With Gandalf at the helm the ring party set out from Rivendell. They headed south towards Caradhras where they hoped to find a passage which would take them to the other side of the Misty Mountains.
In a few days the snow-capped peaks of Caradhras rose before them. Aragorn and Gandalf had been in long debate as to whether they should go over the mountain or down through the Mines of Moria. Finally, it was decided that they would go over the mountain. Facing the harsh weather of the mountain peak seemed the better option of two evils.
As the party climbed Caradhras they could feel themselves being watched. They climbed on but before long a blizzard was upon them.
Gandalf halted. “This is what I feared.”
The blizzard made their passage forward impossible. It was surely the work of the enemy for it seldom snowed so fiercely at this point on the mountain. When the party stopped so did the storm. As soon as they took up again the snow returned with fresh fury. The party turned back. The blizzard was designed specifically for them and would not let them through.
The journey up the mountain is the spiritual journey. As we rise, we gain a more comprehensive perspective on life. Once freed of the entanglement of our problems, we may view our situation with greater objectivity. The mountaintop is also a chilly and remote place however, a place devoid of any real connection to life.
This passage up the mountain is barred and presents no way forward for the ring party. This would suggest that the upward, spiritual approach to our worldly problems will be of little service. Philosophical debate and other worldly aspirations do not offer a cure for today’s ills. In fact, they may be a distraction from the real issue.
The desire to transcend the earth is a primary defining theme of our Christian culture. This psychological attitude lives on in current new age thought as well as western uptake of eastern philosophy. As a result, we now sit too high. In seeking the divine we have removed ourselves from the earth.
In the past our spiritual aspirations served to free us from the bounds of nature and our instinctual being. Now they have taken us to the point where we have lost touch with nature. In our preference for the heavens over the earth western culture has forgotten the importance and divinity of the earth itself.
We are now called upon to embrace the earth, not rise above it. Here we may need to rediscover our pagan heritage or take guidance from the indigenous cultures of this world, where the earth is held as sacred. There is no transcendent solution to our global problems. The spiritual path, over the mountain, is barred by the need to face reality. Any disregard for this reality simply compounds the problem. The Ring party must come down off the mountain heights and enter the world of matter.
The only option now left for the ring party was to go down under the mountain. At the foot of the mountain stood a secret doorway which opened to a passage down through the Mines of Moria. Aragorn feared this passage chiefly because it might prove treacherous for Gandalf.
Gandalf opened the secret door and led the party down into the mines. As they descended the dark paths were lit only by the light of Gandalf’s staff. At first the party continued undetected but slowly something awoke to their presence. They journeyed on.
After a few days of what seemed eternal night, the party found themselves in a huge underground hall. It was here that they discovered that they were not alone. From one of the tunnels leading into the hall a faint rumble could be heard. It grew louder. Aragorn and Boromir rushed to jam the door, but the door would not hold. A battalion of orcs were upon them, yet they fought so fiercely the orcs turned and ran.
Soon the orcs returned with even greater force. The party looked for a means of escape and ran for the eastern passage. Gandalf ordered them to go down, taking every turn to the right, while he alone remained to face the black marauders. With a series of incantations Gandalf barred the passage then caught up with the rest of the party.
Deeper and deeper, they descended until they came to a narrow stone bridge. At the end of another passage, on the other side of the chasm, there grouped yet another hoard of orcs. Arrows fell like rain, dropping just short of the party.
Gandalf ordered the ring party across the bridge. They had escaped the orcs. Yet in these even greater depths of the mines, they met an even more formidable foe.
It sprang up from behind them, out of the flaming abyss. “What it was could not be seen: it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and go before it.”
It came to the edge and leapt across the fissure. Its black wings spread from wall to wall, as the flames roared up to greet it. In its right hand was a blade like a stabbing tongue of fire; in its left hand, it held a whip of many thongs. Black smoke and blood red fire streamed from its nostrils.
“A Balrog” muttered Gandalf. “Now I understand”. He faltered and leaned heavily on his staff. “What an evil fortune! And I am already weary.”
The dark figure paced towards as he stood at the middle of the bridge. The Balrog drew near.
