Monday, July 19 – Some Valar

6:00 PM The Valaquenta: Manwë and Varda Enthroned

Manwë and Varda – The Text

 Manwë and Varda are seldom parted, and they remain in Valinor. Their halls are above the everlasting snow, upon Oiolossë, the uttermost tower of Taniquetil, tallest of all the mountains upon Earth. When Manwë there ascends his throne and looks forth, if Varda is beside him, he sees further than all other eyes, through mist, and through darkness, and over the leagues of the sea. And if Manwë is with her, Varda hears more clearly than all other ears the sound of voices that cry from east to west, from the hills and the valleys, and from the dark places that Melkor has made upon Earth. Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love. Elbereth they name her, and they call upon her name out of the shadows of Middle-earth, and uplift it in song at the rising of the stars.”

Manwë and Varda – Discussion

A. Do Manwë and Varda have to be together to have their extraordinary powers of perception?

Erather: The Dynamic Duo Apparently.  A case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Beren IV: Because Varda is the greater one :) Apparently, although I imagine that they have other powers of survailance that are pretty awesome by themselves. Do you suppose that each star in the sky could be an eye of Varda, able to see anybody under a star? Or that perhaps Manwë can hear each breath of air already?

Luthien Rising: aren't they a sweet couple? Looks like it to me. But since I need glasses and have a more-or-less tone-deaf spouse, maybe I just don't see so well.

Kimi: *Sneaking in cautiously* I think they have extraordinary (to mere mortals) powers of perception even alone, but they only reach their full potential together, each enhancing the other's gift. It's a portrait of an idealised marriage of true minds.

Curious: A far cry from Zeus and Hera, no? I think it is sweet that the supreme rulers of Arda are so blissfully married that they are essentially inseparable.  But that doesn't mean they aren't aware of what is going on in Middle-earth!

Tolkien admitted in one of his letters that he liked the veneration of Mary, and that it probably did influence his description of Galadriel.  If that is so for Galadriel, I would guess it goes double for Varda.  But there are significant differences, of course.  One difference is that Varda may well be greater than Manwe -- after all, it is she Melkor most fears.  Galadriel certainly was greater than Celeborn.  As noted in a previous thread, Tolkien exhibited the traditional view that women were not made to rule -- but the somewhat untraditional view that they might well be more powerful than the monarchs they married. 

B. If Manwë might be thought of as God of the Day Sky, and Varda of the Night Sky (judging by their previous resumes in the Valaquenta), why are they here empowered with, respectively, Sight and Hearing? Any connections here with Lord of the Ring’s Amon Lhaw and Amon Hen?

Erather: Because you can see better in the daytime, and are more sensitive to sounds at night?  Interesting thought to connect them with Amon Lhaw and Amon Hen.  The Greek shrines to various gods & goddesses and their oracles seem to work much the same way, with special powers accorded by the resident deity.  Perhaps these were originally built as shrines, but the later ME historians had lost the divine references.

Ringers reprise:  that's just what I thought, not at the time of reading, but just now when sight and hearing were placed right under day and night like that. Amazing what a little word placement can do.

But then it could also be thought in terms of how their powers depend on each other. You can see stars at night, and hear more living creatures in the day.

Beren IV: Erather got it as well as I can, I think. Besides, if Manwë can hear air without Varda, and Varda's stars can see for her without Manwë, then when together, they pick up the sense that they lack alone! :)

Luthien Rising: You can see farther in the daytime. And sound travels farther at night (at least *I* think it does). I read "Jude Law," so no comments here. More coffee instead.

Kimi: Amons Lhaw and Hen may well be ancient shrines to these two, and as such a little of the ancient power lingers there.

Curious: Of course the Hills of Sight and Hearing are connected to Manwe and Varda.  How not?   

C. Why does Varda get “most” of the Elves’ reverence and love, when Manwë is the greater God?

Erather: For precisely the same reason that the Blessed Virgin Mary is more reverenced by Catholics than Jesus, whatever that reason may be.  In the case of the BVM, I think it's because she seems more "accessible", whereas Jesus seems more remote (one of the big cultural differences between Catholics and Protestants).

