The lore of Life, Leaf & Stone
Part 1: Behind the Wisdom of Life
The Lore of Live, Leaf & Stone is based upon an ancient Middle-earth alphabet, the Fëanorian Tengwar. The table below shows the thirty-six Tengwar letters in the order and groupings described in the Tresco MS, together with their letter-names in Quenya and modern English.
[TABLE]: Taratir : Tengwar alignments
This ordering considers the letters' esoteric significances, a factor paralleling the arrangement of the Futhark runes.(1) It can be contrasted with the structural ordering of the Fëanorian characters into twenty-four primary and twelve 'additional' letters presented by Professor Tolkien.(2) Pennick has drawn a numerical parallel between the latter arrangement (24 + 12) and the 'old European traditions of Greek, the Elder Futhark and Coelbren.'(3)
The body of lore presented in the Tresco MS reflects its historical development. Based upon the Tengwar letter-forms and encapsulating their esoteric meanings are the thirty-six taratir passages ('Visions') composed by Rómendil. The language of these is highly symbolic, encouraging a variety of interpretations. The taratiri are illustrated and expanded in the later Commentaries.
This triple structure of character plus symbolic text plus commentary mirrors that of the Chinese I Ching, where the meanings of the sixty-four hexagrams are accessed via the poetic Judgements, which 'to many people ... seem virtually incomprehensible',(4) and the more prosaic commentaries and appendices.The Commentaries Upon the Book of Visions of Rómendil were written around FO 500 with particular reference to the work originally entitled The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings & the Return of the King. The latter is of course known in modern translation by its abridged title The Lord of the Rings.
The purpose of the Commentaries was to bring the Parma Taratirion (in its Westron translation) to a wider and generally less learned audience. We may deduce from this that the Downfall story itself was at this time well-known. Given the significance of the events it describes, it is quite possible that the tale had by that time attained legendary, if not mythic status. Within the British tradition we might compare the passage into myth of King Arthur (c. 500 CE) and Robin Hood (born c. 1290 CE).(5)
There is no indication that the lore had ever been intended, or was at this stage being used, for anything other than 'philosophical' study. However, after the partition of the kingdom in the late tenth century of the Fourth Age, the taratiri began to be employed in other ways.
The 'Wisdom of Life' was a functional synthesis of the Parma Taratirion with existing calendrical traditions. Until Aerlinn's time the sole prerogative of the Wise, the Wisdom of Life related the taratiri both to the cycle of the year (at the Outer level) and to the life-experiences of the individual (at the Inner). Its purpose was the development of the self through practical experience of the Vision archetypes.
At about the same time, the divinatory 'Lore of Leaf & Stone' arose amongst the common people of Middle-earth. In the North Kingdom, lassi cards (Q literally 'leaves') depicted the essential features of each archetype from both the Parma and Commentaries. By 'various means', a number of cards were selected. These were laid out in a specific pattern and then interpreted, in a manner equivalent to later tarot practices.
Further south the Tengwar letters were incised into 'stones' (Q serni). Some or all of these were cast upon the ground and their meanings told, calling to mind the divinatory use of the Old European runes.
[TABLE]: Wisdom tradition overview
The wisdom traditions of Fourth Age Middle-earth, as depicted in the Tresco MS will now be discussed in greater detail.
The divisions of the Wisdom of Life are of two types. 'Philosophically' the division is between the Inner realm of the self and the Outer world beyond the self.
Functionally, however, the twin disciplines comprising the Wisdom of Life - the Wheel of Visions upon the one hand and the numerological Year-vision profiling upon the other - are most clearly distinguished by the calendar systems upon which they are based.
