Tuesday, July 20 – Some More Valar

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: Námo of the Fëanturi, God of Death

The Fëanturi: Námo – The Text

 “The Fëanturi, masters of spirits, are brethren, and they are called most often Mandos and Lórien. Yet these are rightly the names of the places of their dwelling, and their true names are Námo and Irmo.

Námo the elder dwells in Mandos, which is westward in Valinor. He is the keeper of the Houses of the Dead, and the summoner of the spirits of the slain. He forgets nothing; and he knows all things that shall be, save only those that lie still in the freedom of Ilúvatar. He is the Doomsman of the Valar; but he pronounces his dooms and his Judgements only at the bidding of Manwë.

Námo – Discussion

Curious: I've always liked Mandos. And the Children of Iluvatar do interact with him quite a bit, particularly in The Silmarillion.  Despite his fierce image, he does relent from time to time.  He is at worst a jail keeper or the master of Niggle's workhouse, but I prefer to think of him as the keeper of a Zen retreat, where tired spirits go to meditate, often for the rest of eternity.

Squire: Zen retreat? I guess I know what you mean.

But I find Namo a little sterner than a meditative master: he is a pitiless judge most of the time. And the Elvish 'souls' who stay in his halls are either those whose heinous crimes forbid them from ever being reborn as they should be; or those who have chosen not to be reborn, which seems to be frowned upon.

If I understand the scheme, the Halls of Mandos are a temporary holding pen for rest and recuperation before re-birth; or a purgatory for repentance before being judged and re-born. But the permanent residents are not considered good people ipso facto, and a permanent residence is not a good thing. More of a jail than a retreat.

Curious: I disagree. Most elvish souls are too wounded to be reborn, and there is nothing wrong with that, as far as I can tell.  Feanor's mother's choice was frowned upon, but she was very definitely an exception to the rule, having committed the elvish equivalent of suicide.  Furthermore, she did find healing in the Halls of Mandos; which shows that it is a place for healing.  And Zen masters can be strict, after all.

A. Why does Tolkien make a big deal of their “real” names? Throughout The Silmarillion these two are in fact called Mandos and Lórien.

Aragonvaar: Mr. Nice Guy. It gives them a mysterious quality, also suggests that their "realms" in Aman are extensions of their personalities to a degree that is not true of the others.

Drogo drogo: Quick answers As with any myth, there are multiple names attached to the same "deities," and Tolkien is very careful with his names.  Mandos and Lorien are names applied to the Valar based on where they dwell, a substitution such as the "White House" for the US president, or "Whitehall" for the UK prime minister.

Beren IV: Vairë - Goddess of Time It's just a myth, I agree. Their places are so much extensions of themselves that their places take on after themselves, and they are hardly ever seen not in their places.

B. Námo knows all that is to be, except what he doesn’t: those things still in the freedom of Ilúvatar. What the heck does that mean?

Finrod Felagund 5: Namo, Eru, and Manwe I think that (I'm going to call him Mandos through this) Mandos's knowing all that will be except....has to do with him knowing all that Iluvatar has already decided.  When it comes to what HAS already been decided by Iluvatar, Mandos knows it all, he knows the entire plan.  But for the things that Iluvatar is unsure about, or hasn't really come to yet; Mandos doesn't have a clue.  And really, how can he know ANYTHING before Iluvatar?

Aragonvaar: Only Eru knows *exactly* where every act of free will leads.  The Valar can guess in broad terms, and they can enforce their will as fate upon everything except Men.  Maybe Namo has some special insight into the consequences of actions, or special willpower in enforcing the decrees of fate.

Drogo drogo: Well, he's the Creator, and can have some leeway in his design!  Inventor of the universe's perogative.

Luthien Rising: I love these two ... This goes back to the Ainulindale: Eru gave certain knowledge to the Ainur, but not other knowledge. For example, he let them know that the Children of Ilúvatar would be, but not where and when they would be. The "freedom" of Ilúvatar is that realm of knowledge which Ilúvatar is still free to give out at will; it is not already given into the power of the Ainur.

Beren IV: We already know: Illuvitar did not let the Valar know what would happen after the Rise of Men. This includes even Namo.

