When is a God not a God?

Discussion in 'Annals of the Eldanyárë' started by Ancalagon, Aug 7, 2002.

  1. Ancalagon

    Ancalagon Quality, not Quantity!

    Among the Edain, many referred to the Valar, whom they knew little about, as Gods. Though in reality, they originated from the mind of Iluvatar which leads me to understand that any belief system within Middle-Earth should based on monotheism, the singular God being Eru. However, the fact that the powers within Arda are so prevalent, a polytheistic system could easily be interpreted as fewer would understand or know that these 'powers' originated from Eru. Yet, there is little evidence of any religion within Arda that we can know, therefore it is more difficult to interpret the inhabitants understanding of who is deemed a God and who is not.

    Do you think the Valar should be considered as Gods? Should they be considered Demigods or Deities on a par with Eru himself? How can a God be defined within Middle-Earth if there are so many from which to choose?
  2. Darth Saruman

    Darth Saruman Registered User

    I think that the peoples of Middle-Earth look upon the Valar as gods, but the Valar look upon themselves as lieutenants of Illuvatar.

    It's all relative.

    Just like a man is like a "god" to his dog.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2002
  3. Ancalagon

    Ancalagon Quality, not Quantity!

    It is interesting to see how Amlach plays upon Mens perception of the Valar as Gods;
    Amlach (well, his impersonator who could very well have been Sauron himself) uses the concerns of Men to attempt to cause dissent both towards Elves and The Valar. Therefore I would imagine that only Men viewed them as Gods, whereas Elves make no reference to them as Gods.

    Sauron always considered himself to be a God among Men, again playing the 'God Card' among men who in truth knew little better;
    Yet, the question still remains; where they Gods or not?
  4. Well, I guess in order to answer the question "Are they Gods?" you have to specify from which point of view. In the mind of Ilúvatar, I'm sure they are something along the lines of Demigods. And the elven attitude to them is probably quite similar--especially the attitude of the Noldor and Vanyar because they experienced the Valar firsthand and know that Manwë was the mouth of Ilúvatar and not Ilúvatar himself. But men, save a few, never interacted with the Valar. So I think for men the Valar were much closer to gods because they were so high above men. Does that make sense? So in actuality they are not gods because they were created by Ilúvatar, but they are sometimes depicted as gods by less powerful beings.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2002
  5. Mormegil

    Mormegil Exceptionally Superfluous

    If we look at gods in our own world, from religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc. The Gods are not 'real' in the sense that we cannot see them or speak to them face to face. The only way that we know these Gods are there is through our faith. We have never seen these Gods, and they do not exist on our planet. This is similar to Eru, but not the Valar in Middle-Earth.

    This is why I would say that the Valar in Middle Earth are not Gods. They existed upon the Earth and made themselves known in person to the peoples of Arda. They were certainly heavenly beings, but not Gods.
    Eru is the only God of Arda, the peoples of the world have never seen him and have only their faith that he truely exists.

    That's the way I look at it anyway. I would equate the Valar with Angels.
  6. I agree. They are like Angels. I just meant that races such as Men, because they have not seen the Valar, will therefore have more awe of them and are more likely to equate them with gods.
  7. Grond

    Grond Melkor's Mallet

    I'm not sure what we should make of the Valar and Maiar.
    IMHO, since the power of the Valar is tied to this plane of existence, it seems to me also that that Power must be finite. It will eventually be used up and when that occurs, I'm assuming that the Last Battle will occur. But... that's just me. :)
  8. Gothmog

    Gothmog Lord of Balrogs Staff Member

    To be considered a God in my view the being in question would have to have some participation in the creation of the world or the people therein. Now we know that of all the peoples in Arda only the Dwarves were created by a Valar and even then It was only by the gift of Iluvatar that they had life. So that leaves only participation in the creation of the world.
    So The Ainur were involved in the creation of the world from the very begining.
    I know that Eru actually made Arda.
    But the Ainur did help in both the planning (the Song of the Ainur) and in the work of bring the Vision to reality. So I would say that the Valar are Gods but lesser ones. They not only run Arda but participated in its creation.
  9. Ingwë

    Ingwë Creeping Death

    First of all, I'd like to mention that Tolkien himself called the Valar 'Gods' in the letters but I think that he did it to explain what they are. This is the best explanation to the people who have never read Tolkien's works or who have read LotR only. The Valar are the emissaries of the real God to the Visible World - Ea.
    Eru created the Elves and the Men. He's their God. The Ainur created Arda but not the living creatures. Eru is the One God. The Valar must learn the Children to love Eru and they do it :) .
  10. Mithrandir-Olor

    Mithrandir-Olor Registered User

    The Valar are gods, but only Eru Iluvatar is God.
  11. Ancalagon

    Ancalagon Quality, not Quantity!

    Is this not a contradiction? If the Valar are gods, then are they gods among Elves. If Eru is a God, is it only among Men, so who in fact is God? Is there really one God or is God a legion of facets, never whole, simply a sum of the parts. Can a singular God exist without the existence of the Valar?
  12. jallan

    jallan Registered User

    From Tolkien’s The Book of Lost Tales: Part I, page 49:

    But Rúmil said: ‘Ilúvatar was the first beginning, and beyond that no wisdom of the Valar or of Eldar or of Men can go.’

    ‘Who was Ilúvatar?’ asked Eriol. ‘Was he of the Gods?’

    ‘Nay,’ said Rúmil, ‘that he was not, for he made them. Ilúvatar is the Lord for Always who dwells beyond the world; who made it and is not of it nor in it, but loves it.’​

    I don’t believe the Tolkien ever explicitly calls Ilúvatar or Eru by the name God in his fiction, although Ilúvatar/Eru is obviously intended to be identified with the God of monotheistic religions.

