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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?

Quote:
'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, 12:31 PM   #5
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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, 01:04 PM   #6
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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   #7
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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, 01:00 PM   #8
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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 01-27-2010, 09:54 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pitchwife
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.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Legate of Amon Lanc View Post
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:
Quote:
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?

Quote:
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.
Quote:
Originally Posted by PotH
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:
Quote:
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.
Quote:
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.

Quote:
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, 11:11 AM   #10
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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   #11
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Quote:
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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"I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be. Thus shall I sleep better."
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Old 01-20-2010, 12:29 PM   #12
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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 01-23-2010, 04:34 PM   #13
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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 06-12-2011, 10:06 PM   #14
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Univeral Magic vs Transient Animist Factions

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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 civilization 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).
Very hard, indeed, to find contemporary hunter-gatherer societies not exterminated by "the more advanced" animist civilizations. Hard, but not impossible. Hence, from Chapter IV of The Golden Bough: a Study in Magic and Religion, by Sir James George Frazer (http://www.bartleby.com/196/9.html):
"... among the aborigines of Australia, the rudest savages as to whom we possess accurate information, magic is universally practiced, whereas religion in the sense of a propitiation or conciliation of the higher powers seems to be nearly unknown. Roughly speaking, all men in Australia are magicians, but not one is a priest; everybody fancies he can influence his fellows or the course of nature by sympathetic magic, but nobody dreams of propitiating gods by prayer and sacrifice."
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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.
As a few other commentators have noted, Tolkien does include a few animist-sounding references to unseen spirits -- like the "Valar," etc. -- at various points in The Lord of the Rings, but nothing more significant than someone exclaiming "Holy Sh*t!" at the sudden appearance of a rampaging elephant (or Oliphaunt). More significantly, Tolkien does not follow up these exclamations with any detailed description of the supporting social institutions and ritual indoctrination that one would expect to permeate any overtly "religious" culture. Rather, we get numerous and significant episodes of "good" Magic versus "bad" Magic (i.e., Sorcery). For example:
They groped their way down the long flight of steps, and then looked back; but they could see nothing, except high above them the faint glimmer of the wizard's staff. He seemed to be still standing on guard by the closed door. ... Frodo thought he could hear the voice of Gandalf above, muttering words that ran down the sloping roof with a sighing echo. ...

Suddenly at the top of the stair there was a stab of white light. ... Gandalf came flying down the steps and fell to the ground in the midst of the Company.

"Well, well! That's over!" said the wizard struggling to his feet. "I have done all that I could. But I have met my match, and have nearly been destroyed." ...

... "What happened away up there at the door?" [Gimli] asked. "Did you meet the beater of the drums?"

"I do not know," answered Gandalf. "But I found myself suddenly faced by something that I have not met before. I could think of nothing to do but to try and put a shutting-spell on the door. I know many; but to do things of that kind rightly requires time, and even then the door can be broken by strength."

... "Then something came into the chamber -- I felt it through the door, and the orcs themselves were afraid and fell silent. It laid hold of the iron ring, and then it perceived me and my spell."

"What it was I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge. The counter-spell was terrible. It nearly broke me. For an instant the door left my control and began to open! I had to speak a word of command. That proved too great a strain. The door burst to pieces. Something dark as a cloud was blocking out all the light inside, and I was thrown backwards down the stairs. All the wall gave way, and the roof of the chamber as well, I think."
Now, Tolkien could have written this scene differently, from an animist perspective, in which case the Balrog on one side of the door and Gandalf on the other side of the door each get down upon their respective knees imploring their respective invisible deity-spooks (Melkor or Iluvatar, respectively) to either open or shut the damned door for them. But Tolkien didn't write the scene that way, for which considerate mercy I have always felt profoundly grateful.

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Why do you think this is?
As Frazer puts it, the belief in Magic precedes and underlies the later belief in Animism (essentially, magicians pushed into the invisible background to make room for the intercessor-middleman-priest). "This universal faith, this truly Catholic creed, is a belief in the efficacy of magic. While religious systems differ not only in different countries, but in the same country in different ages, the system of sympathetic magic remains everywhere and at all times substantially alike in its principles and practice. Among the ignorant and superstitious classes of modern Europe it is very much what it was thousands of years ago in Egypt and India, and what it now is among the lowest savages surviving in the remotest corners of the world."

Tolkien's magical mythology appeals to the deeper and more universal levels of the human psyche which persist stubbornly throughout human history regardless of the transient local dominance of various animist factions.
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Old 06-13-2011, 05:56 AM   #15
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Now, Tolkien could have written this scene differently, from an animist perspective, in which case the Balrog on one side of the door and Gandalf on the other side of the door each get down upon their respective knees imploring their respective invisible deity-spooks (Melkor or Iluvatar, respectively) to either open or shut the damned door for them. But Tolkien didn't write the scene that way, for which considerate mercy I have always felt profoundly grateful.
I don't think the actions of angelic spirits should be taken into account in this debate. Neither Gandalf nor the Balrog would have had any need for "prayer" in that circumstance. Being "divine" spirits of the Maia themselves, they were not of the Children of Ilúvatar, and had their own inherent powers. Elves and Men in fact reverenced the Maia in that respect, such as Ossë and Uinen.

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As Frazer puts it, the belief in Magic precedes and underlies the later belief in Animism (essentially, magicians pushed into the invisible background to make room for the intercessor-middleman-priest). "This universal faith, this truly Catholic creed, is a belief in the efficacy of magic. While religious systems differ not only in different countries, but in the same country in different ages, the system of sympathetic magic remains everywhere and at all times substantially alike in its principles and practice. Among the ignorant and superstitious classes of modern Europe it is very much what it was thousands of years ago in Egypt and India, and what it now is among the lowest savages surviving in the remotest corners of the world."
And all that is Frazer's opinion. Really, I don't see how that is relevant, unless one can show that Tolkien thought along the same lines.

