Mystic alignment of the Two Trees,
the Silmarils, the Three Rings
& the Phial of Galadriel
This article arose out of discussions with Pedro Angosto of Flame of Anor smial on the symbolism behind Taratir 18, STAR. The image for this archetype is the Phial that Galadriel gave to Frodo, so it bears the obvious attributes of Light-In-Dark-Places; Hope-Beyond-Hope; a reminder of the Light-That-Is- Beyond-All-Shadows.
Above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done
nor bid the Stars farewell (1)
With the Phial Frodo was able to resist the lure of the Ring. Sam used it to daunt Shelob, and to break the iron will of the Gate-wardens of Cirith Ungol. So, it was clearly a very powerful token. But, just how powerful? What exactly was the Phial? Why was it created - and when?
Simply put, the Phial was a small jar of 'crystal' containing waters drawn from the spring that fed Galadriel's divinatory Mirror. These components alone, crafted together by one so mighty in lore might have rendered a potent artefact. Yet there was more, much more.
'In this phial,' she said, 'Is caught the light of Eärendil's star, set amid the waters of my fountain.'(2)
A fine Elven art, this, to capture the light of the last Silmaril that it might shine again upon Middle-earth! Galadriel states that she has prepared the Glass for Frodo: to be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out. On the face of it there is nothing to suggest this is not literally true: that she has not fashioned the Crystal, specifically to aid Frodo's Quest, whilst the members of the Fellowship have been her guests.
However, it must be questioned whether so great a thing was crafted in a moment; even in Lórien, even against such dark days as the Lady must have foreseen for the Ring-bearer. In order to try and unravel the mystery, let us consider in more detail the 'pedigree' of the Phial's components, their lineage, symbolism and virtue (see diagram).
Within the three Silmarils Fëanor contained the mingled light of the Two Trees of Valinor: Telperion and Laurelin. Hallowed by Varda, the shells of the Silmarils were crafted from 'silima'. Of this unique substance we are informed (in The Silmarillion) that no violence could marr it or break it within the Kingdom of Arda. But, by the Third Age, only the distant light of Eärendil's star was left of the Three upon Middle-earth.
The long and tragic story is well known of how Beren wrested one Silmaril from Morgoth's Iron Crown; how it passed to Thingol who had it set into the famed Nauglamir; how, at length, the Jewel was borne by Elwing and Eärendil into the West and thereafter set in the sky upon Eärendil's brow. The tale of the remaining two Silmarils is no less tragic, though briefly told in the Histories that have come down to the present day. After the final overthrow of Morgoth the Enemy, the last two Silmarils were claimed by Maedhros and Maglor, though not for long, for the Jewels burned the hands of the sons of Fëanor.
And being in anguish and despair [Maedhros] cast himself into a gaping chasm filled with fire, and so ended; and the Silmaril that he bore was taken into the bosom of the Earth. And it is told of Maglor that he could not endure the pain with which the [last] Silmaril tormented him; and he cast it at last into the Sea ...
And thus it came to pass that the Silmarils found their long homes: one in the airs of heaven, and one in the fires of the heart of the world, and one in the deep waters. (3)
The brevity of these descriptions seems suspicious, as though the chronicler did not wish to divulge - or even suggest - the locations where the Silmarils were lost. Suspicion may tempt us to ask: were they indeed truly lost? Certainly Gandalf did not consider the sea a safe place to 'lose' the One Ring, as Glorfindel suggested.
'In the Sea it would be safe.'
