Galadriel’s atonement

I visited Lothlorien for the first time when I was fourteen. A part of my heart stayed there and never left. Lost back then, now found.

There is a scene in The Lord of The Rings that is full of beautiful symbolism. In Lothlorien, Frodo, who is already feeling the heavy burden of The Ring, offers it to Galadriel. A part of her has always desired It.

‘And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!’ She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
‘I pass the test,’ she said. ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’
They stood for a long while in silence. At length the Lady spoke again. ‘Let us return!’ she said. ‘In the morning you must depart, for now we have chosen, and the tides of fate are flowing.’

Tolkien, J. R. R., The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring.

Galadriel was offered that which her ego most desired: to be loved and feared, to be beautiful and terrible. “All shall love me and despair” speaks of the darkest side of Galadriel. But somehow, she gets a glimpse of what that future might be like should she accept the Ring and she realises she does not want It. She chooses to accept her shadow, but not to become it.

Although Galadriel was a mother (Celebrian, Elrond’s wife), she doesn’t embody the classical mother archetype. She is a powerful elven maid that echoes the figure of Athena. Like her, she fights wars against evil and counsels the hero in his quest. Athena became the symbol of enlightenment. Galadriel shines in the darkness and her gift to the hero (Frodo) was the light of Eärendil, their most beloved star. Like Athena, she personifies wisdom and freedom from tyranny.

However, like all of us, Galadriel has a shadow, who reminds me of Lilith. Lilith was Adam’s first wife, who, unlike Eve later, was made by God not from Adam’s rib but from the same clay Adam was made of (there’s a very nice explanation in this great blog). Lilith saw herself as equal to Adam, an idea he didn’t share. She refused to be subservient to him and abandoned Paradise, and a more ‘suitable’ spouse was found for Adam, a mother type. Angels could not bring Lilith back and, too beautiful and powerful, she became a sort of witch or demon who would cast a spell on men, dominate them, murder their children. There is a part in Galadriel that wants to dominate everybody, to be loved in desperation. To be loved despite knowing that she cannot be possessed. Or maybe she just wants to be loved.

Galadriel is a most interesting character. Although she has been in Middle Earth for many years, she was born in Valinor, the land where the gods dwell. She left Valinor during the rebellion of the Noldor against the gods, led by Fëanor (‘spirit of fire’) in his obsession to get the Silmarils back from Morgoth. Galadriel’s main drive was probably her wish to see the ‘outer’ world, not controlled by the gods. However, there was a dear price to be paid for this flight from Eden. In order to travel to Middle Earth, the Noldor needed the ships of the Telleri elves in Alqualondë, who refused to help them. Many Telleri were killed by the Noldor in what became the first kinslaying of elves by elves. Although Galadriel didn’t take part in the killing, she probably witnessed it and didn’t lift a hand to stop it. These memories must have haunted her for life. Later, the gods offered her to return to the holy lands, but, unlike her father Finarfin, she refused and remained in the outer world.

In many ways, she is a penitent. She is to live in Middle Earth to atone for her sins. She chooses this voluntary exile until, in the very end, she decides to go back to Valinor after Sauron’s defeat.

She finally leaves her power behind. She accepts that her ego conscience, the person she is in Middle Earth – what an appropriate name for a state of transition – shall decline, diminish. She will cross the Sea and go to the West with the rest of her kind and remain (be) ‘just’ herself. Like the passing of a soul on Charon’s boat over the Styx and into Heaven. She detaches herself from this transient middle status and embraces her fate.

It’s all right now, Galadriel. Go back home. They are waiting for you. They never stopped loving you.

Galadriel’s trip reminded me of a song I was introduced to by my grandmother when I was a kid. I still find it moving so many years later.

He left yesterday
He grabbed his things and went sailing
A shirt, jeans and a song
Where will he go, where will he go?

He said farewell
And decided to fight the sea in a duel
And to travel around the world in his sailboat
And to sail, la la la, to sail

And he left
And he called his boat ‘Freedom’
And he discovered seagulls in the sky
And he painted trails on the sea

His heart
Searched a new way of living
But the waves shouted “leave
Go back with the others, la la la
With the others”

And he fell asleep
And the night shouted “where are you going?”
And in his dream he draw seagulls
And he thought “I shall go back today”

And he came back
And a voice asked him “how are you?”
And when he looked at her he discovered eyes
La la la, blue like the sea

José Luis Perales, Un velero llamado Libertad (my own clumsy translation)