Fourth Age Middle-earth
The calendars in use in Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age are described in Appendix D of The Lord of the Rings. Aspects relevant to the Wisdom of Life, including alignments with the modern Gregorian calendar (GC), have been previously elaborated.(6)
From TA 2060 until the end of that Age in 3019, most of the Free Peoples used the Stewards' Reckoning (StR), originally introduced as an improvement upon the earlier Kings' Reckoning. The only significant exceptions were the Halflings of the Shire and Bree, who operated their own calendar (itself derived from the Kings' Reckoning), and the Elves.(7)
The Stewards' year began at midwinter and comprised twelve months (Q astar) of thirty days, plus five intercalary days (six in leap years). From the end of the Third Age the Stewards' calendar was replaced by the New Reckoning (NR), which 'represented a return to Kings' Reckoning adapted to fit a spring-beginning.'(8)
In fact, the New Reckoning began on Súlimë 25 (StR), corresponding to our March 17.(9) This 'spring-beginning' of the New Reckoning calendar brought it more into line with the Elven year (Q loa, see below), which in modern terms began on March 28.(10) Both can be seen as aligned approximately with the spring equinox: March 23 (GC).
Whilst the New Reckoning was 'in the course of the reign of King Elessar [FO 1-120] adopted in all his lands except the Shire',(11) it is evident from Aerlinn's Notes that the solstitial year represented by the Stewards' Reckoning was retained by the Wise, for what might be termed 'esoteric' purposes.(12)
The parallel operation of two or more calendars was not new in Middle-earth. As already mentioned, the Halflings had their own systems, but used the Stewards' calendar (and later the New Reckoning) beyond their own borders.(13) The Elves had long employed a number of reckonings. They observed a 'long-year' or yén which equalled 144 solar years. This was divided 'for ritual rather than practical purposes'(14) into 8766 consecutive 'weeks' (Q enquië), each of six days' duration.
The Elves also used the solar year, which they regarded in two distinct ways: either 'more or less astronomically ... [or] when the seasonal changes in vegetation were primarily considered.'(15) It was the latter loa or 'growth year' which began around the spring equinox. No details of the 'astronomical' coranar ('sun-round') are recorded: it may have begun at the winter solstice. The midwinter start of the Kings' Reckoning is attributed to earlier Mannish customs, but these earlier customs themselves probably derived from Elvish tradition.(16)
The history of calendars in later ages is complex, and for full details the reader is referred elsewhere.(17,18,19) The Egyptian year was divided into twelve thirty-day months, with five or six days at the years' end. This compares closely with the Stewards' and New Reckonings of Middle-earth. The Egyptian 'Calendar of Thoth' further split each of its months into three groups of ten days, paralleling the decans of the Wisdom of Life (see below).
From the fourth century CE on, the Christian world observed both a legal (month-based) year and a ritual year derived ultimately from the week-oriented Mosaic calendar. The lunar month was the legal month under English law until 1926.(20) The Anglo-Saxon year began, like the Stewards' Reckoning, at midwinter (Yule) and is the forerunner of our modern calendar.
However, the medieval Christian year was reckoned to start on March 25, from which the British financial year derives. March 25 is Lady Day, the festival of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, and was associated 'in Anglo-Saxon belief, and in European popular tradition both before and after that'(21) with both the Crucifixion and the last day of Creation. In England, New Year's Day was changed to January 1 as late as 1752, the year in which the Gregorian calendar was finally adopted by Parliament.(22,23)
The significance of 'March 25' (Súlimë 25 StR) in the calendars of Middle-earth has been noted, and there derives from the overthrow of the Dark Lord Sauron on that date in the year TA 3019.
The Wheel of Visions
The Outer Wheel
The Wheel of Visions operated on two levels, known respectively as the Outer and Inner Wheels.
On the Outer Wheel of Visions the taratiri were corresponded to the solstitial Stewards' Reckoning. The Steward's Reckoning, like the later Anglo-Saxon calendar with which it almost precisely corresponded, was based upon the solar year: that is, it was divided according to the nodal points of the sun's apparent journey around the earth.
Although in the Tresco MS the month-names of the Stewards' Reckoning are glossed with their Old English equivalents, this author has retained the original, Quenya, names. However, to distinguish the thirty-day months of the Stewards' Reckoning from those of the modern Gregorian calendar, Old English monath has been used rather than the Quenya word asta.
The latter is recorded in The Lord of the Rings, but if the term occurred in the book of Finan, it does not appear in the Tresco MS (having presumably been translated into monath, which occurs in these contexts).
The twelve monaths of the Stewards' Reckoning were divided into thirty-six ten-day periods or decans,(24) with each decan being assigned one of the taratir archetypes. It is not known whether the order in which the Visions were corresponded with the decans had been previously established, or was developed at this time to align the taratiri with existing calendrical lore.
