful to Beowulf for eliminating his heathen enemies. Hrothgar is a believer in Fate, he leaves every thing to be decided by a higher and stronger force. Hrothgar is a gentleman. He welcomes Beowulf with open arms and gives him and his men a great feast. Even though he is old, Hrothgar portrays great leadership in ruling his people.
Grendel, although a monster, has traits of his own. He kills in order to protect; he goes into Herot, Hrothgar's palace, and kills the men who was sleeping there. Grendel kills the men because they were having a festival, making numerous disturbances. He also wanted to protect his well-being. Grendel is revengeful; he kills the men because he wanted revenge for them ruining his peace. While Grendel was "feasting", he shows great strength in devouring his enemies. Grendel prowls along the floors of Herot, breaking the men's bones and ending their lives. Grendel shows the pagan trait of having a water burial. When he was struggling against Beowulf, Grendel ran away to the lake to die.
Grendel's mother, also, has a water burial. Beowulf fights Grendel's mother in a cavern near the lake, where he uses Unferth's sord, Hrunting. Hrunting dissolved in the water, so Beowulf grabs a sword from a mantle and cuts Grendel's mother's head off. Grendel's mother also kills to protect; she kills the men in Herot to protect her son. Grendel's mother does for the good of others by killing the men in order to let her son heal.
When Grendel was confronting Beowulf, he did not touch Hrothgar's throne because it was protected by God. Grendel was created by the monsters of Cain, who was banished for Abel's death. Grendel never knew God's love because of what happened to Cain. Also, while the two were fightring, Beowulf was fighting with his bare hands, because Grendel bewitched the soldiers' weapons so that they would not hurt him. Beowulf believed that Fate would guide his every move. Religion is a vital subplot to the overall understanding of Beowulf.