MerryK: Pray to the one who is listening... I notice that the attribute ascribed to Varda in this passage is "hearing clearly." Manwe, on the other hand, is watching (look busy!)

Aragonvaar: I can't let this set of misconceptions pass unchallenged. Catholic liturgy and communal devotion do not "reverence" her more than Jesus, although individual Catholics probably do fall into that trap from time to time.  If you track down a Tridentine (pre-Vatican II, the kind Tolkien would've been most familiar w/-and don't worry about the Latin, they're mostly bilingual texts) missal, you will find that that the Mass, the primary Catholic religious service, only occasionally addresses Mary or the saints and is primarily addressed to God.

I don't claim to know a great deal about Protestantism, but the default assumption in most branches appears to be that nobody else's relationship w/ Jesus can have any bearing on one's own relationship w/ Jesus.  Catholicism, on the other hand, proposes that people who have reached God are especially dear to Him, and should be especially dear to believers also.  And by the same token, knowing how other people have managed to model their lives on Jesus can help one to understand how to apply his example in one's own life.  Hence the importance of Saints to Catholics.

Mary's role is partly as that of the most successful "merely human" attempt to conform to God's Will (hence a kind of "supersaint"), partly as someone who, as God's willing instrument in the Incarnation, has a complex and paradoxical relationship w/ God that deserves to be acknowledged.  There is probably also a subconscious need to affirm the value of the feminine archetype even in a masculine, monotheistic theological system.  This aspect has so far not been translated successfully into conscious theology, though: most attempts I've seen either suffer from old-fashioned male chauvinism or veer off into goddess-centric/neo-pagan directions not compatible w/ the rest of this theological system.

To Tolkien, Varda may be a precursor or "echo" of Mary in Eru's thought (since everything ever created or "creatable" has existed from all eternity in his thought), an angelic entity w/ similar values and virtues, or a parallel to Mary in reflecting similar aspects of Eru's "personality" for lack of a better word.  She cannot be a close theological match for Mary, in terms of her role, however.

Didn't mean to jump your case, but I just wanted to clarify where Tolkien was *probably* coming from on this subject.

Erather: I'm not an expert on anyone's theology, Catholic, Protestant, or Tolkien, but I based that remark on behavioral observations of my Catholic friends and acquaintances, in literature, and in history (I was a medievalist in college & grad school).  It certainly seems to me that in private devotions, particularly in times of stress, many Catholics seem to find it easier to call on Mary than on God directly, and (for example) Frodo's appeal to Elbereth at Weathertop and in Shelob's Lair appears to be in that tradition.

Aragonvaar: I'm not saying the psychology isn't sound.... it just wasn't clear at the time that you were talking about the pyschology of the matter.  Sorry.

Mary's position in the Catholic psyche is pretty much a result of the Mother of God/Surrogate Mother of Mankind status she is accorded.  Maybe her creation of the first lights they saw upon awakening makes Varda the Surrogate Mother of the Elves?

Erather: That's a very plausible theory.

An seileachan: yes, some of the symbolism... is Mary's (the star references, particularly), but Mary was a human woman blessed with an extraordinary grace. She was never supernatural in origin. She was not created the "Queen of the Angels", she became that by accepting her role.

Tolkien may have fashioned his idea of beauty and heavenly grace from his life-long exposure to images of Mary, but not the exact role of Varda.

I'd like to echo your explanation of Cathoic regard for Mary. We do highly honor Mary. We reverence her. She is displayed (traditionally, anyway, not as much since Vatican Two perhaps) in much of our art, the names of our churches, and in many of our most beautiful hymns and prayers.

But we do not WORSHIP Mary. There is a vast difference. Mary is not a Goddess.

Although I understand this may appear to be a feeble point, from the outside looking in at our statues, holy cards, and etc.

Estelwyn: Varda and the Elves I'll take a stab at this one...

Because when the Elves awaken (in a few chapters hence) it is under starlight, the creation of Varda/Elbereth, so essentially she's the first Vala they "know", and they bond with her even though they don't know her yet.  Does that make sense?

