Early Anglo-Saxon religion had heavy Norse influences with an emphasis on a warrior culture. When Christianity was first introduced with Jesus Christ depicted as the Savior of mankind- he must have paled in comparison to the native Norse gods such as Thor, the god of thunder or Balder, the Sun god who were beloved and accomplished warriors. The dreamer in “The Dream of the Rood” describes Christ as “The Hero young begirt Himself, Almighty God was He”. (“The Dream”, 38) But how is “hero” defined?
“Definition of Hero:
b : an illustrious warrior ;
c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities;
d : one who shows great courage” (Merriam-Webster)
“…Then saw I mankind’s Lord/Hasten with mickle might, for He would sty upon me” (“The Dream”, 32-33). This quiet resolve is truly a courageous deed and that he did so to redeem mankind is noble. Norse heroes charged into battle with weapons raised high but this Christian hero sacrificed himself.
Sacrifice to a god was quite common in pagan religious practices in order to bring about various good effects, such as a fertile harvest. The most common sacrifices were animals and it was only on rare occasions that a human being was killed. It was unheard of to hear of Gods willing to sacrifice themselves for mankind.
“…which Almighty God suffered upon/for all mankind’s manifold sins/and for the ancient ill-deeds of Adam./Death he tasted there, yet God rose again/by his great might, a help unto men.” (“The Dream”, 98-102)
The sacrifice of Jesus, presents to us an unspoken spiritual battle against the sins of mankind and mankind’s desire for repentance personified by the reversal of goodness and sin, with Christ’s body as the manifestation of mankind’s sin and the actions of his torturers as repentance. With the death of Christ (mankind’s sin) and his subsequent rebirth (mankind’s salvation) the battle was won. This sort of battle is typical of Christian symbolism since it is not a physical one but a metaphysical one.
There is more symbolism that was originated in paganism but has been incorporated into Christian mythology. An example of a pagan belief adopted by Christianity was the narration by the tree. This personification was common in paganism in which the trees were thought to be the slumbering spirits of the forest unless their knowledge was sought out. Legend has it that the dogwood tree was once able to grow large and tall like an oak but it was appalled for having been used as the cross that killed Christ and now bears the markings of the crucifixion and no longer allows itself to grow that large again.