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Tolkien's magical mythology appeals to the deeper and more universal levels of the human psyche which persist stubbornly throughout human history regardless of the transient local dominance of various animist factions.
Yet Tolkien did say:

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The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously so in the revision.
Letter 142

The fact that the works do enjoy such popularity may have many reasons, but I don't think one can say a conscious rejection of religion was part of it.
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Old 06-13-2011, 07:23 AM   #16
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I don't think the actions of angelic spirits should be taken into account in this debate. Neither Gandalf nor the Balrog would have had any need for "prayer" in that circumstance. Being "divine" spirits of the Maia themselves, they were not of the Children of Ilúvatar, and had their own inherent powers. Elves and Men in fact reverenced the Maia in that respect, such as Ossë and Uinen.
I'll throw up another perspective, pushing Inziladun's perspective a bit. Now, I haven't read Osanwe-kenta, Tolkien's essay on telepathy in Middle Earth. From various tidbits and reviews I gather the following… Range is not a large factor. Both individuals communicating don't have to be overly powerful. The power of the stronger is far more important than the lesser. The telepathy works best if there is a bond of authority, familiarity or a sense of urgency.

This sounds like a plausible conduit for prayer.

The other factor, as Inziladun says, is that very strong beings have innate power. I would count Eru, the valar, the maia, those who have seen the Trees, those who have dwelt in the blessed lands, all elves to a lesser extent, and some Dúnedain as among those who have such power. These might to greater or lesser extent practice the Art, a use of their own innate ability to effect things outside themselves. The telepathy of Osanwe-kenta would be just one sort of such manipulation.

In this context, religious magic might come in two parts. The first is telepathy, as an individual communicates with a divine being. The second is the divine being using his innate ability in answer to the prayer. I see no reason to distinguish between Gandalf's wizardly magic and Elbereth taking action from Mount Everwhite save that Elbereth might need to be told that something needs her attention. One might ask how much range the Valar have when manipulating the world. It would have to be considerable, perhaps indefinite.

I see Tolkien's magic as taking on many aspects. Religion and wizardly magics are just two. One can go on to prophecy, oaths, curses, the undead, fate, the creation of enchanted items, weather, corruption and other elements. It would be nice to unite them, to see underlying themes where one sort of magic merges smoothly with the next.

Is the above way of seeing religious and wizardly magic as aspects of the same thing plausible?
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Old 06-13-2011, 09:25 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by The Misfortune Teller
Now, Tolkien could have written this scene differently, from an animist perspective, in which case the Balrog on one side of the door and Gandalf on the other side of the door each get down upon their respective knees imploring their respective invisible deity-spooks (Melkor or Iluvatar, respectively) to either open or shut the damned door for them. But Tolkien didn't write the scene that way, for which considerate mercy I have always felt profoundly grateful.
Agreed, if for no other reason then because having them get down to pray in the middle of an action-packed scene would have ruined the pace (a thing that irks me about clerics in D&D); but also because the Balrog broke Gandalf's spell, which if it was due to divine intervention rather than their respective innate power would imply that the Balrog's 'god' was stronger than Gandalf's, and I can't see Tolkien intending that.

(Can we, however, also agree that, whatever we may believe about our real world, from the immanent perspective of Tolkien's subcreated world Eru and the Valar were reality? Dismissing them as 'spooks' doesn't seem quite adequate.)
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Tolkien's magical mythology appeals to the deeper and more universal levels of the human psyche which persist stubbornly throughout human history regardless of the transient local dominance of various animist factions.
Looking strictly at LotR, and leaving the Silmarillion and Tolkien's later theological/metaphysic writings (where Eru and the Valar figure much more prominently) out of the picture, yes. Even in LotR, there are hints of divine providence at work behind the scenes, but done very subtly and vaguely and avoiding any mention of specific systems of theology or worship (or 'animist factions').

About prayers to Elbereth or the Valar in general (which are about the only instances of overt religious behaviour in LotR that come to my mind), I doubt they would have to be told when their attention was needed, and I really can't see that any coercion was involved. (Frankly, the thought that e.g. Sam 'speaking in tongues' at Cirith Ungol would be able to coerce Elbereth feels rather ridiculous.) So what exactly was the point of prayer in Middle-earth? Maybe it was just a question of the praying person acknowledging "I can't cope with this on my own, I need help."

(To illustrate my point, my other favourite fantasy writer, Stephen R. Donaldson, wrote a short story Unworthy of the Angel from the pov of angel on a covert mission to save the soul of an artist who has made or is about to make a pact with the devil; the story derives its tension from the premise that the angel is powerless/forbidden to interfere openly until the person concerned, i.e. the artist, gives him permission by calling out for help. Maybe the Valar were under a similar restriction regarding the Younger Children in the Third Age?)
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Old 06-13-2011, 09:49 AM   #18
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(Can we, however, also agree that, whatever we may believe about our real world, from the immanent perspective of Tolkien's subcreated world Eru and the Valar were reality? Dismissing them as 'spooks' doesn't seem quite adequate.)
I'd second this. I am quite cynical about many real world religions, and was very cynical when I created my clerical and religious system for my D&D world. However, viewing Tolkien's works through the filter of a cynical view of religion in general isn't apt to get one close to the spirit of his works.

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(To illustrate my point, my other favourite fantasy writer, Stephen R. Donaldson, wrote a short story Unworthy of the Angel from the pov of angel on a covert mission to save the soul of an artist who has made or is about to make a pact with the devil; the story derives its tension from the premise that the angel is powerless/forbidden to interfere openly until the person concerned, i.e. the artist, gives him permission by calling out for help. Maybe the Valar were under a similar restriction regarding the Younger Children in the Third Age?)
The briefings the Valar gave to the five wizards might reflect this. The Istari were to work against Sauron, but were forbidden to use force or fear. I would strongly suspect the Valar had a similar code of behavior that limited their own actions.
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Old 06-13-2011, 10:09 AM   #19
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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?
If I may interject, perhaps it's a question of defining or understanding what is meant by religion or religiousness.

