The Laws and Customs Among the Eldar


As written by J.R.R.Tolkien in his "Morgoth's Ring"


AElfwine's Preamble

The Eldar grew in bodily form slower than Men, but in mind more swiftly. They learned to speak before they were one year old; and in the same time they learned to walk and to dance, for their wills came soon to the mastery of their bodies. Nonetheless there was less difference between the two Kindreds, Elves and Men, in early youth; and a man who watched elf-children at play might have believed that they were the children of Men, of some fair and happy people. For in their early days, elf-children delighted still in the world about them, and the fire of their spirit had not consumed them, and the burden of memory was still light upon them.

This same watcher might indeed have wondered at the small limbs and stature of these children, judging their age by their skill in words and grace in motion. For at the end of the third year, mortal children begin to outstrip the Elves, hastening on to a full stature while the Elves lingered in the first spring of childhood. Children of Men might reach their full height while the Eldar of the same age were still in body like to mortals of of no more than seven years. Not until the fiftieth year did the Eldar attain the stature and shape in which their lives would afterwards endure, and for some a hundred years would pass before they were full-grown.

The Eldar wedded for the most part in their youth and soon after their fiftieth year. They had few children, but these were very dear to them. Their families, or houses, were held together by love and a deep feeling for kinshp in mind and body; and the children needed little governing or teaching. There were seldom more than four children in any house, and the number grew less as ages passed; but even in days of old, while the Eldar were still few and eager to increase their kind, Feanor was renowned as the father of seven sons,and the histories record none that surpassed him.

The Eldar wedded once only in life, and for love or at the least by free will upon either part. Even when in after days, as histories reveal, many of the Eldar in Middle-earth became corrupted, and their hearts darkened by the shadow that lies upon Arda, seldom is any tale told of deeds of lust among them.

Marriage, save for rare ill chances or strange fates, was the natural course of life for all the Eldar. It took place in this way. Those who would afterwards become wedded might choose one another early in youth, even as children (and indeed this happened often in days of peace); but unless they desired soon to be married and were of fitting age, the betrothal awaited the judgement of the parents of eitehr party.

In due time the betrothal was announced at a meeting of the two houses concerned, and the betrothed gave silver rings one to another. According to the laws of the Eldar this betrothal was bound then to stand for one year at least, and it often stood for longer. During this time it could be revoked by a public return of the rings, the rings then being molten and not again used for a betrothal. Such was the law; but the right of revoking was seldom used, for the Eldar do not err lightly in such a choice. They are not easily deceived by their own kind; and their spirits being masters of their bodies, they are seldom swayed by the desires of the body only, but are by nature continent and steadfast.

Nonetheless among the Eldar, even in Aman, the desire for marriage was not always fulfilled. Love was not always returned; and more than one might desire one another for spouse. Concerning this, the only cause by which sorrow entered the bliss of Aman, the Valar were in doubt. Some held that it came from the marring of Arda, and form the Shadow under which the Eldar awaoke; for thence only (they said) comes grief or disorder. Some held that it came of love itself, and of the freedom of each fea, and was a mystery of the nature of the Children of Eru.

After the betrothel it was the part of the betrothed to appoint the time of their wedding, when at least one year had passed. Then at a feast, again shared by the two haouses, the marriage was celebrated. At the end of the feast the betrothed stood foth, and the mother of the bride and the father of the bridegroom joined the hands of the pair and blessed them. For this blessing there was a solemn form, but no mortal has heard it; though the Eldar say that Varda was named in witness by the mother and Manwe by the father; and moreover that the name of Eru was spoken (as was seldom done at any other time). The betrothed then received back from the other their silver rings (and treasured them); but they gave in exchange slender rings of gold, which were worn upon the index of the right hand.

Among the Noldor also it was a custon that the bride's mother should give to the bridegroom a jewel upon a chain or collar; and the bridegroom's father should give a like gift to the bride. These gifts were sometimes given before the feast. (Thus the gift of Galadriel to Aragorn, since she was in place of Arwen's mother, was in part a bridal gift and earnest of the wedding that was later accomplished.)

But these ceremonies were not rites necessary to marriage; they were only a gracious mode by which the love of the parents was manifested, and the union was recognized which would join not only the betrothed but their two houses together. It was the act of bodily union that achieved marriage, and after which the indissoluble bond was complete. In happy days and times of peace it was held ungracious and contemptuous of kin to forgo the ceremonies, but it was at all times lawful for any of the Eldar, both bein unwed, to marry thus of free consent on to another without ceremony or witness (save blessings exhanged and the naming of the Name); and the union so joined was alike indissoluble. In days of old, in times of trouble, in flight and exile and wandering, such marriages were often made.

