Monday, July 19 – Some Valar

6:00 AM The Valaquenta: Of The Valar

Of the Valar – The Text

 “Of the Valar

The Great among these spirits the Elves name the Valar, the Powers of Arda, and Men have often called them gods. The Lords of the Valar are seven; and the Valier, the Queens of the Valar, are seven also. These were their names in the Elvish tongue as it was spoken in Valinor, though they have other names in the speech of the Elves in Middle-earth, and their names among Men are manifold. The names of the Lords in due order are: Manwë, Ulmo, Aulë, Oromë, Mandos, Lórien, and Tulkas; and the names of the Queens are: Varda, Yavanna, Nienna, Estë, Vairë, Vána, and Nessa. Melkor is counted no longer among the Valar, and his name is not spoken upon Earth.”

Of the Valar – Discussion

A. ”Men have often called them gods.” Well, are they gods, or aren’t they?

Drogo drogo: Feanor Potter and the Order of the Valar. Well, "gods" is an inadequate term for that which is beyond the comprehension of Men, in the traditional sense.  Since the Creator does not appear within his creation, the Ainur who incarnated themselves inside Arda are the closest thing to gods in that they are the most powerful entities within the confines of the creation.

Luthien Rising: At least their names are short and differentiable… They're what "gods" are (as opposed to "God", who, in Tolkien's view of the world, “is". It's like Terry Pratchett says: belief makes them gods. In this case, though, belief hasn't (within the mythology) created the gods; it has merely made beings of a lesser order than gods into gods.

Ivy Sandybanks: Lost in translation. In the imperfect, limited understanding of men, yes. Just like to the hobbits, what the elves do is magic.

Menelwyn: the gods or whatevers. When I try to discuss this sort of issue with my friends who have only seen the LOTR movies, I tend to get myself dug in very deep.  (Thanks, Philippa, for that one line about "the grace of the Valar!")  I very much hesitate to say that the Valar are gods, because there is only one God!  On the other hand, I similarly hesitate to use the analogy of angelic beings, because the Valar have a greater role than angels, or so it seems to me.  One compromise I've found is calling them "sub-gods" which conveys to my friends the idea that the Valar are subordinate to God, but way beyond people, Elves, whatever.  Actually, what I would really like to talk about is demiurges (Tolkien does in one of his letters, but I don't have access to my books at the moment), but that would probably just dig the hole even deeper!

Curious:  Thanks for the reference to demiurges! I had not heard that word before, and I did not find Tolkien's reference, but after researching the word it applies perfectly to the Valar.  Apparently Plato invented the word because he was dissatisfied with the Greek pantheon, who usurped the rule of the world and acted like criminals.  In contrast, the Valar take part in the creation of the world and act with great dignity.  They are demiurges.

Timerider: Proferred Deity: They said the same thing about the Numenoreans, and Sauron. Are these persons gods then, also? The argument that their saying so makes it so doesn't really work, unless there is no actual supernatural truth. As it stands, Eru really is the only god present- he alone has creative power, and the Valar do their work by his leave. I'm reminded of a story from the book of Acts, in the bible: Paul and his companion landed in Greece and started working miracles, and the local populace declared them to be Zeus and Apollo, to their dismay. The people called them gods for good reason, but the underlying truth (at least as they saw it) was that they were only servants of a greater God. I think the situation with the Valar is similar.

Stanislaus Bocian: Valar and Zoroastrian Religion. Valar seem to me most similar to the Amesha Spentas of the Zoroastrian Religion. It is probably the first monoteistic religion (it depends whether you count them monotheists, and whether you count Jews at that time monotheistic) I was began (probably) by the prophet Zaratustra in 7 century BC, (or earlier). It was the religion of the Persian Empire. Todays the remains of the believers live in India, where they are called Parsis.

Amesha Spentas are 7 (or 6) personified aspects of Ahura Mazda (Ohrmazd), the creator of the world - or gods, or archangels. Each of them has created a part of Earth.

see at

All translations of the names of Amesha Spentas are extremely controversial.

Spenta Manyu - Holy Spirit, sometimes identified with Ahura Mazda - created,or rules men.

