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Old 01-20-2010, 11:20 AM   #1
skip spence
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Imagine no religion

This isn't my subject but looking at our cultural history I imagine it's very hard to find a single human civilisation or even tribe who hasn't got any religious beliefs, symbols, rituals, superstitions etc they share and find meaning in (obviously discounting modern secular states or where religion is officially shunned or forbidden like in the communist states).

Yet in Middle Earth, among the peoples described in LotR, there hardly a sign of religiousness of any kind and no-one makes any reference to any divinity or lesser spirits, direct or indirect. Well, there's Faramir looking West before eating, but that's it, to my knowledge.

Why do you think this is?
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Old 01-20-2010, 11:44 AM   #2
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I'm not sure. When an Ithilien Ranger, seeing a Mumakil, cries : "May the Valar turn him aside", that sounds pretty religious to me.
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Old 01-20-2010, 11:46 AM   #3
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Eru Ilúvatar is the Prime Creator in the mythos. I think it can be said the Elves and Dúnedain at least worshipped him. The Elves, at least the Noldor and Sindar we see, were followers of the Valar, who were the 'governers' appointed by Eru, so they worshipped him by proxy. The Avari probably did too, since by the time of the Second Age, at least, they were mostly led by Sindarin rulers anyway.
The Dúnedain in Númenor worshipped Eru directly on the Meneltarma, as far as I know the only people to ever do so. It seems to me they did so because, unlike the Eldar, they had little to do with the Valar, who were the intermediaries between Eru and his Children. That tradition apparently was not continued in their Realms In Exile, but they had not forgotten the Valar, or the One. There is a mention of Dúnedain appealing to the Valar in LOTR. Mablung, or Damrod, I don't recall, said this when the oliphaunts appeared in Ithilien:

Quote:
'Ware, ware, the Valar turn him aside!'
And what of the Oath of Cirion to Eorl the Young at Elendil's tomb?

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'This oath shall stand in memory of the glory of the land of the Star, and of the faith of Elendil the Faithful, in the keeping of those who sit upon the thrones of the West and of the One who is above all thrones forever.'
The Dwarves would have given their attention to Aulë, again another proxy for Eru.

As to whether there was any organised worship, there doesn't appear to be outside the practices of the Númenóreans.

The Shire-folk make no reference to knowledge of the Valar or the One, and I don't know if that speaks to mere ignorance, as they had become ignorant of so many things in Middle-earth, or something else.

x/d with The Mouth of Sauron, who noted the same quote from one of Faramir's men
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Old 01-20-2010, 12:11 PM   #4
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Oh it's always humbling to know that no matter how much you think you know about Middle Earth there's always folks here who know much more. I had totally forgotten about the Mumakil and Oath references.

But okay, the key here, it seems, is knowledge. The Elder know that Manwe sits with Elbereth on Taniquetil and they know of the One by proxy. The Eldar in turn have educated the High Men with the truth, and although at the end of the third age this happened way back when and would be forgotten, the tradition had apparently survived almost unchanged remarkably enough.

Some peoples at certain times appear to have worshipped Sauron and Morgoth, but you know, they existed physically on earth, so there's direct "knowledge" here too, although these figures weren't gods per se.

The Hobbits though - and arguably the Rohirrim too - who had no such schooling, appears not to have any religious beliefs whatsoever. This is what I find curious, I guess.

Yeah, and the lack of organized religion Inzil mentions.
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Old 01-20-2010, 12:29 PM   #5
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It isn't hard to do

Several reasons that more or less interlink with one another, I think.
First, what kind of religion could that have been? Going with the conceit that Middle-earth is our own world in some imaginary age out of the past (B.C.), it would have been unbelievable for its people to follow the Christian religion their author held with, or anything closely similar; if, on the other hand, we consider Middle-earth as a self-contained sub-created world, any inclusion of or allusion to real world religion would have been detrimental to its autonomy - or in simpler worlds, would have broken the spell.
On the third hand, I imagine that Tolkien - exactly because he was a devout Christian himself - somehow didn't feel it within his rights as a subcreator to 'make up' a religion for them; maybe he also felt it would lessen the dignity of his characters if he had them holding a plausibly pre-Christian 'pagan' belief that would have been contrary to what he himself held to be true. So in the Silmarillion, he walks the line by having the Valar acting like the Gods of the Norse or Greek pantheon to satisfy his mythopoetic desire, but making them not true Gods but angelic powers under Ilúvatar, thus appeasing his religious conscience; while in LotR he does his best to avoid the whole issue altogether by making no overt mention of his characters' religious beliefs and customs at all but rather absorbing the religious element into the story and the symbolism (as he put it himself in Letter 142).
This decision, of course, has the benefit of allowing him to present the truth he believed in a way that appeals to readers of widely different cultural backgrounds, whatever their own religious or philosophical convictions.

For previous discussion of the matter, see this thread and that one.

(x-ed with everybody else)
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Old 01-20-2010, 12:31 PM   #6
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I was actually interested in this topic some time ago and found a very nice article on this topic here:
http://www.storiesofarda.com/chapter...2911&cid=11177

Very nice to read and pretty much sums up the situation in M-e with a quotation of Tolkien:

Quote:
“They [the peoples of Middle-earth] had little or no organized religion,” (Letters, p. 193-194)
Of course more things could be said, such as mentioning the Dwarves, or speculating about the nature religion of the Druedain, but all in all, as also well said in the article, the Third Age especially was an age of spiritual downfall and would then be followed by a rebirth.
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Old 01-20-2010, 01:00 PM   #7
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Tolkien

Once again one has to ask, if you ask "Why do you think it is?" are you asking "inside" or "outside"? I.e. why is it so in the terms of Middle-Earth (how did it came to be in the world as a self-sufficient world existing on its own), or why did Tolkien not write it differently?

For the second one, I think there are many and easy sources, I think people could quote some letters or whatever where he explained that he did not want to go into any religious stuff. And he really did not, at least in the published works (there has been a few slightly more religious things in the earlier drafts etc).

But for the first one, I think it is partially given by the nature of the people, which stems from the abovementioned author's intention. We could simply say that the people of Middle-Earth do not have any basic "religious instinct" in themselves (in which, once again, Tolkien expresses the sort of ideal world for a Christian, where there is no inclination to make any gods for oneself and thus nothing to corrupt the eventual relation of anybody to the real god, resp. gods - but of course, so that it is not that simple, we have Morgoth, who is a real god and he turns to be the usurper of all the divinity for himself). But there seems not to be any wish to seek holy places or whatever, or even contact with the god/s. The former logically stems from the latter and there it is where I think we could stop for a while, as that is at least for me a quite interesting part of the cosmology - or respectively, theology - of Tolkien's universe.

As Tolkien wanted to avoid (or did not dare to write about) the subjects of religion and religiosity in his world, he also avoided the contact between the creation and its creator as much as possible. From the "outside" point of view, we can say that given the lack of religiosity of people in Middle-Earth, Eru was somewhat "condemned" to be a passive, or in the best case unpercievable god (actually, I would maybe side with the latter, as if one thinks about it, there are all these references to "something else at work" here and there, but again, never anything explicit). Simply, since Tolkien did not write about for example Sam praying to have enough strength to carry the Ring across Cirith Ungol (now that you really imagine it, it seems really strange, doesn't it?), we cannot say "okay, now it was the moment when Eru helped him to avoid being given out to Sauron". There are no explicit interventions from Eru, although a few actions are ascribed to him, sort of "indirectly" (Númenor, Istari).

