Tolkien, Tarot and the Two Trees

A central theme of this website is the exploration of a ‘Two Trees’ interpretation of the Hermetic Qabalah. The development of this idea can be viewed in the article on Jacob’s Ladder and the attribution of the Tarot Trumps to the Two Trees can be found here.  An earlier blog post examined the role of simple geometry as a framework used by Tolkien to illustrate spiritual themes within his works. The spiritual ‘sophistication’ of a race could be ascertained by their dimensionality. Elves, for example, were capable of dealing with the two dimensional nature of rings while men were ensnared by their complexity. The article posited Tolkien’s sympathies lay with characters of the simplest dimensions, identified as Tom Bombadil and his wife. These two characters represent points within the geometrical schema: Tom is the static point and his wife is the point constantly in motion. All other geometrical forms are constructed from the interplay of points and so Tom and Goldberry can be viewed as the creators of the spiritual geometry within their world. From this viewpoint, they are also valuable in illustrating aspects of the Two Trees system.

The Two Trees combines the fluidity and dynamic nature of Taoism with the deep insightful approach of the Hermetic Qabalah. Tom and Goldberry fit naturally into the two points of opposite colour found in the two halves of the Yin-Yang Symbol.

Tom is ‘Daath’ the microcosm of the Tree of Life found in the black realm of the Tree of Knowledge. Goldberry is ‘Yesod’, the microcosm of the Tree of Knowledge embedded in the white realm of the Tree of Life. Tom is the single-pointed representation of Life in its totality while Goldberry is the complementary point representing the totality of all knowledge.

Further insight is gained from the Tarot attribution to the Kether sephiroth on each of the trees. The Tree of Life has ‘The Fool’ in Kether while ‘Adjustment’ is its complement on the ‘Tree of Knowledge’. Tom can be easily identified with the archetypal ‘Green Man’ figure often associated with the iconography of The Fool.  The description of ‘Adjustment’, also known as ‘Justice’ in other Tarot decks is seen as the feminine aspect of ‘The Fool’.  The fluid grace of Goldberry speaks of the dancing Harlequin, a perfect complement to the merry capering of Tom,  the Clown.  ‘Adjustment’ represents perfect balance, the pivot of the scales held by Lady Justice. She defines the centre, the place of equilibrium.  In Tolkien’s ‘Fellowship of the Ring’, Goldberry is found at the homestead,  the centre of  Tom’s world while he is portrayed roaming around The Old Forest and beyond: when journeying with the hobbits, he always insists he must return to Goldberry as she is waiting.

As mentioned in the post on Tolkien geometry, Tom and Goldberry may be seen as the two points defining the lines of fate within Middle Earth. The One Ring has no effect on the couple because they belong to a much greater cycle of existence. The ring cannot make Tom disappear but Tom can make the ring disappear. The hobbits meet them as they leave behind the Shire, the only world they have ever known. When they leave the couple’s farmstead, they are moving ahead into the jaws of the great adventure that will engulf them all. Tom’s last appearance is to free the hobbits from the grasp of the barrow wights and again set them on their way. The barrows and burial grounds are recognisable as those ancient sites found around Great Britain. The hobbits’ burial in the barrow mounds and ‘resurrection’ by Tom is also reminiscent of the dramatic ritual of Christian Rosenkreutz found in the Rosicrucian and Hermetic traditions. Here the hobbits leave behind their old life and are ‘reborn’ into a vast and dangerous realm beyond the wooded borders of the Shire.  We, as readers, are also taken through this path of burial and resurrection in the familiar surrounding of a barrow in order to be ‘reborn’ into this new and strange world of elves, goblins and men. As ‘The Green Man’, Tom is the guardian and warning awaiting the hobbits at the boundaries of their experience as well as being the initiator into their new adventures.

Goldberry is at the other end of the line of destiny unfolding through the hobbits’ adventures – this may explain the parting image of Goldberry with outstretched arms, awaiting their return:

“But Frodo found no words to answer. He bowed low, and mounted his pony, and followed by his friends jogged slowly down the gentle slope behind the hill. Tom Bombadil’s house and the valley, and the Forest were lost to view. The air grew warmer between the green walls of hillside and hillside, and the scent of turf rose strong and sweet as they breathed. Turning back, when they reached the bottom of the green hollow, they saw Goldberry, now small and slender like a sunlit flower against the sky: she was standing still watching them, and her hands were stretched out towards them. As they looked she gave a clear call, and lifting up her hand she turned and vanished behind the hill.”

 Tom and Goldberry form that never-ending flow to which elves, men, rings and even hobbits belong. Perhaps the strangest and most meaningful part of the great tale of Middle Earth is not in its ending but in its beginning.