In either event, it seems reasonable to suppose that the formal division of the taratiri into Groups (corresponding to the monaths) dates from this alignment.
The intercalary days were incorporated by assigning each Quarter to one of the 'compass-point' Visions (leap dates in parentheses):
These correspondences between the quarters of the year and the cardinal compass points accord with those accepted within the 'Northern Tradition', that being defined as 'the basic aspects of natural spirituality indigenous to the lands of northern Europe.'(25)
It should be noted, however, that these dates are defined by the Stewards' calendar, and do not precisely match those traditionally assigned within Christian traditions. Pennick records the four statutory quarter days in England as: December 25, March 25, June 24 and September 29, reflecting that 'the solar solstitial-equinoctial year has been modified seriously by the overlay of saints' days'(26)
A range of dates more closely reflects actual observance. Citing Alfred Watkins' Archaic Tracks Round Cambridge (1932), Pennick records: 'First Quarter Day (shortest day - Midwinter - Christmas), Dec 23-25. Second Quarter Day (Equal day and night - Lady Day), Mar 21-25. Third Quarter Day (Longest day - Midsummer - St John's), June 21-24. Fourth Quarter Day (Equal day and night - Michaelmas), Sept 23-24.'(27)
The Outer Wheel bears strong parallels with the runic time-cycles described by Pennick in his Runic Astrology: Starcraft and Timekeeping in the Northern Tradition (1990). There, the solar year is divided into twenty-four 'half-months' or seles, each of which is corresponded with one of the twenty-four letters of the Elder Futhark alphabet. However, the runic time-cycle is aligned with midsummer, rather than with midwinter: 'the summer solstice [June 21] standing at the exact centre of the [final] rune Dag.'(28)
Comparison can be drawn between the division of the solar year into thirty-six decans and the so-called 'World Horoscope' elaborated by Sephariel in his work The World Horoscope, Hebrew Astrology - The Key to the Study of Prophesy.(29)
The Great or Processional Year of 25,920 years is divided into sixty periods, each of which contains twelve cycles of thirty-six years (12 x 36 x 60 = 25,920). Each thirty-six year cycle is supposed to be 'ruled' by one of the twelve astrological 'planets': the present period (1981 - 2016 CE) being under the rulership of the Sun.
According to Charles Harvey, 'these do not of course relate to any kind of astrological cycle as such, but could relate to a natural sequence in the unfoldment of planetary principles'(30) (my italics). The Outer Wheel of Visions can be seen in this light as a means whereby the individual can encounter the 'natural sequence in the unfoldment of the year', as expressed in the archetypes of the Parma Taratirion.
The Inner Wheel
A person's Inner Wheel of Visions is obtained by rotating the Outer Wheel so that it commences on the person's birthday (rather than at midwinter). The archetypes now represent the 'natural sequence in the unfoldment of the person' throughout the 'growth year' defined by consecutive birthdays.
As we have seen, the Wheel of Visions represents a fusion of the Parma Taratirion with pre-existing calendrical (and probably astrological) wisdoms. The numerology used to derive a person's LIFE-vision and Year-visions most likely evolved later, enabling the influence of particular Vision archetypes to be explored in more detail.
The calculations, the reliance upon preformulated tables and (especially) the circular presentation of an individual's sequence of Year-visions evoke comparison with classical natal astrology, with its computations, ephemerides and birthcharts.
To a degree, the comparison is genuine, but it must be stressed that the LIFE-vision and Year-visions are ascribed numerologically. Their relationship to the individual is to be seen as symbolic, rather than as embodying some physical process such as the motion of the heavens which underlies classical astrology.
The formula by which the LIFE-vision and Year-visions are assigned is:
Day of the Year + Year of the Age + Age of the World
The algebraic sum of these terms is not separately identified in the MS, but for convenience it will be termed the Date Total (DT). The Date Total arising from a person's date of birth is reduced to a value not greater than thirty-five, this value designating the person's LIFE-vision. A person's Year-visions are derived similarly from the Date Total of each birthday.
'Day of the Year' signifies the numerical position within the year of the date in question, and thus lies between 1 and 365 (between 1 and 366 if the year is leap).