There is a bit of better chance to see something on the lower level, that is, on the level of Valar. But even then, Valar are not the same as, for example, ancient Greek gods. Valar are far more similar to "angels" or something like that (even Tolkien himself translated Vala as "angelic power" and tried to avoid the term "gods" a lot, as far as I know). They are perhaps best called indeed as "the Powers", as they are called, "the government of Arda", indeed Stewards in the most Tolkien-ish sense. And most importantly, they are the "gods" of the Elves. Somehow, the relation of Men to Valar is very, very distant (with a few exceptions like that Mumak cry quoted above - by a Númenorean nonetheless, that is, somebody quite close to the West - and except for another few very unusual things like the absolutely unique mention of Oromë as being known by the Rohirrim as "Béma" - most intriguing, because it is most unusual). For the Elves, the Valar are ALMOST filling the role of gods as we usually understand the term - divine beings to whom humans (or other races) can relate. The Elves have been calling to Elbereth (prayer! I am not aware of much other forms of prayer existing in M-E), the Elves have traveled West to speak to their gods - as Valar are the ones in whose realm the Elves shall eventually dwell. But not Men - and here lies also the explanation, in my opinion - Men's fate lies elsewhere, and thus also any worship of Valar from their part is questionable. Valar found the Elves, led them West, the Elves have been in their realm etc. - but with Men, nothing like that has happened.

Well, one can already see that there could be several pages written about that - I have not yet mentioned Dwarves and there is a lot which could be said about them, but for the most important, obviously it was a bit similar as with Elves and Valar - only for the Dwarves, it was just one Vala who was important. In any case, as we can see, there was little space for Eru to actually "use" and most of all, he did not seem to WANT to "use" it. There was never any manifestation of Eru to the Elves - seemingly it was enough that they have been under the "Stewardship" of Valar. Eru, from various hints, seemed to be the most concerned with Men themselves, yet he was not actively approaching them as far as we know. Using once again edge-of-the-canon-info logic and Tolkien's personal belief, maybe the contact of Eru - the One God - with Men was supposed to wait for some later Age, past Third and Fourth age, to the time of certain Abraham, to whom he would suddenly speak - and later to Moses and others. That would certainly be an explanation adequate to Tolkien's presentation of Middle-Earth as he gives it to us (as M-E being indeed "our own" world in some "ancient age, when the sea and the lands were different") and if we accept it in the prism of Tolkien's own view of what "our world" means in relation to his personal faith.

If that is how we look at it, it eases the answer to the question. But in any case, the answer would be likely so as I said: the people of M-E have no real "religious instinct" in them, i.e. no need to perform any religious rituals or seek holy places or times. Eru is for most part only a Creator and does not act, or even speak or in any way wish to establish a communion with his creation visibly (yet(?)). Valar are governors and are something like a divinity to relate oneself to, but mainly for the Elves (resp. Dwarves); with the coming of the era of Men, they also become increasingly passive - the Secondborn are no longer "their" stuff. The strongest manifestation of any religiosity whatsoever is indeed the description of the Númenoreans' Meneltarman ritual (which in the light of the end of the former paraghraph becomes most intriguing, as it is, all right, a foreshadowing of the upcoming contact of Men with their God, but then the question arises where did this sudden wish to relate to Eru come from, as there has been no precedent in the history of M-E at least as portrayed in the Silmarillion, the Elves always related to Valar, so why now this sudden "innovation"? This would certainly be an interesting subject to explore, but alas, at least I am not aware that any answers would be available).

EDIT: x-ed with S-P-M (skip-Pitch-Might ) And nice to see many thoughts that have been said on this thread sort of supply one another, that's what we call a 'Downish collective research
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Old 01-20-2010, 01:04 PM   #8
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The Rohirrim do have some knowledge of the Valar; I believe that Bema is their name for Orome.

This is a subject that I've seen come up in every Tolkien group I've ever known. For myself, I think that the lack of what one might call common religious trappings (temples, rituals, etc.) gives the story a feeling of being within those events that later times would remember in ways that we call "religious." Think, for instance, of religion as practiced by Abraham versus that same religion practiced during the time of Christ. HUGE difference.

Tolkien did have this to say on the subject (letter 153):

Quote:
There are thus no temples or 'churches' or fanes in this 'world' among the 'good' peoples. They had little or no 'religion' in the sense of worship. For help they may call on a Vala (as Elbereth), as a Catholic might call on a Saint, though no doubt knowing in theory as well as he that the power of the Vala was limited and derivative. But this is a 'primitive age': and these folk might be said to view the Valar as child view their parents or immediate adult superiors, and though they know they are subjects of the King he does not live in their country nor have there any dwelling. I do not think the Hobbits practiced any form of worship or prayer (unless through exceptional contact with the Elves). The Numenoreans (and others of that branch of Humanity, that fought against Morgoth, even if they elected to remain in Middle-earth and did not go to Numenor: such as the Rohirrim) were pure monotheists. But there was no temple in Numenor (until Sauron introduced the cult of Morgoth). The top of the Mountain, the Meneltarma or Pillar of Heaven, was dedicated to Eru, the One, and there at any time privately, and at certain times publicly, God was invoked, praised, and adored: an imitation of the Valar and the Mountain of Aman. But Numenor fell and was destroyed and the Mountain engulfed, and there was no substitute. Among the exiles, remnants of the Faithful who had not adopted the false religion nor taken part in the rebellion, religion as divine worship (though perhaps not as philosophy and metaphysics) seems to have played a small part; though a glimpse of it is caught in Faramir's remark on 'grace at meat.'
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Old 01-20-2010, 01:37 PM   #9
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Great replies all around, I feel much educated. There are many things I'd like to address in full but I've not enough time now, sadly.

Just a few things I'd like to throw into the mix now.

In Cirith Ungol and at the brink of despair, Frodo remembers his phial and basically prays for Elbereth, the Lightgiver, to deliver him, wouldn't you say?

And how about the Pukel Men and their ominous statues? Isn't this a form of religiousness that isn't related to the "true" nature of divinity in Middle Earth?

And thirdly, temples... Temples are always bad, aren't they? Why do you think this is?

