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Monday, December 11, 2017

On the Nature of Longing


In 1939, as Europe braced for the worst, J.R.R. Tolkien completed the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring, emphasizing how terrible riders in black could terrorize even the peaceful oasis of Frodo´s beloved Shire. The Ringwraiths of Middle-earth added a touch of evil not present in Tolkien´s previous novel, The Hobbit. In The Fellowship, the Black Riders are messengers of a greater evil brewing in Mordor. However, within the parallel perils of Europe in the twentieth century and Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age, Tolkien elegantly writes of safe havens where even in the darkest times, songs of love are sung under starlit skies. Nestled in the perfumed mountains of Rivendell and the ancient forest of Lórien, many of the elves of old knows what to hold on to, and what to let go of.

It is not unexpected that Frodo should be healed (though never cured) and reunited with Gandalf and Bilbo at the house of Elrond in Rivendell. Readers of The Hobbit already are familiar with the charms of The Last Homely House, the westernmost outpost of the elves. “That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’ Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.” In Rivendell the Nine Riders of the enemy are turned back, Isildur´s sword is re-forged and given to Aragorn, and the Fellowship of men, dwarves, hobbits and elves is formed. Despite, or because of such hard work, there is joyous singing, day and night.

The elves of Rivendell are famous for their singing. In the Christian story of creation, the New Testament tells us that in the beginning, there was the Word. In Tolkien´s spin, we are told that in the beginning, there was the Song. Before writing The Hobbit, Tolkien laid out the origins of Middle-earth and how the happy elves found a home there. Though The Silmarillion was first published in 1977, four years after Tolkien´s death, it contains the history behind Middle-earth that Tolkien had been working on for much of his adult life. As it begins, the creator of the world, Ilúvatar, made the Ainur, or Holy Ones, and gave them the power of song. The voices of the Ainur, like innumerable choirs and musical instruments,

Began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went into the Void, and it was not void.

Both elves and men (Quendi and Atani) were created as important players of the world´s symphony. But though the race of men will do great things, Ilúvatar proclaims, it is the elves who “shall be the fairests of all earthly creatures, and they shall have and conceive and bring forth more beauty than all my Children; and they shall have the greater bliss in this world.”

Tolkien´s Rivendell and Lórien are places you long for. Every kind of longing contains a glimpse of a longing after the universal vision and song of the Universe. Every longing is a thought. Your thoughts are words and images, which work in the river of time, which also is called Heraklit´s River.

As the Indian philosophy claims, then this stream not only contains your personal history, it also contains a collective and universal history – together a history, which consists of images. These images are form-formations of energy, creative up-tensions, a kind of matter, though on a highly abstract plane. These images exist in other words in the actual movement of the matter, and therefore not only in your mental activity, but also outside you in nature.  So, your thinking rises from an endless deep of images, which flow in the actual movement of nature.

The Indian philosophy claims, that the movement of time in itself is a negationpower. Time is one great negation of the Now´s unmoved being, which is the unmanifested, the actual source: the Good, the True and the Beautiful (God, Brahman, Ilúvatar). The negationpower is in that way the power behind the world´s manifestation. This manifestation, the Indian philosophy claims, has arised on the background of a mighty universal vision, which originates from past universes. In this way, the future arises, and an outgoing creative movement; a movement, which can be compared with what they within science call The Big Bang. In the outgoing movement, the great vision becomes, because of the negationpower, shattered in many images, which now become a kind of memories about the great vision. In this way, the past arises, and a longing back towards the origin, the unmanifested. And then a destructive backmovement is created.

In that way, the movement of time consists of two universal movements, which we could call the outgoing movement and the backmovement. Future and past, creation and destruction. These two movements are reflected throughout the universe in a multiplicity of different lifecycles; they are Samsara´s wheel of up-cycles which are followed by down-cycles and vice versa (for example life and death, success and fiasco, joy and sorrow) – all this which lie behind the law of karma and rebirth. This universe is for example considered to be a reincarnation of a past universe, the same way as a human being is considered to be a reincarnation of a past existence.

So the images in the movement of time is shattered reflections of the great vision of the universe, and are background for the manifestation of the holy scriptures of India, the Vedas, which are claimed to have been ”heard” by wise men (the so-called Seers) in the dawn of time, and by word of mouth delivered over oceans of time. They are shadows, dreams, masks, mirrors, fables, fairy-tales, fictions, music and songs. The Vedas therefore both include the most sublime and difficult available philosophy, as for example in the Upanishads, and good folktales as Ramayana and Mahabharata (with the famous Bhagavadgita), which with its clear ethical messages is told in village temples, to the children as bedtime stories, and which is inspiration for great poets as Rabindranath Tagore.

But the thinking´s past (memories, knowledge, traumatic bindings) and future (plans, projects, ambitions) can easily become a never-ending self-circling activity. All sovereign and self-forgetful life-expressions (which are flowering in Rivendell and Lórien) are coming from the Now, while the circling life-expressions are coming from time.  Guild-feelings, regret, anger, complaints, gloom, bitterness and all forms of lack of forgiveness, are created by too much past and too little presence in the Now. Discomfort, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are created by too much future and too little presence in the Now.

