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Tolkien's Esoteric Metaphysics
The Astral Race links Godkind to Mankind
Before I start, a disclaimer: I believe wholeheartedly in the prophetic power of Tolkien. Every once in a while history gifts us with some man so engrossed in his work to an almost autistic degree that the voice of God speaks through him and mysteries are revealed to us. I believe that like Tesla with electromagnetism, or Mozart with music, or Da Vinci with art and engineering, Tolkien has tapped into some divine truth of such power that it can hardly be expressed. And so, I believe Tolkien foretells, perhaps inadvertently, the rise and fall of a global industrial-surveillance state, because myth (as he says) is rooted in historical truth, and history, we know, repeats itself. As such, I believe all major themes and even some minor scenes can be interpreted allegorically (even if he didn’t consciously intend for them to be allegory), or representative of some greater truth about our own, non-fictional world.
Summary: Tolkien incorporates Metaphysics and Myth from ancient mystery religions into his own legendarium. In these ancient traditions, within both the Metaphysical chain of creation, and the Mythical origin of the age of Man, there exist Astral Beings which link Godhood to Manhood; and Tolkien uses the Elvish Race as a stand-in for these spiritual beings.
Let’s first state the obvious: Elves are Astral — they call themselves Eldar, literally meaning Children of the Stars, because they first woke to starlight (whereas Men woke to the Sun), and their affinity for stars is stressed throughout all novels. This is common knowledge, even if the association with the word “Astral” is not.
Further, Elves in Tolkien’s legendarium, and Astral Beings in Mystery Religions, live in a state of religious intoxication with nature; they first children who lived with Gods, but also then came to live with men. They are spiritual, magical, ancient beings who can bind man to divinity. The lines are drawn in near perfect parallel.
But it wasn’t until I noticed the repeated association of Elves with dreams and the spirit realm that I began to connect the dots on the parallel lines between Tolkien’s Eldar, and Astral Beings of esoteric traditions.
In this article I will first describe Tolkien’s metaphysical system (the nature of Gods and creation) and its relationship to esoteric traditions; next I will cover the mythical origin story of the age of Men and Kings (events from God to Man); last I will provide excerpts direct from the text to substantiate the claim that Elves are clearly meant to represent what esoteric traditions describe as Astral Beings.
Arda’s Metaphysics are Borrowed from Mystery Religions
Arda (“The Realm”, Middle Earth, and all the other continents not shown on the map) has a metaphysical system, detailed in Chapter 1 of The Silmarillion. It goes roughly like this:
First: In the beginning there was Eru Ilúvatar, The One, "He that is Alone", the “Allfather”, the Creator, etc. etc. You get the picture.
Next: From Eru’s thought come the Ainur, immortal spirits.
From the Ainur, before the elves or men are born, lesser spirits come forth: Maiar. Sauron and Gandalf are two examples.
Then: The Ainur form a collaborative symphony and sing together in harmony. Although the Ainur embody Ilúvatar's thoughts, they are expected to use their freedom to assist the development of the "great plan”.
One of the Ainur, however, is "loud, and vain,” and his own music disrupts the harmony. Eru stops the song. Has them try to repeat it. Again, it rises but then discord enters and he stops it. He lets them go a third and final time, and the harmony overpowers the discord, and finally then the music stops.
Finally: The third theme results in Arda, a material world that is wrought from their thoughts, a physical embodiment of their sonic vibrations; and also the birth of the Children of Ilúvatar: the first race, Elves, and the second race, Men.
Summary: “The One” begets great Spirits with his thought, from whom come lesser Spirits, and then finally two races are born, rooted in the Spiritual act of creation.
This is essentially Gnostic metaphysics which I have just described, which itself is just one particular expression of many esoteric systems throughout history, as well as Platonism (which is a major inspiration for Gnostic writers).
Gnostic metaphysics: “The One” (Source, Allfather, etc) by his thought gives birth to “Aeons” (sound like Ainur a bit?), but one of the immortal Aeon spirits tries to create without a partner and it results in an imperfect demiurge who creates an imperfect physical world. This idea, that one Spiritual Being attempts to create on its own but ultimately and unfortunately sows seeds of spiritual discord throughout the physical world, is simultaneously Gnostic and Tolkienist. However, the Gnostic demiurge is functionally Satan in their writings (not very nice, precious, no he is not) which is a clear departure from Tolkien’s noble “demiurgic” Ainur (more on that in a moment).