Legate, there is a text in one of the HoME volumes, think it is X, where a post LotR Tolkien tries to tie in his sub-creation to the Christian tradition, much in the same way he tries to tie in his world with modern scientific knowledge, for instance that life could not have existed prior to the Sun and so on. Read that one?
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Old 01-20-2010, 02:30 PM   #10
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In Cirith Ungol and at the brink of despair, Frodo remembers his phial and basically prays for Elbereth, the Lightgiver, to deliver him, wouldn't you say?
Certainly. And I think basically all the cries to Elbereth are some form of "prayer", basically every time somebody calls "Elbereth! Gilthoniel!" - Weathertop, Shelob's Lair, the weird moment when getting past the gate with the Silent Watchers and so on - it is something like that. It would be interesting to judge how much it is a) a prayer (as opposed to "spell" - but in these cases it somehow is both and it does not violate the fact that prayer is turning to somebody, but not manipulating somebody - i.e. not "magic"), b) a conscious prayer (often the characters are crying out words they themselves do not know or understand - now what exactly is this? For me, the immediate thought is - as I have been encountering this subject much - "speaking in tongues" or glossolalia (if you don't know what it is, don't worry or if you are interested, you can look it up, but I don't think it's important here, just easy for guidance for somebody who knows) which is exactly the same kind of stuff - a "prayer in tongues" would be exactly the same sort of thing - yet I fail to grasp how exactly should this be taken: is the prayer in Elvish where the words come to Frodo from some other source still a prayer in the sense of being initiated by Frodo - a will of the one who calls, or is he then just some "channel" - but then again - who is the initiator? Does then for instance Elbereth "call to herself"? Or how does this work?).

Quote:
And how about the Pukel Men and their ominous statues? Isn't this a form of religiousness that isn't related to the "true" nature of divinity in Middle Earth?
Well, but are the statues not just portrayal of the Pukel-Men themselves? At least as far as I know - the tale of Aghan the Drugh was about "magic" of the statues, I would say, that was a sort of "Golem", but otherwise I think the statues didn't have any religious connotations, not any more than some random statue of Elendil or whatever?

Quote:
And thirdly, temples... Temples are always bad, aren't they? Why do you think this is?
Quite, which is interesting. Various ideas come to mind, maybe just for now, one idea - since temple is often understood as the place of dwelling of a deity, but the deities are of course dwelling in quite well defined concrete places in Arda, then possibly the only thing a temple is good for is mischief. But that's just a very random idea, it would be interesting to think of that deeper. I would like to read some other suggestions myself...

Quote:
Legate, there is a text in one of the HoME volumes, think it is X, where a post LotR Tolkien tries to tie in his sub-creation to the Christian tradition, much in the same way he tries to tie in his world with modern scientific knowledge, for instance that life could not have existed prior to the Sun and so on. Read that one?
Actually, not really and not yet. There is a lot that I would like to read, basically all the HoME, I have read only very little as I also don't have them all and only some two years ago I got the chance to get to read at least some of them, as they are not generally available in my home country. I have heard some rumours. Well, another thing to put on my "to-read" schedule
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Old 01-20-2010, 02:44 PM   #11
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And thirdly, temples... Temples are always bad, aren't they? Why do you think this is?
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Originally Posted by Legate of Amon Lanc View Post
Quite, which is interesting. Various ideas come to mind, maybe just for now, one idea - since temple is often understood as the place of dwelling of a deity, but the deities are of course dwelling in quite well defined concrete places in Arda, then possibly the only thing a temple is good for is mischief. But that's just a very random idea, it would be interesting to think of that deeper. I would like to read some other suggestions myself...
I like Legate's answer to that. It's interesting that the only known example of a dedicated temple for worship in ME was the one erected under Sauron's influence in Númenor. As Sauron wished to be king and god of all in Middle-earth, and was in that temple during the Downfall, sitting on a 'black seat', the idea that the 'real' gods dwelt in the West and anything else was false, I think holds some weight.
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Old 01-20-2010, 05:17 PM   #12
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Legate, there is a text in one of the HoME volumes, think it is X, where a post LotR Tolkien tries to tie in his sub-creation to the Christian tradition, much in the same way he tries to tie in his world with modern scientific knowledge, for instance that life could not have existed prior to the Sun and so on. Read that one?
That would be Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (in HoME X indeed), a dialogue between Finrod Felagund and Andreth, a mortal Wise Woman, on the subject of Mannish mortality. Appended to it is Adanel's Tale, a Middle-earth version of the Fall of Man, dealing with Eru's interaction with the first Men shortly after their Awakening, their seduction by Morgoth and finally the repentance of some of them (the fathers and mothers of the Edain) and their search for escape from the Shadow. Athrabeth itself also contains some foreshadowing of the Incarnation, hinting that Eru himself might one day enter into Arda to set things right.
If I remember correctly, Tolkien ended up rejecting the latter as being too much like 'a parody of Christianity' (his own words), and I tend to agree with him there. Still, I wouldn't want to miss the whole; it's a very moving piece of writing - not the least because it contains, as far as I'm aware of, the only love-story between a male elf and a mortal woman (rather than the other way round) in the whole Legendarium.
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Old 01-21-2010, 12:52 PM   #13
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That would be Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (in HoME X indeed)
Yeah that's the one. It's been years since I read it but the way I remember it the text really underlined the feeling I get that Eru is a very close approximation to the Christian God. And although there's little religious practice in LotR, there certainly is a deeply religious undertone in the book. I think it is expressed explicitly in Athrabeth that you gotta have faith that Eru in the end won't allow Morgoth or Sauron to prevail. This is the most important moral test. Eru is the One, it is his world, and eventually, finally, everything will be fine and dandy, because He is Good and He wants what's Good.

This is why Gandalf and Elrond makes the decision to send the ring into Mordor with Frodo, isn't it? They are wise, and their wisdom lies in the faith that it will succeed, it must succeed. Rationally they doubt that it will work, because logically it really is a stupid idea, but their hearts tell them it will work nevertheless. I've heard people gasp "how come Sauron is so dumb, never guessing what his enemies plan to do with the ring!" but I don't see it that way. Sauron is a sort of atheist (I know it sound weird but think about it!) and moral-relativist. He does not understand faith and therefore, the way he sees things, sending a halfling on a suicide mission into Mordor is too far out to even consider. And I can see why.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Legate
Once again one has to ask, if you ask "Why do you think it is?" are you asking "inside" or "outside"?
True, and in this instance I am more interested in the "outside" perspective, because from an inside perspective this lack of religion and religious diversity makes little sense imo, unless we surmise that the peoples really did practice various religions but that this is omitted in the narrative. So why did Tolkien write it like this then? I've ideas that resemble some of what has been written here already, but they have to wait a bit, no more time now...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Legate
Well, but are the statues not just portrayal of the Pukel-Men themselves? At least as far as I know - the tale of Aghan the Drugh was about "magic" of the statues, I would say, that was a sort of "Golem", but otherwise I think the statues didn't have any religious connotations, not any more than some random statue of Elendil or whatever?
Yeah, but is the power of the statues derived only from their makers ? From an anthropological standpoint I find that rather hard to believe. And the way say the Chinese worship their ancestors is a religious practice of sorts to, isn't it?
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Old 01-21-2010, 03:52 PM   #14
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Yeah, but is the power of the statues derived only from their makers ? From an anthropological standpoint I find that rather hard to believe. And the way say the Chinese worship their ancestors is a religious practice of sorts to, isn't it?
Yes, but then one would ask, how did the Drúedain see it? Did they consider it a religious thing, worshipping, or was it just statues, resp. veneration of ancestors at most? And as far as I know, I don't see any evidence for that - that the statues would be anything more than statues (once again, like I said, no more than a statue of Elendil or whatever).

