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The origins of Magic in Middle-earth… and Earth

Saruman

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.

The Dunlendings, ancestors of the Celtic clans

Dunnish warriors

J.R.R. Tolkien regarded Arda and in particular Endor (Middle-earth) to be a mythical prehistory to our own world and that the two worlds blended somwehere in the Fifth Age, the Fourth Age marking a transition between the mythical and the historical. My own take on this, in the house rules system, is that Arda and Earth existed as parallell worlds which eventually merged into one. In this process, the mythical prehistorical events in the Third and Fourth Ages spilled over into our world, giving incentive to the development of the early mannish civilisations and cultures, such as the Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Germanic, etc. Thus, these historically verified cultures and civilisations reflected the ancient cultures and races of the Middle-earth, the latter serving as spiritual ancestors to the earthly races.

In this post I will address the Dunlending clans. It seems that Tolkien gave some hints to Dunlendings being drawn from Celtic or Gallic inspiration when he envisioned them, and that the Rohirrim represented the Saxon invasion of their lands in Britain, the Northmen of Rhovanion of course being heavily drawn on the Germanic Saxon and Norse tribes. Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE) capitalised heavily on these hints and expanded them into developing the Dunnish clans into full fledged Gallic-style cultures, such as historians envision them. This can be assertained by the ICE campaign modue from its Middle-earth Series entitled ‘Dunland and the Southern Misty Mountains’ (Stock # 3600) published 1987, especially seen in its cover painted by Walter Velez:

Dunland and the Southern Misty Mountains

Thus, I have attached a series of paintings of Angus McBride which depicts Gallic warriors from antiquity. Thankfully, he made a lot of paintings on Celtic or Gallic warriors of different shades. That was probably due to his own Scottish Gallic descent. I in particular fancy Angus McBride’s paintings, which started to appear in the Iron Crown Enterprises catalouge in 1985 and which would become the staple of ICE’s Middle-earth products. Many of the modules produced in their Middle-earth Series line would become memorable because of Angus McBride’s cover art. By then he was already a respected painter of military historical reenactment. The only McBride painting for ICE which actually bore a Celtic design to the Dunlendings where the cover of the Middle-earth Adventure module ‘Ghost Warriors’ (Stock # 8016) from 1990 depicting the Daen Coentis of the White Mountains, the ”oathbreakers” who are depicted roaming the hillfoot as terrible spectres dressed in kilts.

Det glömda folket

Of Angus McBride’s Gallic painting I will only show a few, which may serve as inspirational art. The initial painting at the head depicts some Gallic worriors (supposedly forward scouts) from the 2nd or 3rd Century BC (all of the paintings that follow depicts scenes taken from the first few centuries before the Common Era), probably scouting at Roman legionaries and engaging them with shouts and slurs, which incidentally I depict as the enbodiment of the Dúnedain of Arnor (i.e. the Roman spirit) of the Third Age. So, if we allow ourselves to be transported back to Middle-earth, looking at the same picture we see instead some Dunlending warriors defending their Dunnish homeland – Dunland – with the Misty Mountains in the background. Following this scene we look at a Dunlending chieftain riding a chariot with a Dunnish fortified town in the background (notice its similarities with Walter Velez’ cover painting above):

Next we see some Dunnish warriors looting and spreading mayhem in a Nûmenórean Temple, probably sometimes in the late Second or early Third Age era, killing some poor Temple servants or devotees in the process. You may easily spot the typical Greek flavour of achitecture and clothings of the early Nûmenóreans. There is something ominous about this picture, as the Dunlendings are being punished by the Valar for their sacrilegious acts, who sends thunderbolts striking at them and inciting fear into their faces:

Dunnish raid in Arnor

Next we see a formation of charging Dunlendings carrying spears and bronze helmets and shields, trying to make a desperate attack mounted on chariots against the orderly formation of disciplined Nûmenórean soldiers. This battle is probably set on a Arnorian plain in the mid or late Second Age. The approximate age depicted may be ascertained as the Dunlending warriors are seen being equipped with old style Dunnish weapons:

Dunnish assault at a Arnorian formation

Next we see some Wildmen of Dunland assaulting the enemy from a fortified hill on the plains of Dunland. In a typical heroic Dunnish berserker mode, which means using no amour and only being armed with crude weapons, such as slings and small bucklers, they charge down the slope taking advantage of the higher ground. Notice the typical Dunnish style tatoos on their bodies, serving a magical purpose:

Dunlednings charging

Next, in this scene taken from the late Second Age or early Third Age, we see a Dunlending chief with his elite vanguard fending off an ambush staged by Nûmenóreans set in a Dunnish forest, with the Misty Mountains clearly seen in the background. Notice the various styles of patterns and colours on the Hillmen’s clothing. Here is also seen a head hunting custom, the severed heads of course being claimed by the proud Dunnish chieftain himself:

Dunnish chief

Next we see some proud and victorious Dunnish warriors returning back home to their village in Dunland, after a successful raid against the Nûmenórean enemy. We see them being greeted by cheerful children and making a spontaneous victory parade mounted on a chariot. The typical Dunnish custom of wearing no armour and exposing the naked tatooed breast is clearly seen in this scene:

Dunnish chariot

Next we see a attachement of well armed and protected Dunlending warriors with their Chief on a raid deep in Arnorian territory, preparing a surprise attack against a Nûmenórean city in the Second Age under the cover of the night. These elite Dunnish warriors are seen wearing a variety of heavy armour:

Dunlendings raiding a ancient Numenorian city

Next is a painting, again drawn by Angus McBride, which depicts a Dunnish assault on the battlefield against a Arnorian Dúnedain legion somewhere in the first half of the Third Age, who are seen throwing their javelins back at the Dunlending warriors. In this picture the tribal plaid patterns and braided hair typcal of the Dunlendings are clearly shown:

Dunnish assault

In the following painting by McBride we see a proud Dunlending chieftain standing in his plaided mantle and old style bronze helmet and shield. This places the set somewhere in the second half of the Second Age. In the background we catch a glimpse of a grand gate of a fortified Dunnish town. We also see the typical Dunnish chariot, a vehicle that the Dunlendings use with great tactical proficiency:

Dunnish chief

Lastly we se a scene from the mid-Third Age, possibly approximating T.A. 1640 (the general game time of MERP and ICE’s Middle-earth Series) depicting an assembly of four Dunnish chiefs, all wearing heavy armour, oveseen by a Dúnedain lord at the far right indicating that the Hillmen represent clans which has been subdued by Gondor and has pledged loyalty to the King of Gondor. One of the remaining opposing and unfaithful Dunlending chiefs is also seen paying tribute to a Dunnish chieftain, after his defeat to the faithful Dunlendings, against the background of a Gondorian castle or fortified city wall:

Dunnish chiefs

In this post I have shown the reader some few and good examples on how a creative Gamemaster may transform plain historical paintings and illustrations into fantastic occurances in a mythical Middle-earth setting during the Second and Third Ages. I recommend the Gamemaster of a Middle-earth campaign to use the images and illustrations painted by Angus McBride as a primary source, preferring his designs over the more ”fantastic” and otherworldly ones made by Alan Lee and John Howe (being much in vouge today because of Peter Jackson’s movies, who used Lee and Howe as conceptual artists), as McBride partly is responsible for creating that special historical realistic feeling of ICE’s Middle-earth Series and because he is so intrinsically associated with the aestetics of ICE’s game products. There are lots of more pictures in the same vein and I reccomend the Gamemaster or player to do a through resarch on Google on Angus McBride’s artwork using the search words ”Celtic” or ”Gallic”.