Vohu Manah - Good Thought - connected with cattle (ancient Persians were nomads) and other animals

Asha Vahishta - Justice and Truth - Fire

Kshathra Vairia- Just Power - Metals and minerals, sky

Spenta Armaiti - Holy Devotion - The earth

Haurvatat - Health - Waters

Ameretat - Immortality - Plants

Additionally, there is Angra Mainyu, Evil Spirit. At first he was contrasted with Spenta Mainyu, later he became equal to Ahura Mazda - it is properly a variant religion, Zurvanism.

Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) created snakes, insects and the peacock.

Amesha Spentas are not gods. Most of the gods became Devas- daemons, as Indra, who is the god of lightning in India. Some of the gods were classified as Yazatas - lesser angels, like Mithra.

This is the difference with Tolkien-Valar are clearly sanctified pagan gods.

Galadriela: Interesting  I never thought of the connection. Zoroaster worship

Beren IV: Christianity contains elements of both Judaism and Zoroastrianism. The concept of a Devil is Zoroastrian, for instance. Also, Zoroaster, the son of Ahura Mazda, has his birthday on the twenty-fifth of December...

Annael: Mithras too. The "sun god" worshipped by many Romans in the early centuries AD. Mithraism may have been an offshoot of Zoroastroanism, and many scholars believe the Catholic Church took over many of the rituals of Mithraism, including that birthday and making the Sun-day holy, as a way of co-opting Mithras' worshippers.

Erather: Meet the Pantheon. Hey, Men assign names to things.  Are horses really horses?  They are divine beings with a lot of power and responsibility, and we may use lower-case-god to denote that.  Tolkien is weasel-wording here, so that if this word bothers you you can just say, "Oh, foolish Men, how little they know!"

Penthe: Elves' story of creation. As other have said below, Men are a bit dopey about the nature of Gods and so on in Middle Earth. They don't have first hand knowledge. This story, however, suggests that the Elves' knowledge is also imperfect. The categories applied here are the Elves' version of the hierarchy of the Valar. They are a very hierarchical bunch, Elves. Maybe the Valar and Maiar view themselves as an anarcho-syndicalist collective of precise equals. Who can say? Now I don't believe that for a minute, but Tolkien does take care to remind us that this version of events is what the Elves say, to each other and to men.

Beren IV: What is a god, anyway? That depends on your definition of what a god is. The Valar have powers like the Gods of most pantheonic mythologies. They're not all-powerful, but usually the Gods aren't, when there are a number of them. I think that the word "Powers" is the best translation you could ask for; if you will, they're Gods. But they're not the One.

NZ Strider: Some quick thoughts... No.  They are not gods.  They are created beings whom Men (in their ignorance) might easily treat as gods.  N.b. for example that Tolkien himself once suggested that two of his Maiar, Pallando and Alatar, set themselves up as objects of mystery cults; and a third Maia, Radagast, has the same name as a Slavonic deity.

Annael: Gods . . . . In his "Taltos" fantasy series, Stephen Brust defines a god as someone whose actions cannot be judged by anyone else's moral standards. So if a god kills a mortal, we are likely to call it "divine retribution" instead of "murder." By this definition the Valar are not gods, as they are accountable for their actions to Eru.

B. “Among Men their names are manifold.” Is Tolkien saying that the many other pantheons that men have named are simply the Valar? If he is, is he correct?

An seileachan: Their names are manifold. I don't know how to answer the "is he correct" part, so am leaving that for more knowledgable responses.

But it's my understanding that Tolkien intended his descriptions of the Valar to recall other mythological pantheons, although not on a point-by-point basis. That is, when we read descriptions of Ulmo, for instance, we will recall other sea-gods to mind.

"Among men their names are manifold" may allow for later men, far past the age described in the Silmarillion, to call the gods by other names, when they attempt to explain the world. Maybe he intended this to only mean those men who were existing at the time this manuscript (or fragment) was supposedly written, but allowing us to believe that many generations later, in our own ancient times, the names we gave our gods were just other names for the same elemental powers.