Clearly, the position depends upon which calendar is used. Date Totals were originally calculated according to the New Reckoning, which as we have seen began upon the day known as March 17 in our modern calendar. However, the system seems intended to relate to whichever calendar was in 'mundane' or 'generally accepted' use, rather than necessarily to a year beginning at this (arbitrary) point. We have already noted the commemorative selection of this date (Súlimë 25, StR) as the start of the New Reckoning.
For modern purposes the system has been interpreted with respect to the Gregorian calendar, with our January 1 as day 1 and our December 31 as either day 365 (non-leap) or day 366 (leap).
By the same logic, the 'Year of the Age' has been taken with respect to the Common Era (CE). The year beginning January 1 1993 CE is thus year 1993. This necessarily assumes that the Common Era is an 'Age of the World' in the same tradition as the four Ages of Middle-earth referred to in both the Tresco MS and those works translated by Professor Tolkien.
Although debatable, this assertion and the designation of the common Era as the sixth such Age of the World are supported by documentary evidence.
The Ages of the World
In the section of the Tresco MS describing the Wisdom of Life (the unattributed 'Lore of Life, Leaf & Stone') the Age is first given as 'fourth', this being presumably a straight translation out of Finan's book. However, this is glossed with the numeral '6', in the same hand as the rest of the manuscript.
It is not possible to say whether the amendment was made by Witmaer when this section of the 'ancient book' was first translated into Old English (and was later copied by Hundred), or whether it represents one of Hundred's own 'corrections'. In either case, the term 'Sixth Age' was in use at this time.
The eighth century historian Bede recognised a world having a duration of six ages, of which five had already passed.(31) The sixth and final age was reckoned to have begun with the birth of Christ and would continue until the end of the present world. From this concept arose the dating of events in terms of the annus domini.
Whilst attributable to the sixth century Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus, this means of dating became universal practice throughout western Christendom mostly as a result of its adoption by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History. The AD (or Common Era) system was officially recognised in England by the ecclesiastical council of Chelsea in 816 CE, which brought it into general use.
It can be argued, of course, that this is a singularly Christian system, being based upon the supposed date of Jesus' birth. However, the annus domini (AD) or Common Era (CE) reckoning has gained worldwide ascendancy, and is now the basis of international dating.
Western astrology recognises a succession of ages, in this case based upon the precession of the spring equinoxes through the zodiacal signs. Each age is of 2,144 years' duration, this being one twelfth of the 25,729 year period taken for the equinox to move through the entire zodiac. The latter is known variously as a Great, Platonic or Precessional Year.(32)
However, as Nicholas Campion records, 'a major problem with these 'ages' is that no one can agree when they end and when they begin.'(33) Of greatest contemporary interest is the date at which the present Age of Pisces will give way to the Age of Aquarius. Campion asserts that the most accurate assessment is 2369 CE, but individual writers have quoted dates between 1762 and 2813.(34) Based upon 2369 CE, Campion gives the following list:
Intriguingly, although the astrological ages are considered as cyclical and eternal, this listing gives the present Age of Pisces as the sixth in the series. Professor Tolkien himself considered:
... the gap [between the end of the Third Age of Middle-earth and the present] to be about 6,000 years: that is that we are now at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were about the same length as S.A. [Second Age] and T.A. [Third Age] But they have, I think, quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of the Sixth Age, or in the Seventh.(36)
From the lengths of the Second and Third Ages of Middle-earth (3,441 and 3,021 years, respectively)(37) and granting Tolkien's suggestion that the Ages have 'quickened', we might propose that each Age has been some 420 years shorter than the Age which preceded it. Granting also Tolkien's assertion that the Fourth Age began some six thousand years ago, this would give the following:
This seems in reasonable accord with the comment that 'we are actually at the end of the Sixth Age.' By this reckoning, more than ninety per cent of the Sixth Age had passed when Tolkien wrote these words in 1958. However, if the significant factor is a 'general awareness' of change from one Age to the next, it might be more reasonable to adopt the start of the new millennium (2001 CE) as year one of the Seventh Age.