We tend nowadays, especially in the west under Christian experience, to equate religion with formal belief. There's several creeds which Christians recite as part of their statement or expression of belief and centuries of theology have been devoted to developing precise notions of belief.

But not all religions (and not Christianity exclusively) place such a high value on orthodoxy. In fact, in may, orthopraxy is the more important value, the emphasis on right behaviour rather than right belief.

Karen Armstrong in The Spiral Staircase has a good discussion on the difference and the significance of orthopraxy as religious behaviour. Here's ye olde Wikipedia on orthopraxy (although I'm not sure this is the best discussion of it).

After all, religion need not be specifically about doing churchy things or religious acts or having a priestly hierarchy, but about living a way of life that brings one closer and closer to an ethical or moral standard. For some people, ritual, prayer, mantras, meditation help the individual achieve that desired status. These are acts which bring them closer to the ideal of an ego-free, selfless "Golden Rule."

It seems to me that LotR particularly is imbued with what can be called orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy. It is historically true that Judaism and Islam have placed greater emphasis on orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy, but that does not mean the concept would not be known to Tolkien. In fact, I rather think that his removal of overt, formal signs of religion would be very close to an exploration of orthopraxy, since "right behaviour" is so clearly an issue in the story. It doesn't matter what Frodo "believes" or even that he finally came under the domination of the Ring; his actions enabled the Ring to be destroyed. I think Tolkien actually explains Frodo's moral achievement in this way, that Frodo brought about the conditions which led to the Ring's destruction. I don't have the Letters at hand, but I recall strongly (which doesn't mean my memory's right! ) this as Tolkien's defense of Frodo. Sounds very much to me like a culture where right behaviour is the salient factor rather than church hierarchies and formal dogmas and codes of belief.

Tolkien's discussion of allegory and his explanation of the Allies' behaviour (in the Forward to the Second editon where he dismisses charges of topicality) suggest also to me that he was thinking clearly of right behaviour rather than formal belief.
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Old 06-13-2011, 10:46 AM   #20
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Orthopraxy. Never heard that term before. But I like it, orthopraxy. And you are quite right, in Middle Earth it doesn't seem to matter whether the people are educated in the higher truths like the Eldar, or unschooled and (in all likelyhood) superstitious like the Rohirrim ot the Hobbits. How they measure up is decided by how they act in relation to their fellow man (or Elf or Dwarf etc) and to nature. This is something I really like about Tolkien's world and his morals. His moral standard is not a judgemental one in the sense that many conservatives now and in the past hold dear, where a failure to comply to orthodoxy leads to condemnation, but rather one tolerant of differances between peoples and individuals, as long as the heart is in the right place and you try to do what is good. I don't feel excluded from this moral standard, penned up by a deeply religious man, although I've no theistic beliefs myself and I respect Tolkien for that.

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It is historically true that Judaism and Islam have placed greater emphasis on orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy, but that does not mean the concept would not be known to Tolkien.
You mistyped and mixed up the terms here, didn't you?
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Old 06-13-2011, 11:38 AM   #21
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His moral standard is not a judgemental one in the sense that many conservatives now and in the past hold dear, where a failure to comply to orthodoxy leads to condemnation, but rather one tolerant of differances between peoples and individuals, as long as the heart is in the right place and you try to do what is good. I don't feel excluded from this moral standard, penned up by a deeply religious man, although I've no theistic beliefs myself and I respect Tolkien for that.
Well said - and I hope we can all agree that while for some people (as Bêthberry carefully put it) religious behaviour can be a way to achieve a moral/ethical standard, it's by no means a prerequisite, and may (again for some people) even have a contrary effect (as TMT noted).

Which is one reason why I'm not quite comfortable with the (modern?) tendency to reduce religion to a system of ethics (sort of a last resort of liberal theology when all else fails) - I don't feel it does complete justice to either ethics or religion. But this doesn't touch the importance of doing the right thing over belief or ritual in Tolkien. Very good point IMO.


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You mistyped and mixed up the terms here, didn't you?
I don't think so. The wikipedia article Bb linked to treats ethics as only one aspect of orthopraxy, others being e.g. "tradition, sacrificial offerings, concerns of purity"; look at the importance of keeping the Mosaic law in Judaism, or of prescribed prayers, fasting etc. in Islam, and you see orthopraxy all over the place.
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Old 06-13-2011, 01:17 PM   #22
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That's an interesting find, Bb. Like skip, I don't think I've ever heard the term "orthopraxy" before, but it seems to be in line with what you said earlier here.

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After all, religion need not be specifically about doing churchy things or religious acts or having a priestly hierarchy, but about living a way of life that brings one closer and closer to an ethical or moral standard. For some people, ritual, prayer, mantras, meditation help the individual achieve that desired status. These are acts which bring them closer to the ideal of an ego-free, selfless "Golden Rule."
What I might wonder about is where the "ethical or moral standard" comes from. Must it not be of Ilúvatar to be "right"? If the standard is up to the individual, all bets would seem to be off.

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It doesn't matter what Frodo "believes" or even that he finally came under the domination of the Ring; his actions enabled the Ring to be destroyed. I think Tolkien actually explains Frodo's moral achievement in this way, that Frodo brought about the conditions which led to the Ring's destruction. I don't have the Letters at hand, but I recall strongly (which doesn't mean my memory's right! ) this as Tolkien's defense of Frodo. Sounds very much to me like a culture where right behaviour is the salient factor rather than church hierarchies and formal dogmas and codes of belief.
Certainly Frodo answered the "call", taking the Ring in accordance with the higher power. I do note that he had knowledge of Elbereth before he ever got involved with it, though.

