The origins of Magic in Middle-earth… and Earth


The nature of magic in Middle-earth, as the story is retold by J.R.R. Tolkien and Iron Crown Enterprises Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP) game, may be summarized as the partaking as a singer of the Music of the Ainur or Ainulindalë. With this music the Ainur, who later took the corporeal forms of the Valar and Maiar, created Arda – the World. The Supreme Being, or creator god in Tolkien’s recount of the mythical prehistory of the world, is Eru Ilúvatar. If the Ainur, who were created by Eru as the children of his thought, are seen as the heavenly Choir, Eru himself is the Great Conductor. Thus the act of creation is a magical act performed by the gods (i.e. Ainur), which all magic – both high and low – tries to emulate. Magic is the prerogative of the immortal inhabitants of Arda, the Valar, Maiar and Elves, who’s home lies in Valinor of the Undying Lands. When returning to Middle-earth the Elves brought magical knowledge and lore with them, as taught to them by the Valar and Maiar. Thus, knowledge of magic had also become the possession and even birthright amongst some men of Middle-earth, through Elvish intervention.

CelebornMost prominently the High Men, or Nûmenóreans, had come to master the magical arts through their communion and racial intermingling with the Elves. Athough not immortal themselves, the Nûmenóreans once lived for several centuries with perfect health, resembling how the Bible depicts the first Men in Genesis before sin sealed their lives with the 120 years limit. As their royal and Elvish bloodlines became watered-down and spoiled through intercourse with the middle and low men of Middle-earth, their race also dwindled and their longevity shortened. After the fall of Nûmenór the remaining faithful settled permanently in North-Western Endor and created the twin kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, and later became the Dúnedain during the Third Age. Still, these high men and descendents of the ancient Nûmenóreans live much longer compared to the other mannish races, and they also possess knowledge of magic, astrology and alchemy, mostly used for good and noble ends. They have also continued their cooperation with the Elves, especially in Lindon and Rivendell, until T.A. 1640.

Together with the Elves and the Ishtari (Wizards), it is mainly the Dùnedain who possess knowledge of divine and good magic, although some of that knowledge has spilled over also to other cohabitant mannish races in a much lesser degree, such as the Dunlendings and the Northmen of Rhovanion, besides the rural and urban common men of Eriador and Gondor. This type of magic may be divided into either two (MERP) or three (Rolemaster) categories or realms, that of Essence (MERP/RM), Channeling (MERP/RM) and Mentalism (RM). Knowledge of Essencegaladriel2.jpg produce Mages while that of Channeling produce Animists or Clerics. The Dunlending clans I imagine, being drawn on the Gallic culture, do have their own Animists which is the equivalent of Druids. The magical lore of the Druids are drawn from earlier sources than that of the Nûmenóreans but I imagine that they learned this from the Elves as well, perhaps from the Silvan or Wood-elves, the least noble group of Elves who never left for Aman. The Northmen I imagine possess the little that they know of magic from both the Dwarves (to whom they indebt much of their culture and knowledge) and the Wood-elves of Mirkwood.

Dwarves are not a particular magical race per se but they seem to have some knowledge of magic and alchemy to enhance and enchant their technology and mechanical innovations. Here I also imagine that this may be the result of early cooperation between the Elves and Dwarves during the First and Second Ages. For example, the great West-gate or Doors of Durin of Khazad-dûm was constructed in cooperation between Dwarves and Noldor Elves; the two doors when closed could only be opened magically by uttering the pass-word Mellon (S: ”Friend”). I imagine that this particular magic was the especial contribution of the Elves. The Dwarves being mostly tellurgic or chthonically inclined, have no natural understanding for magic and apparantly scoff at spells and such things; the logic is that they only possess knowledge of magic and alchemy that was taught to them at close hand from the Sindar Elves during the Years of the Trees, and later from the Noldor, and perhaps through some direct early divine intervention from the SmithVala Aulë who created the Dwarves and gave the Seven Fathers some possession of magical and alchemical knowledge connected to forging, mining, metallurgy, etc.

When it comes to the Easterlings and in particular the Southrons, it is obvious when we consider Tolkien’s own words and ICE’s Middle-earth Series, that they largely possess knowledge of evil or dark magic, known as sorcery. They have obviously come under the shadow of Sauron, and before that of Morgoth. In the same manner, the unfaithful or Black Nûmeóreans pay tribute to the Dark Lord and practice a twisted and evil form of Elvish magic and alchemy. Now Morgoth (or Melkor as he was known before his open rebellion against Eru), the greatest amongst the Ainur, was the originator of disharmony in the Ainulindalë as he sang his own song out of tune with the rest of the Ainur. This became the origin of evil magic, or the act of creation with evil or harmful intentions. Melkor, and later Sauron, manipulated and influenced the Elves, such as making them forge the Rings of Power for his own ends. (Some Elves were captured by Melkor’s minions and tormented beyond recognition; thus was the Orcs created.) In reading the ICE’s campaign module ‘The Court of Ardor in Southern Middle-earth’ (Stock # ME 2500) we are told that the Elves of Mûmakan, having good intentions (as they always have), became manupulated by Melkor to develop a dark form of elemental magic, and soon became the 19 Lords of the Court of Ardor. They even developed a deck of magical cards with the aid of Melkor himself which they called ”The Cards of Arna”, which directly reflects the 22 Trumps of the Tarot Major Arcana as we know it. (I’m planning to write a separate post on the Cards of Arna and compare them with the 22 Tarot Trumphs.)