Drogo drogo: Tolkien likes to suggest that the mythology and religious thought of our own ancient world was inspired by the alternative reality of his invented universe, our lost prehistory.  There is not a one-to-one correspondence, but the overall concept of a pantheon seems to have been passed down from the distant memory of tales of the Valar and Maiar.  Since Men had no direct contact with the Valar or Aman, except for a few notables we'll look at in months to come, distortion over millennia could lead to a poor memory of the true nature of the Valar themselves, and Manwe could become Amun, or Odin, or Zeus.

Luthien Rising: Yep. And why not? It's certainly nicer than saying they're all utterly wrong. And in providing a way to reconcile "other" religions with the Elvish mythology here, Tolkien also opens the door to reconcile the Elvish mythology with Christian religion.  

Ivy Sandybanks: The Valar are the source of the various pantheons that we later find in the world of men. Again, man's distance and imperfect understanding can only result in a translation, maybe only a bad translation. Like a game of telephone.

A Wiccan (adopting Tolkien's universe) would say that Tolkien was correct: all pantheons are representations of the Valar, and all One Gods are Eru. A Wiccan would go on to say that the Valar are simply different aspects of Eru, though, which does not at all seem to be what Tolkien intended.

So anyway, sure, he could be correct. It's plausible. Why not?

Menelwyn: In accordance with my answer to question A, I will note that any treatment of the Valar as gods will in some sense be a mistake.  But I think that's exactly what has happened with the Men of Middle-earth (or our world, if you like).  I do think Tolkien is trying to say that many of the pantheons of our world are just misinterpretations of the Valar.  They don't line up exactly--they're wrong, after all--but there are parallels.  I am reminded of Tolkien's notion that something similar happened to the Blue Wizards, that in their travels they ended up getting mistaken for gods and might themselves be the origin of someone's mistaken theology.

Erather: Yes, he is taking that position.  Each culture perceives the reality slightly differently, though, so the specifics will vary without Tolkien's assertion being disproved thereby.  And he himself loves giving myriad names to anyone of importance (and many of little importance, as well).

Beren IV: I'm sure that that was one of Tolkien's ideas.

NZ Strider: As has often been pointed out, the Valar resemble various pagan pantheons.  E.g. Tulkas = Thor = Mars = Ares etc.; Manwë = Wodin = Juppiter = Zeus etc.; etc. 

I think that Tolkien is aiming at a sort of mediation here between paganism and the Christian religion which he believed in; the pagans (such as those who had invented the Old Norse mythology which he so dearly loved) were not entirely wrong, even if they had misunderstood.  The pagan legends of gods, when viewed through the lens of this mediation, are misconstructions of the Valar.  The legends, at base, however are true.  After a fashion.

Stanislaus Bocian: Gods in Neoplatonism. I have written earlier about similarities between Tolkien and Zoroastrianism. They are real, but not quite relevant. Zoroastrianism influenced both Christianity, and (very indirectly) Neoplatonic philosophy-religion. In Neoplatonism pagan Greek and Asian gods have been reinterpreted as lesser beings, subject to the real God.

Neoplatonic influence on Tolkien and on other Inklings - C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams - is very strong. Obviously, there are differences, as Tolkien was an orthodox Catholic. In Plotinus' philosophy there is no creation by the free will of God, but necessary or natural emanation.

The second difference is that Plotinus didn't know the difference between existence and essence, that is between the fact that something is, and that it is something (and no other thing.)

But the general view of universe in Tolkien is Neoplatonic- a living universe, filled with a hierarchy of beings, in which the spirit is earlier and more important then matter.

So, it could be said that Tolkien tries to remodel ancient gods so that they would fit with Christianity. It is a very risky think to do for a man who realy believed in it, and it isn't very strange that he grew more and more doubtful of it.

Link: Tolkien and Neoplatonism

Curious: What a cool link!

Curious: I'm sure Tolkien would deny being a Neoplatonist, although there do seem to be similarities.  But the Neoplatonists, as I understand it, were hostile to Christianity, which Tolkien certainly was not.  The Neoplatonists were making one last attempt to keep Greco-Roman paganism alive; Tolkien may have been sympathetic to non-Christians, but he was never in their camp.  He considered non-Christians woefully misinformed, pitied them, and sought an altogether different hierarchy of spirits that in no way pretended to be gods.  By Tolkien's time, European pantheons were no longer a credible threat to Christianity; scientific materialism was a far greater concern.  Tolkien attempted to capture some of the magic of ancient mythology, while utterly recasting it in a Christian mold.