Platonism professes a world of Forms, akin to the vibrations or songs of the Ainur, of which the physical world is just an imperfect expression. Furthermore, from Platonism is born the concept of a Demiurge creator (which Gnostics merely appropriate, and develop into something new and different). Plato’s demiurge is an artisan, a craftsman God, who fashions the forms into this material world.
This last bit is relevant because Tolkien repeatedly in letters and interviews refers to the “demiurgic” nature of the Ainurs’ creation.
Tolkien: … to His design, but which he’s had the existence of… first created minds and spirits, the demiurgic angelic spirits, where they appear as the Valar, or Powers. They’re not gods…
God is a, supreme, the Creator, outside it, transcendent. But the place of the gods is taken (so well taken I think that, that it, it really makes no difference to the ordinary reader) is taken by the angelic spirits created by God, but created before the particular time sequence which we call the World, which is called in their language Eä, ‘That which is, that which now exists’. Those are the Valar, the Powers. It’s a construction, you see, in my mythology in which a large part of the demiurgic… thing has been, er, has been handed over to powers who are created there in the hand of the One.
They were the agents and vice-gerents of Eru (God). They had been for nameless ages engaged in a demiurgic labour completing to the design of Eru the structure of the Universe (Ea); but were now concentrated on Earth for the principal Drama of Creation: the war of the Eruhin (The Children of God), Elves and Men, against Melkor.
So, we have Gnostic chains of being, and Platonic forms and demiurges… Tolkien borrowed his metaphysics, clearly.
Tolkien borrows the Origin Myth of Man as well
I have shown two parallel chains: In Tolkienism, it runs from God, to demiurgic Spirits, to Angels, to Elves, to Man; in esoteric traditions it runs from God, through demiurgic Spirits and Angels, then ultimately down to Man.
But there is another parallel: between Tolkien’s myth of the origin of Man, and the Myths of Atlantis and Christianity.
In the Silmarillion: Elf-maid Luthien falls for Beren, a man, and is made mortal for it. Some generations later, their part-elf/part-man descendants are tricked into revolting against the Gods and so experience the flooding of Numenor, then they return to Middle-Earth where the blood of Numenoreans dwindled almost into nothing before a dark age of industry and disenchantment threatens to extinguish it, and replace them with "the maggot-folk of Mordor”. Aragorn returns as King to save Mankind.
In the Bible, Adam is Astral — a spiritual being who lives in religious intoxication in the garden of the Gods — but is tricked into disobeying God and so he falls, and is made mortal. Then, a few generations later, comes the flood before a great diaspora and a weakening of the divine blood over thousands of years, until finally a dark age of global empire and disenchantment threatens to replace all higher life with slaves. Jesus returns as King to save us.
(The Atlanteans were real, I tell you, and Atlantis was more beautiful than any of the seven wonders of our own world. Saturn helped cause its fall just like Sauron helped cause Numenor’s fall. I will not elaborate further.)
Now, Tolkien has clearly demonstrated a grasp on the exoteric myths (exoteric: doctrine or myth available for the general public).
But, the final hook of this theory is that Tolkien also demonstrates an understanding of the esoteric meaning behind the myths; i.e. the secret meaning, that which is hidden or withheld only to a select few initiates.
And the esoteric meaning is this:
The mythical link is meant to represent a mystical link. In Gnosticism, and its descendants Rosicrucianism and Alchemy; in Egyptian Hermeticism; in Druid Paganism; in Theosophy... universal to all these Mystery Religions, there is a specific practical link between Mankind and Godkind: within man, there is some spark of divinity; some component of our psyche-soul is residue of God; the eternal light shines through our temporal, imperfect vessels. And it can be found by way of your subtle body, your Astral Body, which is as a door to the other side.
When your body dies, your soul may experience an incorporeal blinding light of bliss; when you dream, your consciousness perceives lights, sounds, and feelings despite zero sensory input. There is an immaterial experiencer that is subtle; shamans and oracles of the ages have tapped into it — lucid dream travel and the pursuit of expanded consciousness is their praxis. All great religious revelations where God or Angels speak to biblical protagonists or prophets are in fact dream signs. Today, new age religions call it “astral projection”, or we refer to this immaterial experiencer as one’s astral body.
Which brings us back to Tolkien, and the missing piece of the puzzle.
