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Friday, April 8, 2011

Elvish Immortality, and Mandos (Reading Material)

published in History of Middle Earth, volume 10, Morgoth's Ring, and showing how Tolkien's ideas on Elvish immortality changed over the years

from Laws and Customs Among the Eldar:
“Now the Eldar are immortal within Arda according to their right nature. But if a fëa (or spirit) indwells in and coheres with a hröa (or bodily form) ... then the fortune of this union must be vulnerable by the evils that do hurt to Arda. ...Though the fëa cannot be broken or disintegrated by any violence from without, the hröa can be hurt and may be utterly destroyed. ... Then the fëa is, as it were, houseless, and it becomes invisible to bodily eyes (though clearly perceptible by direct awareness to other fëar.)

... Indeed in their earlier days death came more readily; for their bodies were then less different from the bodies of Men, and the command of their spirits over their bodies less complete.

This command was, nonetheless, at all times greater than it has ever been among Men, From their beginnings the chief difference between Elves and Men lay in the fate and nature of their spirits. the fëar of the Elves were destined to dwell in Arda for all the life of Arda, and the death of the flesh did not abrogate that destiny. Their fëar were tenacious therefore of life 'in the raiment of Arda', and far excelled the spirits of Men in power over that 'raiment', even from the first days protecting their bodies from many ills and assaults (such as disease), and healing them swiftly of injuries, so that they recovered from wounds that would have proved fatal to Men.

As ages passed the dominance of their fëar ever increased, 'consuming' their bodies (as has been noted). The end of this process is their 'fading', as Men have called it; for the body becomes at last, as it were, a mere memory held by the fëa; and that end has already been achieved in many regions of Middle-earth, so that the Elves are indeed deathless and may not be destroyed or changed. Thus it is that the further we go back in the histories, the more often do we read of the death of the Elves of old. ...

What then happened to the houseless fëa? The answer to this question the Elves did not know by nature. ... It was in Aman that they learned of Manwë that each fëa was imperishable within the life of Arda, and that its fate was to inhabit Arda to its end. Those fëar, therefore, that in the marring of Arda suffered unnaturally a divorce from their hröar remained still in Arda and in Time. But in this state they were open to the direct instruction and command of the Valar. As soon as they were disbodied they were summoned to leave the places of their life and death and go to the 'Halls of Waiting': Mandos, in the realm of the Valar.

If they obeyed this summons different opportunities lay before them. The length of time that they dwelt in Waiting was partly at the will of Námo the Judge, lord of Mandos, partly at their own will. The happiest fortune, they deemed, was after the Waiting to be reborn, for so the evil and grief that they had suffered in the curtailment of their natural course might be redressed.”

{Since all fëar come direct from Eru, from outside Ëa, some Elves speculate that their existence will not end at the end of Arda.}

from Laws and Customs Among the Eldar:
“To speak of the dooms of Mandos: these are of three kinds. He utters the decisions of Manwë, or of the Valar in conclave, which become binding upon all, even the Valar, when they are so declared. In similar manner he utters the decisions and purposes of others who are under his jurisdiction, who are the Dead, in grave matters that affect justice and the right order of Arda {such as a decision to never return to life, freeing a spouse to remarry}. And lastly there are the dooms of Mandos that proceed from Mandos himself, as judge in matters that belong to his office ... He is the judge of right and of wrong, and of innocence or guilt (and all the degrees and minglings of these) in the mischances and misdeeds that come to pass in Arda. All those who come to Mandos are judged with regard to innocence or guilt, in the matter of their death and in all other deeds and purposes of their lives in the body; and Mandos appoints to each the manner and the length of their time of Waiting according to this judgement. But his dooms in such matters are not uttered in haste; and even the most guilty are long tested, whether they may be healed or corrected, before any final doom is given (such as never to return again among the Living).

... [L]ittle is known of the dealings of Mandos with the Dead. For several reasons: Because those who have done great evil (who are few) do not return. Because those who have been under the correction of Mandos will not speak of it, and indeed being healed, remember little of it.... Because also, as has been said, though all that die are summoned to Mandos, it is within the power of the fëar of the Elves to refuse the summons, and doubtless many of the most unhappy, or most corrupted spirits ... do refuse, and so come to worse evil, or at best wander unhoused and unhealed, without hope of return. Nor so do they escape judgement for ever; for Eru abideth and is over all.”

Laws and Customs Among the Eldar:
“By which was meant prophecy concerning things which neither reason upon evidence, nor (for the Valar) knowledge of the Great Theme, could discover or swiftly perceive. Only rarely and in great matters was Mandos moved to prophecy.”