Annael: I rather like the idea that all the different gods and goddesses people have worshipped over the years are really just different names for the same aspects of Deity. But that's from my personal bias that God is far more than any human religion can conceive of or describe.

C. Is the number seven a coincidence here? And if not, does that mean that Tolkien jiggered his gods and goddesses until he got to the desired number – meaning some would not be Valar if he had stuck on the number five?

Drogo drogo: Seven is the "magic" number, the union of three and four, and hence is extremely important in mythology and Judeo-Christian tradition.

Luthien Rising: Silly squire, the number seven is never a coincidence! (Actually, I feel sorry for people who accidentally think up seven of something only to discover after the fact that they've made something significant.) I'm sure this was quite deliberate on Tolkien's part.

Beren IV: I'm sure seven was deliberate. Tolkien was a Catholic, after all.

NZ Strider: Hmm...  Numbers game...  Seven days of the week; seven pillars of wisdom; seven sages; seven wonders of the world; seven seas; seven hills of Rome;...  It seems a good number: especially one which indicates completeness (the seventh day completes the week; the seven seas = all the waters; and so on).   

D. Lords and Queens? Why not the fully royal Kings and Queens, or the simply noble Lords and Ladies? And why the symmetry of sex, after the departure of Melkor?

Drogo drogo: They are viceroys or governors of Arda, not Kings since there is only one King.  Tolkien, especially in the late 50s, seems to have taken great pains to show that the Valar are only custodians, but not the absolute rulers of Arda.  This keeps his world in line with Catholicism and the Judeo-Christian belief in the One God.

Luthien Rising: Queens are all beneath Kings and thus more equivalent to Lords (or Princes), except in particularly modern monarchical systems (yes, I know, that will seem contradictory to many) that go by pure primogeniture rather than gender-biased primogeniture. Tolkien's is a very hierarchical system -- he's left room for, of course, the king-over-all (Eru) but also for hierarchy within the Valar. Why the symmetry of sex after the departure of Melkor? Because it looks nice. And it makes dinner parties so much easier to plan. It also suggests that the departure of Melkor -- or one of the other men -- was inevitable.

Menelwyn: I'll look at these two questions together.  No, there's no coincidence about the number seven, for reasons others have stated.  And I think Tolkien did go to extremes in trying to make it work out for both the males and females.  *Sigh--not having my books is annoying!  Moving is such a pain.*  I seem to recall Tolkien doing a lot of changing of who gets counted as Vala and who gets counted as Maia, especially among the women (note particularly Osse and Uinen).  To have ended up with exactly seven of each seems to be very intentional.  Oh, and on the issue of Melkor's no longer getting counted, well, wasn't Tulkas something of a late arrival on the scene (in terms of plot)?  He's almost filling out the numbers to keep things balanced once Melkor isn't counted.

Penthe: I kind of like the fact that this gives a kind of sublime, symbolic power to the Queens that is absent from the Lords. The Lords may have dominion, but the Queens are more noble. It may be conservative gender politics, but it is charming in terms of Arwen, Galadriel and the complex political and cultural roles they play for the Elves.

Lucia: the mystery of the eighth goddess. That is actually an interesting question because it means that Tolkien started with eight gods and 7 goddesses. That kind of asymmetry would clearly set up a significant tension, so no wonder there was conflict. It makes me wonder about the eighth goddess that no-one ever mentions. :)

Beren IV: 9 and 7. In the first version, Tolkien had nine male and seven female Valar. The name of the remaining Vala eludes me for the moment.

He also had all of the Valier married in his first version.

Linkinparkelf: My two pennies. First penny, actually a question - Why did Tolkien make the female Valar French?

NZ Strider: My guess is that "lady" (unless "lord" is standing next to it) is too easily understood on a lower level.  Better to use "Queen" and be clear.  And Melkor also did cause things to become disorderly -- as soon as he is removed we have symmetry and order.

