Beowulf, A Precessional Myth - Copyright © Roy Taylor 2009

The Saga of Beowulf, in brief

I have promised this paper for the New Year just passed but barely had time to write anything down. At last, I have managed to get down the main features of my discovery, that the Saga of Beowulf is a precessional myth. Every part of the Saga yields to an astronomical reading. The final paper is still in preparation, complete with all necessary sky charts to prove my point. In the meantime, this preliminary paper outlines my findings. Please forgive the late delivery, I hope to have the final paper ready for end-June 2009.

Beowulf's story

Before we look at the skies for an explanation, let us first look at the hero himself and his adventures.

  1. A Danish king, Hrothgar, has built a magnificent new mead hall, meant to be the wonder of the world.
  2. No sooner is it built than a monster from the marshes starts taking away and killing the King's nobles.
  3. Beowulf, a warrior of the Geats in southern Sweden, on hearing of these affairs, gathers a band of warriors and sets off to help.
  4. Our hero learns of the monster Grendel and goes out to give battle. After a long and arduous struggle Beowulf prevails and kills the demon. He cuts off one of Grendel's claws as a trophy and takes it back to the mead hall where he fixes it high in the roof for all to see.
  5. Before long, nobles and warriors are once more being taken or killed, this time by Grendel's mother demon, outraged at the killing of her offspring. Once more Beowulf springs into battle, eventually defeating the 'troll-dam'.
  6. Beowulf is treated to a warrior's triumph and his fame spreads far and wide.
  7. In his old age, Beowulf hears of problems again in Denmark - a dragon has awoken and is spreading terror across the land. He heads back to deal with this new terror. After another great combat he defeats the dragon. Like all dragons, it guards a hoard of treasure.

The poem is worth reading as an adventure in its own right without regard for inner meanings. However, certain features of this saga suggest that it has an additional reading for those who understand the language of myth.

The new mead hall

Tales of palaces being destroyed were a metaphor for the ending of a world age. A well known story from the Bible is about Samson, who pulled down the palace of the Philistines and killed their nobles. The same idea has surfaced in similar myths around the world.

We need to refer back to the paper on this site describing precession and the solstices and equinoxes. Those four points of the year, winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice, and autumn equinox, represent a structure. That structure lasts for as long as the spring equinox sun rises in the same constellation, that is just over two thousand years. Currently that constellation is Pisces, and in a couple of hundred years it will be Aquarius. Each time the spring equinox rolls onto a new constellation the whole structure changes. The annual round of festivals may be based on that equinox so a whole new rota will be required when the constellation changes.

From this I deduce that our Anglo-Saxon scholar meant that the Danish warrior king Hrothgar had built a new mead hall for the new age. The old gods were dying with the old world, but the new mead hall, symbolic of the new age was still populated with them. Something had to remove them, so what better than a monstrous demon who could carry them off thirty at a time.

The battle with Grendel

Our hero goes out to battle the monster that has been dragging Hrothgar's nobles to their death. The result of this titanic struggle leaves Grendel dead at the bottom of his hellish lake, and Beowulf triumphant. Our hero breaks off Grendel's claw as a trophy and pins it up high in the Mead Hall for all to see.

In mythic terms, a major character disappearing beneath a lake or the sea implies its celestial representative is, due to the shifting of the celestial poles, slipping beneath the celestial equator. A constellation called Scorpius is quite prominent on the southern horizon. It has a baleful red giant star, Antares, in Scorpius' tail. From northern Saxon regions, like England, a good proportion of the constellation is below the horizon, yet it is one of the zodiacal constellations.

Checking with my planisphere it took only a few moments to see that Scorpius' position in relation to the celestial North Pole means that as the Pole tracks around due to precession, then Scorpius will move further south and beneath the celestial equator. Thus it drowns in the mythic waters. And will continue to do so for several thousand years. A further check with RedShift planetarium software showed this quite plainly. Scorpius is also a clawed creature who can lose one, and its shoulder, as a trophy to Beowulf.

Grendel's mother

This creature had me stumped for some time and I nearly abandoned my quest. Reading and rereading the Saga yielded no clues, and I assumed she must be either Cancer, or Capricorn, focused as I was on zodiacal constellations. Referring back to my planisphere, I wanted a constellation that had somehow preceded Scorpius in these situations. Grendel's mother also has ancient associations, according to the Saga, that reach back to the earliest Biblical times. Then I noticed a small constellation adjacent to Scorpius called Lupus, the wolf. It too had been 'drowned' because of precession, entering the mythic waters just before Scorpius. When I checked its mythic associations I knew I had struck gold. Rereading the Saga I then found a reference to her as a "wolfish-swimmer". (Look for the dog and you'll find a myth with an astronomical meaning.)

It is hardly surprising that a Christian scholar should express such loathing for this hell-dam as Lupus represents the ancient pre-Christian world and its pagan beliefs. Lupus has associations like Pan and fauns, and its Roman festival survived quite late into the Christian era.

A dragon arises

Long after Beowulf has returned home, a dragon arises to cause trouble for the people. Though an old man he returns to do battle, suffering a fatal blow while defeating the creature. In a previous paper I show that the dragon is the polar constellation Draco, and the symbolic battle is one to wrest the Celestial North Pole from Draco's grip. The fact that it can only be defeated by a blow to a single point may well refer to the crossing point of the Celestial North Pole as it precesses across Draco.

Conclusion

Every one of the main sections of the Saga of Beowulf yield to an astronomical reading that concurs well with the precessional language of mythology. That an Anglo-Saxon Christian scholar of the late Dark Ages could have access to such knowledge should tell us that those times were not so dark after all. An ancient body of astronomical knowledge had survived the collapse of western civilisation and had been embedded in one of the greatest pieces of literature of the old English language.


 HOME