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Tolkien at the End of Time;
Alchemical Secrets of The Lord of the Rings

By Jay Weidner and Sharron Rose

Gandalf the Wizard was very likely modeled after the tales of the Alchemical Masters of old. He plays a prominent role in the story of the Third Age of Middle-earth. During his confrontation with the monstrous Balrog in the depths of Moria, he refers to himself as the 'servant of the secret fire'. Tolkien in a letter to Robert Murray, dated 4 November 1954, describes Gandalf as well as the other wizards as 'incarnate angels' sent to Middle-earth in the Third Age as stewards and emissaries to assist Elves and Men in their resistance to the forces of darkness as the next challenge for its dominion by the Dark Lord Sauron begins to materialize. Reminiscent of the primary goals of the great Alchemical Masters, the fundamental role of the Wizards as conceived by Tolkien is to foster, nourish and strengthen this universal spirit within humanity by educating them, advising them and keeping their hearts and minds continuously focused upon the ' Way of the Light'. They are, in essence, the 'Hermetic Brotherhood' of Alchemy. Through this sacred endeavor, the courage and fortitude to resist the enticements of the dark forces that inevitably arise both within and without will be reinforced, and the essential mission of the Divine Great Work, that of keeping the vital spark of the secret fire pure and uncontaminated will be fulfilled.

In Tolkien's tale, as in our world, even the great masters are capable of error with its inexorable descent into darkness. The wizards Gandalf and the powerful leader of his order Saruman, like those that adorn the pages of the alchemical lore, are not exempt from being tested. By weaving the story of Gandalf's continuous struggle towards the light as demonstrated in his self-sacrificing acts contrasted with the egregious, self-aggrandizing acts of the fallen Sauruman, Tolkien is again bringing into focus the unavoidable choice that befalls each and every one of us no matter how far we rise in knowledge, power and influence. But by sacrificing himself Gandalf not only saves Frodo, the Ring and the Fellowship but he is turned from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White. It is this selfless act that transforms him and gives him a greater degree of wisdom and power than ever before. For this battle with and victory over the Balrog through the depths of the underworld allows him to become an even greater 'servant of the light' who can more effectively challenge the dark, corrupted power of Sauruman. 15

Is it possible that through his research, Tolkien uncovered the magical 'Language of the Birds', and discovered that the fabled lore of Alchemy also appeared to resonate through these languages? It is clear that through this knowledge of alchemical lore, Tolkien also couldn't have helped but notice that the weave of language appeared to be growing tighter as these languages approached the Modern Age, that language, like our culture, our bodies and the earth itself appears to be densifying through time and the Four Ages of Humanity.

Tolkien's Cosmology ­

The Story of the Ages and the Perpetual Battle of Good and Evil

" I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth', and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear. There cannot be any ' story' without a fall ­ all stories are ultimately about the fall "

-J.R.R. Tolkien from the Preface to The Silmarillion

In Tolkien's cosmology, which takes us from the moment of creation to the beginnings of the Fourth Age of Middle-earth, the essential philosophical concerns that lie at the core of our reality are brought forward and elucidated upon through the story line, thoughts and actions of his characters, whether they be Elves, Wizards or Men. By being bequeathed the gift of 'free will' by the Creator, Tolkien's characters, like each and every one of us, is given the opportunity to choose between good and evil, egotism and selflessness, God and Satan- to follow the path of the light or fall into darkness and corruption. As in the epic legends such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata of India, the Kalivala of Finland and Norse mythology, in every Age of the world, there is a seduction by and fall towards darkness, with a corresponding battle between the forces of good and evil to set the world aright again for the people of the coming Age. The story of Tolkien's world, like that of our own, is one of the continuous battle of opposing forces, of light and darkness, good and evil, beauty and horror, magic and the machine.

To gain a greater perspective on The Rings Trilogy, one must take a look at Tolkien's history of the Ages. As in all great creation tales, the unfolding and development of the Ages begins with what he refers to as a cosmological myth. As documented in The Silmarillion, from the harmonic convergence of the Valar, (Primal Powers of the Creator) the creative vision of the Earth appears. In the same manner as the alchemical teachings of the Ages relates the story of the First or Golden Age as being the Age when the gods inhabit the earth, Tolkien's Valar, in order to fully manifest their vision, descend from the heavens and dwell upon the Earth, sometimes as beings of light, sometimes in material bodies. 16 At the utmost West of the world they create their home or Paradise known as Valinor and begin to prepare the Earth for the coming of God's Children, the Elves known as the 'First-born' and Men, known as the 'Followers'. But in Tolkien's ontology, as in many of the great epics, almost immediately there is a 'fall' by the greatest of the Valars named Melkor who later became known as Morgoth in the Elvin tongue. He was the original dark force who, during this First Age, perverted Sauron, one of the inhabitants of Valinor to his service, taking him as his chief servant and representative of evil. In his tale entitled Valaquenta from The Silmarillion, Tolkien describes this first 'fall' of Melkor,

" From splendour he fell through arrogance to contempt for all things save himself, a spirit wasteful and pitiless. Understanding he turned to subtlety in perverting to his own will all that he would use, until he became a liar without shame. He began with the desire of the Light, but when he could not possess it for himself alone, he descended though fire and wrath into a great burning, down into Darkness. And darkness he used most in his evil works upon Arda (Earth) and filled it with fear for all living things. " (S 31)

So from the beginning of the actual formation of the earth out of the music and vision of the Gods the corruption of the Divine Art of Creation began. Having fallen from grace in a manner reminiscent of the Demiurge of the Christian Gnostics, Melkor could never create of his own accord but merely produce counterfeit versions of pre-existing beings by twisting, distorting and manipulating those created by the One. In this way, he brought forth a rift into the world. For from the moment that he 'fell' and turned his face towards egotism and tyranny, Melkor became an irritant that could not be ignored.




With the coming of the spirit of Melkor into the world, the great epic of Middle-earth truly begins. Tolkien's First Age is primarily concerned with the story of the awakening, activities and 'fall' of many of the First-born Elves and their battles with Melkor and Sauron. This ultimately sets the stage for the expulsion of many of the Elves from Valinor/ Paradise and their first contact with the Men of Middle-earth. The First Age ends with the arousal of the Power of the Gods against Melkor and Sauron (inspired by the vision of Ragnarok from Norse mythology), the destruction of their realm and Melkor's expulsion from the World into the Void. As in the alchemical story of the Ages, the veils between the worlds begin to fall, and the sight of Paradise although still visible to the banished Elves from their Blessed Land of EressŽa is removed from the sight of Middle-earth.

 

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