It was so obvious when it struck me; I could not believe I didn’t see it before.
Clues that Tolkien Understands the Esoteric Meaning of Elves as Astral Beings are sprinkled throughout The Lord of the Rings
In every encounter between Elves and Hobbits (who are reliable, discerning, and intuitive narrators), we get an account of the dream-like nature of elvish beings, their habitats, their works. Several expositions in Fellowship can be interpreted through this lens. Once it dawned on me what Tolkien was doing, it actually started to seem heavy-handed. Any esoteric practitioner will see these things, obvious as starlight.
‘What about Rivendell and the Elves? Is Rivendell safe?’
‘Yes, at present, until all else is conquered… [The Elves] 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.’
Astral Beings dwell in the “Blessed Realm”. In this excerpt, it literally means Valinor, which is the home of the Ainur on the western side of the sea, but metaphorically it means the spiritual realm, which astral beings are connected to. They live in both worlds, i.e. the physical and the spiritual, i.e. Seen and Unseen.
I encourage you to read the following excerpt slowly, even aloud if you can.
Frodo was left to himself for a while, for Sam had fallen asleep. He was alone and felt rather forlorn, although all about him the folk of Rivendell were gathered. But those near him were silent, intent upon the music of the voices and instruments, and they gave no heed to anything else. Frodo began to listen.
And the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him 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 firelit 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 and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep.
There he wandered in a dream of music that turned into running water, and then suddenly into a voice. It seemed to be the voice of Bilbo chanting verses. Faint at first then clearer ran the words.
Frodo is in the heart of Rivendell and witnessing an Elvish ritual (in fact, it may be just any other elvish night—this level of enchantment is normal for them), and how to describe it other than as a mystical encounter with the spirit realm in a state of dream-sleep-trance? Anyone who has experienced astral projection or lucid dreaming can bear witness to this: Frodo is in his astral body.
‘Then be comforted,’ said Elrond. ‘For there are other powers and realms that you know not, and they are hidden from you.’
Directly referring to Lothlorien, likely, this could metaphorically be referring to the hidden realm (recall esoteric means only hidden), the subtle realm. Speaking of:
‘And now we must enter the Golden Wood, you say. But of that perilous land we have heard in Gondor, and it is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed.’
‘Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth,’ said Aragorn. ‘But lore wanes in Gondor, Boromir, if in the city of those who were once wise they now speak evil of Lothlorien.’
Lothlorien is later referred to as ‘the heart of Elvendom on earth’. Treebeard tells us Lothlorien, one of the hidden realms Elrond referred to, is literally translated into Elvish as ‘Dream-flower’.
It is said by shamans, oracles, and oneironauts, that going consciously into the astral realm either by astral projection or lucid dreaming has the effect of fundamentally changing the consciousness and personality of the pioneer. Experiential knowledge of spiritual realms has the effect of spiritualizing an individual. And how could it be any other way? But be careful, because “folk takes their peril with them [when they explore dreams], and finds it there because they’ve brought it.” (Replace [when they explore dreams] with “Into Lorien”, and you have a direct quote from Aragorn).
Frodo describes Lothlorien as a dreamscape:
The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen on anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lorien there was no stain.
Frodo has entered the Platonic World of Forms. The spiritual realm. The hidden realm. The astral realm.
As soon as he set foot upon the far bank of Silverlode a strange feeling had come upon him, and it deepened as he walked on into the Naith: it seemed to him that he had stepped over a bridge of time into a corner of the Elder Days, and was now walking in a world that was no more. In Rivendell there was memory of ancient things; in Lorien the ancient things still lived in the waking world. Evil had been seen and heard there, sorry had been known; the Elves feared and distrusted the world outside: wolves were howling on the wood’s borders: but on the land of Lorien no shadow lay.
The Elder Days and the ancient things refer to those early days where the spirits of the Ainur-Gods still walked the earth. Here, in this hidden realm, it is preserved, and it is a realm of light.
He turned and saw that Sam was now standing beside him, looking round with a puzzled expression, and rubbing his eyes as if he was not sure that he was awake. ‘It’s sunlight and bright day, right enough,’ he said. ‘I thought that Elves were all for moon and stars; but this is more elvish than anything I’ve ever heard tell of. I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.’
Haldir looked at him, and he seemed to take the meaning of both thought and word. He smiled. ‘You feel the power of the Lady of the Galadrhim,’ he said.
