When the Dark Lord Sauron first wrought the One Ring, he did so with the knowledge gained from the elven ring-smiths. Unbeknownst to the elves Sauron forged the ring from deep within the earth. Had they foreseen the outcome of their alliance, the elves would never have befriended Sauron and shared their knowledge. Now their fate also rests with the One Ring.
Sauron designed the Ring to be all-powerful. Whoever wore the One Ring was granted this power in accordance with his stature. At the same time the Ring was inherently evil and would ultimately consume and destroy its wearer.
In a past era Sauron lost the Ring in a battle against Isuldur and, in defeat, had faded from memory. Now Sauron had re-gathered his strength and risen again. In the land of Mordor, he prepared a great army that appeared unconquerable.
Gandalf explains “Always after a defeat and a respite, the shadow takes another shape and grows again.”
Yet there was hope. As Gandalf explained to Frodo, “The enemy still lacks the one thing to give him the strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance. He lacks the One Ring.”
To aid him in his conquests the Dark Lord sought this One Ring which would give him the means and knowledge to enslave the whole of Middle Earth.
The One Ring that Gandalf spoke of was the same magical ring that Frodo had inherited from Bilbo.
The story of The Lord of the Rings is centred upon this One Ring and its potential abuse. The sheer existence of this ring of power threatens the whole of Middle Earth. If the One Ring were to find its way back to its evil master, Middle Earth would be doomed.
Our own times face a similar dilemma. For today we have the knowledge and power to rule the world like no other time in history. This power is, however, a dangerous power. Modern machinery, weapons of mass destruction, industrialisation, biological and chemical engineering all threaten the delicate balance of life on Earth. As we look out across the world we inhabit, we have already begun to experience the destruction unleashed through the might of our modern-day technology.
Who is to blame? Who is responsible for this creation of our destructive capacity?
When Leo Bakeland invented plastics, he could not have foreseen that his creation would, one day, pollute the lands and oceans. Similarly, the inventor of the combustion engine did not envisage the problem of city smog. The chemical engineers that manufactured pesticides, were not expecting them to poison our food chain and waterways.
Only recently have we awoken to the shadow side of our science and technology. In 1939, following the discovery of atomic fission, Einstein sent an express telegram to the then U.S. President Roosevelt, informing him of this newfound power within the growing reach of man. Einstein was not boasting of the discovery, rather he was afraid of what might happen should this knowledge fall into the wrong hands. And for good reason. The science of atomic fission quickly led to the development of nuclear weaponry – the ability to destroy ourselves.
Tolkien once expressed the idea that the elves represent a purely scientific aspect of human nature coupled with a respect and devoted love of the physical world. Yet these elves were deceived by Sauron. Like the elves, our scientists have unknowingly colluded with a darker force. Our technology has not been built with good intentions alone - somewhere the devil has lent his hand.
Jung was especially aware of this unconscious collusion. In 1958, at a time marked by the testing of nuclear weaponry, Jung wrote:
No one will maintain that the atomic physicists are a pack of criminals because it is to their efforts that we owe that peculiar flower of human ingenuity, the hydrogen bomb. …even though the first step along the road to a momentous invention may be the outcome of a conscious decision, here, as everywhere the spontaneous idea – the hunch or intuition – plays an important part. In other words, the unconscious collaborates too and often makes decisive contributions. So it is not the conscious effort alone that is responsible for the result; somewhere or other the unconscious, with its barely discernible goals and intentions, has its finger in the pie. If it puts a weapon in your hand, it is aiming at some kind of violence.3
Since this time, the threat of nuclear war has been joined by the even more difficult issues of global warming and the breakdown of our ecosystems. Immediately apparent, it no longer takes a genius to see the shadowy forces at work within our technology. Today we stand at the mercy of our own creation. We fear what we ourselves have made; we fear our own potential for destruction. As Jung says, “Not nature but the ‘genius of mankind’ has knotted the hangman’s noose which may execute itself at any moment.”4
How have we let this happen? How were the elves so easily fooled by the Dark Lord Sauron? Why does our technology contain seeds of evil? What unconscious collusion have we been subject to?
Our destructive technology is an expression of the spiritual condition we are in. Spiritually we find ourselves at the culmination of an aeon marked by a tension of two opposing ideologies – Christianity and science. For the past two thousand years Christianity has taught us to be ‘good’. This goodness was equated with a certain civility which meant the restraint of the more savage and base aspects of our being. Christianity taught us to rise above our animal nature. Relative to our predecessors we have become more civil and have a greater respect for the rights of the individual.
The teachings of Christ were an important counterbalance to the more savage and inhumane practices often associated with the rise of the Roman Empire. Subsequently Christianity won through as a superior cultural ethos. The moral principles forwarded by Christianity are now well integrated and form the most significant portion of our modern way of being. Yet, at the same time, we have lost our relationship with the earth.
The problem with Christianity lay in its rejection of the darker and more instinctual substratum of our being. With Christianity the light side of God made an enemy of his darker half. According to the scriptures, Satan was cast out of heaven and fell to earth. Other accounts suggest he left of his own accord. In Milton’s Paradise Lost we hear Satan declare that it would be “better to reign in hell, than to serve in heaven.” Satan ‘fell from grace’ - this important god no longer held an honoured place within our religious life.5
With Christianity the opposites of light and dark were split with little hope of compromise or a marriage of the two. The now brilliantly good God lived high up in the heavens whilst Satan took up residence deep within the earth. Satan fell into the shadow – that aspect of our being which lies beneath our conscious awareness.