I still can't get past the Númenóreans, and their simple form of formalised "worship" with the Meneltarma ceremonies. Moreover, that form of worship seemed to be acceptable to Ilúvatar, while it lasted. Favour was shown to the Men of Númenor, and they lived under the protection of the Valar. After the Kings hardened their hearts and stopped the custom, things went downhill for Númenor very quickly.
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Old 06-13-2011, 02:10 PM   #23
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What I might wonder about is where the "ethical or moral standard" comes from. Must it not be of Ilúvatar to be "right"? If the standard is up to the individual, all bets would seem to be off.
Well, Ilúvatar didn't issue a Torah or some such to His Children. He gave laws (axani) to the Valar which they in turn taught to the Elves (and they in turn to the Númenoreans?), but the majority of Men in Middle-earth received no such instruction. The only way their ethical standards could be derived from Ilúvatar (and not just cultural tradition, like e.g. the warrior ethic of the Rohirrim) would be if he somehow 'programmed' it into them when he made them - which is I think imaginable and would more or less boil down to what we call individual conscience.

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I still can't get past the Númenóreans, and their simple form of formalised "worship" with the Meneltarma ceremonies. Moreover, that form of worship seemed to be acceptable to Ilúvatar, while it lasted. Favour was shown to the Men of Númenor, and they lived under the protection of the Valar. After the Kings hardened their hearts and stopped the custom, things went downhill for Númenor very quickly.
Yes, the Númenóreans are cum grano salis the Jews of Middle-earth in this respect (also in their language, which has a strong Semitic flavour in my ear). But as you noted yourself earlier, the Elvish 'proxy' worship was acceptable to him as well, and we don't see him getting angry with anybody because they did not worship him in any ritual way. I think what really did the Númenóreans in was turning from non-worship to active Morgoth-idolatry - so it would seem Eru was OK with people not worshipping him as long as they worshipped no false gods in his stead.
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Old 06-13-2011, 02:59 PM   #24
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You mistyped and mixed up the terms here, didn't you?
Pitch got to this before me. Both the Wiki article and Armstrong's discussion explain how the right behaviour matters more than the belief and argue that this is more predominant in Judaism and Islam. In fact, she retells this story from Hyam Maccoby:

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Spiral Staircase, p. 235
"Some pagans came to [Rabbi] Hillel and told him that they would convert to his faith if he could recite the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg. So Hillel obligingly stood on one leg like a stork and said, 'Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary. ' "
There's a good bit of Jewish humour in this, of course.

If y'all will bear with me, I'll quote the most succinct passage in Armstrong's argument about orthopraxy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Spiral Staircase, pp. 270-271

Hyam Maccoby had given me a clue. . . . He had told me that in most traditions, faith was not about belief but about practice. Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. If you behave in a certain way, you will be transformed. The myths and laws of religion are not true because they conform to some metaphysical, scientific, or historical reality but because they are life enhancing. They tell you how human nature functions, but you will not discover their truth unless you apply these myths and doctrines to your own life and put them into practice. The myths of the hero, for example, are not meant to give us historical information about Prometheus, or Achilles--or for that matter, about Jesus or the Buddha. Their purpose is to compel us to act in such a way that we bring out our own heroic potential.

In the course of my studies, I have discovered that the religious quest is not about discovering "the truth" or "the meaning of life" but about living as intensely as possible here and now. The idea not to latch on to some superhuman personality or to "get to heaven" but to discover how to be fully human--hence the images of the perfect or enlightened man, or the deified human being. Archetypal figures such as Muhammad, the Buddha, and Jesus become icons of fulfilled humanity. Gor or Nirvana is not an optional extra, tacked on to our human nature. Men and women have a potential for the divine, and are not complete unless they realise it within themselves.
This is, of course, her personal statement of where she has come on her journey, but it is consistent with much in medieval mystics and, for instance, Buddhism, which does not have a god demanding fealty or imposing creeds. She goes on to explain how this is not "unbridled individualism" (p. 271)--after all, Armstrong spent several years training as a nun. It might be seen as too "liberal" for Tolkien's own faith, but I think that the central tenet for him was his experience of the Mass, when he believed he partook of the divine, and this fits in with Armstrong's explanation I think. So this idea of orthopraxy is not just a modern ethical system. The word has a long tradition in religious studies.

As to what sets up the standard, perhaps that would be the issue of suffering (as it is in Buddhism). When the Numenoreans turned to worshipping Melkor, how did that change their society and behaviour to each other?

Note to Inzil: I cannot recall when I first read The Spiral Staircase, so I cannot remember if it influenced my earlier post about Frodo, but there could well be a consistency in my own journey that's coming out.

EDIT: Thanks, guys, for the props. Good to see many contributing here.
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Old 06-13-2011, 05:04 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Pitchwife View Post
Well, Ilúvatar didn't issue a Torah or some such to His Children. He gave laws (axani) to the Valar which they in turn taught to the Elves (and they in turn to the Númenoreans?), but the majority of Men in Middle-earth received no such instruction.
Right, which is the point I was making somewhere above when I reawakened this sleeping dragon.

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Originally Posted by Pitchwife View Post
The only way their ethical standards could be derived from Ilúvatar (and not just cultural tradition, like e.g. the warrior ethic of the Rohirrim) would be if he somehow 'programmed' it into them when he made them - which is I think imaginable and would more or less boil down to what we call individual conscience.
The Rohirrim at least were aware of Oromë the Vala, named Béma by them. However, what special significance he might have had to them isn't clear.
As for the 'programming' aspect, I agree with the idea. Not long ago I heard a news story which said that all of us apparently had a "God-gene", something that impelled us to seek understanding of our purpose and predisposed us toward a belief in a Higher Power.
Also, I think there are instances in the books, like Sam's belief that he had 'something to do' before the end of Frodo's quest, or Aragorn's 'heart' telling him to follow the Uruk-hai on an apparently useless pursuit, that speak of inner promptings from an Outside source. Just my opinion, of course.

