24th of December 2017
In the final episode of The Advent Calendar I’m going to present one of my favourite examples of myth based on observation of the sky – to be more precise, of Morningstar and Evenstar (Venus).
Eärendil was the son of Tuor, a Man, and Idril, daughter of King of Gondolin, Turgon. His wife was Elwing, daughter of Dior (son of Beren and Luthien) and Nimloth of Doriath. Their children were Elrond and Elros.
They lived in the realm of Arvernien, by the Great Sea, in Beleriand. At that point in time, this region of Middle-Earth was almost entirely dominated by Morgoth, and Doriath, Nargothrond and Gondolin, once mighty elven kingdoms, have already fallen.
Earednil, seeing that Dark Lord’s hosts will soon crush all resistance, and that would mean the ultimate defeat of Men and Elves, decided to sail across the ocean, to Valinor, in order to beg The Valar for help. He knew that he’ll most likely die, as The Noldor have been cursed by Mandos, who forbade them to return to the Blessed Realm.
With help of Cirdan the Shipwright, Earendil built the most beautiful ship the world has ever seen, Vingilótë, The Flower of the Sea-foam. He embarked on a long voyage, seeking the road to Valinor, but his mission was futile.
Elwing remained in Arvernien, taking care of their sons, and one of the Silmarils, which Beren and Luthien had wrestled from Morgoth’s Iron Crown. When sons of Feanor found out that their father’s precious jewel was in her possession, they’ve remembered the oath they once swore. Attacking Earendil’s people, they sacked their havens, killing nearly all citizens. But Maglor, weary of endless fighting and all defeats The Noldor suffered in Beleriand (he agreed to participate in this assault only because the oath was sacred), spared Earendil’s sons, Elrond and Elros. Maglor was gentle, not as fierce as other sons of Feanor, so after some time, he became a step-father of the boys.
But Elwing, unwilling to fall into hands of her enemies, seized the Silmaril and threw herself into the sea. However, one of The Valar, Ulmo, who has never forsaken The Elves, used his power to lift her from water, and transformed her into a white bird. In this form, she flew over waves and found her husband’s ship.
Believing that both their sons were murdered, the couple decided that now they have nothing to loose. Thanks to Silmaril’s power (for it contained The Light From Before The Sun), they reached the shores of the Blessed Realm.
Earendil stood before thrones of The Valar, and pleaded with them to forgive The Elves, and help to overthrow the Dark Lord.
And Manwe, The Elder King, agreed, moved by the risk Earendil and Elwing were willing to take, for the good of the peoples of Middle-Earth – they were not afraid of the punishment they may suffer for returning to Valinor despite the ban of The Valar.
The Army of the Valar landed in Middle-Earth, and it was led by Eonwe, The Elder King’s herald. Those of The Noldor who never left Valinor, refusing to join Feanor’s rebellion marched in it, along hosts of The Vanyar. Morgoth was defeated, his armies anihilated. During this campaing, known in songs and legends as The War of Wrath, nearly all dragons and Balrogs were killed.
Earendil took part in this fight as well, killing Ancalagon the Black, the greatest of fire-drakes.
The Valar hallowed Vingilótë, placing it in the sky, as a star. Its steersman is Earendil the Blessed, and Silmaril, bound upon his brow, shines so bright that The Star of High Hope (for this name The Elves gave to this celestial body) is second brightest object in the sky, after the sun. The Star of Earendil is visible to this day, at dawn and in the evening.
Tolkien wrote that the source of the name ‘Earendil’ is Anglo-Saxon éarendel, which he first came across while reading the advent poem Christ I (The Advent Lyrics).
éala éarendel engla beorhtast
ofer middangeard monnum sended
Hail Eärendel, brightest of angels / over middle-earth sent to men
In Tolkien’s opinion this texts references the symbolism based on The Morningstar (Venus), whichy appears on the dawn-sky, shortly before the sun, as a herald, harbinger of day.
He decided that in the context of an Advent poem, ‘earendel’ is John the Baptist, who foreshadowed the coming of Christ, just like The Morningstar heralds the coming of day. Young Tolkien amazed by those words, although he could not say why exactly.
As you can see, another term well-known to fantasy fans was inspired by this Advent lyric – Middle-Earth, as Tolkien wrote a short poem, expanding on the lines I quoted above. Thus, in 1914, he created the first text of his mythology, which would become The Legendarium millions of readers came to love.
I think that in all works of Professor Tolkien it would be impossible to find something that befits this day – The Eve of Christmas – better.
In Poland, according to ancient tradition, The Christmas Eve Supper can commence only after the first star is spotted in the sky – and usually, this star is The Evenstar, Venus.
I hope that while reading The Advent Calendar you were wonderstruck by the greatness of imagination, just like Tolkien was years ago, that you have felt a similar thrill of excitement, caused by something unknown and yet beautiful (although you are not sure why), because of seeing the great beauty of mythology, metaphorm symbolism, literature.
I’ve put many questions, and for many of them, I do not have the answer. Still, I encourage You to think about them.
Obviously, some might say that Christmas is pointless, because Jesus Christ never existed, that He is merely yet another myth, like Baldur, Tammuz, Osiris or Dionysus. But, as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis pointed out, the fact that Christ is so similar to many mythological heroes, can be just as well taken as a proof that He is real. What if archetypes, symbols, myths and legends arise from human longing, and when creating them, humans are emluating, in their own way, God’s creative opus?
The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.
We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”
Therefore a Christian should not reject all myths, for there is wisdom to be found in them, a foreshadowing of what was to come. As Lewis said, while reading the Norse Mythology he came to love Baldur, even before he came to love Christ.
So, everything comes down – as it often does – to belief, as it is impossible to prove that God does not exist, just like no one can’t prove that He does. Because of this, I ask you to respect the beliefs of others.
I don’t kno what’s your view on this topic, but in my opinion, the beauty of myths and stories is something from which all of us can derive stenght, inspiration, widsom, knowledge of oneself…
I beg you: do not slow down, do not become lazy. Seek truth; about yourself, others, the whole world.
And appreciate the beauty of things which surround you, especially nature, literature, art, customs, traditions…
While sitting by the Christmas tree contemplate whether you believe that its origins can be found in ancient times, when people gathered round the bonfire would tell each other tales about the world tree Yggdrasil – or if it comes from medieval mystery plays, organised at Christmas Eve, featuring a tree as one of decorations (as today is the liturgical feast and name day of Adam and Eve – or maybe, from something entirely different.
Think about how many beautiful, great stories were conceived by human minds over centuries past, and about how many more may yet arise.
Therefore, on the eve of Christmas, I wish You: wisdom, health, stenght, love, and that you may develop your talents, that you may do what you love. And that you may learn and read much in the New Year still to come, and – if this is your heart’s desire – create, and enjoy your creations, finding delight.
Thank You for reading my calendar, which is but an introduction to a much broader subject, one I hope to explore in new texts, in the New Year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Éalá Éarendel Engla Beorhtast!