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A field of barley in England

Beowa, Beaw, Beow, Beo or Bedwig is a figure in Anglo-Saxon paganism associated with barley and agriculture. The figure is attested in Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies, where Beowa is listed as the son of Scyld and the grandson of Sceafa. Connections proposed between the figure of Beowa and the hero Beowulf of the poem of the same name and English folk song figure John Barleycorn.



Beow is the Anglo-Saxon word for barley. Amongst others, Beowa descends from Sceafa, the Anglo-Saxon word for sheaf. The noun beow parallels with Bygg, the Old Norse word for "grain." In relation, comparisons between the figure of Beow and Byggvir (attested in the Prose Edda as a servant of the god Freyr) have been made.[1]


A consensus among scholars is that there is a distinct connection between the mythical figure of Beowa and the legendary Beowulf. As both characters possess many of the same attributes, it has been suggested that "a god Beowa, whose existence in myth is certain, became confused or blended with Beowulf."[2] It is possible that the scribe who wrote the copy of the epic which comes down to us succumbed to this confusion: at the beginning of the poem, there is a figure "Beowulf" (not the Beowulf of the title) who shares many properties with Beowa. Several modern scholars therefore emend "Beowulf" in this part of the poem to "Beowa."

Kathleen Herbert draws a link between Beowa and the figure of John Barleycorn of traditional English folksong. Herbert says that both Beowa and Barleycorn are the same, noting that the folksong details the suffering, death, and resurrection of Barleycorn, yet also celebrates the "reviving effects of drinking his blood."[3]

See also


  1. ^ Alexander (2002:28).
  2. ^ Lawrence (1909:249).
  3. ^ Herbert (2007:16).


  • Bruce, Alexander (2002). Scyld and Scef: Expanding the Analogies. Routledge.
  • Herbert, Kathleen (2007). Looking for the Lost Gods of England. Anglo-Saxon Books. ISBN 1-898281-04-1
  • Lawrence, William Witherle (1909). "Some Disputed Questions in Beowulf-Criticism" PMLA, Vol. 24, No. 2

Preceded by
Legendary king of the Angles Succeeded by


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