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Originally Posted by Pitchwife View Post
Yes, the Númenóreans are cum grano salis the Jews of Middle-earth in this respect (also in their language, which has a strong Semitic flavour in my ear). But as you noted yourself earlier, the Elvish 'proxy' worship was acceptable to him as well, and we don't see him getting angry with anybody because they did not worship him in any ritual way. I think what really did the Númenóreans in was turning from non-worship to active Morgoth-idolatry - so it would seem Eru was OK with people not worshipping him as long as they worshipped no false gods in his stead.
If either form of worship was all right though, I still have to wonder why open ceremony as displayed on the Meneltarma was not resumed by the Kingdoms in Exile. Painful memories? Or maybe just a general falling away from the ways of their forebears?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bêthberry
Pitch got to this before me. Both the Wiki article and Armstrong's discussion explain how the right behaviour matters more than the belief and argue that this is more predominant in Judaism and Islam.
I think that goes back to what Pitch said, about Ilúvatar speaking to the heart. Otherwise, "right" behaviour cannot help being subjective.

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Originally Posted by Bêthberry View Post
As to what sets up the standard, perhaps that would be the issue of suffering (as it is in Buddhism). When the Numenoreans turned to worshipping Melkor, how did that change their society and behaviour to each other?
All "suffer" in different ways, though. Again, doesn't that make standards of right and wrong subjective, if that's where they come from?

As for the Númenóreans, of course their society deteriorated very quickly once they started the Melkor-worship. They fought and killed one another. None of that induced them as a whole to change, though. Most of them became more and more debased and anti-West as things grew worse around them.

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Originally Posted by Bêthberry View Post
Note to Inzil: I cannot recall when I first read The Spiral Staircase, so I cannot remember if it influenced my earlier post about Frodo, but there could well be a consistency in my own journey that's coming out.
This was a while back, wasn't it? I've had a journey of my own which led to a significant event about 6 weeks ago, so my own perspective may a bit different now, but I think it's fundamentally the same.
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Old 06-13-2011, 07:04 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by Bêthberry View Post
Pitch ... It might be seen as too "liberal" for Tolkien's own faith, but I think that the central tenet for him was his experience of the Mass, when he believed he partook of the divine ...
I wondered when the subject of necrophilia and ritual cannibalism would come up in connection with Tolkien's own private magical and/or animist practices. I cannot speak to Tolkien's posthumously published writings (which I have not read) but I have scoured The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for any evidence of hobbits, dwarves, elves, or men eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a renegade ancestor murdered thousands of years previously for his animist unorthodoxy. Thankfully, I could find no such references.

The gruesome practice of necrophiliac cannibalism, does, though, have an ancient history, far predating its absorption into the animist orthodoxy of Tolkien's own sectarian tradition. As Sir James George Frazer wrote in the concluding paragraph of Chapter 51, "Homeopathic Magic of a Flesh Diet" (http://www.bartleby.com/196/123.html):
“It is now easy to understand why a savage should desire to partake of the flesh of an animal or man whom he regards as divine. By eating the body of the god he shares in the god’s attributes and powers. And when the god is a corn-god, the corn is his proper body; when he is a vine-god, the juice of the grape is his blood; and so by eating the bread and drinking the wine the worshipper partakes of the real body and blood of his god. Thus the drinking of wine in the rites of a vine-god like Dionysus is not an act of revelry, it is a solemn sacrament. Yet a time comes when reasonable men find it hard to understand how any one in his senses can suppose that by eating bread or drinking wine he consumes the body or blood of a deity . 'When we call corn Ceres and wine Bacchus,' says Cicero, 'we use a common figure of speech; but do you imagine that anybody is so insane as to believe that the thing he feeds upon is a god?' "[emphasis added] -- The Golden Bough: a Study in Magic and Religion, p. 578
I love that quote from Cicero, which indicates that even the Roman pagans found some of nascent Christianity's practices disgusting and uncivilized. Worse things awaited mankind, however, as William Butler Yeats said in The Second Coming:

... The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
From what I have read of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (over many decades) it does not appear to me that Professor Tolkien thought it advisable to alienate millions of potential readers by inflicting his own sectarian animist beliefs and practices upon them. Speaking personally, at the first mention of a "Pope" in some Middle-earth version of "Vatican City," I would surely have thrown down the book in question and found something more interesting and entertaining to read.
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Old 06-13-2011, 07:49 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by TheMisfortuneTeller View Post
I wondered when the subject of necrophilia and ritual cannibalism would come up in connection with Tolkien's own private magical and/or animist practices. I cannot speak to Tolkien's posthumously published writings (which I have not read) but I have scoured The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for any evidence of hobbits, dwarves, elves, or men eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a renegade ancestor murdered thousands of years previously for his animist unorthodoxy. Thankfully, I could find no such references.
If you can find no parallel in Tolkien's works, why do you discuss that subject?
I will also say that I, as a non-Catholic, find the manner in which you refer to the Mass needlessly provocative.

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Originally Posted by TheMisfortuneTeller View Post
I love that quote from Cicero, which indicates that even the Roman pagans found some of nascent Christianity's practices disgusting and uncivilized. Worse things awaited mankind, however, as William Butler Yeats said in The Second Coming:

... The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
This has nothing to do with the thread topic. One would be tempted to think your sole purpose here is to rant against Christianity. Keep to the subject of the thread, please.
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Old 06-15-2011, 06:04 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by Bêthberry View Post
It seems to me that LotR particularly is imbued with what can be called orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy. It is historically true that Judaism and Islam have placed greater emphasis on orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy
Ah maybe ít is I who have mixed up the terms, or have been sloppy. Well, I think I thought Christianity was under the greater umbrella of Judaism, and that it consequently also would historically have valued orthopraxy over orthodoxy, which didn't ring true to me. Christianity, or at least not its mayor Churches, historically don't seem to have been happy at all with people following their own creed or lack thereof as long as they act as "good" human beings. On the contrary, pledging allegience to the one and only acceptable creed and partaking in all its rituals seem to have been a requirement for being treated as a good citizen and to have a chance of avoiding the eternal fires.

