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.

Tolkienian geometry or the point of Tom Bombadil

J.R.R. Tolkien gave a tantalising clue to the role of dimensions within his work through the title of his first successful book, “The Hobbit or There and Back Again”.

The Line

The alternative title to The Hobbit alludes to the linear nature of Bilbo’s adventure: he travels from his comfortable Hobbit Hole to the lair of Smaug, helps the Dwarves recover their lost heirlooms while gaining riches and The One Ring for himself as well, before returning back to his dwelling. In very simple terms, he goes there and back again.

The story arc of Lord of the Rings follows a similar pattern in that Frodo  and his hobbit companions also go there and back again, beginning and ending their epic journey in the Shire. Tolkien also signals the drawing to a close of a greater story arc, namely that of the Silmarillion, in the eventual continuance of Frodo’s journey, accompanying Gandalf and the Elves to the Grey Havens. This final stage in Lord of the Rings is the completion of Galadriel’s journey of there (Middle Earth) and back again (Valinor), finishing the saga of the Silmarillion.

Its worth noting that traversing forwards and backwards along a straight line transcribes a wave when moving in a direction perpendicular to that line.

Waves or cycles formed by going there and back again on X or Y axes. Spiral formation going there and back again along both X and Y axes simultaneously.

If we think of this perpendicular motion (represented by the Z axis above) as time then the tales of The Hobbit and The Silmarillion/Lord of the Rings form cycles both in the narrative and geometrical sense. Weapons may also give a sense for Tolkien’s view on the ‘dimensionality’ of a particular race. Using the designations found in Lord of the Rings, Men and Hobbits are mainly associated with swords, indicating the line as the generative form of the narrative cycle for these races.

The Circle

The circle, as seen above, is generated by going there and back again simultaneously along two lines or axes set perpendicular to each other. This circular motion transcribes a spiral when moving in a direction perpendicular to the plane of the circle.

The circle is most notably identified by the rings in Lord of the Rings. They denote the ability of characters associated with them to operate along an extra dimension to those who ‘walk the line’. Elrond, Galadriel and Gandalf are all characters with this extra dimension while the Nazgûl are enslaved by their rings within the “unseen world” or wraith world. We conclude that men are not capable of being able to properly comprehend the unseen world while certain sources note the great power held by the High Elves within this realm. The tales of these multidimensional characters weave in and out of the linear narrative of Lord of the Rings though spirals, like cycles, eventually return to their original point, which in the case of these characters is The Grey Havens and The West. Glimpses of the unseen world experienced by the bearers of the One Ring may explain why they accompany the host into The West – their story line has now become a circle.

Sauron is certainly also associated with the circle, being the creator of the master ring. Tolkien possibly hints at a deeper understanding possessed by Sauron of the powers of the ring in his illustrations for the cover of the Lord of the Rings.

Original illustration by J.R.R. Tolkien for the Book Cover of The Fellowship of the Ring

The central motif of Sauron’s Eye was adopted by early editions of the book. Examining the geometrical composition of the Eye, a point on a central, vertical line is encompassed by a surrounding circle which is itself enclosed in the ellipse of the Eye. The two dimensions discussed so far are present in its construction and the outer ellipse can be interpreted to signify Sauron as the master of these dimensions as a circle is a member of the family of ellipses: Sauron can warp the dimensions of the circle in all manner of ways, unknown even to the Elves. As a side note, an interesting element of the illustration is that the three Elven rings possess a jewel but the One Ring has none; Tolkien’s drawing suggests Narya, the Ring of Fire, is the jewel of the One Ring.

Gimli

Having identified the circle with the elves, the bow as representative of the arc of a circle is a natural choice as the favoured weapon of the elves. Through the favoured axe of the dwarves we  can now ascertain the awareness of this delving race. The axe is in the form of a ‘T’ (or ‘t’ for a single-bladed axe)  which suggests an incomplete expansion into the second dimension or “unseen world”. The decoration on Gimli’s helmet in the films suggests a triangle, a first crude step from a line towards the “perfected” circle.

 

The Sphere

The sphere is a circle of circles and hence represents a great leap in terms of dimensionality within Tolkien’s universe.

There are few references to spheres within Tolkien’s work with the most  known example being the Palantíri or Seeing-stones. These stones were used in communication within Middle Earth and beyond, requiring users of great strength of will and wisdom. The inherent dangers in using these devices was demonstrated in the madness of Denethor and the catatonic state induced in Pippin after gazing into the Orthanc Palantír – even the One Ring did not induce such adverse reactions in its users. Both Sauron and Sauruman possessed and could operate the spheres but, according to Gandalf, did not have the skill to create them. Indeed it is told Fëanor, greatest of all Elven smiths, was their creator and only he had such skill among the Eldar. One cannot help but speculate Tolkien’s vision of the powers and dangers inherent in the dawning Age of Communication are instilled within the Palantíri .

Another reference to the sphere is given by Tolkien in an interview from the 1960s which can be viewed below. At around six minutes into the interview, he outlines his obsession with Atlantis and his realisation of the mythical island in Númenor, the island gifted to Men for their aid in the conquest of Melkor, the first dark lord.

The island allowed them to gaze on the Undying Lands but they were forbidden to set foot on its shores. In defiance, they attempted to sail to the Land of the Valar but Eru , the One God, caused the ships of the Númenoreans and their island to be sunk below the ocean. To prevent future incursions, Eru reshaped the flat world of Arda to be a sphere, forever placing the Undying Lands beyond the reach of Men. Interestingly, the elves can reach these lands by the Straight Road, a diminishing of their world to the one dimensional line hinted at by Galadriel when tested by the One Ring.

The Point

There are  two principle characters to whom this dimension applies, Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry. Tom has a strong affinity with trees and can be seen to be the anthropomorphism of a tree, a being rooted to the spot. Goldberry is also a point but, unlike Tom, is the point in motion. She is thus associated with the flowing of the river and the changes in the seasons. Together they are masters of their home and untouched by time and its shaping of the lives of all other beings. Indeed two points define a line which suggests Tom and Goldberry may well form the root for all paths of Men, Hobbits and Elves. Ents in their ponderous ways seen to span between the perspectives of point and line. Tolkien certainly had great affection for both Tom and trees, naming two small anthologies of his work, “Tree and Leaf” and “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”,  after them. In leaving Tom and his wife out of the film adaptations of Lord of the Rings, did director Peter Jackson miss the point?