Monday, July 26, 2010

Rediscovering Beowulf: a Consciousness-based Education Approach

Beowulf the warrior, who fights the man-killing monster, who fights the dragon. Beowulf, the epic Old English poem, "among the first vernacular poems in English literature," the archetypal story of the hero's quest.
I am re-reading Beowulf, this time on my nook e-reader, reading the Barnes and Noble Classic edition translated by John McNamara, copyright 2005.

I will be teaching the poem this next school year and have taught it to past classes of British literature, but this time I will be teaching the poem within the context of Consciousness-based Education. This time, the questions "Why should we read Beowulf?" and "Of what value are the lessons embodied by the poem?" are demanding more of my attention.
  • The first idea that struck me was that Beowulf was written during a time of phase transition, the movement of the English culture from the early Anglo-Saxon "pagan" values to Christian values. The modern world is in the midst of great change with new concepts evolving about our relationship with the environment, technology, consciousness, global communities--basic questions of "Who am I?" that are central to Consciousness-based Education.
  • Another idea is that even though Beowulf is about a warrior engaged in battle, the story is not just about fighting; rather, it is a story about upholding one's core values. It is the story of inner strength manifested as outer martial prowess. Having values and being willing to "walk the talk" is important to any society or time period.
  • Finally, central to Beowulf is the relationship of purity and sanctity to the health of the society. The hero embodies those qualities that define the society. Beowulf's qualities of bravery, loyalty, righteousness (as defined by the era's standards) are powerful discussion questions. "These truths we hold to be self-evident . . ." are words from the United States' "Declaration of Independence." What better discussion to have with our world's future leaders than what is important, what is worth supporting? What better conversation about values to have in a Consciousness-based Education classroom than what truths are evident to the Self?
Beowulf is about standing up against evil, of making a stand. This is a universal value, the idea of standing one's ground, of defending sacred territory. Whether it is Beowulf defending Hereot, Arjuna choosing the side of righteousness, or Babe Ruth pointing his bat to the outfield fence, we can all be moved by the idea of standing up for what is right. Beowulf seeks to affirm for its audience those values that are necessary for the survival and evolution of society.

The world of Beowulf is a male-dominated world where safety is determined by the strength of the chieftain/king and his band of warriors. We all have our circle of friends, and who more than high school and college students are beset by the forces of exploitation and insidious commercialism? To be surrounded and supported by like-minded friends and family within the a shared group consciousness of nurturing, life-supporting ideals is a powerful basis for a successful life.

I think I've found the Consciousness-based angle of introduction: not the action but the thought behind the action; not the thought but the purity of mind from which the thought arises.

"Hail! We have heard tales sung of the Spear-Danes . . ."

Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


  1. I have yet to read this epic. I'll certainly look out for the points you have highlighted when I get round to reading it.


  2. I found the explanatory and background essays by the translator to be very insightful in the translated edition I linked to this post.