    Tolkien uses gods in his early fiction to identify beings like Manwë, Varda, Mandos, Yavanna, Oromë, and so forth who are presented in his fiction as made by Ilúvatar first among created things. The lesser beings created in the same way be Ilúvatar are also called gods.

    In his later writing Tolkien very seldom mentions gods and then mainly when presenting the beliefs of men. Tolkien prefers the Quenya words Ainûr, Valar, and Maiar to the English word gods and sometimes translates Ainûr as ‘Holy Ones’ and Valar as ‘Powers’.

    In his letter to Milton Waldman (letter 131 in Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien) Tolkien goes into some detail on what he means by the Ainûr whom he classifies as “angelic powers” but also says that as a narrative device they are supposed to correspond to the gods of higher mythology as might be imagined by a Christian. A slightly shorter version of the Milton Waldman letter is included in Christopher Tolkien’s preface in his second edition of The Silmarillion, released in 2004.

    Nowhere does Tolkien suggest that Eru is a god worshipped by Men as opposed to the Valar who are worshipped by Elves.
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2012
  13. Sulimo

    Sulimo Registered User

    This is a very interesting discussion. I agree 100% Jallan. I just wanted to add that whenever I read Tolkien I always approach it as Tolkien attempting to build a religion for the British people. So much of his work is rooted in Western European mythology it is obvious the the Valar are supposed to represent Gods. However, in mythology there is typically something that came before the current Gods. I also believe that Middle Earth is supposed to represent our current world. For instance I believe that Numenor is Avalon.

    Putting both these aspects together, I really appreciate how he is able to capture the polytheism of the ancient religions, and also have it ultimately be a monotheistic religon. In which Illuvater has a special plan for the humans. When I read his work this way I also conclude that the Valar are the equivalent of the Seraphim, or the Archangels such as Michael or Gabriel. I see the Maiar as something like the cherubim or some other type of angel. To further go in that direction in Christianity and Judaism when Satan fell he took 1/3 of the angels down with him. These fallen angels (demons) are quite similar to the Balrogs. However, they also are remarkably similar to the Jotunns of Norse mythology.

    The last point I will bring up is that in the book of Revelation, John is shown a vision of the fall of Babylon (Rome). After this portion is complete he falls before the angel (messenger) who showed him this vision, and began worshiping the angel. The angel said stand up, I am not worthy of your praise, only God is worthy to be praised. This is how I see the Valar. They are powerful and mighty, but they do not perceive themselves as God. They want to cultivate and tend the planet as a good steward not control and subjugate it. They have powers of Gods, but the Gods of the past could be defeated. They were not all powerful and almighty. We see this in Norse, Greek, German, Finnish, and almost every other Western European mythology that the power of the Gods is transient. I believe that for Tolkien the Valar filled this role. However, just as the time of the Elves has passed, and the fourth age is the age of man, the Valar have separated themselves from the world, and now Illuvater will work in the world as he deems fit.

    I have not read much of the HOME or the Tolkien Letters and so this more my inference then something I have read.
  14. Mithrandir-Olor

    Mithrandir-Olor Registered User

    Biblically the Seraphim and Cherubim are synonyms. And Michale is the only Archangel, being below them.
  15. Maiden_of Harad

    Maiden_of Harad Diligere est Pati

    I think that the Valar are 'demigods'- powerful beings but not omniscient, or omniscient.
    As for angels and archangels, Catholic theology (after all, Tolkien was one and I'm sure he would have known this) teaches that there are nine choirs or levels of angels. Seraphim are the highest, followed by cherubim and the other levels. That might have inspired the rank structure of the Valar and the Maia.
  16. jallan

    jallan Registered User

    No as I see it. Tolkien knew, or could have known, a great deal about the remnants of Celtic religion, but his mythology does not much resemble the medieval accounts purporting to tell Celtic mythology. Tolkien was writing romance, in the older meaning covering an adventurous tale filled with wonders and marvels.

    Tolkien was a Christian and was not trying to build another religion for anyone. The pantheon of the Valar in some ways resembles the Greek pantheon, in some ways the Norse pantheon, in some ways the Irish pantheon, and in some ways eastern pantheons, but is made up from his own head using various pantheons of which he had knowledge. Tolkien in his fantasy writing imagines supposed god-like beings because it makes a good story, not because he is trying to convince anyone that Manwë or Elbereth or his other god-like beings really existed.

    Númenor is, as mentioned by Tolkien in various places, based on the Atlantis story not on anything related to Avalon, the island of apples. Avallónë in Tolkien’s legendarium is a city and seaport on the Lonely Island, obviously imagined as the source of later legends of the Island of Avalon. In his notes to the “Fall of Arthur”, Tolkien identifies this Avalon with the Lonely Isle to which he intended to bring the dying Arthur (legendary tradition) and Lancelot (Tolkien’s own invention).


    But then is St. Michael another name for Manwë or for Tulkas? Of course the Valar and Maiar are angels, as Tolkien has written in various places.

    “Demigods” refers in classical mythology to mortals one of whose parents is a god, such a Heracles, Theseus, Minos, Aeneas, Perseus, or Bellerophon. They are only “half-gods” by ancestry. Tolkien’ s Valar are far more than the demigods of classical mythology. Tolkien intended the Valar and Maiar to be angels looked at as though they were the gods of classical tradition.

    There is no nine levels of Ainur in Tolkien’ s description of these divine beings, only two: Valar and Maiar. And the Valar and Maiar have genders, unlike Christan angels.

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