Piled Higher and Deeper

The Valaquenta has its roots in Tolkien’s original sketches of his mythology back in the years after World War I, and he revised the material repeatedly over the years. Here  is a chart of the evolution of this passage.

E. What changes do you see in Tolkien’s accounting of the Valar?

Drogo drogo: The passages from the 30s through the early 50s use "gods," but Tolkien omits that word in the c. 1958 MSS that became the Silmarillion.  As mentioned above, I sense that Tolkien feared that the overall Christian framework of his invented universe might be overlooked by readers who would see this as an Olympian pantheon rather than as a group of angelic caretakers of creation.  It's hard to have gods, but yet remind readers that they are not really gods. 

Luthien Rising: How nice of him -- he decided to add the women in!

Beren IV: Yes; the identity of some of the Valar change, as well as who they're married to (Vana, for instance, switches both what she is the goddess of and who she is married to). I also recall there being sixteen Valar in one edition (including Melkor)

Extra Credit

F. Do the Valar refer to Melkor as “You Know Who” or “He who Must Not be Named”?

Drogo drogo: Well Manwe Dumbledore and Varda McGonagall don't fear him and can say his name, but Sauron Snape joined You Know Who and was helping him find the Chamber of Secrets in the Halls of Mandos.  Feanor kept interrupting by them by riding his broom and throwing the golden snitches he invented at the Death Eaters, but He Who Must Not Be Named stole the snitches and all the Elves of the House of Gryffindor began a long march to Beleriand win them back.  This is the world according to JRR Rowling.

Luthien Rising: Yes, of course they do. And that is the secret to reconciling Harry Potter with LOTR. It will be revealed in Book VII (and not before) that Voldemort is in fact the latest incarnation of Sauron -- or perhaps even a new incarnation of Melkor himself! And Dumbledore is Olorin in yet another form (he's gotten fond of the Gandalf-form, see). In the end they'll all sail to Nova Scotia.

Menelwyn: In a slightly more serious vein than others (though I absolutely love the Potter-style responses!): I don't know about the Valar, but the Noldor certainly do, at least post-Silmaril theft.  Calling him "Morgoth" (Dark Enemy) is very much like talking about Voldemort as "You Know Who".  

Timerider: Doesn't Morgoth mean "Dark Lord" or something similar? Snape calls Voldemort by the same title.

Squire: 'Voldemort' does not really mean 'Dark Lord''It is possible to break the name Voldemort into the French phrase "vol de mort" which has multiple translations. The most commonly cited is "flight of death", but other meanings include "flight from death" and "theft of a dead body." His ultimate goal is to achieve immortality through the practice of dark magic.'

Thanks for making me look that up; I always thought it was "will to death" or something.

Snape's reference that you noted, to 'Dark Lord', of course shows the essential Tolkien-Rowling connection despite the name difference.

What I was picking up on was that Melkor's name was "not spoken upon Earth" which rang my Potterian bell. Names that may not be spoken are always the key to something.

Sauron too did not allow his right name to be spoken in Middle-earth in LotR, although that seemed to be by his command. Here, I wonder if Morgoth himself forbade the use of his name Melkor?

Erather: I think they refer to Melkor as Him in hushed tones, rolling their eyes for added effect.

Penthe: The Elves can't help but rename stuff. They are very talkative. The Valar? I reckon they view themselves as largely telling the truth as they see it. Not that they can't make mistakes in perception, of course.

Linkinparkelf: Second penny - I think Melkor himself changed his name to Morgoth as it has a much more dreadful sound to it and he henceforth refused to answer to Melkor so that it fell into disuse. Only someone really trying to get his goat would call him Melkor and I don't see too many wanting to attempt that.

Beren IV: Melkor is not named ON EARTH. That doesn't say anything about Aman :) I expect that those who knew the Old Melkor, before he actually became evil, remember the Old Melkor by that name, and reserve the name Morgoth to refer to Melkor after he went bad.

Annael: I'm pretty sure the Valar think of Melkor as the black sheep of the family. They don't fear him - Tulkas can whup him and Mandos can imprison him - but I bet they find him pretty annoying at times.

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


          Home             Previous: Of the Valar       Next: Manwe