My take on this subject of sorcery is that as Melkor before him, the Maiar Sauron uses magic to corrupt the men, and even the Elves. He used magic (which also has a divine origin as any magic performed by a Maiar) to bind the Black Nûmenóreans to his leash. When anyone, especially a fainthearted character, uses magic in Middle-earth by the time of T.A. 1640, when Sauron appears at Dol Guldur as the Necromancer, that person catches the gaze of the evil eye of Sauron. Even through good magical deeds, the spell caster ”lights up” on the astral realm of shadow and becomes the target of Sauron’s magical manipulation instead of receiving the aid of the Valar and Maiar; Sauron is after all the Lord of Middle-earth from aSauron spiritual perspective and magic performed there can easily sway towards the Shadow of Mordor. Elves and other Maiar are somewhat protected through their strong will and spirit (in MERP & RM game terms a high value of Presence or PR). However, even the mightiest amongst the Ishtari, Saruman the White, did eventually fall under the Shadow of Sauron (althought in T.A. 1640 that is still a well guarded secret). It is only the absense of the One Ring of Power which prevents Sauron to become the actual Lord of Middle-earth and the ruler of all Kings, something that Saruman craves for himself. When the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins finds the One Ring in T.A. 2941 it gradually becomes activated which quickens Sauron’s spirit and makes him more powerful than ever. This explains why the practice of magic is so scarce amongst men at the closure of the Third Age and more common in T.A. 1640 as the One Ring still hides at the bottom of the great river Anduin. Thus, the Elves are both the transmittors of good and evil magic in Middle-earth, in the latter case through the manipulations of Sauron.

There exists a interesting parallell to our own world in traditionalist hermeticism (recounted by Julius Evola) which reflects that process of Middle-earth. (Tolkien obviously was in rapport with the Traditionalist Perennial School.) As the Elves are the transmittors of the divine magic to men so there exists a tradition which states that a semi-spiritual race of Hyperboreans transmitted the esoteric tradition to mankind. These Hyperboreans inhabited the northern parts of Europe (hyperboreus literarily means ”beyond the north”), much like the Elves of Eriador. They even founded the mythical civilization of Atlantis, which emulates Nûmenor (or perhaps Valinor even). Through inbreeding with humans the divine bloodlines of the Hyperboreans were transmitted through Man, but in the process corrupting the purity of the Hyperborean race which eventually lead to the cataclysm of Atlantis (in a similar vein as Nûmenor was flooded). In this view the fair races of North and Central Europe most of all embody the spirit of the Hyperboreans, and conversely the southern dark skinned races most of all are considered to be drawn to more chthonic influences, a concept which may seem quite racist to the modern mind. But let’s be honest, in Middle-earth the noble Nûmenorians (who are under the most Elven influence) are fair skinned, while the ”swarthy” Southrons and Easterlings are under Saurons dominion (not an entirely political correct notion either, which may be excused by it being a saga and thus a metaphore).

Far HaradIn Middle-earth being a mythical prehistory of our World, the notion of ancient occurances, races and cultures of Middle-earth later affecting earthly cultures and races follows naturally. Thus, following the rationale of this parallell world theory and Middle-earth and Earth eventually becoming merged, and the mythical existance of Arda becoming manifest in our world, it stands as obvious that the actual identity of the mysterious Hyperboreans are non other than the Elves of Arda. These noble and almost semi-spiritual (or at least otherworldly) creatures transmitted the magical, astrological and alchemical, i.e. esoteric lore, to the Nûmenorians or High Men. These later became the spiritual impetous to the Minoan and Greek civilizations, later Hellenistic and Roman, which by and large was the origin to the European civilization proper. In a similar vein, the magical, astrological and alchemical tradition of the Nûmenóreans later emerged in our world as the hermetic tradition, and all of the other sister traditions centered around Alexandria, such as the Pythagorean, Neo-Platonic, Gnostic, Qabalistic, etc. Elven magic in Ardor, I imagine, was the originator of much of the magical traditions of the Far Harad, which later spilled over into the Oriental esoteric traditions such as Yoga, Tantra, Daoism, pre-Islamic Arabic magic, etc.

The really intersting and unique thing with ICE’s description of the magic of the Court of Ardor is that it very closely approximates the hermetic tradition of the elements and the Tarot (the Cards of Arna), not described anywhere else in the MERP rules. In my view, the Mûmakan area is the equivalent of Earth’s Chaldea or Mesopotamia, one of the founding places of the Chaldean magical, astrological and alchemical traditions which later emerged as the hermetic tradition in Hellenistic Alexandria. The really interesting thing with the hermetic tradition is that it is very closely related in its essence with the tantric and yogic traditions of India; in a similar vein I imagine that the magic of the five elements and that of the Arna (Tarot) has a very strong and open presence in Mûmakan, not so much obvious and practiced in the open by the Elves and men in Eriador and Gondor. However, as the Court of Ardor is described by ICE as formulating as early as in the closing years of the First Age, and under the influence of Melkor, it constitutes a very old form of magic and probably reflects Elven magic (corrupted or not) in general, which is elemental based precisely as in the ancient (and later) form of Greek magic and alchemy. And the Elven culture is of course the spiritual origin of the Minoan and Greek civilizations, which heavily influenced the Nûmenóreans, etc.