Metaphysical Elements

I would strongly suggest reading the page Creation before this one as it lays down a foundation and history of Middle-earth. Terms and concepts discussed on this page will reference elements from the page Creation.


The Norse Myths and Greek Legend [and other] elements of the Lord of the Rings have been inhabited by a hidden power residing behind the natural fabric of the story.

While some fragments of the story are similar to other myths and have drawn upon them, [e.g. Orthesa, Shrak, Kalevala, Beowulf, Orpheus, Atlantis, the Edda, and Njall Saga] it has many examples of invisible grace working through and beyond natural things.

But to understand this mystery and grace, let us start with philosophy.

Metaphysics? What does this mean? It is a term used in philosophy, something Tolkien had studied. He had read the works of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas and also the writings of Aristotle and Plato.

"'Meta' in Greek means over, and -- since when you jump over something you find yourself behind it, in space and after in time -- it is also understood as behind and after. The word 'metaphysics' is said to originate from the mere fact that the corresponding part of Aristotle's work was positioned right after the part called 'physics'. But it is not unlikely that the term won a ready acceptance as denoting the whole field of knowledge because it conveyed the purpose of metaphysics, which is to reach beyond the nature ['physics'] as we perceive it, and to discover the 'true nature' of things, their ultimate essence and the reason for being."

Metaphysics in the classical sense is the study of the most universal principles of being. It is the study of what holds being in Being; in other words, it is the study of the most Primary Cause in the universe.

As already pointed out in Creation, the Cause of Middle-earth is Eru, the One God. He has brought Middle-earth into being with the word, Ea! [It Is!]; Let these things Be ... and these things were beheld and formed in the Music of the Ainur

Music and Words have a power in Middle-earth.

• The singing of the Elves in the shire drives away the Black Riders.

• Elrond raises the Bruinen river with Elvish words.

• Gandalf ignites the faggot of wood in the Mountain Pass with a word.

• When Gandalf recites aloud the incantation on the Ring it causes the sky to darken.

• When Frodo cries the name of Elbereth on Weathertop the Black Riders are repulsed.

• Frodo replies with a song in Cirith Ungol and Sam finds him.

• Sam uses the words to Elbereth to break the Watchers at Cirith.

• the melodies & music in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell bring visions and dreams.

• Yavanna's singing brings forth the Two Trees in the Blessed Realm.

• Luthien sings before the Valar and they bring Beren back from Death.

• and there are many more examples

Cause and Effect.

Each of these small examples above shows how Music and Words cause an effect in Middle-earth; either for Good or for Evil [e.g. Ring verse]. There is a power in the spoken Word and a power in Music [or Song, which is words, put to music]. This is not by chance in Tolkien's mythology.

When Gandalf uses words [or spells] to cause an effect for good in the story he is deriving his power from the ultimate Cause of All Good in Middle-earth, namely Eru, the One God. And Eru, in creating the world [Arda] out of his goodness has used a particular word [through his Music] to create,

Tolkien confirms many times that the Valar [and Maiar] derive their power and authority from Eru [cf. Creation]. When the name of Elbereth is spoken aloud it also has power. This is dealt with on the next page Women of Middle-earth.

Arda is also brought into Being through the Music of the Ainur. There is a sense of tapping into the fabric of what holds Middle-earth together when the Elves sing. The chapter in Rivendell in the Hall of Fire is extremely evocative of this:

"At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in Elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him [Frodo] in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him; and the fire lit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched him and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep." [LotR p.227]

This description evokes a sense of power in sub-creation. The elves are sub-creating [making music] and in a mystical way it draws them into the power that has brought the primary-creation in Middle-earth into Being. It reflects and acts as a sign of the Music of the Ainur and hence a sign to Eru.

Below it will be described how Sacraments [visible forms of invisible Grace] in the Catholic Church are signs of Gods action. They point to God. They signify what they effect and effect what they signify. The music in the Hall of Fire is extremely sacramental: it signifies and points to the original Music from the primary-creation, but it also effects something of the same mystery, it calls those present into a participation in this Music with-in the sub-created music of the Elves.

Upon listening to the music Frodo enters into a mystical foretaste and understanding of what he will receive when he goes to the Undying Lands in the Blessed Realm, where creation is unstained by evil. Interesting to note that it is just after this that he has his first piercing 'glance' from Arwen, who will give up her place so he can go to this quasi-Garden of Eden -Valinor.

The Catholic Mass is a sign of the Sacrifice of Calvary, but it also makes present the Sacrifice of Calvary on the Altar and from this each person present enters into the mystery to receive its Graces. For a better explanation of the Mass, see here.

There are many other examples of this mystery in Lord of the Rings. When we say mystical -it is derived from the word mystery. The Church uses this term because the Truths of God can never be totally exhausted and understood in human concepts. We can never fully grasp the whole depth of God in our human intellect. A mystery has no limit to the depth to which man can continue to discover about it. It is in this sense that the Church uses the term mystery. But it must be understood that God has revealed certain things about Himself in the revelation of Jesus Christ. He has made them known so that they can be known, but they are inexhaustible in their profundity and beauty.

A small side point is the language of Mordor as it is a perversion of the beautiful Elven language. It is named the Black Speech. It is a mockery of the melodious musical language of the Elves. The language of the Elves is in tune with this theme in the Music.

There is a power in entering into this reality of being and the source of All Good in Middle-earth: that is to say, Eru and his Music. [see Creation and the Silmarillion].

This is a metaphysical reality.

It is also a preter-natural reality [preter-natural = beyond-the-natural].

This is because the Elves are beings that see this truth because they live at once in both worlds, the Seen and Unseen.

They represent:

"...the artistic, aesthetic, and purely scientific aspects of the Humane Nature raised to a higher level than is actually seen in Man." [Letters p.237]

"...the Elven-wise, lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas. They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power..." [LotR p.216]

Frodo then asks Gandalf,

"I thought I saw a white figure that shone and did not grow dim like the others. Was that Glorfindel then?"

"Yes, you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the Firstborn. He is an Elf-lord of a house of princes." [LotR p.216]

This is something very true of our world. God has spoken and it IS [see Creation for more on this]. Will and Intellect is one thing in God. There is no disunion or conflict in Him. He is the Prime Cause of all things, and this produces an effect. He is in movement in the Trinity as the Father gives to the Son and the Son gives to the Father and they both do this in Spirit, united in Love. This overflows into a self-giving in creating...

When we enter into the reality of this;

• the reality that we are created by God for love and to be loved;

• that we are creatures, owing our life to Him;

• that we have been redeemed by Him, owing our salvation to Him;

and when we begin to accept this truth and reality,... it is then that the Word of God, Jesus, has power in our life and can begin to transform us through prayer and the sacraments.

Matter and spirit comes into Being through this Prime Cause, the Word of God [Jesus]. When the Word of God is proclaimed, it has power. When the Church proclaims the Truth it has power. When a Priest prays a prayer of the Church or celebrates a Sacrament [see below for more on the Sacraments] it causes an effect. That is, it signifies and points to God, but also effects the reality and mystery of God being present: it calls down Gods Grace. This is why Sacraments are referred to as efficacious.

The opposite is actually true too. Satanic incantation also causes effects, but very evil effects. Curses are a reality. There is power in spoken word that breaks through into the unseen realm, either for Good or Evil. The Lord of the Rings also shows this. The ring verse, when it is spoken out loud by Gandalf at the Council of Elrond causes the environment [created matter] to change and darken.

Sauron and the Orcs hate the created world. Legolas mentions:

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