As for the begetting and bearing of children: a year passes between the begetting and the birth of an elf-child, so that the days of both are the same or nearly so, and it is the day of begetting that is remembered year by year. For the most part these days come in the Spring. It might be thought that, since the Eldar do not (as Men deem) grow old in body, they may bring forth children at any time in the ages of their lives. But this is not so. For the Eldar do indeed grow older, even if slowly: the limit of their lives is the life of Arda, which though long beyond the reckoning of Men is not endless, and ages also. Moreover their body and spirit are not separate but coherent. As the weight of the years, which all their changes of desire and thought, gathers upon the spirit of the Eldar, so do the impulses and moods of their bodies change. This the Eldar mean when they speak of their spirits consuming them; they say that ere Arda ends all the Eldalie on earth will have become as spirits invisible to mortal eyes, unless they will to be seen by some among Men into whose minds they may enter directly.

Also, the Eldar say that in begetting, and still more in the bearing of children, greater share and strength of their being, in mind and in body, goes forth than in the making of mortal children. For these reasons it came to pass that the Eldar brought forth few children; and also that their time of generation was in their youth or earlier life, unless strange and hard fates befell them. But at whatever age they married, their children were born within a short space of years after their wedding. For with regard to generation the power and the will are not among the Eldar distinguishable. Doubtless they would retain for many ages the power of generation, if the will and desire were not satisfied; but with the exercies of the power the deisre soon ceases, and the mind tunrs to other things. The union of love is indeed to them great delight and joy, and the 'days of the children', as they call them, remain in their memory as the most merry in life; but they have many other powers of body and of mind which their nature urges them to fulfil.

Thus, although the wedded remain so for ever, they do not necessarily dwell or house together at all times; for without considering the chances and separations of evil days, wife and husband, albeit united, remain persons individual having each the gifts of mind and body that differ. Yet it would seem to any fo the Eldar a greivous thing if a wedded pair were sundered during the bearing of a child, or while the first years of its childhood last. For which reason the Eldar would beget children only in days of happiness and peace if they could.

In all such things, not concerned with the bringing forth of children, the neri and nissi (that is, the men and women) of the Eldar are equal--unless it be in this (as they themselves say) that for the nissi the making of things new is for the most part shown in the forming of their children so that invention and change is otherwise brought about by the neri. There are, however, no matters which among the Eldar only a ner can think or do, or others with thich only a nis is concerned. There are indeed some differences between the natural inclinations of neri and nissi, and other differences that have been established by custom (varying in place and in time, and in the several races of the Eldar). For instance, the arts of healing, and all that touches on the care of the body, are among all the Eldar most practised by the nissi; whereas it was the elven-men who bore arms at need. And the Eldar deemed that the dealing of death, even when lawful or undr necessity, diminished the power of healing, and that the virtue of the nissi in this matter was due rather to their abstaining from hunting or war than to any special power that went with their womanhood. Indeed in dire straits or desperate defence, the nissi fought valiantly, and there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not born child than is seen among mortals. On the other hand many elven-men were great healers and skilled in the lore of living bodies, though such men abstained from hunting, and went not to war until the last need.

As for other matters, we may speak of the customs of the Noldor (of whom most is known in Middle-earth). Among the Noldor it may be seen that the making of bread is done mostly by women; and the making of lembas is by ancient law reserved to them. Yet the cooking and preparing of other food is generaly a task and pleasure of men. The nissi are more often skilled in the tending of fields and gardens, in playing upon instruments of music, and in the spinning, weaving, fashioning, and adornment of all threads and cloths; and in matters of lore they love most the histories of the Eldar and of the houses of the Noldor; and all matters of kinship and descent are held by them in memory. But the neri are more skilled as smiths and wrights, as carvers of wood and stone, and as jewelers. it is they for the most part who compose musics and make the instruments, or devise new ones; they are the chief poets and students of languages and inventors of words. Many of them delight in forestry and in the lore of the wild, seeking the friendship of all things that grow or live there in freedom. But all these things, and other matters of labour and play, or of deeper knowledge concerning being and the life of the World, may at different times be pursued by any among the Noldor, be they neri or nissi.

Copyright © 1993 by Frank R. Williamson and Christopher R. Tolkien as executors of the estate of J. R. R. Tolkien, Morgoth's Ring, pages 209-214.