Distribution of Visions
All Vision archetypes can occur as LIFE- and Year-visions, with the exception of Vision 0, SPIRIT,(38) although they are not equally likely to do so. If Visions are calculated for each day in any given year their distribution is found to be bell-shaped (statistically the distribution is normal, or skewed normal).
Tarot 'Lifetime Cards'
The derivation of LIFE-vision and Year-vision archetypes must be compared with the system of tarot 'Lifetime Cards' described by Angeles Arrien in her Tarot Workbook.(39) Ms Arrien derives 'Personality Cards' and 'Soul cards' from a person's date of birth, and 'Year Cards' from each birthday,40 via a formula which can be expressed as:
Day of the Month + Month of the Year + Year of the Age
The system uses the Gregorian calendar and is based upon the Common Era reckoning of years. In any given year, Arrien's Date Totals run from (Year + 2, January 1) to (Year + 43, December 31). Totals are reduced to values not exceeding twenty-two, corresponding to the archetypes of the tarot Major Arcana. As tarot numbering runs from 0 through 21, a reduced Date Total of 22 is equated to Arcanum 0, The Fool.
Note that this differs from the Wisdom of Life, where Vision 0, SPIRIT cannot occur as a reduction of the Date Total.
According to Greer, the Personality Card 'indicates what you have come into this particular life-time to learn',(41) and thus corresponds more or less to the LIFE-vision. Where greater than nine, the number of the Personality Card is again reduced, to give the Soul Card. This 'shows your soul purpose through all life-times',(42) but has no direct parallel in the Wisdom of Life.
The tarot Year Cards equate to the Year-visions of the Wisdom of Life, 'representing the tests, lessons and experiences you will go through [during that] year.'(43) Year Cards can be taken as applying either to calendar years beginning each January 1 (equating more or less to the Outer Wheel of Visions which commences December 22) or running from one birthday to the next (as do the Year-visions and the Inner Wheel). Mary Greer considers that 'both systems work and I use them simultaneously.'(44)
What, then, are the differences between the systems described in the Tresco MS and the tarot Lifetime Cards of Angeles Arrien? The following figure shows the sequence of tarot and Vision archetypes calculated for the first thirty years of the author's life:
To compare formulae directly, the blue dashed line gives archetypes according to the Arrien formulae, but again reduced for thirty-six Visions. Here, pairs of identical Year-visions do not occur, but this aside the two formulae clearly result in very different profiles. Only in one year (at age 23) do both plots give the same archetype.(45)
The solid blue line gives tarot Year Cards after Arrien, with Date Totals reduced for the twenty-two archetypes of the tarot Major Arcana. Between ages 16 to 30 the same numerical archetypes are assigned as in the previous plot: indeed, the two Arrien plots will differ only when the reduced Date Total exceeds 21.
As will be discussed at a later time, there is a close correlation between the meanings and associations of the tarot Major Arcana and the first twenty-two Visions, and for many people there would be little significant difference in applying the Arrien formula to either the tarot or Vision systems.
This might be appropriate to those already familiar with using tarot Lifetime Cards, but interested in exploring the Vision archetypes. Nevertheless, for the truest application of the Wisdom of Life, this author recommends that the original formula is used.
At the present time, the majority of Year-visions thus calculated will have values below twenty-two, and can be related to the corresponding tarot cards if desired.
In this article I have attempted to present something of the structure and philosophy underlying the 'Wisdom of Life' traditions of Fourth Age Middle-earth, as these are described in the Tresco MS.
The Wheel of Visions divides the year into a cycle of thirty-six ten day periods, each of which is assigned to one of the Taratir, or 'Vision', archetypes. The numerological Life-vision/ Year-vision discipline provides a complementary framework for exploring the Vision archetypes, as they are applied in turn to each year of our life and to our lifetime as a whole.
Both approaches encourage us to relate the characters and situations of Middle-earth to what is happening within and around us in our day-to-day lives. Conversely, they allow personal experience to enrich our understanding of the Vision archetypes themselves, and thus of Tolkien's entire Middle-earth legacy.
The next article in the series will present the structure underlying the divinatory 'Lore of Leaf & Stone'. Later articles will provide detailed instructions, worked examples and suggestions for applying the wisdom traditions of Fourth Age Middle-earth to life in the Common Era.