The power of the statues was likened to the Ring - indeed the story of the "Faithful stone" is obvious parallel - so if it was really there (that is, if the story is not just a fairy-tale told by Men about these scary statues the Drúedain build), it was some sort of "magic" as much as the "magic" of the Elves or maybe even more of the Dwarves, simply the kind of thing that made Orcrist glow in the dark or that trapped light inside the Silmarils or that bound power inside the Rings, if we were to get back to that one (although the glowing sword example is probably the best, as it is the most "crude" of all those).
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Old 01-21-2010, 06:21 PM   #15
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. And although there's little religious practice in LotR, there certainly is a deeply religious undertone in the book.
Very true. I would perhaps look at it another way, to make a distinction between religion and spirituality. While there is little organised religion in LotR, what does stand out is a deep spirituality. Religion is about rules and organisation and control but spirituality is about relationships with something larger than oneself.

All of the major characters--Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Arwen--display this powerful sense of relating to something larger than themselves. Merry and Pippin learn this. Possibly Eowyn also. Whether Elrond and Galadriel share it is, in my opinion, a bit doubtful as the elves tend to be very inward--read 'self'--oriented, despite their clear concern for history and art and the battle with Sauron. Isildur, for instance, didn't get it. Nor did Boromir, until too late, but Faramir understood.
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Old 01-22-2010, 12:46 PM   #16
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..often the characters are crying out words they themselves do not know or understand - now what exactly is this? For me, the immediate thought is - as I have been encountering this subject much - "speaking in tongues" or glossolalia (if you don't know what it is, don't worry or if you are interested, you can look it up, but I don't think it's important here, just easy for guidance for somebody who knows) which is exactly the same kind of stuff - a "prayer in tongues" would be exactly the same sort of thing - yet I fail to grasp how exactly should this be taken: is the prayer in Elvish where the words come to Frodo from some other source still a prayer in the sense of being initiated by Frodo - a will of the one who calls, or is he then just some "channel" - but then again - who is the initiator? Does then for instance Elbereth "call to herself"? Or how does this work?).
Yeah that is odd. I think that Frodo begs for help, and this is his own will at work, but when Elbereth complies, he becomes "a channel" for her, it is she who places the words in his mouth, assists him, gives him the power to resist. Similarly, it is explicitly stated that Ulmo spoke through Tuor in the later Fall Of Gondolin. Bah, I'm sort of drunk, this is too much for me now...
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Old 01-22-2010, 01:05 PM   #17
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Very true. I would perhaps look at it another way, to make a distinction between religion and spirituality. While there is little organised religion in LotR, what does stand out is a deep spirituality. Religion is about rules and organisation and control but spirituality is about relationships with something larger than oneself.
Yeah you're right, spirituality is a better word to describe it.

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Whether Elrond and Galadriel share it is, in my opinion, a bit doubtful as the elves tend to be very inward--read 'self'--oriented, despite their clear concern for history and art and the battle with Sauron.
Here I would disagree though. For reasons I think I explained above, I would almost equate wisdom with this spirituality you speak of, and they, together with Gandalf, are the wisest people about.
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Old 01-23-2010, 04:34 PM   #18
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This isn't my subject but looking at our cultural history I imagine it's very hard to find a single human civilisation or even tribe who hasn't got any religious beliefs, symbols, rituals, superstitions etc they share and find meaning in...
Most of what we know about the beliefs or superstitions of prehistoric people relies on artifacts, cave paintings and evidence that they did things like bury their dead. Well, if we uncovered archeological evidence of the Rohirrim then we'd probably conclude that they did have religion, because they certainly buried their dead in a ritualistic ceremony (as did all the other cultures of Middle Earth, as far as I can tell).

Also there seems to be widespread belief in an afterlife by Men and Dwarves. That's a religious-kind-of-belief. Also there is a general belief in supernatural quasi-deities known as the Valar, who reportedly live in a realm inaccessible to Mortals.

Of course your question is really "why is there no organised religion in Middle Earth?" As far as the actual history of our world is concerned, we know very little about when organised religion arose or, for that matter, why. It probably arose at the same time that people started to live in cities - around 5000 years ago - and it was probably encouraged by the city authorities, partly as a way to enforce order and moral codes and partly as a way of legitimising the authority of the leaders by positing an even higher power (God or Gods) from whom earthly leaders derived their own right to rule.

Even before there was organised religion, no doubt people had some form of superstitious beliefs. The world was a strange and mysterious place and people had a need to try to explain things that they observed. I imagine that it was natural to imagine that there were more powerful anthropomorphic entities that worked unseen to make the world work in the way it does.

However, in Middle Earth people know that there actually are supernatural beings who helped to create and maintain the world! The people of Middle Earth don't need to hypothesise the existence of demi-gods and nature spirits - they know they exist! The Downfall of Numenor is just one of many examples of the existence of the Valar. Also, the Men of Middle Earth are aware of the existence of other intelligent races - one of which is immortal. Elves and Dwarves aren't just the stuff of folk stories in Middle Earth: they really exist. In other words, Middle Earth really isn't like our world in certain important ways.

Let me put this another way "Is there religion in (Christian) Heaven? Do Christians have to go to Church there?" If you know for sure that God exists, because you can actually see God, then do you need a religion to promote faith in God's existence?

Perhaps it was just self-evident to the good people of Middle Earth that Eru existed and so they didn't need to build temples to promote faith in him.
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Old 01-23-2010, 11:44 PM   #19
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[QUOTE=skip spence;622258]Yeah you're right, spirituality is a better word to describe it.

Well, I wasn't meaning to suggest just a better word, but a concept that might be more encompassing for what exists in LotR. What is it that prompts Frodo to accept the burden of carrying the Ring? What is it that prompts Sam to accompany him? What helps Eowyn recover? I think this is a very interesting question to ask about Middle-earth, and I tried to rep the thread but alas I haven't been generous enough since last I repped you.

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Whether Elrond and Galadriel share it is, in my opinion, a bit doubtful as the elves tend to be very inward--read 'self'--oriented, despite their clear concern for history and art and the battle with Sauron.
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Here I would disagree though. For reasons I think I explained above, I would almost equate wisdom with this spirituality you speak of, and they, together with Gandalf, are the wisest people about.
Well, it depends on which book we are discussing, LotR, The Silm, etc., because the elves differ very much in those two books.

The elves have failed in LotR. Despite all the wisdom--ie, knowledge of ancient times--we are told they have, their time is passing and while they can support and aid Frodo's journey to destroy the Ring, their presence in Middle-earth is doomed. Gandalf might indeed be a pillar of wisdom, but that is because he seems able to understand what is or might be necessary to accomplish his role. Widsom can also mean awareness to understand what is needful, and by that meaning, Frodo caps them all. But perhaps this is straying away from your point about the lack of formal religious observances.
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Old 01-27-2010, 09:54 AM   #20
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I imagine that Tolkien - exactly because he was a devout Christian himself - somehow didn't feel it within his rights as a subcreator to 'make up' a religion for them; maybe he also felt it would lessen the dignity of his characters if he had them holding a plausibly pre-Christian 'pagan' belief that would have been contrary to what he himself held to be true.
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I think it is partially given by the nature of the people, which stems from the abovementioned author's intention. We could simply say that the people of Middle-Earth do not have any basic "religious instinct" in themselves (in which, once again, Tolkien expresses the sort of ideal world for a Christian, where there is no inclination to make any gods for oneself and thus nothing to corrupt the eventual relation of anybody to the real god, resp. gods...
Good points and I tend to agree. This is probably it. T wanted his characters to be sort of 'noble savages', like say Aristotle. Bet there's a place in limbo for Aragorn and Frodo. Even it they obviously could not be Catholics, he didn't want them to be not Catholics either, if you get what I'm saying. To have the Gaffer ritually sacrificing a pig to gain favours from the fertility-gods in order to grow good taters wouldn't go down too well I guess, nor would Elrond the half-elven keeping a stall of lovely concubines.