C. He pronounces his dooms and judgements, but only at Manwë’s bidding. Again, what the heck does that mean?

Finrod Felagund 5: In the case of Mandos not giving his dooms without the approval of Manwe, that has to do with Mandos perhaps saying too much.  As they say in "Back to the Future" "No one should know TOO much about their own future."  I think in the case of Mandos saying too much, he's giving too much away to the other Valar, Maiar, and Elves.  It seems that only Manwe knows the things that Mandos will say, and perhaps Mandos knows somethings that even Manwe doesn't know.

Aragonvaar: Like FF said, it's not always good to know the future.  Or possibly, Manwe only lets him pronounce doom when he's sure of his conclusion, or as the "enforcer" in some sense of Valarin will, he can "fix" future events to a degree, a "fixing" Manwe would have to endorse.

Stanislaus Bocian: Mandos' Dooms His dooms are not prophecies, but judgements, as the Doom of the Noldor, or of Luthien, or of Miriel.

According to Oxford Dictionary

"doom 1: 1. A statute, law, enactment; gen. an ordinance, decree. Obs. exc. Hist. 2. A judgement or decision, esp. one formally pronounced; a sentence; mostly in adverse sense, condemnation, sentence of punishment. †3. Personal or private judgement, opinion. as to my doom: in my opinion. Obs. †b. The faculty of judging; judgement, discrimination, discernment. Obs. 4. Fate, lot, irrevocable destiny. (Usually of adverse fate; rarely in good sense.) b. Final fate, destruction, ruin, death. 5. The action or process of judging (as in a court of law); judgement, trial. arch. 6. The last or great Judgement at the end of the world; also, a pictorial representation of this. arch. (Now chiefly in phr. crack of doom.)"

Mandos judges only on the request of Manwe, because he isn't the ruler, and has no authority to judge by himself. Formerly in monarchies judges judged in the name of the king. In Poland, which was an electionary monarchy, all courts didn't function after the death of the king and the election of the new - because their authority was only delegated.

Drogo drogo: Mandos serves as Manwe's herald to an extent, and not everything should be heard or known by all.  Mandos should therefore keep quiet about things that Manwe doesn't want him to reveal.

Luthien Rising: He's not allowed to judge unless told it's time to judge. The doom is his to determine at that time.

Beren IV: Manwë lets the secret out, and Namo is very loyal to him.

Vairë – The Text

 Vairë the Weaver is his spouse, who weaves all things that have ever been in Time into her storied webs, and the halls of Mandos that ever widen as the ages pass are clothed with them.

Vairë – Discussion

Vairë appears to be the Goddess of History: “storied webs” is poetic-talk for historical or narrative tapestries. When I first read that Mandos’ spouse was a weaver, I assumed she would be an analog of the Grecian Fates, or the Norse Norns, who wove the Future: the Greeks and Scandinavians saw the future, or fate, as a complex web of events and contingency, and imagined three weaver goddesses threading all lives together into a compulsory future. Yet Tolkien takes the opposite tack: Vairë only records the past in her weavings, while Námo her husband knows all the future.

D. Why does Tolkien invert the standard Indo-European mythos for his “weaver” goddess? 

Aragonvaar: When you linked the tapestry of the fates to a "compulsory future", you pretty much gave the answer away: Weaving is a complex art requiring alot of preparation and forethought; for Tolkien, free will is an important and unpredictable component of the future, hence the "tapestry of fate" metaphor is not compatible w/ his philosophy in the way that it is for his pagan forebears.

Drogo drogo: Tolkien does like to play with common mythic elements and deity/Fate figures from other religions.  Vaire is also the storyteller figure, another common figure from mythology.

Luthien Rising: Because he is himself weaving a past. She is secretly his goddess. (Catholics may slap me now. Ouch.)

Beren IV: Do you think it was even deliberate? I'm not even certain it was.

E. Vairë never is mentioned in the narrative of the Quenta Silmarillion. Why then does she exist in the Valaquenta? Are her tapestries essentially lobby decoration for the amusement and consideration of the long-suffering souls who endlessly wait in the halls of Mandos, listening to the Muzak of the Gods? Why does Heaven keep a record of all of Time’s events, courtesy of Vairë?

