Frodo came to inherit the Ring from Bilbo. At first, he looked upon it as his greatest gift but once Gandalf had explained the darker truth of the Ring, he no longer regarded the Ring with such pride. Frodo fell into despair, it seemed that nothing could be done to prevent the Dark Lord’s onslaught.
"Why did you let me keep it?" asked Frodo, "Why didn't you make me throw it away or destroy it?"
"Have you ever tried?" asked Gandalf.
"No", replied Frodo, "But I suppose that one could hammer it or melt it."
"Try!" said Gandalf, "Try now!"
When Frodo drew the One Ring from his pocket, so that he might throw it in the hottest part of the fire, he was caught by a sudden admiration for the Ring. How precious it must be, how perfect was its colour and roundness. Soon he found himself putting the ring back in his pocket.
"Yes." thought Gandalf, already the Ring has a grip upon him.
Even if Frodo had succeeded in throwing the Ring into the fire it would have been of no use. The One Ring was much too powerful to be destroyed so simply.
“There is only one way,” explained Gandalf. “Find the Cracks of Doom in the depths of Orodruin, the fire mountain, and cast the Ring in there, if you really wish to destroy it, to put it beyond the grasp of the enemy forever.”
Frodo offered the Ring to Gandalf, but the wizard refused to accept it. For now, the burden of the Ring was to remain with Frodo.
In the meantime, Gandalf advised that Frodo should also resist all temptations to wear the Ring, as wearing the Ring would increase the Ring’s stranglehold upon its keeper. Already Frodo has ceased to grow older – this strange promise of eternal youth masked a corresponding tendency for the Ring’s owner to feel inwardly thin and worn.
The One Ring is real. It is the technological power which now threatens our global wellbeing. Whilst this power presents all the advantages of “progress”, its darker and more destructive face has now become apparent as we examine its impact upon the environment.
Just as Frodo inherited the One Ring, we are the heirs of the industrial age. As humankind we have the capacity to rule the world with a godlike power. Unfortunately, this technological power far exceeds our capacity for ethical decision and activity.
Previously our position appeared ideal – modern science had provided us with faster transport, comfortable housing, easy access to energy and natural resources as well as all the benefits of economic prosperity. Now, after gaining a deeper insight into the nature of this technology and its impact upon the environment, it has become harder to admire the achievements of our western world. Our technological ability, once our treasured inheritance, has now become our greatest burden.
Western man has no need of more superiority over nature, whether outside or inside. He has both in almost devilish perfection. What he lacks is a conscious recognition of his inferiority to the nature around and within him. He must learn that he may not do exactly as he wills. If he does not do this, his own nature will destroy him.8
According to Gandalf the only safe option is to destroy the One Ring. The global crisis asks that we live a simpler and more balanced life – a life free from the use of destructive technologies. We are to disarm, slow down and curb the extremes of our industrial conquest of nature. The One Ring must be thrown back into the cracks of Mount Doom and thereby destroyed. The power we have acquired must now be sacrificed.
This path of surrender, as opposed to conquest, is a radically new calling for modern man. Typically, the hero sets out upon an adventure which culminates in the attainment of some great treasure. With Frodo this theme is reversed. Frodo already has his treasure; his journey is to see to its loss and destruction. This inversion of the hero’s myth points toward a radical shift in the evolution of consciousness. Power must be surrendered rather than won. The hero of today is the one who can sacrifice that which he has become tremendously attached to. In his exploration of masculine psychology, He, Robert Johnson explains:
In the Tolkien myth the Ring of Power is taken from evil hands and put back into the ground from which it came. Earlier myths often spoke of the discovery of power and its emergence from the earth into human hands. Recent myths speak of returning the source of power to the earth or into the hands of God before we destroy ourselves with it. We are not prepared yet to hear this change that is required of us, but there are the beginnings of consciousness in this direction. The ring is our modern self-conscious power, our science. We must relinquish this power, this brave new world we have around us, or it will destroy us.9
To throw back the Ring is to sacrifice all the power and false advantage that is offered by our technology. This may mean going without, avoiding the temptation to dominate, and being prepared to live within the confines of nature’s laws and limitations. It may mean less profits, slowed or reversed economic growth; it may mean walking instead of driving, poorer yet more sustainable crop yields, less convenience, and a slower pace of life. To return the Ring is to swim contrary to a torrid set of currents that race through our modern world. It is a conscious acceptance of a vastly simpler life.