And the "worship" of the Valar can be explained away too, like the quote Ibrin provided shows. I actually thought of the parallel before I read it too, but calling upon the Valar really is similar to how "a Catholic might call on a Saint, though no doubt knowing in theory as well as he that the power of the Vala was limited and derivative."

There's only one true religion in Middle Earth:
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Originally Posted by JRRT quoted by Ibrin
Among the exiles, remnants of the Faithful who had not adopted the false religion nor taken part in the rebellion, religion as divine worship (though perhaps not as philosophy and metaphysics) seems to have played a small part; though a glimpse of it is caught in Faramir's remark on 'grace at meat.'
You can easily imagine how the wild peoples of the East and South are into idol worship and false gods though, couldn't you?

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Originally Posted by Prince of the Halflings
Most of what we know about the beliefs or superstitions of prehistoric people relies on artifacts, cave paintings and evidence that they did things like bury their dead. Well, if we uncovered archeological evidence of the Rohirrim then we'd probably conclude that they did have religion, because they certainly buried their dead in a ritualistic ceremony (as did all the other cultures of Middle Earth, as far as I can tell).
Good point. And they seem to have believed in an afterlife too. From an inside perspective I think one might conclude that the Rohirrim actually did have a religion, although little of it is explicitly mentioned in the books.
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However, in Middle Earth people know that there actually are supernatural beings who helped to create and maintain the world! The people of Middle Earth don't need to hypothesise the existence of demi-gods and nature spirits - they know they exist! The Downfall of Numenor is just one of many examples of the existence of the Valar. Also, the Men of Middle Earth are aware of the existence of other intelligent races - one of which is immortal. Elves and Dwarves aren't just the stuff of folk stories in Middle Earth: they really exist. In other words, Middle Earth really isn't like our world in certain important ways.
Mm. I had similar thoughts too. But do they really, I'm thinking now? Which mortal in Middle Earth has actually seen one of the Valar or any supernatural entity at work? And no-one of the speaking peoples, not even Ingwe who sits at the feet of Manwe on Taniquetil, has come "face to face" with the one true God.

It is clear that in the Shire, and probably Rohan and Gondor too, things such as Dragons, Ents and immortal Elves are seen as fairy-tale stuff, rather than part of the real world they live and breath in. For the large majority, all they have is the stories to believe or not to believe in, just like us. Therefore, from an inside perspective, it is odd to say the least that they did not make up "false" religions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bethberry
What is it that prompts Frodo to accept the burden of carrying the Ring? What is it that prompts Sam to accompany him? What helps Eowyn recover? I think this is a very interesting question to ask about Middle-earth
A Galadriel-quote springs to mind:
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Originally Posted by ForR
Do not trouble your hearts overmuch with thought of the road tonight. Maybe the paths that you each shall tread are already laid before your feet, though you do not see them.
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Originally Posted by Bb
Wisdom can also mean awareness to understand what is needful, and by that meaning, Frodo caps them all.
Agreed. This really is the core idea of the whole book, isn't it? What I meant to say is that Galadriel and Elrond, although they perhaps made mistakes in the past, certainly gets it in LotR, unlike Boromir, Denethor and so forth.

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I tried to rep the thread but alas I haven't been generous enough since last I repped you.
Thanks. I had the same experience trying to rep a few people on this thread.
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Old 01-27-2010, 10:28 AM   #21
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The elves have failed in LotR. Despite all the wisdom--ie, knowledge of ancient times--we are told they have, their time is passing and while they can support and aid Frodo's journey to destroy the Ring, their presence in Middle-earth is doomed. Gandalf might indeed be a pillar of wisdom, but that is because he seems able to understand what is or might be necessary to accomplish his role. Widsom can also mean awareness to understand what is needful, and by that meaning, Frodo caps them all. But perhaps this is straying away from your point about the lack of formal religious observances.
You seem to indirectly be saying that by obeying the wish of the One in taking the Ring, as he was 'meant' to do, Fordo is worshipping Ilúvatar. By the same token, Gandalf and Galadriel are doing the same by their aiding of the One's designs for Middle-earth. Having the wisdom to accept one's place in the world and to do good because one knows they ought to is worship enough.
Would that knowledge and acceptance supersede the need for organised worship in those who are 'good'? If not, why is it that the sole instance of 'community' worship in a dedicated building is that in Númenor with the Satantic / Melkor cult started by Sauron? I think that must be significant somehow.
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Old 01-27-2010, 11:11 AM   #22
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[QUOTE=skip spence;622438]

Good point. And they seem to have believed in an afterlife too. From an inside perspective I think one might conclude that the Rohirrim actually did have a religion, although little of it is explicitly mentioned in the books.

QUOTE]

One thing that I have noticed that I don't think has been mentioned already is that that the Rohirrim use the word devilry and devil and I don't think I have noticed it elsewhere. Of course this may be more superstition than a facet of actual religion and it has been noted that they are superstitious and suspicious of elves and ents etc.


For the elves and Numenorean men the knowledge of the Valar means that their "religion" is very different to those who must rely on belief or faith.

As for Frodo, Bilbo and Sam - I have always thought that their passing oversea was to enable them to make a "good death" in Catholic terms - to die in a state of grace, reconciled to the strange fate of their mortal lives. I have always thought that it is is one of the most Catholic (in my understanding as a non-catholic) facets of the book that so many characters are given the chance to make their peace before they die - Thorin, Boromir get the chance to ask and receive forgiveness for their wrongs. Theoden makes a good death by his own lights in contrast to Denethor who takes the cowards way out. There is a clear distinction between not holding onto life too long and "cutting and running".
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Old 01-27-2010, 12:16 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by skip spence
T wanted his characters to be sort of 'noble savages', like say Aristotle.
*harrumph!* I have to object to hearing Aristotle called a savage, however noble! He probably was one of the most civilized men of his time; no paint and feathers on him! (Never mind though, I got your meaning.)

As for the Rohirrim and their afterlife - considering that they were modelled on the Anglo-Saxons (and, in their distant past, the Goths and other Germanic people), I wonder whether they expected to check into the Eternal Meadhall or ride with Béma's Hunt when they died; but the only glimpse of their views of that matter are Théoden's words in The King of the Golden Hall:
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Old 02-22-2010, 12:08 PM   #24
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The Worldview

There's not a lot left to add to this discussion except this quote from Tolkien's Letter 142:
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The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. -Letters, pg. 172
Tolkien poured his being into his work and in order to understand it more fully, we must first understand who he was as a Catholic Englishman who had a fierce love for languages, myths, and symbolism. That last part he put in there about religion being absorbed into the story is the clearest understanding of why religion was hardly dealt with explicitly.