Beren IV: Because Manwë *isn't* the greater Vala! Also, because Varda strikes me as more quintessentially GOOD, while Manwë is more of a neutral king and judge. Varda is more likely to appeal to the Elves, and Manwë is more likely to appeal to Humans.

Luthien Rising: 'Cause she's prettier? I think it's affection for (spoiler for later chapters!) the stars they were born under. Home, mom, all that.

Lucia: reverance I think because when the elves were first created, it was in the twilight and the stars provided the only light. Even though Manwe was present, I think their first experience of reverence was directed towards the stars and thus they hold Varda first in their hearts.

Kimi: Male Elves write most of the history :-)

It's tied up with the Elvish love of the stars, I think. I suspect that it's the Elves of Middle-earth who give the greater reverence to Varda, who created the stars to give them comfort. I also like Merryk's reference to Varda's listening skills :-) 

D. Similarly, why is Varda one of the only two Valar mentioned in The Lord of the Rings? (and who is the other, since you asked?)

An seileachan: me first!!! I know the other Valar... Orome. Theoden is compared to Orome, at the end of the chapter "The Ride of the Rohirrim" in ROTK.

whew. Don't know if I can answer anything else, but wanted to get my brownie points!!

Luthien Rising: hey, I was right!

Erather: Because the elves and elvish culture (embraced by Frodo) plays such a big part in LotR.  The other is Oromë (I knew that, but a.s. beat me!).

Estelwyn: Oh, and I also thought the other Vala (singular - no 'r')  mentioned in LOTR was Orome, so there!  I vaguely remembered some reference to his horn (maybe in relation to the horn of Boromir?), but darned if I can't find it!  Maybe I imagined that?

Beren IV: There are THREE Valar mentioned in LotR. Varda, Oromë, and, don't forget, Morgoth!

Luthien Rising: It's that connection with the elves, who seem to be the hobbits' connection with the greater spiritual world. (Well, Gandalf is their primary connection, but not in a way they seem to be conscious of.) I guess Orome earlier but can't prove it :-)

Kimi: Orome, to whom Theoden is compared.

I think she's mentioned because stars are so important as symbols of unquenchable hope and beauty.


Images of Manwë and Varda

Here are two illustrations of Manwë and Varda enthroned together.

E. Do these pictures tell you more about Manwë and Varda than the various individual portraits we have reviewed?

Beren IV: Not really; just more interpretations of what they look like.

Luthien Rising: Nope. They remind me of Celeborn and Galadriel in the movie, though. I doubt that that means anything beyond a commonality of icons of monarchical couples.

F. It doesn’t actually say that Varda has a throne. Are these artists correct in giving her one?

Beren IV: A throne is a place to sit down after you are tired of standing. Do Valar get tired?

Luthien Rising: I think it's just the iconic thing coming through. And why shouldn't they have thrones? They're given a home, right? I suppose they're allowed furniture too. If I were an artist (which I'm not), I'd be looking into the text but allowing myself to expand on it within reasonable limits (that is, not contradicting its detail or spirit). I'd be more concerned with appropriate style of thrones etc. than with whether they're legit or not in this case.

Kimi: Perhaps they have a two-seater - a love-seat. I don't think Varda would sit on Manwe's lap for a portrait.

Piled Higher and Deeper

This passage is presaged here in The Book of Lost Tales, but after that Tolkien eliminated it from all his drafts until he rewrote the first chapter of The Silmarillion as the Valaquenta.

E. Why did he restore it 30 years later, with the addition of Varda and the reverence given her?

Erather: Because I think she's the BVM surrogate, and Tolkien is working hard on reconciling the Sil with his Catholic beliefs.

Luthien Rising: Hmmm ... Part of me wants to think it's about *his* marriage, and his increasing sense over his lifetime that Edith did more than allow him to work.

What, no bonus points on them? Hmph.

Lucia: I'm guessing it had something to do with him writing LotR and discovering that Varda was revered by the elves.

Kimi: I think it's perhaps because of Tolkien's own growing reverence for the BVM, and his vision of her as the source of his own conceptions of beauty.

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


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