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Organised worship in Middle-earth
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noWizardme
Tol Eressea


May 6 2013, 8:47am

Post #1 of 54 (569 views)
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Organised worship in Middle-earth Can't Post

Organised worship in Middle-earth seems pretty absent. Does that strike you as odd?

It's hard to find any substantial real-life human habitation which has no churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, often as large and fine as the community can manage. But if there are Temples of Varda or Shrines of Ulmo, they don't come into the stories even as casual mention (as far as I recall).

We do hear characters exclaim a prayer ("may the Valar turn him aside" ) or make a blessing. And at Rivendell, Songs of the Blessed Realm are very much on the playlist in the Hall of Fire. But I read the latter as elvish nostalgia for the old country as much as worship. The Rohirrim have drinking sessions, and the dwarves: well, who knows what they do, except that it would be in character not to say.
In fact the only mentions I can think of of worship are the folks who fell into the error of worshiping Sauron!

Interesting to note that some in Rivendell had a truly been to the Blessed Realm, and personally met the gods. It would be difficult for an evidenced-based elvish thinker to deny their existance,as atheists do for the gods of real life. So it doesn't seem likely to me that the explanation is "widespread atheism". In our read through of the Silmaion, the Valar are coming in for a lot of criticism re their stewardship- I suppose you could theorise that the gods are unpopular in Middle-earth because they aren't good for much! (I expect that's a theological position which has a name, probably as a heresy, but I don't know what it's called.) But I understand that Tolkien was a devout man, and so it seems odd that he'd imagine a fantasy world with undeniable gods whom nearly everyone is ignoring.....

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimė I am in the West, and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "


sador
Half-elven


May 6 2013, 9:21am

Post #2 of 54 (385 views)
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I'm sure it was deliberate [In reply to] Can't Post

Any worship of the Valar would be equivalent to idolatry; and worshipping Eru would be out of place in a pre-Christian world.
In fact the was a hallow on Mindolluin, and before that the Meneltarma in Numenor was sacred to Eru, but no actual worship took place there - until Sauron introduced sacrifices.

Tolkien says as much in his letters (incidently, I am at home with a sick child today, so I could check - nos. 153, 156, 211). Sometimes the Letters read as after-the-fact explanations for things he wrote, and reflect his later thoughts more than his thoughts at the time (see Annael's thread); but two of these letters were written soon after publishing The Two Towers, and this worship of Sauron especially goes all the way back to the Lay of Leithan, so it must be seen as a feature of Middle-earth rather than a flaw.


Arannir
Valinor


May 6 2013, 9:38am

Post #3 of 54 (345 views)
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I guess.... [In reply to] Can't Post

... one of the reasons is that the people of Middle-earth basically KNEW there was a God and there were the Valar and Maia. It was not so much a "faith" since there was no need for believing, they knew. At least many of them knew and their existence is not really debated at any point in his works. However, there are signs that some people in Middle-earth were growing to be out of touch with the creation and those responsible for it (things like the fact that beings such as Galadriel became witches of legends, etc.).

If I remember correctly, the sequel Tolkien started to write for LotR had something to do with a Sauron-cult, right?

This could be a hint that Middle-earth was starting to develop into a world with different faiths and cults as well, more similar to our world in which people have to believe because they do not know and grew to be more alienated from their creator. A process that probably had a lot to do with the re-shaping of the world and the physical separation, while the emotional seems to follow in the thousands of years after.

Being a devoted Roman-Catholic, the more or less undisputed reign of God and the Valar in Middle-earth must have been a more ideal idea of our understanding of "faith".



“A dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins, in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men’s imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Words of wisdom that should be remembered - both by critics, purists and anyone in between.

(This post was edited by Arannir on May 6 2013, 9:41am)


noWizardme
Tol Eressea


May 6 2013, 9:43am

Post #4 of 54 (356 views)
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An interesting authorial problem for him [In reply to] Can't Post

That sound very plausible, sador: he maybe felt queasy imagining religions other than his own, but that one didn't fit into his invented world.

So maybe he felt it was best to say nothing. I find that interesting, because the lack of organised religion (except for outbreaks of Sauron worship) seems a bit unrealistic....

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimė I am in the West, and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "


Arannir
Valinor


May 6 2013, 11:05am

Post #5 of 54 (348 views)
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Tolkien being a devoted Roman-Catholic. [In reply to] Can't Post

Not me. My last sentence is a bit confusing.



“A dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins, in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men’s imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Words of wisdom that should be remembered - both by critics, purists and anyone in between.


