Achillea, Babylonians, Cleromancy, Drafts, dream interpretation, Dream manual, Egypt, future, Galadriel, Galdaran, haruspicy, I Ching, Lothlorien, Mirror of Galadriel, Oneiromancy, plastrons, Ramesses II, ritual, Shang Dynasty, spiritual, tarot, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, Zhou
Welcome, as always, dear readers.
You’ll notice our odd title. Which came from a puzzle. We had been thinking about Galadriel and her mirror: when did it enter the story and, more important for the narrative, why was the episode there?
In an earlier sketch for the text, JRRT had written:
“King Galdaran’s mirror shown to Frodo. Mirror is of silver filled with fountain water in sun.
Sees Shire far away. Trees being felled and a tall building being made where the old mill was. Gaffer Gamgree turned out. Open trouble, almost war, between Marish and Buckland on one hand—and the West. Cosimo Sackville-Baggins very rich, buying up land. (All/Some of this in future.) King Galdaran says the mirror shows past, present, and future, and skill needed to decide which. Sees a grey figure like Gandalf [?going along] in twilight but it seems to be clad in white. Perhaps it is Saruman.
Sees a mountain spouting flame Sees Gollum?” (The Treason of Isengard, 249-250)
Interesting to see that the scene we know from The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, was once very different, beginning with the fact that Galadriel’s mirror had no Galadriel—and Sam’s nightmare vision of the Shire was, originally, Frodo’s. (There was once more potentially more of that nightmare—on a surviving scrap of paper is: “Cosimo has industrialized it. Factories and smoke. The Sandymans have a biscuit factory. Iron is found.” Treason, 216. We wonder, by the way, if, since he lived and worked in Oxford, JRRT’s choice of a biscuit (US: cookie) factory might have been influenced by the Oxford Biscuits company, founded in Denmark in 1922.)
Galadriel was in the narrative at this time, and she even performs her emotional x-ray on the company (Treason, 248), but it’s in the main draft that she gains the mirror (although her name is “Galadrien” at this stage—reading the various manuscripts, we often see many characters have everything from complete name-changes—the Aragorn-as-ranger figure was once called “Trotter”—to slight adjustments). And, as Christopher Tolkien writes,
“It is seen that it was while my father was writing the ‘Lothlorien’ story ab initio [“from the beginning”] that the Lady of Lothlorien emerged…and it is also seen that the figure of Galadriel (Rhien, Galadrien) as a great power in Middle-earth was deepened and extended as he wrote.” (Treason, 250)
All of which is true, but doesn’t help us with the second part of our question: why is the episode there?
Seeking for clues, we looked at that early sketch, in which “King Galdaran says the mirror shows past, present, and future, and the skill needed to decide which…” which then made us think about that skill. At first, we considered that deciding that an event was in the past would be rather easy—after all, events which had happened leave a history, and often consequences. Suppose, however, that that history came from another place, or was never written down—after all, this is medieval Middle-earth, not our 21st-century world. In our own western Middle Ages, literacy was limited, there was almost no long-distance communication, and people lived on rumors. Would Middle-earth be any different? The same would be true for the present in Middle-earth: what would someone in the Shire know of someone in Rohan?
This brought us to the future and, speaking of history, the attempt to understand the future spreads far back into recorded time and perhaps beyond.
Shang Dynasty China (c.1600-1046BC) has provided us with an extensive archaeological record for this in the form of a vast archive of rather unusual objects, the two main ones being bundles of these
and piles of these.
The first of these is the plastron or breastplate of a turtle.
The second is the shoulder blade of a cow.
These were used for a number of spiritual contact purposes, including finding out about the future, but the method was always the same:
- once the surface was cleaned, a series of shallow holes was carved or drilled into the surface
- blood was applied to the surface (for purification? Or perhaps to attract a spirit?)
- questions were written to one side of each hole
- a hot iron was applied to the hole
- the surface would then crack under the heat
- the officiator would interpret the crack, then write his interpretation on the surface, as well
During the next dynasty, the Zhou (1000-221BC), another method was added and, in time, this became more popular. This used the stalks of a plant of the family Achillea
for the practice of cleromancy, which, basically, means using a series of random numbers to try to understand something about the spiritual world. This is a very complicated process, as far as we can see, including not only the stalks, but a book called the I Ching.
If you would like to know more, here’s a LINK which explains the practice in 12 steps.
A method of telling the future in ancient Egypt was by interpreting dreams (oneiromancy) and we have a dream manual dated to the time of Ramesses II (1279-1213BC).
This lists common patterns in dreams, identifies whether they are bad or good, then goes on to interpret them. Because dreams are universal, this is a world-wide method and all one has to do is to google “dream interpretation book” to see just how much is available in English alone.
Babylonians used dreams, among other methods, as well as haruspicy, in which a specially-trained priest examined the entrails of certain animals, birds and sheep being especially useful. Here’s a model of a sheep’s liver (2050-1750BC) used to help in the process.
The holes were for pegs, to help the priest makes comparisons between the actual liver and the model.
In our next, we’ll discuss a few other early methods of attempting to see the future and, if we play our cards right,
we’ll circle back to Galadriel’s mirror and its place in The Lord of the Rings.
Thanks, as ever, for reading and—this part of the future we can read—