To be fair, I don't have the impression that the Muslim clerics have been much different in this respect (though perhaps, in the Middle Ages at least, more tolerant of other creeds than their Christian counterparts), and that WiKi article also suggests that the orthopraxy of Islam really could be held to be "orthodoxy applied to practice" since "the practice is held to come from doctrine [ie the faith in and obiedience to Allah]". A similar argument could be held to be true for Judaism, apparently. And frankly, the exploits of the Jews as depicted in the first testament doesn't exactly argue for a people (and religion) that are tolerant of peoples of another creed. These fellows they simply chop the head off, no questions asked. Things have changed since then, of course, but the point remains.

In any case, if you say that LotR is inbued with an orthopraxy, that the right behaviour is what matters, not one's allegiance or creed - and here I would agree - I will argue that it is not the same kind of orthopraxy that these real world religious leaders have preached throughout history. In Islam or Judaism the right behaviour may be what's most important, but what constitutes the right behaviour is decided by the clerics (or, allegedly, God, through the clerics).

In Middle Earth, apparently, there are no clerics and there are no holy books. There are some instances and suggestions of deities or demi-deities communicating directly with people or characters, but these are exceptions surely. Who then is to decide what is right or wrong? The people are rather left to decide among themselves, aren't they?

So: Imagine no (organized) religion!

In a way, this seems to be what Tolkien's done.
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Old 06-15-2011, 07:33 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by skip spence View Post
In any case, if you say that LotR is inbued with an orthopraxy, that the right behaviour is what matters, not one's allegiance or creed - and here I would agree - I will argue that it is not the same kind of orthopraxy that these real world religious leaders have preached throughout history. In Islam or Judaism the right behaviour may be what's most important, but what constitutes the right behaviour is decided by the clerics (or, allegedly, God, through the clerics).
There might be another perspective on this. Religious scholars have recently began using computers to do language analysis of the Bible and other ancient works. One goal is to figure out who wrote what. One perspective that came out of this is that the Bible mixed together two distinct traditions.

The story telling tradition would deal with Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, with David slaying Goliath, with water being turned to wine. The priestly tradition dealt with rules, with keeping holy the lord's day, not eating pork, and not coveting one's neighbor's wife. There was conjecture that the story telling tradition was more rural and informal, while the priestly tradition was more urban and concerned with consolidation of authority.

This might illustrate the nature of 'organized religion,' such as it is, in Tolkien's works. There is an abundance of tales which present moral decisions and show the implications of making the incorrect choice. There is no priest class deriving rules from these stories and trying to make sure the rules are followed.

Which might be another perspective on the Orthopraxy / Orthodoxy distinction.
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Old 06-15-2011, 10:00 AM   #30
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I'm like the White Rabbit, always late to the debate. Sorry, RL kept me mostly absent from the net yesterday.

Let me start by saying that I have neg repped a post up here, not because I object to the ideas but because I object to the gratuitous attempt to insult other people's ideas. To take up the point of Tolkien's experience of the Mass and see if it appears anywhere in the text (something I did not do) is legitimate, but it does not require one quote refutations of the Mass, particularly those that rather arrogantly assume their own superiority--they can have no bearing on Tolkien's experience and so really are irrelevant to the discussion. It's not like Tolkien would have thought, hey, these folks are right, so I'll just omit it from the story. I smell someone who wishes to bait us rather than engage in legitimate discussion, which is what Skip has done. And if this is an unfair characterisation of TMT, then I would of course apologise. But communities have standards of respect and tone and that's important here on the Downs. And for the record, I'm not Catholic.

I also want to make a short reply to something Inzil commented on:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Inzil
I think that goes back to what Pitch said, about Ilúvatar speaking to the heart. Otherwise, "right" behaviour cannot help being subjective.
I think that raising the issue of subjectivity is not helpful, for several reasons, metaphysically, epistemologically, logically because "subjective" is not necessarily always defined as the opposite of "objective." For instance, I can have a headache, which is felt only by me and so thus could be said to be subjective, but that does not make the headache any less real. Also, it is possible to say that, given there is widespread agreement between people and cultures about what is a good person and what is morally problematic, that such "subjective" explanations become in effect an objective standard without resort to a deity. I don't want to ramble at length other than to say that I think the objective/subjective road is not an authoritative one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Skip
In any case, if you say that LotR is inbued with an orthopraxy, that the right behaviour is what matters, not one's allegiance or creed - and here I would agree - I will argue that it is not the same kind of orthopraxy that these real world religious leaders have preached throughout history. In Islam or Judaism the right behaviour may be what's most important, but what constitutes the right behaviour is decided by the clerics (or, allegedly, God, through the clerics).
I offerred orthopraxy as an example of one way of thinking about spirituality which might be applicable to LotR. It is a term which I think offers something valuable. To analyse it in other religions would be, I think, outside the scope of this thread (and of the Downs), so I'll just say I agree with your first sentence here. I meant simply that the term and its understanding is not some post-modern or new age fandangle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Skip
In Middle Earth, apparently, there are no clerics and there are no holy books. There are some instances and suggestions of deities or demi-deities communicating directly with people or characters, but these are exceptions surely. Who then is to decide what is right or wrong? The people are rather left to decide among themselves, aren't they?
Quote:
Originally Posted by blantyr
The story telling tradition would deal with Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, with David slaying Goliath, with water being turned to wine. The priestly tradition dealt with rules, with keeping holy the lord's day, not eating pork, and not coveting one's neighbor's wife. There was conjecture that the story telling tradition was more rural and informal, while the priestly tradition was more urban and concerned with consolidation of authority.