'Not safe for ever,' said Gandalf. 'There are many things in the deep waters; and seas and lands may change. (4)
Why was Gandalf so certain that the Ring would be unsafe from rediscovery by Sauron (or his successor)? It is certain that Maglor's Silmaril had not been recovered from the depths - I think it would have been mentioned somewhere if it had been! However, something of the lost Jewel's power/essence may have been detected: perhaps via the very spring that fed Galadriel's fountain in Lórien. If this seems far-fetched ... well, maybe it is, but think about it for a moment. It might explain a few things. Like the water's remarkable properties when used in Galadriel's Mirror. Like her particular and personal opposition to Sauron. Like the significance of Eärendil's Star to Galadriel and her Ring and the Grove of the Fountain:
She lifted up her white arms, and spread out her hands towards the East in a gesture of rejection and denial. Eärendil, the Evening Star, most beloved of the Elves, shone clear above. So bright was it that the figure of the Elven-lady cast a dim shadow on the ground. Its rays glanced upon a ring about her finger: it glittered like polished gold overlaid with silver light, and a white stone in it twinkled as if the Even-star had come down to rest upon her hand. (5)
Returning to the Silmarils themselves: quite aside from the lust of Fëanor and (certain of) the Noldor for them, the Jewels were from the first artefacts of great doom and power.
... and Mandos foretold that the fates of Arda, earth, sea and air, lay locked within them. (6)
'The fates of Arda, earth, sea and air' ... an odd phrase, that. No-one who knew them would have given up at least the hope that the last two Silmarils - those of Maedhros and Maglor - might somehow be recovered, or their powers reawakened. But by what means might such attempts have been made?
The Three Rings
East of the Mountains of Mist, in the Realm of Eregion the craft of the Noldor and the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm brought forth many great artefacts. And there, by Celebrimbor son of Curufin son of Fëanor, were wrought the Three Rings of Power. Three Rings: of AIR, FIRE and WATER. Why these three elements? Why exactly were the rings created? The original purpose of the Three is nowhere explicitly stated, except that we are told:
... of all the Elven-rings Sauron most desired to possess them, for those who had them in their keeping could ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world. (7)
Is it me, or does this strike anyone else out there as rather weak? Would Sauron have cared that the Noldor might have created something to 'ward off the decays of time' (even accepting that he was the author of most of the 'decays' and 'weariness' that afflicted Middle-earth)?
Received wisdom is that the Three rings were forged by Celebrimbor without outside influence, but that their creation was the fruit of lore imparted unto the Noldor by Annatar, the self-styled Lord of Gifts - that is, by Sauron. We are told that he sought to manipulate and enslave the Noldor through the (various) Rings of Power, using the greater agency of the One Ring that was his alone. This is certainly a convincing motive for the Enemy but it still fails to explain the special significance of the Three.
In fact, we do not have to look too far to discover the deeper purpose behind the creation of the Three Elven Rings of Power and the Dark Lord's desire for mastery over them. Through the Rings, crafted to embody and magnify the essences of Air, Fire and Water, Celebrimbor and Sauron each sought the means to recapture the lost power of the Silmarils. We can best think in this sense of the One Ring as a 'remote power sink', capable of drawing off the energy of the Silmarils if once it could be evoked/invoked by the Three acting in concert.
Of course, the plans of each were thwarted. Celebrimbor realised the treachery of Sauron and the Three Rings were never afterwards wielded together. Similarly, Sauron could not gain the Three. Why did he not just seek out each one in turn? We are told he did not know the identities or locations of the bearers of the Rings, yet surely he could have reasoned where they were likely to be found. Maybe he could not risk the Elves destroying the other Rings if one was captured.
So, the original intentions of Celebrimbor were set to nought while Sauron held the One Ring, but even thus inhibited the Three were able to protect and ennoble the realms of those who held them: Lindon, Imladris and Lórien.
But this reasoning leads to the inevitable question: why didn't the Elves use the Three Rings after the One was cut from Sauron's hand, and subsequently lost? Certainly the Ring was no longer on the hand of the Enemy, but precisely because it was lost the bearers of the Three could not use the Three Rings to attempt the power of the Silmarils: they could not know where or in what manner that power might be channelled by the One.
What they required was something through which the arts of the Three might be channelled and into which the power of the Silmarils might be drawn, thereby short-circuiting the possible interference of the One Ring. I believe the Phial was crafted for this very purpose.
