Old Tom Bombadil

To avoid the Ring Wraiths, Frodo and his company decided to cut through the Old Forest. The Old Forest was a source of many strange tales. It was said that the trees of the Old Forest would talk to each other, move about and hem in the unwary traveller. Usually, the Old Forest was avoided wherever possible but with the Ring Wraiths looking for Frodo on all other roads, cutting through the Old Forest seemed the best option.

Once the hobbits entered the Old Forest, they soon discovered that the tales they had heard were true. The paths they chose appeared to shift, and the way forward was not necessarily the way back. Despite their intention to skirt around the edge of the forest, the hobbits now found themselves wandering in circles.

The hobbits had become deeply lost. Eventually they grew tired and stopped to rest under a large tree. That tree was Old Man Willow and as the hobbits slept Old Man Willow began to swallow the hobbits into his roots.

Fortunately for the hobbits, the great Old Tom Bombadil just happened to be out walking in that same part of the forest. Old Tom was collecting flowers for his lady, Goldberry, when he stumbled across the peril of the hobbits. Immediately he spoke stern words to Old Man Willow and the hobbits were released. Seeing that the hobbits were hungry and forlorn Old Tom invited them to dinner and took them back to his home.

Old Tom and Goldberry lived at the very centre of the forest in a small cottage bathed in a golden light. It was in this cottage that the hobbits found rest, dinner, and fascinating conversation. Frodo felt strangely comfortable with Old Tom and after his meal he drew his secret ring out of his pocket so that he might show it to Old Tom. As Frodo handed the One Ring to Tom, he explained the dangers of the ring and the peril of Middle Earth.

Old Tom placed the Ring on his finger and to Frodo’s surprise he was not rendered invisible. The Ring appeared to have no effect upon Old Tom. He was neither in awe of it nor worried about the damage it might cause. Frodo then asked Old Tom if he could destroy the Ring on his behalf. But Old Tom could only laugh; he wasn’t at all interested and handed the Ring back to Frodo.

The journey into the Old Forest represents the journey into the unknown. Forests are mysterious enchanted places, full of both dangers and untold riches. Forests symbolise that which is uncharted and uncivilised. In psychological terms the Old Forest is the unconscious – that part of our mind not yet penetrated by our conscious awareness.

Typically, we will seek to avoid the forests of the unconscious wherever possible for to enter the unconscious is to enter a state of confusion. More often we prefer to travel along well mapped roads where we may maintain a clear sense of purpose and direction. Yet sometimes we come to the end of clarity and have no choice but to enter this confused state of being.

To be overwhelmed by confusion and lose one’s way is the great danger of the unconscious. Here one falls into a psychological slumber and the ability to act in a purposeful and constructive manner is lost.

The Lord of the Rings suggests the way onward requires a passage into this state of confusion. Such a passage opens as one questions and reflects upon the whole mystery of the global crisis. Why has it occurred? What is at the root of the problem? How should it be addressed? For these questions there are no clear answers. The global crisis is a new issue, it is unmapped territory, there is little guidance to be found from previous experience.

To become lost at this point is to lose one’s sense of direction and conviction. For many this is the end of the journey – the contemplation of the world’s problems drifts off into a sleep and eternal apathy. One is swallowed into the roots of the unconscious and mystified into inaction. Alternatively, the journey on through confusion is rewarded with discovery and a renewed sense of clarity. In our story Frodo meets Old Tom Bombadil.

Old Tom and Goldberry live at the heart of the Old Forest. According to the tale of the Ring, Old Tom was the creator of the whole of Middle Earth – he was there at the beginning of time and would be there at the end. Old Tom is Middle Earth’s equivalent of God, the Self or whatever one chooses to call this one, central unifying archetype.

Frodo’s meeting with Old Tom introduces the religious dimension of the quest to return the Ring. What is interesting is that Old Tom had the capacity to destroy the Ring but showed no interest in doing so. Instead, he hands the Ring back to Frodo. At the core of the global crisis, one meets this ambivalent face of God.

This ambivalent face of God rarely appears in myth and literature. Other instances of the godhead refusing to assist the hero may be found in Goethe’s Faust, The Book of Job, and the story of Christ – where God sacrificed his own son upon the cross. The general theme is for the hero-figure to be abandoned by his god and left to fulfil his quest without assistance. Sometimes the situation is even worse. In both the Book of Job and Faust, God and Lucifer conspire to test the faith of the hero figure who is then left to his own resources. This global crisis may be one such conspiracy.