Frostbitten
The Shire


May 6 2013, 1:28pm

Post #6 of 54 (324 views)
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Religions? [In reply to] Can't Post

The Varda, Maiar, Istari, etc. are in fact deities, but they are so ancient that it would be hard to imagine anyone in Middle-earth worshipping, especially because they were much more important before Beleriand sunk beneath the Sea.

"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement."


IdrilofGondolin
Rohan

May 6 2013, 1:32pm

Post #7 of 54 (317 views)
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Didn't Miss it [In reply to] Can't Post

The first couple of times I read LOTR I didn't miss the lack of religious observance. And I don't think much about it now. Knowing that Tolkien was a devote Roman Catholic and that he is clear that nothing he writes obviates the Trinitarian nature of the God he loves, it seems reasonable that he would not invent religions for the various peoples of Middle Earth.

How about that ME was a ore-Christian Eden of sorts until Satan, ie Melkor, ruined the party? If ME was Edenic than its people would have known Eru and the Valar personally and there would be no reason for formal buildings and rites. The worship they performed would be their daily living and would indeed be in spirit and in truth.


telain
Rohan

May 6 2013, 1:40pm

Post #8 of 54 (318 views)
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one thought [In reply to] Can't Post

Very interesting question NWM... Here's my half-thought-out idea.

If one understood that the world and everything in it was both spiritual and material then there is no need for separate organized religion or places of worship. If I may be so bold (and I suppose I am from time to time!) I would propose that Tolkien was suggesting that duality was false; the spiritual realm and the material world coexist at the same time and in the same place, for the Valar and everyone in contact with them. We tend to think of the spiritual world (or metaphsycial world) as somewhat separate and distinct from the physical and therein, I think, lies the problem.

I our current chapter of The Sil, we are talking about how the Edain did not have access to the Ainur, nor could they interpret their messages. Without that access, a bridge needs to be built to make sense of these vague "higher powers" and how they act (or don't!) in Middle-earth. Perhaps that bridge is the nascency of organized religion.


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


May 6 2013, 5:37pm

Post #9 of 54 (331 views)
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THe closest Tolkien comes to mentioning organized religion in Middle-earth,,, [In reply to] Can't Post

...is when he describes the Morgoth cults in the East, the South (and in Numenor?).

I can imagine religion springing up independently among Mannish cultures that were isolated from knowledge of the Valar and Eru. Also, there were likely Men who had imperfect knowledge about the Valar and might have worshipped them under other names.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


Elwen
Lorien


May 6 2013, 6:00pm

Post #10 of 54 (297 views)
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I always looked at the pre-dinner ritual... [In reply to] Can't Post

at Henneth Annun as a sort of "grace."

Before kids, exercising with LOTR meant listening to the soundtrack while I ran.

After kids, exercising with LOTR means having an all out dance party with the little ones to the "Break the Dam Release the River" disco mix form the Lego game.


Annael
Half-elven


May 6 2013, 7:17pm

Post #11 of 54 (293 views)
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I wouldn't call them deities [In reply to] Can't Post

More like our idea of angels. Their powers are considerable but derived from Eru. Melkor & Sauron are fallen angels, like Lucifer.

The way we imagine our lives is the way we are going to go on living our lives.

- James Hillman, Healing Fiction

* * * * * * * * * *

NARF and member of Deplorable Cultus since 1967


Dis15
Bree

May 6 2013, 7:57pm

Post #12 of 54 (282 views)
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Maybe there is no need for organized religion [In reply to] Can't Post

for elves and dwarfs, who knew where they were going in the afterlife and knew there would be no punishment, all were welcome. I think both races are spiritual without any organization. Hobbits seem not to worry too much about such things and seemed to just be happy to be alive. I do not know about the race of men. Their awakening in the Sil was dark, possibly Morgoth was there to greet them. They preferred not to revisit their beginnings in body, mind or spirit.

An organized cult for the followers of Sauron does make sense to me. It would be a fear-based religion, and since leading a life following Sauron was so horrific and dark, maybe they felt the need to worship Sauron so he would have a place for their spirits in the afterlife to save them from suffering the consequences of their dark life and horrific deeds, or to continue living in the darkness without interruption.