The Phial of Galadriel
As we have seen, the Phial was constructed (if that is the right word) of 'crystal' and water from Galadriel's spring, by some means incorporating or encapsulating light from Eärendil's Star. These three components seem to have been specifically chosen to represent, or harmonise or resonate with, the elements of the Three Rings and the resting places of the Silmarils:
... upon a time Lindiriel awoke from dreaming and led her brother by hidden stairs to a chamber wrought all of pale crystal that hung behind the falls. And the play of starlight through the water threw rainbow flames about the walls. Then Lindiriel for joy and over-weening love sang out aloud and her voice went forth becoming one with the water and the crystal hall and the jewelled lights that played about the hall.
And each in the other found an echo and a common theme that rose and swelled and rising blossomed like a flower enfolding both Lindiriel and Ioron in its glory. For surely she had invoked some part of the Music that the Ainur sang into the foundations of the Mountains of Mist in the time of their making. And this was by star and water, air and crystal fire and by the voice of a Child of Eru called into being. (8)
A tenuous link, perhaps, but intriguing nonetheless. The long search to unlock the power of the Crystal Cave was presided over first by Celebrian, spouse of Master Elrond and daughter of Galadriel and Celeborn, and after Celebrian's death by her daughter Arwen Undomiel. Undomiel is, of course, 'Even-star' in the Elven tongue, that being one common designation of Eärendil's Star, the one Silmaril whose light was still visible in Middle-earth.
Wherever and by whosoever the Phial was fashioned, I like to think that, for Galadriel, it was also in part a token of atonement for her former pride in the matter of the Silmarils and for exiling herself East of the Sea. Far more than the simple - albeit powerful - token of protection Galadriel makes it out to be, she was handing to the Ring-bearer far more. For her it was simply - Everything. All her hopes and, perhaps, her personal salvation if ever she might have taken it West returning, however attenuated, the light of the Silmarils to the place of their creation.
In light of all this (if I may be excused the pun) we have to ask ourselves two further questions. Firstly, why hadn't the Phial been used before? To this can only be answered: how do we know that it wasn't used, or at least that its use was not attempted? To assert that the Phial was created with a certain purpose - the regaining or reawakening of the Silmarils - is not to insist that such an attempt had any hope of success, nor even that it was morally defensible.
Even if we allow both these points (and the fact that the light of Eärendil's Star had been encapsulated at all provides fairly compelling evidence) who can say how long it might have taken to achieve significant results: how many years of trial and error? In all likelihood there had been earlier attempts: we can only guess how successful they were and how close the Wise considered themselves to be towards their ultimate goal. In any event they were overtaken by events.
This leads neatly to the second question: why would Galadriel hand the Phial to a Halfling, bearer of the One Ring, bound on a near-hopeless Quest into the very realm of the Enemy? It may be that the (reported) Fall of Gandalf in Khazad-dûm played a part in Galadriel's decision. If the Phial's original purpose required all three Elven Rings then the (supposed) loss of Narya must have spelt the end of the Galadriel's hopes that the Silmarils might ever be reawakened, or her debt paid.
More generously, perhaps Galadriel felt the Glass - its ultimate potential thwarted, yet still clearly an artefact of significant potency - might now best be used to aid Frodo's desperate Quest against the Dark Lord. Who can truly say? One final, intriguing observation is that, in giving freely this most precious of gifts Galadriel might be named Annatári, Queen or Lady of Gifts. This would be a fitting title for the most ardent adversary of Sauron who, in the guise of Annatar, Lord of Gifts, had long before seduced Celebrimbor, Lord of Eregion.
Whatever the truth of this thesis, what is certain is that the Glass was given to Frodo - and that it worked. Without it we cannot doubt that the Quest would have failed. With it the Dark Lord was overthrown, his One Ring destroyed. Gandalf and his Ring were regained.
What, then, of the Phial's later history? It seems the Lady's Gift remained with Frodo in the Shire until it passed with him into the West. Upon that ship also went the bearers of the Three Elven Rings: Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel.
There is no evidence to support the idea but perhaps there, on the ship beneath the light of the Star of Eärendil, the Phial and the Rings - free at last of the One - together achieved the purpose for which they had been created. And the light of the Three Silmarils was by their arts rekindled and shone about them upon that journey, until all came safe to the Blessed Lands Beyond the Sea.