Throughout many of the world’s creation myths there is a common theme of a lonely god creating the world in image of his own self. To create a world in one’s own image is to create a mirror, a tool for self-reflection.

If the world is God’s mirror, then we, with our human consciousness, would be its most finely polished facet. Yet we could be even more conscious, offering up an even sharper reflection for our creator.

To ensure that we do not fall into complacency there exists an archetypal force which spurs us on toward greater consciousness. In biblical terms this force is called Lucifer, meaning the bringer of the light.

Lucifer’s designated role is to cause chaos and disrupt paradise. In the story of Eden there was a tree whose fruit provided one with a knowledge of both good and evil. On the one hand God’s instructions to Adam and Eve were specific – do not eat from this tree. On the other his wishes were more ambiguous. In placing the tempting serpent, Lucifer, at the centre of Eden, it was only a matter of time before Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and were ousted from paradise. If God really did not want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge, he would have left Lucifer out of the equation. But this was not the case.

The question is, did Adam and Eve bring about their own downfall or was their act of disobedience inevitable? From one perspective, Adam and Eve were fated to eat from the tree of knowledge (just as every child is destined to lose their innocence). From another perspective, Adam and Eve felt it was they who had wronged and brought God’s wrath upon themselves. God did not let on that they had walked into a trap. It seems that the guilt and shame suffered by Adam and Eve is a necessary part God’s plan. And it can only be deduced that God wished to see Adam and Eve fail. Paradise was lost but knowledge was gained.

With the global crisis we may ask the same questions. Is this a crisis of our own making or were we in some way fated to reach this point in history? Should we have resisted the temptation of technological power or is there a higher purpose to our loss of innocence? With our ongoing evolution the global crisis was destined to occur at some point in history. And that point just happens to be now.

There are times in the world’s history – and our time may be one of them – when good must stand aside, so that anything destined to be better first appears in evil form.11

Lucifer is a very dark but necessary part of creation. With unspoken permission he steals into paradise and serves as a catalyst for change. His appearance, together with an ambivalent God, heralds a major shift in consciousness. Today Lucifer wears the face of the global crisis and the light, which he brings, is global consciousness. In our story he is the Dark Lord Sauron. Just as we thought we may have reached a highly civilised state of being, Lucifer has stolen into our paradise and now presents us with the problems of our modern day. Yet this is the challenge which we require to move forward.

No growth comes when we are handed both the riddle and the answer. Welcoming the global crisis as a passage to consciousness allows us to approach it in a deeper and more meaningful way. No longer does the global crisis appear as an unfortunate obstacle that has fallen on our path. Instead, the crisis may be viewed as an important steppingstone in our ongoing social evolution.

It is for this reason that Old Tom does not take up the Ring on behalf of Frodo. The burden of the Ring, our global crisis, is divinely appointed and needs to be accepted as such – this troubled time in which we live is a destined chapter in our evolution.

At the beginning of our story Frodo wished that the rise of the Dark Lord had not occurred in his lifetime. In response Gandalf advised that this was not for him to choose and that they best act in response to the challenge before them. Whilst this is the correct attitude it requires no real depth of insight and may thereby lack conviction. In accepting the Ring back from Old Tom, Frodo takes up the quest with a greater maturity and sense of responsibility.

Soon it was time for the hobbits to be on their way again. Having rested and regained their strength their quest now beckoned for them to leave. On the morning of their departure the air was crisp and clean. The hobbits set off planning to be outside the forest by nightfall. Yet, despite the advice and guidance from Old Tom, the hobbits again fell prey to the trickery of the Old Forest.

This time the hobbits stumbled into the trap of a barrow-wight. The barrow-wight put the hobbits to sleep and adorned them with his vast collection of jewels.

Once again Old Tom rescued the hobbits. After pulling the hobbits out of the barrow-wight’s lair he escorted them to the edge of the Old Forest.

The barrow-wight is a demon who hoards his jewels. These jewels are the jewels of insight and understanding. Any journey into the depths of the unconscious will be rewarded with a multitude of these gems. But there is also the danger that the new understanding one has gained may never reach the light of day. If confusion and loss of direction are the dangers of the way into the unconscious, then it is the hoarding of insight that is the danger on the way out. Any newly discovered consciousness must be lived out. It is one thing to be aware and another to act upon that awareness.


11 Jung, “Development of the Personality” (1934), The Development of the Personality, CW 17, par 321.