The split between light and dark found its parallel in the split between heaven and earth. In accordance with the Christian world view, anything that was too close to nature was considered wild and susceptible to the Satanic influences whilst that which was nearer to heaven was gracious and holy. Christianity saw the earth as a place to transcend. Like a church spire one should aim towards heaven.
The Pagan and Alchemic world views stood in stark contrast to this Christian perspective. Had they been allowed a fuller expression they may have healed this split between heaven and earth, light and dark.6 To the Pagan the spirit in matter was not the Devil but the Dragon – the life force which ran throughout the whole of nature. To the Alchemist it was the spirit Mercurius – the life in matter. Whilst Christianity explored the mysteries and laws of the heavens it was the alchemists, astrologers and herbalists who respected and studied the mysteries of nature. From this study emerged that body of knowledge known as the natural sciences.
Alchemy, astrology, and herb lore were viewed, not as complementary, but as a challenge to the Christian world view. Yet, despite the antagonistic attitude of the church, the more demonstrable discoveries and knowledge the sciences could not be discredited. Alchemists and astrologers, such as Nostradamus, Kepler, Galileo, and Isaac Newton, were respected members of the community and their ideas and understanding would not easily be dismissed.
The unholy compromise was to accept the natural sciences in part. Whilst the phenomenal aspects of the natural sciences were accepted, their spiritual dimension was rejected. It was in this way that Alchemy became chemistry, herb lore became pharmacology and astrology evolved into astronomy and eventually physics. In the age of reason, the natural sciences were stripped of their metaphysical elements. What remained was a science devoid of any real sensitivity toward nature.
The warring opposites of heaven and earth have now formed a lethal combination. The Christian rejection of nature, coupled with our scientific understanding of nature’s mechanics, has found its expression in the destructive technology of our modern day. Whilst the abusive use of our scientific knowledge initially served to elevate the status of man, it now threatens to destroy our society. Nature herself is not truly threatened, our earth has survived ice ages, periods of great volcanic activity and she will certainly survive humankind. What is now threatened is our own place in the world.
In our story the One Ring turns toward evil due to the Dark Lord’s part in its creation. Similarly, our technological creations are corrupted by our own deep-seated disrespect for the natural world. Our modern technology and industry are an incarnation of our materialistic shadow – a shadow we have carried forward from our Christian heritage.
The Dark Lord has regathered his strength and risen again. Out of sight, within the belly of our own being, Satan has roamed freely and plotted his return to power. Now, after two thousand years of banishment, the dark face of God has re-emerged and made its presence felt.
Look at the incredible savagery going on in our so-called civilised world: it all comes from human beings and the spiritual condition they are in. Look at the devilish engines of destruction! They are invented by completely innocuous gentlemen, reasonable, respectable citizens who are everything we could wish. And when the whole thing blows up and an indescribable hell of destruction is let loose, nobody seems responsible. It simply happens, and yet it is all man-made.7
Just as we are the hobbits who stand in fear of the Dark Lord, we are also this Dark Lord himself. It is now exceedingly important that we awaken to and acknowledge this darker force inside each of us. Aside from our destructive technology we must also address our inability to honour and respect the Earth.
In no way will this be an easy task. Despite its massive proportions, this deeply unconscious desecration of nature avoids our direct perception. Yet if one were to view the modern world through the eyes of the native Australian, African, North or South American one would see this destructive attitude in all of its monstrosity. Think what these indigenous people saw when European settlers first stole and raped their land. Who was the real barbarian?
Indigenous people are rightfully disturbed by western man’s treatment of the environment. The native Cherokee Indian, Sitting Bull, once lamented, "If you knew that the sea was your mother then you wouldn't throw your rubbish in her." To the Amazon native we are known as the ‘termite men' since we chew up everything in our path.
Western man has lost all sense of the sanctity of nature. The wayward tendency of our technological power and the resulting global crisis are symptomatic expressions of our unbalanced attitude toward the whole of life. The peril of our times calls for a new consciousness which will only emerge as we seek to live in harmony with all other life forms and recognise ourselves as but humble creatures of the earth. If we are to have a future on this planet, we must now overcome our failure to honour nature.
While there is much to rally against in outer worldly terms, there is another battle that awaits within. As the previous aeon draws to a close, we have been asked to reconcile the opposites of light and dark, heaven and earth, spirit and matter. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is the mythic representation of this process of reconciliation. This commentary on the myth explores those issues which emerge as we turn and embrace the collective shadow within our culture and within ourselves.
3 Jung, “The Undiscovered Self”, Civilisation in Transition, CW 10
4 Jung, “Answer to Job” (1952), Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11, par 734.
5 The dark side of God is acknowledged by most all religions other than Christianity. In the Hindu religion we find images of Kali in the temples, in Taoist theory the dark has an equal place alongside the light, Buddhism has its wrathful deities. Outside of Halloween festivities our own culture has failed to give Satan his due attention.
6 Both King Arthur and Merlin are mythic symbols of an attempted union of the opposites alive within the Piscean aeon. Arthur was born of a Christian mother, Igraine and pagan father, Uther Pendragon. Like Christ, Merlin was of born of a virgin – his mother being a pious Christian, his father being the devil.
7 Jung, “Psychology and Religion” (1938/1940), Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11, par 85.