And here I must recommend an excellent book that delves into that very absorption. The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft. Go ahead and check out the table of contents; you can learn something even from that. Not only does it hash out how Tolkien's worldview is absorbed into his world, but it helps the reader understand why we've loved Middle Earth so much. And it's a fine introduction to philosophy in general for those of us who are lost when it comes to words like metaphysics and epistemology.
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Old 03-16-2010, 08:13 AM   #25
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Pipe

It's interesting how the peoples of Middle Earth act with regard to the Valar and Eru. It us much less religious in many of the senses that are usually ascribed to it. Indeed, I often got the impression, especially from the fact that only Sauron ever builds a temple, that the peoples were against formalised forms of worship and religion. Odd thing for Tolkien, being Catholic, you might think.

More than that, though, it is the way in which the Valar or Eru are invoked speaks more of common superstition than of organised religious dogma. The Elves get closer to it in their reverence for Elbereth, I suppose. But more often than not, it is a case of the simple day-to-day little superstitions to which these gods have been put.

I always found this odd, again, given Tolkien's religious beliefs. However, I get the impression that Catholic ideology (with regard to worship and ceremony at least) was less important to him when writing the books of Middle Earth. He speaks much closer to a more primitive form of religion - a more naked and stripped down one in which the gods simply are.

Perhaps it is the line between the old Norse gods, the Celtic spirits and the gods of Catholicism that blur in this mythos. Therefore, the references become more vague with regard to how the peoples relate to them. Moreover, this being a new world built on somewhat different rules to the real world, to add in more details about religious practices would, I think, feel out of place in a work so focussed on action and peril. Sauron is a threat right now - there may be time for a short prayer, but nothing extravagant.

This is, I think, the raw essence of religion in ME, perhaps. The immediate, the peril and the small. Eru knows that the Valar cannot be counted on much for the big acts of salvation and epic battles - how long did it take them to decide to do anything about Melkor before the War of Wroth? How much convincing did they take?
More on this can, I think, be seen in the fact that the ways, other than catastrophic war, that the Valar have been known to interact with the children of Iluvatar. I don't have my Silm with me right now (I'll probably edit this with the appropriate quotes when I get home), but I seem to recall a line either in the Valaquenta, or Possibly Ainulindule telling us how Ulmo uses all the rivers of Arda to hear of the problems in ME and send what help he can at times.

This sparks another thought in me, actually.
There is a distinct difference in the way the children interact with the Valar before and after the exile of the Noldor. Before, it is a very intimate and close relationship with Ulmo physically pulling them to Valinor on an island, Aulë teaching the Noldor steel craft and so on. After the departure of Feanor and co. the Valar become cold and distant. Tolkien has remarked in interviews about how everyone in this mythology makes mistakes, even the gods.
The Elves and men go through the ages of war with Morgoth with little help from the Valar (the occasional cameo from Ulmo is always appreciated, though). Then, suddenly, they come in power and war, overthrow Angband and break the world apart.
One might think the peoples would have some kind of fear of the Valar who, after all, saved them at the price of the breaking of Middle Earth. Perhaps that is why they are not overly keen on direct intervention. "We just finished fixing it up, we don't want them trampling everything again!"

It's another interesting point that it is when a direct invocation of organised religion - Sauron's Temple in Numenor - the result is chaos and destruction. It seems that, after the flight of the Noldor, direct interaction with the gods and overtly religious practices have very negative effects. The small utterances and mini ceremonies are, perhaps, all the peoples dare try?

Forgive me if this is a disjointed and poor post. Been away from the Books forum for too long.
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Old 03-16-2010, 02:11 PM   #26
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And here I must recommend an excellent book that delves into that very absorption. The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft.
It is good to know that someone besides myself knows of Peter Kreeft!

"Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!"

As the passion of Christ is dimly echoed in the struggles of Tolkien’s three heroes, so the place of Mary in Catholic faith and piety is reflected in another key figure of Middle-earth: Galadriel, the elven Queen of Lothlórien. Tolkien himself explicitly acknowledged this connection, observing in a letter to a friend, "I think it is true that I owe much of this character to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary." In another letter he remarked that it is upon our Lady that "all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded."

Once again, this isn’t to say that Galadriel is an allegorical representation of the Blessed Virgin, any more than Frodo or Gandalf or Aragorn are direct representations of Christ. The actual relationship is more subtle: In imagining a glorious and immortal Queen of a paradaisical realm, and in depicting the devotion of others to her, Tolkien could hardly help drawing on the actual devotion in his religious tradition to a glorified Queen of a divine realm.

Indeed, in being drawn to create such a character in the first place, Tolkien’s imagination was informed and fired by his faith and piety. Had he been, for instance, a Southern Baptist, or a Dutch Calvinist, doubtless Galadriel either would never have existed at all, or would at any rate have been an entirely different figure.

It’s in the devotion she inspires, most especially in the dwarf Gimli, that Galadriel’s Marian resonances are most apparent. Gimli’s heart belongs to his immortal Queen as unreservedly as the heart of St. Louis de Montford or St. Maximillian Kolbe to the Queen of Heaven, and through Gimli the reader, even the non-Catholic or non-Christian reader, has a kind of window into the world of such devotion.

Galadriel is not the only elven Queen with Marian associations. The elvish hymns sung in praise of Elbereth resonate with Marian hymnody; a number of writers have observed similarities between the following lines of Tolkien’s poetry and a well-known Marian hymn Tolkien would have known from childhood.

Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western seas!
O light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees!…
O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western seas.


Note the themes common to these lines and those that follow (the singer as wanderer in a remote land; the far-off Queen as a source of light and guidance; the repeated association of the Queen with starlight and the sea):

Hail, Queen of Heaven, the ocean star,
Guide of the wand’rer here below:
Thrown on life’s surge, we claim thy care -
Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, star of the sea,
Pray for the wanderer, pray for me.

These ethereal queens aren’t the books’ only elvish element with specifically Catholic resonance. The "waybread" or lembas of the Elves, given to the members of the Fellowship in Lothlórien, has clear eucharistic overtones. "Wafers" (Tolkien’s word) of this extraordinary food, we read, had a virtue without which [Frodo and Sam] would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.
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Old 03-16-2010, 02:40 PM   #27
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I repped that post in my half-slumber, Groin, as I thought it was well written. A bit too good was my second thought. You didn't actually write it, did you?
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Old 03-16-2010, 03:26 PM   #28
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I thank you for your rep; however, I have to say that I was surprised by receiving it. I expected to receive a chorus of bored groans instead of questioning. Nothing that I have written is not self evident to a Catholic enthusiast of Tolkien-- in fact, I thought that the bit about the Lembas as eucharistic and Galadriel as Mary was known to just about everyone who has touched on Tolkien's Catholicism.

