The Dream of the Rood
“The Dream of the Rood” is a poem portraying an Anglo-Saxon Paganistic view of Christ as he died on the cross for our sins. Much is seen in the triumph of Christ’s victory, the battle of good over evil, and the significance of the oak tree and cross. According to the text, the cross and the tree experience a vast amount of emotion throughout the entire crucifixion. This was common for this era, due to the fact that natural physical objects play a heavy role in the pagan worship. Victories, battles, heroes, warriors, and dying an honorable death are not only important to this society, but play a major role in the shaping of this poem. Many of these themes can be seen in terms of the sacred worship of the tree as it is transformed into the cross, pagan religious characteristics of Christ, as well as the differences between modern Christian views of the crucifixion versus the Anglo-Saxon view of the crucifixion.
In many religions, the tree is seen as a primary symbol of worship. Many such symbols include: the Cosmic Tree, the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Death. The Anglo-Saxon Pagan religion is said to have relied heavily on tree worship and giving it spiritual value. In the Anglo-Saxon culture, the tree that is transformed into a cross is the symbol of Christianity while Christ simply is on the cross, but in modern Christianity Jesus is the symbol of Christianity as he hangs on the cross. The Dream of the Rood exemplifies this Paganistic element of the medieval time period. “‘Others…refused to accept the pure teachings of the Church in their entirety…’ ‘some continued secretly, others openly, to offer sacrifices to trees’” (Willibald, Boniface and the Oak of Donar). The Dream of the Rood uses this clear idea of tree worship to symbolize the importance of the cross being transformed from the tree into what it symbolizes. “The temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed” (Bede, EH, I.30). Idolatry is the idea of giving a physical object a spiritual connection with God; in other words, using that object as a representation of God; therefore, destroying such an object would be a sin to the people. In The Dream of the Rood the idol or sacred tree is depicted as the main character and God-like image. “‘I saw glory’s tree honored with trappings, shining with joys, decked with gold…’ ‘Strong fiends seized me there, worked me for the spectacle; cursed ones lifted me…then fixed me on the hill; then saw I mankind’s Lord come with great courage when he would mount on me. Then dared I not against the Lord’s word bend or break” (“The Dream of the Rood”, Lines 15-16, 33-36). The poem is showing the Paganistic idea of their spiritual connection with the trees by making the tree the main character of the poem and giving it actions and emotions. The tree gains strength as Christ mounts it to be crucified. The tree was equally as important to the people as Christ was because it was the cross that was made from the tree that Christ died on.
The Dream of the Rood gives very clear characteristic of Christ throughout the poem. “The young hero …I lifted a mighty King… stood in our places after the warrior’s cry went up” (“The Dream of the Rood”, Lines 39, 44, 71-72). The poem clearly characterizes Christ as not only a hero, king, and man, but a warrior-like figure.
Christ’s depiction as warrior-like is a main difference that is portrayed between the modern Christian view and the Anglo-Saxon Paganistic view. “With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen, open malice wounds” (“The Dream of the Rood”, Lines 46-47). According to the text, the cross was experiencing all of the pain and suffering; however, according to modern view, Christ the nails were driven through Christ as he suffered the pain and agony in front of everyone. “Then they worked him an earth-house, men in the slayer’s sight carved it from bright stone, set in it the Wielder of Victories. Then they sang him a sorrow-song” (“The Dream of the Rood”, Line 67). This example portrays two clear distinctions between the two views of Christ’s Crucifixion. According to the text, Christ was given a burial very similar to one of a night or warrior of the medieval time period. During this time, warriors were meant to be honored during their burials; Christ’s tomb was made of bright stone and he was sung a song before departing the tomb. Modern view depicts the burial as something simpler and more passive as his body was simply wrapped and placed into the nearest tomb. This example also exemplifies the difference in the view of the outcome of the crucifixion. According to The Dream of the Rood, Christ is victorious; this goes hand-in-hand with Christ being depicted as warrior-like. During the medieval time period, it was an honor for a warrior to die in battle as it portrayed him as victorious to the people. This depicts Christ as not only being warrior-like, but brave and heroic. The modern Christian view does view Christ as victorious to an extent; however, it is more of a passive and forceful crucifixion rather than voluntary heroic, brave, and depicted as a battle.
Christ also experienced a vast amount of humiliation prior to being led to the cross according to modern view. “They put a purple cloak on him: ‘Hail, kind of the Jews!; Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Then they knelt down and paid homage to him. When they had finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak” (Mark 15:16). The people mocked Jesus as a king and humiliated him. “The young hero stripped himself – he, God Almighty” (“The Dream of the Rood”, Line 39). According to this text, Christ was simply stripped of his clothing. The Anglo-Saxon view puts more emphasis on the cross’s emotions throughout the poem versus Christ’s emotions in such circumstances as the humiliation and beating that took place.
There are many clear distinctions between the Anglo-Saxon Paganistic view and the modern Christian view. Some of the Paganistic views remain in modern Christian view today, such as Christ depicted as victorious. The people view Christ as a victory over sin, as he died for our sins on the cross. “All there beheld the Angel of God fair through predestiny” (The Dream of the Rood, Lines 9-10). Many Christian modern views still believe we are born pre-destined and our fate is already chosen for us. The Anglo-Saxon view was very much the same in terms of the Rood being a part of the eternal plan from creation to the future. With the differences being portrayed, one remains the same; Christ died for the people on the cross and is honored for that noble deed each and every day.
“The Dream of the Rood.” Ed. Jonathan A. Glenn. 8 Feb. 2006. Web. 22 Sept. 2011.
Bede, . “Pope Gregory’s Letter to Abbot Mellitus.” The Ecclesiastical History of Bede.
Web. 22 Sept. 2011. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/bede-book4.asp>.
Willibald, . “Boniface and the Oak of Donar.” Ed. D L. Ashliman. Web. 22 Sept. 2011.