“You cannot pass,” said Gandalf. Even the orcs stood still as a dead silence fell. “Go back to the shadows. You cannot pass.” The Balrog made no answer. It stepped forward slowly onto the bridge and drew itself up to a great height. Yet Gandalf stood firm, grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.
“You cannot pass”, he repeated. And with a bound the Balrog leapt full upon the stony span.
At that moment Gandalf lifted his staff and, crying aloud, he smote the bridge before him. His staff broke and the bridge cracked right at the feet of the Balrog. With a wail it fell forward and vanished into the darkness. As the Balrog fell, its whip lashed out and curled about the wizard’s’ knees dragging him to the brink. “Fly you fools!” he cried and was gone. The passage under the mountain had proved perilous for Gandalf.
Now that Gandalf had been lost, Aragorn stepped forward to assume the leadership of the party.
The group’s descent from the mountain reflects the need to return to the temporal world we live in. Here is where we may confront reality of the global crisis, that is, as it exists in life. In entering the Mines of Moria we continue our descent down into the darkness of our western culture.
The Mines of Moria is the underworld, a place where no light shines. In myth and fairy tale, the underworld is typically populated by various monsters and demons. In the Christian myth it is the abode of the devil. The underworld harbours all that has remained undeveloped and unconscious. In entering the underworld, we begin to explore what Jung termed the shadow, that part of our being that lies beneath our conscious awareness. The underworld, however, is also a place of death and rebirth. A successful passage through the underworld generally results in a renewed and deeper sense of self.
It is in the Mines of Moria that the Ring party must first battle with the orcs. Throughout the story of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien provides a few insights into the personality of the orcs. In the story we find the orcs arguing amongst themselves, fighting over possessions, complaining of their lot in life and running out of fear and cowardice. At one point the orcs are described as being of similar origin to hobbits! Whilst orcs seek only to do that which is best for themselves, en masse they blindly serve the wishes of the Dark Lord.
The orcs represent yet another aspect of our own makeup. As we scramble about our everyday lives, we knowingly commit numerous sins against the wellbeing of our planet. But we are not concerned - one more car on the road seems not to be too much of a problem. Orcs mirror this small-minded, self-serving attitude. In the quest to return the Ring one inevitably confronts this blind self-centredness within oneself and in the community.
The greater problem is the fact that the personal shadow pools together and forms the collective shadow. Here we meet the Balrog. The haze over a modern city is produced by millions of these ‘one more’ vehicles. Similarly, while we may enjoy reading the weekend newspaper, our collective consumption of paper products fells great forests. Were one to be held personally responsible for some great trauma being inflicted upon the planet, one would quickly mend one’s ways. When we see ourselves as only a small part of the problem, we are less inclined to do so. It is in this way that the personal shadow is quickly magnified into the monstrous proportions of the collective shadow. Even the orcs stand still in fear of the Balrog.
It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow-side to him, consisting not just of little weakness and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost.19
Gandalf meets his natural enemy in the form of the Balrog. Whilst Gandalf highlights our greater vision, the Balrog is that lowest common denominator which refuses to be transformed. We have been warned about the impending global crisis but still this warning goes largely unheeded. Sometimes the wiseman may guide the flock, at other times he is trampled by the herd.
Gandalf’s defeat opens the way for Aragorn. This change in leadership for the Ring party marks another important progression in the quest to return the Ring. With Gandalf at the helm, one is motivated by a clear vision and sense of purpose. Yet, at some stage, this vision fails in that it proves to be insufficient. It is at this point that a new driving force must take over.
Unlike the wizard, Aragorn is a leader of men – as the son of King Arathorn he is destined to be king. As a king he can command whilst the wiseman may only advise. Although wisemen may offer much in the way of guidance it is the kings and leaders who implement their ideas and carry consciousness through into action. We have now heard from several leading ecologists and social visionaries. As individuals we may have developed a keen interest in the global crisis and its proposed solutions. The loss of Gandalf, however, marks the end of this visionary approach to the global crisis and a subsequent call to action.
19 Jung, “On the Psychology of the Unconscious”, 1943 Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, CW 7 par 35.