(This post was edited by Dis15 on May 6 2013, 8:04pm)


DanielLB
Immortal


May 6 2013, 8:14pm

Post #13 of 54 (278 views)
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I suspect ... [In reply to] Can't Post

That Tolkien's abandoned sequel "A New Shadow", may have contained/dealt with some sort of organised religion as well:

Letter 256:


Quote
I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going around doing damage. I could have written a 'thriller' about the plot and its discovery and overthrow — but it would have been just that. Not worth doing.



elaen32
Gondor

May 6 2013, 8:20pm

Post #14 of 54 (273 views)
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Yes, I agree [In reply to] Can't Post

I've always thought of the Valar as archangels (like Gabriel in Christian tradition) and the Maiar as the rank and file angels. The fall of Melkor is similar to the fall of Lucifer and maybe that was intentional. As for organised religion in Arda, as others have said, the Eldar had lived alongside the Ainur and "knew" rather than believed them to exist. The same to some extent with the dwarves, although I think they might have a bit of a cult of Aule- just in my imagination anyway. The Moriquendi have seen Orome at least and among th Silvans in Beleriand, they had Melian, so again the existence of these beings and the ultimate destiny of the elves was known to them rather than being a tenet of faith. The race of Men is where things get tricky- especially by the third age. In the first age, Men had close dealings with Elves in Beleriand, but we do not know what happens elsewhere. In the second age, there was a cult of Sauron worship in Middle earth, especially in the east, and later in Numenor. After that, nothing is mentioned. By the time of the War of the Ring, one would have expected some sort of religion to have grown up because the events of the first age are now so distant. It seems that some of the Gondorian kings seemed to have almost a cult of ancestor worship, but hardly an organised religion. One explanation for this may be that although the other Ainur were a distant memory, Sauron was very much present. To the men of the west, I suppose it would have seemed logical that if Sauron was a fact, so were the other Ainur.

"Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold"


Elizabeth
Valinor


May 6 2013, 9:42pm

Post #15 of 54 (270 views)
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There may have been organized religion... [In reply to] Can't Post

...and it wasn't mentioned because it wasn't relevant to the story. As others have noted, Elbereth was invoked on occasion, and Faramir's rangers had the ritual of facing West before eating. The hobbits celebrated "yule" (but we don't know how or what it meant to them). The fact that organized religious ceremonies were never mentioned doesn't necessarily guarantee there weren't any, just that for various reasons such as those cited Tolkien chose not to describe them.








dormouse
Half-elven


May 6 2013, 10:06pm

Post #16 of 54 (266 views)
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Tolkien explained this himself [In reply to] Can't Post

...in a letter to Father Robert Murray, 2 Dec 1953 [letter 142]. He refers to The Lord of the Rings as a 'fundamentally religious and Catholic work' and goes on to say

That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults and practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.

As a devout Catholic himself he didn't want to invent a religion for his characters, but his own world view threads its way through the whole series of books. I think it's one of the things that sets Middle Earth apart. Other writers have invented whole worlds, with invented faiths and beliefs of their own, but Middle Earth is explicitly this world.

The genius of it is that because there is no overt reference to religion, readers of all shades of belief and none can bring their own experience and understanding to the books and enjoy them just as much.


CuriousG
Valinor


May 6 2013, 11:37pm

Post #17 of 54 (258 views)
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Worship at Meneltarma [In reply to] Can't Post

It sounds like some kind of Eru worship took place at Meneltarma when Numenor was in its good days, and Tar-Palantir restored the practices:

Quote

and he went once more at due seasons to the Hallow of Eru upon the Meneltarma, which Ar-Gimilzor had forsaken.



Brethil
Half-elven


May 7 2013, 1:30am

Post #18 of 54 (242 views)
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Religion as evolving [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I our current chapter of The Sil, we are talking about how the Edain did not have access to the Ainur, nor could they interpret their messages. Without that access, a bridge needs to be built to make sense of these vague "higher powers" and how they act (or don't!) in Middle-earth. Perhaps that bridge is the nascency of organized religion.




I agree Telain, that is a great point, and the need to bridge that gap would lead us through into 'modern' times in the context of the mythos. I found this quote in Letter #165 "The only criticism that annoyed me was one that it 'contained no religion'...It is a monotheistic world of 'natural theology'. The odd fact the there are no churches, temples or religious rites and ceremonies, is simply part of the historical climate depicted. It will be sufficiently explained, if...the Silmarillion and other legends of the First and Second Ages are published. I am in any case myself a Christian; but the "Third Age" was not a Christian world."

So here we have several ideas. In his mind it does contain religion, which he names 'monotheistic' (Eru at its center) and of 'natural theology'; by which I interpret the Ainur and the creation of Ea by song as an organic creation, divine in origin but ultimately a system in which divinity resides in the One.

He feels that the reading of the First and Second age tales will 'explain' the lack of organized religion; thus I your idea Telain that if there is no separation between the 'real' world and a living spirit world there is no need to establish a point of contact between them. I think the clear involvement of the Valar in the First and Second Ages makes this clear: there was no need to create an overlap. He separates out the Third Age I notice, although still describing it as a 'non-Christian' world; I can see how the rest of your allegory comes true, because as Men lose touch with the Valar and their messages that could indeed be the origins of organized religion. This has a rather nice consistency from his Christian standpoint, as the monotheistic nature of JRRT's faith would persevere.