Sam’s reality-state testing, a practice of lucid dreamers; not sure if he’s in the world of forms or the physical world anymore. Interesting…
‘I count you blessed, Gimli son of Gloin: for your loss you suffer of your own free will, and you might have chosen otherwise. But you have not forsaken your companions, and the least reward that you shall have is that the memory of Lothlorien shall remain ever clear and unstained in your heart, and shall neither fade nor grow stale.’
‘Maybe,’ said Gimli; ‘and I thank you for your words. True words doubtless, yet all such comfort is cold. Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror, be it clear as Kheled-zaram. Or so says the heart of Gimli the Dwarf. Elves may see things otherwise. Indeed I have heard that for them memory is more like to the waking world than to a dream. Not so for Dwarves.’
Elves have a certain power of memory that they seem as real as the waking “Seen” world to them. This is a power that someone who lives as a dreamer (i.e. an astral being) would have, undoubtedly. Tolkien again continues to drive the point home that Elves, the astral race, are spiritual beings, and a link between Hidden and Seen realms.
‘Well, I can remember three nights [in Lothlorien] for certain, and I seem to remember several more, but I would take my oath it was never a whole month. Anyone would think that time did not count in there!’
‘And perhaps that is the way of it,’ said Frodo. ‘In that land, maybe, we were in a time that has elsewhere long gone by. It was not, I think, until Silverlode bore us back to Anduin that we returned to the time that flows through mortal lands to the Great Sea. And I don’t remember any moon, either new or old, in Caras Galadhon: only stars by night and sun by day.’
Legolas stirred in his boat. ‘Nay, time does not tarry ever,’ he said; ‘but change and growth is not in all things and places alike. For the Elves the world moves, and it moves both very swift and very slow. Swift, because they themselves change little, and all else fleets by: it is a grief to them. Slow, because they do not count the running years, not for themselves.’
Have you ever experienced time dilation in a dream? Where it seemed hours had passed, and really it was only ten minutes? Or time compression, where you have a short dream only to wake up and find hours had passed?
Such is the power of the subtle realm, the astral realm, the realm of the immaterial conscious experiencer, the incorporeal observer, the realm where one sees with one spiritual eye instead of two physical eyes, where color and sound and touch are so vivid and lifelike despite zero physical sensory inputs whatsoever.
It’s a real realm of existence. Is it as significant as Tolkien or Plato or Theosophists make it out to be? Have the dream visions of great prophets created world religions and shaped the course of history just because of some hallucinations; or does Godkind truly speak to Mankind through the Astral Body?
That’s a big question, but it’s late at night for me, now. I’ll have to sleep on it.
With that [Aragorn] fell asleep. Legolas already lay motionless, his fair hands folded upon his breast, his eyes unclosed, blending living night and deep dream, as is the way with Elves.
Not only has Tolkien taken his metaphysics from great mystery religions of old, but he has taken the story of the fall of man from ancient myth as well, AND he places an elvish astral race (a race with all the qualities and characteristics of esoteric astral beings) right there between Man and God as if to remove all doubt: that he has captured and presented a great truth hidden within mystery religions of old in a grand metaphorical myth.
We don’t fathom the full power of great myths when we first read them, but our spirits have a way of sensing hidden truths. Remember: myth is naught but historical truths told in fictional form. And, like I said in my disclaimer, you should take note that history does repeat itself.
Post-script: note that Aragorn’s magnum opus culminates with replanting the white tree of the gods in the courtyard of Gondor, and with marriage to the elf-maiden (both Aragorn and Arwen can trace their lineage to Thingol, an elf-king, who married Melian, a Maiar, i.e. a goddess. So, literally, mankind is linked to god-kind by the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn). The flowering of this tree (which comes from Valinor, the home of the Gods) and the fruit of this marriage are the defining characteristics of the race of Kings of Men in middle earth. Anointed, christened, king, Aragorn achieved the link to divinity. I will not expand on the significance, but invite you to question and explore it yourself.
Post-post-script: If you enjoyed this blend of esotericism, history, and fantasy-fiction, I encourage you to read “The Winged Wolf / Fisher King” theory on ASOIAF. It details how the story of King Bran as a shamanic dream traveler is inspired by the myth of King Arthur, and why this kind of King is the only acceptable King of Westeros — and it was written several years before the HBO show reached its ham-fisted conclusion.