Tolkien´s Middle-earth, you could say, is in the same way filled with many dangers, and after the newly-formed Fellowship leaves the comforts of Rivendell, the participants are beset by snowstorms high atop Caradhras, and orcs within the Mines of Moria. Before they escape the Mines, the members of the Fellowship suffer their greatest loss, as their guardian wizard and mentor Gandalf falls into darkness at the bridge of Khazad-dûm. But just when all seems lost for the weary band of travellers, they reach Lórien, a magical forest where elves live and sing in the treetops. Like Rivendell, Lórien is a place for spirits to rise. It is the safe haven of the Now.


Tolkien, like many existentialist philosophers before him, believes that meaningful happiness does not come from ignoring the dangers but from facing the pain and still affirming life. As we read Tolkien´s famous essay on the author of “Beowulf,” we get the distinct impression that Tolkien might be speaking of himself. He discusses the artistic impulse, “looking back into the pit, by a man learned in old tales who was struggling as it were, to get a general view of them all, perceiving their common tragedy of inevitable ruin, and yet feeling this more poetically because he himself removed from the direct pressure of its despair.”

Living through two world wars, Tolkien himself had seen his share of despair and ruin. The Lord of the Rings was written during the years 1936-1949, among the darkest years in England´s history.

Galadriel has a darker side to her as well. Galadriel had tried to make Lórien “a refuge and an island of peace and beauty, a memorial of ancient days,” but she was now “filled with regret and misgiving, knowing that the golden dream was hastening to a grey awakening.” What has so filled the strong and seemingly ageless Lady of the Wood so with regret?

Perhaps the cause of Galadriel´s growing unhappiness is that she remembers too much. She never really forgets the curse hanging over her from ages long gone. Though Frodo and Sam see only settled bliss, Galadriel feels the burden of being a stranger in a strange land. She can never be fully happy in Lórien, because she can never entirely let go of the past. Tolkien judges this clinging to the past to be an “error,” a futile attempt to “embalm time.” Holding on to perfection in an imperfect world is an ultimately tragic attempt by the elves to “have their cake without eating it.” As long as Galadriel harbors an irrational desire to turn back the clock, her songs are mournful and slow. Her curse reminds about Karen Blixen´s fate.

The mythologist Joseph Campbell´s theory of the monomyth (The Hero´s Journey) is in the same way exceedingly conservative and founded on a deep nostalgia: for him, the cure for modern problems is found by returning to earlier notions of spirituality and moral virtue. In promoting a “living mythology,” Campbell harkens back to a lost “golden age” from which we have fallen, but to which we can return with effort and guidance of a “sage.” This might have to do with the inspiration from Jung. It is a reductionism, a psychologism. And herewith there is the danger of ending in idealism, and the same psychologizing, emotionalizing and therapeutizing ideology of our society, which New Age and Self-help stand for.

I have therefore supplied this with my own metaphysical naturalism, and with this a philosophical principle, namely to examine, whether the karmic talk and experiences of the experts and clients remove their energy-investments in the actual reality. If focus is displaced backwards, then the collective time has taken over and spiritual seen there therefore happens an escape. Such an escape is seen both in Freud, Jung, Rank, Grof, Janov, rebirthing, regression. None of these people and theories can therefore be said to work spiritual. And if they use the karma idea in that way, it is no longer a spiritual help, it is a collective displacement of the focus backwards in time and therewith out of reality and into the unreality of the collective time.

The genuine karmic structures do not lie in the collective time, but in the universal time, which works in synchronism with the Now. If the karma idea is used spiritual seen correctly, then the focus, instead of being projected out in something afar (past lives, a guru, birth, the future), will be present in something very near, namely only in the most intensive experiences of this actual life, and after that: in this actual Now with its possibility of realizing your innermost. It is your awareness in the now that will find the progressive karma, and this awareness you can of course only practice yourself.

The progressive karma is our inner light. And that is also the bright side of Galadriel, her rational and wise side. Tolkien teaches us to trust that inner light and be strong enough to leave old problems behind. When Frodo freely offers Galadriel the One Ring to rule them all, the very Ring that Galadriel has coveted throughout the ages, she refuses, knowing full well that with the refusal comes her own demise. Though the Lady of the Wood has stayed too long, she can still find happiness by remembering who she is, while walking away from the pronouncements of her past. “’I pass the test,’ she exclaims. ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel’”.

More than any other character in the tale, with the possible exception of Tom Bombadil, Lady Galadriel is imbued with the existentialist´s affirmation. As Frodo leaves the friendly borders of Lórien, she presents him with the symbolic light: The Phial of Galadriel. It was a crystal phial filled with water from her fountain which held the light of Eärendil's star - the light of the Two Trees as preserved in a Silmaril: a "star-glass." 

“It will shine still brighter when night is about you,” she promises. “May it be a light to you in dark places.”


And perhaps that is all that is meant by Tolkien´s imaginary elves. The elves find happiness when they trust in themselves. This self-confidence helps them sing throughout the darkest night, and leave the shores when the music ends. May their world be a light to us in our own dark places.

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