Manwe, when asked a simple "Yes" or "No" question, contemplated, and responded "the middle one."


Ardamķrė
Valinor


May 7 2013, 2:49am

Post #19 of 54 (247 views)
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Why would worshipping Eru be out of place? [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think I follow.

"...not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive." -Arwen


Annael
Half-elven


May 7 2013, 3:54am

Post #20 of 54 (230 views)
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Yeah, I'm not following that logic either.// [In reply to] Can't Post

 

The way we imagine our lives is the way we are going to go on living our lives.

- James Hillman, Healing Fiction

* * * * * * * * * *

NARF and member of Deplorable Cultus since 1967


Fredeghar Wayfarer
Lorien


May 7 2013, 5:01am

Post #21 of 54 (234 views)
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Eru worship in Numenor [In reply to] Can't Post

In Unfinished Tales, Tolkien mentions a Numenorean religious ritual called the Three Prayers. They were celebrated in spring, midsummer, and autumn and were called Erukyermė (Prayer to Eru), Erulaitalė (Praise of Eru), and Eruhantalė (Thanksgiving to Eru). The people dressed in white robes and garlands and climbed the Meneltarma. The King and Queen made offerings and were the only ones allowed to speak. So there was definitely organized religion in Numenor. http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Three_Prayers

One would assume that the Dunedain maintained similar traditions in Middle-earth and kept up the Eru worship. They retained knowledge of Eru and the Valar from their Numenorean heritage and their friendship with the Elves.

Other races of Men probably worshiped the Valar under various names while the Men of Darkness worshiped Morgoth and Sauron. We don't get a lot of details about these religions, probably for the reason others have mentioned -- Tolkien was Christian but was writing a pre-Christian world so he likely felt uncomfortable depicting pagan religions. We get a few details here and there though. The Rohirrim called Oromė the Huntsman "Béma" in their language, though we don't know precisely what they believed about him.

As also mentioned, some of the Elves had been to Valinor so the Valar and Eru were established fact for them. The Dwarves worshiped their maker Aulė (who they called "Mahal") and probably were aware of the other Valar. Not sure if they believed in Eru. They might have if the dwarf origin story from The Silmarillion was passed down in their traditions.


CuriousG
Valinor


May 7 2013, 11:57am

Post #22 of 54 (227 views)
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I didn't say it was out of place [In reply to] Can't Post

There have been several comments about there being no organized religion and Tolkien didn't want any. I was pointing out that there was.


Morthoron
Gondor


May 7 2013, 1:19pm

Post #23 of 54 (233 views)
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Hmmm... [In reply to] Can't Post

Perhaps Eru, being omnipotent and omniscient, didn't require worship as he didn't have a fragile ego that required such bowing, scraping and religious flummery.

It is notable that Sauron's cult of Morgoth did require sacrifice and the trappings of formalized religion on a scale far greater than anything required in hallowing Eru.

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.



noWizardme
Tol Eressea


May 7 2013, 2:35pm

Post #24 of 54 (204 views)
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Not sure I follow the idea that more "proof" of the existance of the gods would play out in less worship [In reply to] Can't Post

Firstly to note an interesting thing - as readers of the Silmarillion etc. we know that, for the strict purposes of the story, Eru, the Valar etc really exist beyond doubt. They are definately characters in the books! Short of doing some very odd literary critical contortion, they are real characters within the story for us, whichever God or gods or no gods we return to in real life, and whatever our level of faith in our our religious convictions, or conviction in having no religion.

Some of the characters we meet in Tolkien's writings also know by direct experience - having been to Valinor they have had an opportunity not so much to touch the wound of Christ, but to kick the shins of Tulkas, Shake the Hand of Manwe etc. Others have not had that direct experience and are in a situation more like people are in Real Life - they must have faith in the sense of the "belief that is not based on proof", (or at least belief that is not based on a proof that they culd explain to a very skeptical, evidence-based person to the point he/she would accept).

I'm not sure I follow the argument popping up in a couple of places here that more "proof" of the existance of the gods would play out in less worship. Wouldn't it instead widen the number of people wanting to do what the faithful already do - be grateful, ask for help and advice?

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimė I am in the West, and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "


Frostbitten
The Shire


May 7 2013, 3:24pm

Post #25 of 54 (191 views)
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Powers [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
More like our idea of angels. Their powers are considerable but derived from Eru. Melkor & Sauron are fallen angels, like Lucifer.

If they can create worlds, they're definitely deities.

"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement."

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