Laws and Customs Among the Eldar:
“A houseless fëa that chose or was permitted to return to life re-entered the incarnate world through child-birth. Only thus could it return. {footnote explaining that in very rare cases an Elf of Aman whose body was preserved uncorrupted might later return to that body}

[T]he fëa re-born became a child indeed, enjoying once more all the wonder and newness of childhood; but slowly, and only after it had acquired a knowledge of the world and mastery of itself, its memory would awake; until, when the re-born elf was full-grown, it recalled all its former life, and then the old life, and the 'waiting', and the new life became one ordered history and identity. This memory would thus hold a double joy of childhood, and also an experience and knowledge greater than the years of the body. In this way the violence or grief that the re-born had suffered was redressed and its being was enriched. For the Re-born are twice nourished, and twice parented, {footnote explaining that an elf would not necessarily be reborn into the same family as in its first life} and have two memories of the joy of awakening and discovering the world of living and the splendor of Arda. Their life is, therefore, as if a year had two springs and though an untimely frost followed after the first, the second spring and all the summer after were fairer and more blessed.

The Eldar say that more than one re-birth is seldom recorded. ... while the Re-born (they say) are stronger, having greater mastery of their bodies and being more patient of griefs. But many, doubtless, that have twice died do not wish to return.”
{Does this mean they choose to live in Aman, rather than return to Middle-Earth?}

“Though the griefs might be great and wholly unmerited, and death (or rather the abandonment of life) might be, therefore, understandable and innocent, it was held that the refusal to return to life, after repose in Mandos, was a fault, showing weakness or lack of courage in the fëa.”

“The re-born is the same person as the one who died. It is the purpose of the grace of re-birth that the unnatural breach in the continuity of life should be redressed; and none of the Dead will be permitted to be re-born unless they desire to take up their former life and continue it. Indeed they cannot escape it, for the re-born soon recover full memory of all their past.”

“It follows, therefore, also that the Dead will be reborn in such place and time that the meeting and recognition of the sundered {spouse} shall surely come to pass, and there shall be no hindrance to their marriage.”

from a different version, Quenta Silmarillion, 1937:
“But if they were slain or wasted with grief, they died not from the earth, and their spirits went back to the halls of Mandos, and their waited, days or years, even a thousand, according to the will of Mandos and their deserts.. Thence they are recalled at length to freedom, either as spirits, taking form according to their own thought, as the lesser folk of the divine race; or else, it is said, they are at times re-born into their own children, and the ancient wisdom of their race does not perish or grow less.”

{Does he mean “taking form according to their own thoughts, in the same way the Maiar do”? He can't possibly mean that Elves ever become Maiar.}

JRRT's commentary on Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, sometime after 1959
“In Elvish tradition their re-incarnation was a special permission granted by Eru to Manwë, when Manwë directly consulted Him at the time of the debate concerning Finwë and Míriel. ... The Valar, or Mandos as the mouthpiece of all commands and in many cases their executor, were given power to summon, with full authority, all houseless fëar of Elves to Aman. Therefore, if they dwelt in Middle-earth, their bereavement of friends and kin, and the bereavement of these, was not amended. Death was not wholly healed. ...

They 'normally remained in Aman'. Simply because they were, when rehoused, again in actual physical bodies, and return to Middle-earth was therefore very difficult and perilous. Also during the period of the Exile of the Noldor the Valar had for the time being cut all communications (by physical means) between Aman and Middle-earth. The Valar could of course have arranged for the transference, if there was sufficiently grave reason. Bereavement of friends and kin was, apparently, not considered a sufficient reason. ... The only case of a special arrangement recorded in the Histories is that of Beren and Lúthien. ....”

{In a “hastily written manuscript” called “Reincarnation of Elves”, apparent written after the commentary on Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, Tolkien completely abandons the idea of Elves being reborn as children. His biggest problem with that rebirth was that it created the disharmony of a fëa being re-born into a hröa that was genetically different from its original hröa. He now preferred that the fëa recreate a copy of its old hröa, from its memory.}

Laws and Customs Among the Eldar:
“Re-birth is not the only fate of the houseless fëar. The Shadow ... could corrupt the mind; and those among the Eldar who were darkened in spirit did unnatural deeds, and were capable of hatred and malice. Not all who died suffered innocently. Moreover, some fëar in grief or weariness gave up hope. ... Few of these latter desired to be re-born, not at least until they had been long in 'waiting'; some never returned. Of the others, the wrong-doers, many were held long in 'waiting', and some were not permitted to take up their lives again. For there was, for all the fëar of the Dead, a time of Waiting, in which, howsoever they had died, they were corrected, instructed, strengthened, or comforted, according to their needs or deserts. If they would consent to this. But the fëa in its nakedness is obdurate, and remains long in the bondage of its memory and old purposes (especially if these were evil).

