It is now December, dark and cold. Children in town make snow angels, which Grendel notices as he goes to the meadhall at night. He feels that some event is coming and feels afraid. Grendel watches one of Hrothgar’s bowmen hunt a deer. He watches the deer die and the image sticks in his mind. He says he senses “some riddle in it.”
As Grendel senses some important event approaching, the simple death of the deer sticks in his mind as a reminder of his own mortality. Like all creatures, Grendel is simply gradually moving toward his own death.
Grendel observes some priests near the meadhall praying to a ring of icons of their gods. They sacrifice a calf. Grendel sees the priests’ rituals as mere showmanship. He notes that the weak humans observe the rituals, while the strong ones ignore them. He recalls once having destroyed the images of the gods. Only the priests were upset, and the icons were rebuilt.
The humans’ religion is another example of their systems of theories and beliefs. But even many humans don’t really believe in the priests’ gods.
One dark night, at midnight, Grendel sits in the center of the circle of the icons. The humans are all asleep, but an old priest comes near and hears Grendel. He asks who Grendel is, and Grendel responds that he is the priest’s god. The priest is terrified and bows down to pray, introducing himself as Ork. Grendel asks him what he knows about the king of the gods. The priest offers his ideas about the gods and goes on and on with his theories, weeping, to the amusement of Grendel.
Like Unferth, Ork is a human whose commitment to his beliefs allows Grendel to manipulate and play with him. Grendel is amused at the ridiculousness of Ork’s theories and religious beliefs.
Ork moans, shaking violently, and presents two axioms: “things fade” and “alternatives exclude.” He continues to preach and theorize, while Grendel thinks of what to do with him.
Ork’s abstract ideas that reduce to two extremely broad and vague aphorisms recall the philosophical language of the dragon. Both the dragon and the humans’ priests offer systems of belief that attempt to make sense of the world (the difference is that the humans think there is sense in the world, while the dragon sees the foundation of the world as being meaninglessness).
Three other priests arrive. Grendel narrates a dramatic dialogue of what follows. The priests ask what Ork is doing. Ork tells them that he has talked with the king of the gods. The other priests don’t believe him and try to get Ork to go back to sleep. A younger priest arrives, who believes Ork and is persuaded that Ork’s beliefs are correct, but Ork ignores him. Grendel’s bloodlust is put off by the priests’ conversation.
The other priests’ reaction to Ork satirizes their beliefs to some degree. Not even the priests, who are supposedly committed to their beliefs, believe in Ork’s encounter with a god. And when the younger priest does believe Ork, Ork does not seem interested in having a follower. His supposed breakthrough in his religion and understanding of the world causes no real change or effect. All the humans go right on believing the different things they believed before encountering their "god."
All the men but Unferth are asleep. As Grendel doesn’t usually raid in the winter, he heads back to his home. He has a vision of himself hanging by the roots of an oak, looking down into an abyss, but then he is in the woods again and reasons that it was only a dream.
Grendel’s vision symbolizes his brief, unimportant life, as expressed by the dragon. Though conscious of the void of eternity that renders his life meaningless, Grendel still clings to his brief, individual life, like the roots of a tree overlooking an endless abyss.