We need to learn how to tread gently upon our Mother Earth. We cannot continue to take from nature in a way that upsets the balance of our environment. This means refraining from the creation and use of that technology which pulls from the Earth and fails to give anything in return.
It is important to note that not all our technology threatens the balance of life. Energy derived from natural resources, by such means as wind, solar or tidal power, does not disrupt natures balance. The burning of fossil fuels and use of nuclear power are disruptive. Similarly, the bicycle, itself a modern-day invention, is relatively harmless. Recycled paper products do not chew up our forests. Organic farming practices preserve the quality of our soil. Our scientific knowledge may be implemented in harmony with nature. There is much that we may legitimately hold onto – but much more that must be sacrificed.
Returning the Ring is not an easy task. The reversal of attitude required of us is epic in its proportions. Gandalf’s test of Frodo’s resolve to destroy the Ring highlights our own attachment to our technological power. Over time we have become increasingly dependent upon the power of our technology to the point of addiction – an addiction we suffer yet deny. Despite its destructive tendencies, we continue to use that technology, and participate in a lifestyle, which we know is ecologically unsound. A simple example is that of the combustion engine vehicle. We know its exhausts pollute the skies and contribute to global warming, yet that car is still considered necessary to live one’s life. Our addiction to our technology has roots which are now hundreds of years deep.
When the Dark Lord made the One Ring it was said that he poured much of his own self into it. As such the Ring was alive with the Dark Lord’s energy and sought to obey its master at every opportunity presented. Can the same be said of our technology? Too often we argue that there is nothing inherently evil in our technology and machinery. Being inanimate, the machine has no free will and no capacity toward evil. From another perspective the chainsaw is clearly more destructive and ‘evil’ than an axe – plastics are darker than paper. Who would argue that there is nothing ‘evil’ about the hydrogen bomb, chemical weaponry, or a nuclear submarine? Our technology calls out to be used and put to its destined purpose. It emits a magnetic temptation to power. On this point Jung warns:
Let man but accumulate sufficient engines of destruction and the devil within him will soon be unable to resist putting them to their fated use. It is well known that firearms go off by themselves if only enough of them are together.10
In making an enemy of nature, nature has made an enemy of us. Now the dark god, the champion of a furious earth goddess, has grown in strength. Through our self-destructive technology he seeks to wreak havoc and destroy all that we have established. The dark god seeks to tear down our modern society which has failed to honour the natural world. Whether this is a good or a bad thing remains difficult to judge – certainly it is a dangerous path which reeks of an angry and wrathful deity that seeks its vengeance. What is truly frightening is the extent of his preparations - the capacity for our self-destruction is indeed present in the world.
We are now left with no option but to retreat from our desire to dominate nature. If we fail to honour nature, and hold onto the Ring of Power, we will surely deliver this means of destruction into the hands of the Dark Lord. We must rid ourselves of our destructive technology before this shadow erupts and gains control. Can we survive another world war? Can we survive a doubling of the world’s population within 50-60 years? How much longer do we have before the Dark Lord captures the power of the Ring and uses it in accordance with his design?
The quest to return the Ring is a race against time. The Dark Lord searches desperately for the Ring and, increasingly, he has the power to draw it to himself. Already he had learnt that the Ring was held by a hobbit who lived in a place called the Shire. Gandalf is certain that the Ring must be destroyed. In the meantime, Gandalf warns Frodo to resist the pull and command of the Ring. So too, we must remain constantly vigilant that the devil within is not granted his evil wish. It’s important to remain mindful of the dark god within who is hell bent on a path of destruction. One need only witness the increasing degree of terrorist activity within the world to see how easily he may escape our efforts to contain and police him. This terrorist activity is best understood, not yet as a crime, but as a state of demonic possession by the dark God which seeks a human face. As we continue in the destruction of our environment, to a greater or lesser degree, we are all such terrorists.
On a more personal level holding onto and wearing the Ring causes its bearer to remain outwardly young yet inwardly worn and thin. This would suggest that our possession of the Ring arrests our development and taxes us on an inner level. This is a major concern. Whilst the pace of our modern world offers much in the way of activity and entertainment, our time for contemplation and inner reflection has been stolen away. Now that we can move at speed from one place to another, community spirit has faltered. With all the bright lights of today there is little opportunity for that which prospers in peace. Without simplicity we are robbed of our soul life.
8 Jung, “Yoga and the West” (1936), Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11, par 870.
9 Johnson, He: Understanding Masculine Psychology, (1974) p. 75.
10 Jung, CW 10, CW para. 163.