Those who were healed could be re-born, if they desired it: none are re-born or sent back to life unwilling. The others remained, by desire or command, fëar unbodied, and they could only observe the unfolding of the Tale of Arda from afar, having no effect therein. ...

Concerning the fate of other elves, especially of the Dark-elves who refused the summons to Aman, the Eldar know little. The Re-born report that in Mandos there are many elves, and among them are many of the Alamanyar, but that there is in the Halls of Waiting little mingling or communing of kind with kind, or indeed of any one fëa with another. For the houseless fëa is solitary by nature, and turns only towards those with whom, maybe, it formed strong bonds of love in life.

The fëa is single, and in the last impregnable. It cannot be brought to Mandos. It is summoned; and the summons proceeds from just authority, and is imperative; yet it may be refused. Among the [non-Eldar elves], refusal of the summons to Mandos and the Halls of Waiting is, the Eldar say, frequent. It was less frequent, however, in ancient days, while Morgoth was in Arda, or his servant Sauron after him; for then the fëa unbodied would flee in terror of the Shadow to any refuge – unless it were already committed to the Darkness and passed then into its dominion. In like manner even of the Eldar some who had become corrupted refused the summons, and then had little power to resist the counter-summons of Morgoth.

But it would seem that in these after-days more and more of the Elves [Eldar or others] who linger in Middle-Earth now refuse the summons of Mandos, and wander houseless in the world, unwilling to leave it and unable to inhabit it... [footnote explaining that rebirth is a gift given by the Valar, and only those who go to Mandos, are healed, and have permission and blessing from Mandos, Manwë, and Varda can be reborn.]

... Not all of these are kindly or unstained by the Shadow. Indeed the refusal of the summons is in itself a sign of taint.

It is therefore a foolish and perilous thing, besides being a wrong deed forbidden justly ..., if the Living seek to commune with the Unbodied, though the houseless may desire it, especially the most unworthy among them. ... Some say that the Houseless desire bodies, though they are not willing to seek them lawfully by submission to the judgement of Mandos. ... The peril of communing with them is, therefore, not only the peril of being deluded by fantasies or lies ... For one of the hungry Houseless, if it is admitted to the friendship of the Living, may seek to eject the fëa from its body; and in the contest for mastery the body may be gravely injured, even if it be not wrested from its rightful inhabitant. Or the Houseless may plead for shelter, and if it is admitted, then it will seek to enslave its host and use both his will and his body for its own purposes.”

{Because in modern days Elves are frequently invisible,} “Thus it may be seen that those who in latter days hold that the Elves are dangerous to Men and that it is folly or wickedness to seek converse with them do not speak without reason. For how, it may be asked, shall a mortal distinguish the kinds? ... Yet the answer is not in truth difficult. Evil is not one thing among Elves and another among Men. Those who give evil counsel, or speak against the Rulers (or if they dare, against the One), are evil, and should be shunned whether bodied or unbodied. Moreover, the Lingerers are not houseless, though they may been to be. They do not desire bodies ... Indeed they do not seek converse with Men at all, save maybe rarely, either for the doing of some good, or because they perceive in a Man's spirit some love of things ancient and fair. Then they may reveal to him their forms ... and he will behold them in their beauty. Of such he may have no fear, though he may feel awe of them. ..For the hearts of true Men uprise in joy to behold the true likenesses of the First-born, their elder kindred; and this joy nothing evil can counterfeit.”

JRRT's commentery on Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, sometime after 1959
“We are here {in Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth} with Elvish thought at an early period, when the Eldar were still fully 'physical' in bodily form. Much later, when the process (already glimpsed by Finrod) called 'waning' or 'fading' had become more effective, their views of the End of Arda, aso far as it affected themselves, must have been modified. But there are few records of any contacts of Elvish and Human {sic} thought in such latter days. They eventually became housed, if it can be called that, not in actual visible and tangible hröar, but only in the memory of the fëa of its bodily form, and its desire for it; and therefore not dependent for mere existence upon the material of Arda. ... The 'waning' of the Elvish hröar must therefore be part of the History of Arda as envisaged by Eru, and the mode in which the Elves were to make way for the Dominion of Men. The Elves find their supersession by Men a mystery, and a cause of grief; for they say that Men, at least so largely governed as they are by the evil of Melkor, have less and less love for Arda in itself, and are largely busy in destroying it in the attempt to dominate it. They still believe that Eru's healing of all the griefs of Arda will come now by or through Men; but the Elves' part in the healing or redemption will be chiefly in the restoration of the love of Arda, to which their memory of the Past and understanding of what might have been will contribute.”

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