This might illustrate the nature of 'organized religion,' such as it is, in Tolkien's works. There is an abundance of tales which present moral decisions and show the implications of making the incorrect choice. There is no priest class deriving rules from these stories and trying to make sure the rules are followed.
This reminds me of a point which Christopher Tolkien made about his father's work--a point also discussed at length by the scholar Tom Shippey. I'm not sure how applicable it is to this discussion, but it might be. It is the point about the 'impression of depth', of time and ages past and ofthe power of suggestion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JRRT, letter dated 20 Sept 1963
Part of the attraction of The L.R. is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist.
Quote:
Originally Posted by JRRT, letter quote by CT, BoLT foreward, p. 3
A story must be told or there'll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are the most moving. I think you are moved by Celebrimbor because it conveys a sudden sense of endless untold stories: mountains seen far away, never to be climbed, distant trees (like Niggle's) never to be approached. . .
What I am wondering about--and it is just a suggestion as I am still mulling it over--is whether this is a crucial aesthetic motive for Tolkien's attitude towards religion in LotR. I am like Skip in that I greatly appreciate the lack of allegory or explicit references to religion in LotR--that is one reason why I don't enjoy C.S. Lewis' Narnia (I don't like being hit on the head). I suppose it's in the nature of the fan dance just to suggest and this is the power of any religious element in LotR. To formalise it would be to destroy this attraction of glimpse which some can see.

So, having been interrupted by two telephone calls while writing this, I must close.
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Old 06-15-2011, 11:45 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by skip spence View Post
In Middle Earth, apparently, there are no clerics and there are no holy books. There are some instances and suggestions of deities or demi-deities communicating directly with people or characters, but these are exceptions surely. Who then is to decide what is right or wrong? The people are rather left to decide among themselves, aren't they?
I think, in Tolkien's M.E., it depends on whether the question is asking:
  • Do people get to establish the standards of good/evel by their own choices (ie, if I decide it's right, then it is)? <or>
  • Do people get to decide what they will do - hoping they are making the right decision (ie, even if I make my best guess, I may still be doing evil)?
Eomer asked Aragorn at one time (rough quote) "How shall a man decide what is right to do?" And Aragorn responded, "As he ever has, Good and Evil do not change from one time to another, nor are they one thing among elves and another among men."

I think that, IN TOLKIEN'S CREATION, any discussion of good and evil begins with Eru and his "Mighty Theme" (cf Music of the Ainur). That which followed the Theme is good and that which goes off on it's own is evil. For creatures to decide, ages later, what specific deeds are good & evil is sometimes hard (like, should Eomer give horses to Aragorn in violation of his king's commands) - but at no time, IMO, does the individual get to choose what the standard of Good is, only whether to take actions that BELIEVE are good (or evil).
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Old 06-19-2011, 11:46 AM   #32
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...at no time, IMO, does the individual get to choose what the standard of Good is, only whether to take actions that BELIEVE are good (or evil).
No, you are certainly right about that. In Arda there is Good and there is Bad, and these are objective qualities. But what I meant I suppose is that its inhabitants instinctively seem to be able to tell good from bad without any help from clerics or holy books that establish a moral standard, and without any threat of condemnation or eternal punishment in the afterlife, without any promise of a Heaven free from pain. Sure, one might presume that there is judgement in the Halls of Mandos for all the speaking people but among the living (excluding the Eldar and those associated with them) there doesn't seem to be any awareness of this and no traditions that speak of God or the Halls of Mandos and what lies beyond. If a Hobbit is doing his or her best to be a good person, that Hobbit does it with an internal motivation, and not to please Eru and book a seat in heaven. Much like a secular humanist, wouldn't you say?
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Old 06-20-2011, 10:40 AM   #33
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No, you are certainly right about that. In Arda there is Good and there is Bad, and these are objective qualities. But what I meant I suppose is that its inhabitants instinctively seem to be able to tell good from bad without any help from clerics or holy books that establish a moral standard...
I think I see your point, but do have a couple of observations about it.
First, it may not be easy to distinguish (whether in Arda or in our world) between an understanding of "good" that is instinctive vs an understanding that is taught.
The peoples of the West (whether Numenorean or other) had a long history of teaching derived from the Valar - both via the Noldor and via Maia sent among the Edain at the end of the First age. Tho possibly garbled with time, that was still handed down and taught over the years. And they retained contacts with the Eldar even into the Third Age - which would help reduce the level of "garblege". The peoples of the East & South had a long history of servitude to Sauron coloring their beliefs of good and bad.
Second, even with that, and with the limited records we have, the inhabitants of Arda are frequently choosing "bad" - suggesting their "instincts" may not be all that much different from ours. For example (just to list a few)...
  • Elves: Thingol locks up his daughter in a treehouse rather than let her elope.
  • Elves: Turgon grows so proud he refuses the direct advice of a Vala and dooms his people to death and destruction.
  • Elves: Celebrimbor leads a coup in Eregion to supplant Galadriel & Celeborn and place his guild in charge.
  • Elves: Galadriel & Celeborn ban all Dwarves from Lorien for hundreds of years even tho Dwarves were as much victims of the Balrog as Elves.
  • Dwarves: Sneaky murder of Thngol, lying about it and leading an army to sack Menegroth.
  • Dwarves: Some (of all races, incl Dwarves) fought WITH Sauron at the end of the 2nd Age.
  • Dwarves: Greed of Thorin willing to have a war rather than be generous with his wealth after fall of Smaug.
  • Ents: Skinbark refused to participate in defeating Saruman.
  • Ents/Huorns: Per Treebeard "there are dales in this land where the Darkness has never been lifted".
  • Men: It is said that well nigh all the peoples of the east & south were under Sauron's sway - and worshiped him as a god.
  • Men: Castamir usurped the throne of Eldacar leading tot he Civil War of the kin-strife.
  • Men: Servants of Denethor were so confused about "what was right" they got into a fight in the Hallows leading to the volient killing of some (by Beregond).
  • Men: The rebellion of Numenor.
  • Men: The pride of Aldarion & Erendis leading to their estrangement and Ancalime growing up with a rather jaundiced view of men - leading to her own final marriage (simply to deny the throne to one she didn't like).
  • Hobbits: Lobellia S.B. stealing silver spoons from Bilbo (and trying to steal things from Frodo after Bilbo leaves).
  • Hobbits: Ted Sandyman going over to the ruffian's side and helping to pollute "The Water".
That Hobbits seem to have fewer bad examples may be due less to instinct than to their more insular (and less stressful) situation - at least at the times the records deal with leading up to the War of the Ring.
A rough parallel might be to consider how a small, rural, mid-western, U.S. prairie town of 1100 is likely to have less crime & delinquency per-capita than, say, the Inner City of Los Angeles or New York. In the smaller setting, everyone pretty much knows everyone and, if someone starts to go off the path, there is tremendous pressure to bring them back.
But that is less a matter of instinct about what is "good" than pressure to conform to the local "standard" - whatever it is.
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Old 03-25-2013, 10:33 PM   #34
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...In Middle Earth, apparently, there are no clerics and there are no holy books...
Not entirely true. Rumil of Tirion is supposed to have written several books, which were continued by Pengolodh of Gondolin. They must have been preserved into the Third Age because Bilbo is supposed to have translated them into Westron.