All these themes are touched on in Bradly Birzer's "Sanctifying Myth" and Peter Kreeft's "The Philosophy of Tolkien."
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Old 03-16-2010, 03:31 PM   #29
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I repped that post in my half-slumber, Groin, as I thought it was well written. A bit too good was my second thought. You didn't actually write it, did you?
That makes two of us. Anyway, while Groin's points as such weren't actually new to me, he presented them well and gave some good examples of how exactly the religious symbolism was 'absorbed into the narrative', which is quite enough to make his post repworthy for me.
If I may take the Marian associations a little further (and maybe into not quite uncontroversial territory - WARNING: purely personal statement coming!):
There has been much debate on these Downs about the influence of both Tolkien's Catholic faith and his infatuation with pagan mythologies on the shaping of his Legendarium; and it just occured to me that, whether he was consciously aware of this or not, his devotion to Our Lady may be one of the points where the two influences are most easily reconciled - as in the figure of Mary (not the meek virgin and handmaiden, but the Queen of Heaven and ocean star, to use Groin's lovely quote) much of the best of ancient pagan Goddess worship has been absorbed into Christianity. Or to rephrase it from the opposite perspective: Tolkien's worship of Mary (and its reflections in the characters of Galadriel and Elbereth) is something that makes his (or any) Catholicism palatable to unregenerate heathens like myself. However much we may disagree about the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, we can both bow our knees to Our Lady (and who's to say we don't actually mean the same person?)...
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Old 03-16-2010, 03:44 PM   #30
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I thank you for your rep
I'd take it back and make it red if I could. Not for any theistic belief, but for plagiarism. Always thought you were parroting other people's words, here and elsewhere, but I did expect better than just copy and paste.
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Old 03-16-2010, 04:03 PM   #31
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skip - as far as I could determine by a quick google search, neither Birzer's nor Kreeft's books are available online, so it's not quite a matter of simple copy-and-paste.
So why make your rep a red one? In my book, it's not a crime to use arguments other people found first (we're all Dwarves standing on the shoulders of Giants most of the time), and it's a merit to represent them well, as Groin has done. OK, he could have given his sources in his post, but other than that, I see nothing wrong with it - as I said above, I had come across all the points he mentioned before (not in either of those books, but in Tolkien's own letters, if I remember right), but I still found his post enjoyable and well-written. So what?
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Old 03-17-2010, 12:24 AM   #32
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Pitch, if you google any part of the post, the source comes up. It's an article by Catholic film critic Steven D. Graydanus. Claiming credit for other people's words is not ok, simple as. I hope Groin can edit his post with the proper quotations as the content is relevant to the thread.
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Old 03-17-2010, 12:39 PM   #33
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I see... well, you're right then, of course, that's disappointing. Groin, you really should put it all into quotes and name the source in your post, and I'll say let's forget about it and go on with the discussion, OK?
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Old 03-17-2010, 03:19 PM   #34
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Has anyone read The Road Goes Ever On?

- this book is interesting for several reasons - first, it's the last book published by Tolkien in his lifetime. It's also (mainly) a book of sheet-music, being musical settings to some of Tolkien's poems by Donald Swann. And it's also noteworthy for the set of notes by Tolkien at the rear of the book, on his poems A Elbereth Gilthoniel and Namarie. Tolkien writes:

"As a 'divine' or 'angelic' person Varda/Elbereth could be said to be 'looking afar from heaven'... She was often thought of, or depicted, as standing on a great height looking towards Middle-earth... and listening to the cries for aid of Elves (and Men) in peril or grief. Frodo and Sam both invoke her in moments of extreme peril. The Elves sing hymns to her. (These and other references to religion in _The Lord of the Rings_ are frequently overlooked)."

And writing of the palantir in the Tower Hills, Tolkien has this to say:

"The High Elves...journeyed to the Tower Hills at intervals to look afar at Eressea... and the shores of Valinor... the hymn [A Elbereth Gilthoniel] is one appropriate to Elves who have just returned from such a pilgrimage. No doubt Gildor and his companions, since they were going eastwards, wer Elves living in or near Rivendell returning from the palantir of the Tower Hills. On such visits they were sometimes rewarded by a vision, clear but remote, of Elbereth, as a majestic figure, shining white, standing upon the mountain Oilolosse..."

So, we have Elves and Men (and hobbits) praying to Elbereth, and Elves going on a pilgrimage to the Tower Hills. As Tolkien says: things like this seem often to be overlooked.
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Old 06-08-2011, 10:07 AM   #35
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I quite like this thread, and feel some excellent observations were made.

Something has occurred to me which could explain the lack of organised worship of Eru in Middle-earth.

In our world, worship of God is codified and structured in various ways. Christians, Jews, and Muslims each have a book in which is written laws they are to live by, and the manner in which they are to worship God the Creator. The Bible, the Pentateuch, and the Quran are considered to be divinely inspired texts, and thus are to be absolutely obeyed.

The denizens of Middle-earth have no such divine guidebook. As has been noted elsewhere on this thread, the knowledge of Eru and his angelic governors, the Valar, is traditional, handed down from the Elves who saw the Valar in person, then to the Edain. The latter, as Númenóreans, presumably instructed the "dark" Men of Middle-earth.

Since Eru apparently saw no need to issue any such book of instructions, I feel the proxy-worship through the Valar must have been acceptable to him. Obey the Valar and follow the good promptings they (or Eru himself) put into their hearts, and they were glorifying Eru.

That leads back to Númenor, however. They alone, as far as the reader is told, had a practise of organised worship to Eru.

Quote:
[On the Meneltarma] no tool or weapon had ever been borne; and there none might speak any word, save the King only. Thrice only in each year the King spoke, offering prayer for the coming year at the Erukyermë in the first days of spring, praise of Eru Ilúvatar at the Erulaitalë in midsummer, and thanksgiving to him at the Eruhantalë at the end of autumn.At these times the king ascended the mountain on foot followed by a great concourse of the people, clad in white and garlanded, but silent.
UT A Description of Númenor

Why did the Númenóreans do that? Was it an idea that simply occurred to them? After all, the Edain alone, out of all the other races, had a land specifically made for them. Perhaps they recognised the incredible way they had been blessed, and knowing Eru alone had caused it to be, wanted to worship him "personally". I like the idea of that, since they were apparently the only ones in the history of Arda to worship Eru in that way.

The UT essay does go on to say, though, that when people approached the summit of the Meneltarma:

Quote:
....at once three eagles would appear and alight upon three rocks near to the western edge; but at the times of the Three Prayers they did not descend, remaining in the sky and hovering above the people. They were called the Witnesses of Manwë, and they were believed to be sent by him from Aman to keep watch upon the Holy Mountain and upon all the land.
If the Three Prayers were the invention of Númenor, without "instruction', one might ask why Manwë felt the need to "keep watch" on the Meneltarma. I don't really think such "witnesses" were really needed for Manwë to know what went on in Middle-earth: he pretty much saw what he wanted to see. So the eagles were probably just a reminder to the Númenóreans that the Valar were still there, and aware of what they did.

