Religious Faith and Cultural Memory in ‘Deor’

Yesterday, I wrote this post about Deor. I would not have had the idea of talking about the poem in terms of Fate and Providence had I not read the introduction to it first. Upon reflection, that makes the post a bit impersonal for me, so I thought I would write this follow-up so that I could record a few of my own impressions about it.

Deor’s kindly nature is very striking. Despite the fact that Heorrenda has succeeded him as their lord’s favourite, he is still able to acknowledge that his rival is ‘a man expert in poesy’.

The way Deor is able to write ‘That passed away: so may this’ shows that as well as being kind, he is also contemplative – something that often leads to wisdom. Is Deor wise? That, perhaps, depends upon whether one agrees with his argument or not. What no one can doubt, however, is that he is a thinker, perhaps even an intellectual.

I mention the above especially because the Anglo-Saxon period is often called ‘The Dark Ages’. While it is certain that western civilisation suffered greatly for the collapse of the Roman Empire*, men did not become brutes.

In my opinion, Deor proves this in two ways. Firstly, through his Christian faith, which gives him hope for the future, a hope that is based on faith rather than violence. And secondly, through his adherence to cultural memory.

By ‘cultural memory’ I am referring to Deor’s recollection of the stories of Weland et al, which forms the basis of the poem. His act of remembrance allows Deor to sync his tribal past and religious present, which enables him to make sense of the former and enrich his understanding of the latter.

Had Deor no knowledge of his tribal history he could still have engaged with his Christian faith but only on a more shallow level. It would have come to him as something ‘other’, a part from the life that he knows, and thus more easy to ignore, reject, or misunderstand. And if that had happened, a retreat into the more violent practices of his former way of life would have followed.

* That is, its western half

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