Aragonvaar: Mandos is apparently a place to meditate on the past, as a preparation for making that leap beyond the circles of the world (for men) or being reembodied (Elves Dwarves) in the future.  It is purgatorial or therapeutic, not infernal in either the Christian or Roman sense.  Her tapestries are probably helpful in the process of meditation.

Drogo drogo: She's the official record-keeper of Arda, in a sense.  Tolkien is a lover of the past as immoralized in song and tale, so her weaving takes on great significance as the turning of the past into art.

Luthien Rising: To go all deconstructive on this, Vairë's existence on the margins of Arda and in a tiny corner of Tolkien's text shows just how important she is to all that text. This is magnified by the fact that she is precisely about textuality. It is through Vairë that we are ensured that all deeds will retain value, that all persons will be recognized, that our lives will have context.

Pukel Man: Why isn't Vaire in the Sil? Authorial shyness?

NZ Strider: I suppose it's because she does not act, but merely records.  After all, Homer is never mentioned in the Iliad.  ;-)

Beren IV: An oversight, probably - or, at least, Vairë does not take a decisive role. She's the storyteller, if you will - although only the Valar may be able to see.

F. The halls of Mandos “ever widen” as time passes. What does that mean?

Finrod Felagund 5: The Halls of Mandos widen because more spirits are always coming over.  We know that the spirits of Men DO spend some time at the Halls of Mandos before their journey to where no one knows (Perhaps Manwe and Mandos alone of the Valar have an idea of where men go after they die).  The spirits of Elves also stay there, but that is only if they can't be reborn.

Aragonvaar: Well, people keep coming there...he's gotta keep expanding.

Drogo drogo: Lots of souls means you need lots of additions.  There must be many little Maia work crews adding wings to that place.  This is one of those things that really defy understanding in physical terms.

Luthien Rising: Well, if the Valar can clothe themselves in bodies at will, then surely their habitations are also infinitely adjustable. And as time passes, the tapestries of Vairë extend and the halls of Mandos fill with more of the spirits of the dead.

Beren IV: More dead people, bigger halls.

G. Námo “forgets nothing.” What does he need Vairë’s “storied webs” for then?

Finrod Felagund 5: The question about Vaire and her weaving is answered with the fact that she doesn't weave for Mandos.  She is working more for the other inhabitants of Valinor; the other Valar, Maiar, and Elves who DON'T remember everything that happened.  It is more for posterity.

Aragonvaar: For a different perspective.  Mandos is a very "just the facts" kind of person, as we will see in his debate w/ Ulmo over the plea of Earendil, and in a couple of other places.  Vaire and her work may help him see the romantic or heroic side of a situation where he sees only its morality or lack thereof.

Drogo drogo: Namo knows all, but keeps them to himself.  Vaire turns the past into art.

Luthien Rising: He doesn't. They are for the Elves and the other Valar.

Beren IV: Does he?

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 Námo and Vairë.

H. What changes do you see in Tolkien’s conception of Námo and Vairë?

Aragonvaar: They evolved from being mere gothic "Spooks" or "spawn of Loki" types to dignified and honorable people on their own terms.

Luthien Rising: I wonder why the concept of Vairë came in when it did? That strikes me as the most interesting question here, but I've got no thoughts on it.

Beren IV: Apart from Vairë getting added, so are the actual names of Mandos and Lorien.

Extra Credit

I. Does Námo ever think that Morgoth would probably give him far more independence in dooming people than Manwë does?

Finrod Felagund 5: As for extra credit, Melkor would LOVE to have Mandos on his side.  He'd love to know what was coming.  However, if you told Melkor that he'd eventually lose, would he repent?  Eventually Melkor would tire of Mandos and try to have him killed or something, and that would be impossible considering that Mandos is a Vala.  Mandos wouldn't care to work with Melkor, because it just wouldn't be his thing.  He's not evil, he doesn't delight in the torture of others and the destruction of everything.

Luthien Rising: Um, no? What I want to know is, if Námo knows everything, does Vairë ever try to sneak lies into her tapestries just to get his attention?

Beren IV: Does it matter? Namo is clearly loyal to Manwë alone.


Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


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