Now for symbolism. The eagles set down on the western side of the summit. That's pretty well in keeping with the motif throughout the books that west=good. What of the three rocks, though? Three eagles, three rocks, and three prayers. One might think it a nod by the author to the Holy Trinity. For an in-story explanation, though, perhaps those things are symbolic of the Three Themes of Ilúvatar?
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Old 06-08-2011, 02:21 PM   #36
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Leaving Bad Enough Alone

I've always felt grateful to Professor Tolkien for largely keeping his own personal religious -- i.e., animist -- beliefs out of his published literary creations. Perhaps this reflects the rigorous criticism that he regularly solicited and received from his great friend and colleague, the atheist C. S. Lewis. At any rate, and as numerous others have noted, Tolkien's studied ambiguity towards -- if not indifference to -- religious practices in his fictional Middle-earth make this fantasy world more universal and acceptable in its appeal, particularly since historic religious traditions -- especially the Single Spook variety -- tend mostly to function as atavistic amplifiers of tribal xenophobia, more often than not engendering fear and loathing of the dreaded "OTHER" than any sort of benign impulse towards human brotherhood. Religion in Middle-earth would only have made bad things worse, so kudos to Professor Tolkien for letting the good things get along well enough -- as they usually do -- without this unnecessary encumbrance.
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Old 06-08-2011, 03:25 PM   #37
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I've always felt grateful to Professor Tolkien for largely keeping his own personal religious -- i.e., animist -- beliefs out of his published literary creations.
Last time I checked, he was a Catholic. But I think I get what you mean by animist - if you're trying to extrapolate his personal beliefs from his work, traces of animism can certainly be found there (e.g. Old Man Willow, Caradhras...); but that may be largely inherent in the mythological form he chose, and I'd be wary to simply label the man himself as an animist based on that.

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Perhaps this reflects the rigorous criticism that he regularly solicited and received from his great friend and colleague, the atheist C. S. Lewis.
... whom Tollers converted back to Christianity. Just saying.

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At any rate, and as numerous others have noted, Tolkien's studied ambiguity towards -- if not indifference to -- religious practices in his fictional Middle-earth make this fantasy world more universal and acceptable in its appeal, particularly since historic religious traditions -- especially the Single Spook variety -- tend mostly to function as atavistic amplifiers of tribal xenophobia, more often than not engendering fear and loathing of the dreaded "OTHER" than any sort of benign impulse towards human brotherhood. Religion in Middle-earth would only have made bad things worse, so kudos to Professor Tolkien for letting the good things get along well enough -- as they usually do -- without this unnecessary encumbrance.
Oh boy. Talk about a mumak in a porcelain shop. Not that I entirely disagree, but wording it like that may lead to ... interesting responses.
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Old 06-08-2011, 06:55 PM   #38
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At any rate, and as numerous others have noted, Tolkien's studied ambiguity towards -- if not indifference to -- religious practices in his fictional Middle-earth make this fantasy world more universal and acceptable in its appeal, particularly since historic religious traditions -- especially the Single Spook variety -- tend mostly to function as atavistic amplifiers of tribal xenophobia, more often than not engendering fear and loathing of the dreaded "OTHER" than any sort of benign impulse towards human brotherhood.
I don't believe you could call Tolkien "indifferent" on the subject. How do you explain the overt worship of Eru, the Prime Creator by the Númenóreans? Or the fact that, according to the UT essay Cirion and Eorl, Cirion named Eru in witness to the oaths taken by him and Eorl, and that

Quote:
[Cirion's] oath astounded those who heard it, and filled them with awe, and was alone (over and above the venerable tomb) sufficient to hallow the place where it was spoken.
Footnote 44

Why did naming Eru in the oath "hallow" the spot, unless the god himself heard the oath, and approved?

As to the last bit of your quote, all I'm going to say is that I do not agree with the basic premise, but that is not a discussion for this forum.

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Religion in Middle-earth would only have made bad things worse, so kudos to Professor Tolkien for letting the good things get along well enough -- as they usually do -- without this unnecessary encumbrance.
I daresay there are some readers who see the workings of 'religion' in the books, whether you do or not, and for them that is one of the 'good things' in itself.
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Old 06-08-2011, 07:59 PM   #39
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I don't believe you could call Tolkien "indifferent" on the subject. How do you explain the overt worship of Eru, the Prime Creator by the Númenóreans? Or the fact that, according to the UT essay Cirion and Eorl, Cirion named Eru in witness to the oaths taken by him and Eorl, and that...

I daresay there are some readers who see the workings of 'religion' in the books, whether you do or not, and for them that is one of the 'good things' in itself.
I second this. If waving a staff or speaking a word of command are techniques to gather or focus 'magic', uttering the name of a Valar seems a valid technique as well. I see the hymns sung to Elbereth as prayer, and not vain ones. I see the inclusion of a Valar's name in a prophecy or curse as a way of raising the stakes.

Yet, I do note there are few if any characters that might be described well as 'priests.' One might on occasion invoke a Valar's name in supplication, but there doesn't seem to be a clerical hierarchy of representatives claiming to speak for the Valar or advocate for their will.

We might want to say that there are few to no religious institutions in comparison to historical cultures, but that the Valar are somewhat akin to Gods and that prayer is not a futile exercise.
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Old 06-09-2011, 01:56 AM   #40
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A Magical or Religous Middle-earth?

First, from The Golden Bough: a Study in Magic and Religion, by Sir James George Frazer (1922):

Quote:
The very beasts associate the ideas of things that are like each other or that have been found together in their experience; and they could hardly survive for a day if they ceased to do so. But who attributes to the animals a belief that the phenomena of nature are worked by a multitude of invisible animals or by one enormous and prodigiously strong animal behind the scenes? It is probably no injustice to the brutes to assume that the honor of devising a theory of this latter sort must be reserved for human reason.
Second, just to clear up a point of terminology, I followed the supplied link to the Wikipedia definition of "Animism," where I found:

Quote:
According to religious scholar Robert Segal, Sir Edward Tylor saw all religions, "modern and primitive alike," as forms of animism.
I agree completely with this usage of the more comprehensive term "Animist" in preference to the parochial and sectarian manifestations of received religious rituals that many people unconsciously assume when they -- loosely -- use the term "religious." "Catholic" or "Druid" makes no significant difference -- just a minor theological squabble about the number of invisible animist spooks involved. I don't think I need to further belabor the point.

More importantly, as opposed to the "one enormous and prodigiously strong animal" school of animism, rather than the "multitude of invisible animals" school -- sometimes referred to as Monotheistic Animism vs Polytheistic Animism -- Professor Tolkien opted -- in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings -- for the creation of a "Magical" world instead of an Animist or "religious" one. According to Frazer's monumental study, both the magician and the priest claim to believe in unseen animal -- or animated -- spirits (One or several) who they claim make the observable world work as it does. Both claim to believe that the magician and the priest can sway these animal spirits -- or spooks -- to make things turn out the way the magician or the priest want. They differ, however, in that the magician believes that he can compel, or coerce, the Spook-or-spooks to do what he commands through spells and enchantments, while the priest believes that only his ritual grovelling and begging can convince the Spook-or-spooks to look favorably upon him and his tribe instead of some other priest or tribe. Therein lies the distinction between "Magic" and "Religion" -- both forms of Animism, but differing in their advertised ways of dealing with the unseen Big-Animal or host-of-little-unseen-animals -- none of which exist outside the fanciful human imagination. I leave it to the interested reader of The Hobbit and/or The Lord of the Rings to determine which form of animist behavior best describes Tolkien's Middle-earth: Magical or Religious.
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