They were written as historical facts of ME, rather than 'holy' books, but the distinction is a fine one. Rumil's creation story, Ainulindalë, is the opening chapter of the Silmarillion and it is both history and mythology: historical in its account of creation and mythological in its removal from the state of affairs at the end of the Third Age.

It is unclear what the peoples of the TA believed in what we might call a "religious" way. If the Dwarves considered their own tales as fact then Elvish tales would be less significant, but if they considered thir own tales to be parables just for Dwarves, then maybe they could be more accomodating of Elvish tales. How would Elven tales like Ainulindalë be percieved by Men and Hobbits? Wouldn't they be considered as myth? After all, ME was no longer lit by two trees, nor was it flat, so the stories would not match observable phenomena. Even the mountains and rivers had been completely reformed, so there was little possibility of paleaontological/archaeological evidence to validate or re-write the tales. It seems logical to imagine the younger races, as the centuries of the Fourth Age pass, calling Rumil's works "sacred" or "holy", if not to themselves then at least to the Elves.
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Old 03-26-2013, 12:57 PM   #35
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Note however that the (public) worship of Eru was restricted to the King alone, on certain specified days; invoking the Almighty was simply Not Done except by the highest, on the highest occasions. It is said in Cirion and Eorl that the very act of naming The One hallowed the sdummit of Halifirien from thenceforward, and it was an act that astounded all present- even though Cirion legally had all th powers of the Kings, this was one none of his predecessors had ever presumed to exercise.
Indeed you're correct about the King leading the "worship services" on the Meneltarma.
I still think my idea could be valid, though, with the thanksgiving and prayers directly to Eru being not only sanctioned, but perhaps even mandated by the Valar. Why else would Manwë have felt it necessary to send Eagles to "witness" the ritual? He didn't need them to know what was happening: he could see it with divine power. It looks to me as if the Eagles were a reminder to Númenor that they were always being observed to see that their allegiance was properly placed.

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If the Dwarves considered their own tales as fact then Elvish tales would be less significant, but if they considered thir own tales to be parables just for Dwarves, then maybe they could be more accomodating of Elvish tales.
The Dwarves reverenced Aulë, so I would think they would see Elven histories as factual historical tales, at least as they concerned the Valar. Anything to do with Elf/Dwarf conflicts, like the events surrounding Thingol's death, would doubtless be read with a jaundiced eye though.

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How would Elven tales like Ainulindalë be percieved by Men and Hobbits? Wouldn't they be considered as myth? After all, ME was no longer lit by two trees, nor was it flat, so the stories would not match observable phenomena. Even the mountains and rivers had been completely reformed, so there was little possibility of paleaontological/archaeological evidence to validate or re-write the tales. It seems logical to imagine the younger races, as the centuries of the Fourth Age pass, calling Rumil's works "sacred" or "holy", if not to themselves then at least to the Elves.
The survivors of Númenor would at least have put stock in the First Age histories, especially since they would have had at least oral, if not written records of some of those times themselves. They also had artifacts like the ring of Barahir to support belief.

Lesser Men like the Rohirrim were probably a lot more ignorant of such remote times, even though they knew of the Vala Oromë.

As for Hobbits, though they held to the Elvish manner of referring to the Sun as she, I doubt they knew the genesis of that. Hobbits had forgotten their own history up to a fairly recent point, so it seems unlikely they knew (or cared to know) about a lot of "Elvish nonsense).
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Old 03-27-2013, 11:40 AM   #36
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As for Hobbits, though they held to the Elvish manner of referring to the Sun as she, I doubt they knew the genesis of that. Hobbits had forgotten their own history up to a fairly recent point, so it seems unlikely they knew (or cared to know) about a lot of "Elvish nonsense).
Especially since, prior to Bilbo's work, it's unlikely that the legends/histories of the First Age were even available in Westron, at least in the North; and very very few hobbits ever learned Sindarin. Note that at Weathertop the tale of Beren and Luthien was new to them; and none knew about Gil-Galad save Sam (and doubtless Frodo), who had learned it from Bilbo.
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