The Healing Arts of Middle-Earth
Healing Magic and Lore in The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings studies are a hobby that bridges the discipline of scholarship and the passions of fandom.
This lens focuses on "Healing in Middle-Earth," examining healing techniques, magic and items in that fictional world, based on excerpts from Tolkien's writings. My aim is to provide a resource for fanfiction writers and roleplayers trying to bring the world of Middle-Earth to life.
This study was inspired by and written for fellow lore-lovers on the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza online community.
Healing in Middle-Earth
The following is a complete list of ALL examples of healing in Tolkien's writing. I have tried to rearrange the quotes into related topics (unlike my earlier version, which was posted in the order I found them), and I have included careful analysis of each example, trying to uncover what we can learn about healing techniques in Middle-earth, and, in particular, healing techniques that probably would have been used by Elves.
A note about Aragorn. He was Elrond's foster-son, trained by him, and therefore his healing techniques would have largely derived from Elrond. I doubt that he and his Rangers would have possessed much healing lore that their friends the Elves lacked, whereas the Elves surely had abilities and skills the Rangers lacked. Therefore I think it is safe to assume that Elves, or at least the Elves of Rivendell, could do most of what Aragorn did. His curing of the Black Breath may be an exception since that was supposed to be unique to the line of Kings.
"I Nestad In-Edhil"
Want the IC (In Character) version? Tinw's got a scroll in the Imladris library, The Healing Art of the Eldar, written in the same manner as Bilbo's notes and jottings on Elves.
Who Can Heal?
A survey of known healers in Middle-Earth
The patron Valië of healing is Estë. Rest is closely connected with her art:Irmo the younger is the master of visions and dreams. In Lórien are his gardens in the land of the Valar, and they are the fairest of all places in the world, filled with many spirits. Estë the gentle, healer of hurts and of weariness, is his spouse. Grey is her raiment; and rest is her gift. ~ (Of the Valar, Silmarillion)
See several examples under "case studies". Lúthien is unique in having both Elf and Maia blood, so her powers are special. Some of these may have been transferred to her descendants.
Beleg Cúthalion, Grey-elf of the First Age
See examples under self-healing.
Mablung, Grey-elf of the First Age
'We too are Edain, and bound by many ties to your people. Your name has long been held in honour here; but no news of your deeds would have reached us, if Haldir and Hundar had not marched to the Nirnaeth. There they fell, but three of their company returned, for they were succoured by Mablung of Doriath and healed of their wounds. ~ (The Wanderings of Húrin, War of the Jewels)
Glorfindel, High-elf of the First Age
See Frodo’s Morgul-knife wound. He is a legendary warrior.
Aragorn, Elrond, sons of Elrond
Since Aragorn is a main character, we hear more about his healing exploits. We also know that Elrond is a great healer: the healing of Frodo is the only example of this, but Aragorn and Gandalf both say so. The sons of Elrond have some of their father's art. At the doors of the Houses many were already gathered to see Aragorn, and they followed after him; and when at last he had supped, men came and prayed that he would heal their kinsmen or their friends whose lives were in peril through hurt or wound, or who lay under the Black Shadow. And Aragorn arose and went out, and he sent for the sons of Elrond, and together they laboured far into the night. And word went through the City: 'The King is come again indeed.' And they named him Elfstone, because of the green stone that he wore, and so the name which it was foretold at his birth that he should bear was chosen for him by his own people.
And when he could labour no more, he cast his cloak about him, and slipped out of the City, and went to his tent just ere dawn and slept for a little. ~ (The House of Healing, ROTK)
Túrin, a ManThen entering softly Túrin stood behind Mîm, and spoke to him. "What is the trouble, Mîm?' " he said. "I have some healing arts. Can I give you aid?" ~ (Narn i Hîn Húrin, UT)(Brandir of the Haladin is also repeatedly referred to as a healer, tending both Túrin and Níniel)
Melian the Maia
So Thingol's thanes athirst and bleeding
in the forest found him: his fate willed not
that he should drink the draught of death from foes.
Thus they bore him back in bitter torment
his tidings to tell in the torchlit halls
of Thingol the king; in the Thousand Caves
to be healed whole by the hands enchanted
of Melian Mablui, the moonlit queen.
Ere a week was outworn his wounds were cured,
but his heart's heaviness those hands of snow
nor soothed nor softened, and sorrow-laden
he fared to the forest. 725ff, (Túrin son of Húrin, Lays of Beleriand)She heals his body quickly, but not his spirit. (Melian also heals him in the "Sketch of the Mythology", SME, and in Annals of Beleriand, LR, but later versions of this story say Beleg healed himself).
Gandalf, a MaiaAs a matter of fact Gandalf, who had often been in the mountains, had once rendered a service to the eagles and healed their lord from an arrow-wound. ~ (Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire, The Hobbit)This is physical healing. Gandalf heals the spirit. He never touches Théoden; he only speaks encouragement to help him find his own strength instead of leaning on others. Théoden is severely depressed, but not possessed, in the original text. 'And you, lady, leave him a while with me. I will care for him.'
Go, Éowyn sister-daughter!' said the old king. 'The time for fear is past.'
Now, lord,' said Gandalf, 'look out upon your land! Breathe the free air again!'
[description of the view]
'It is not so dark here,' said Théoden.
No,' said Gandalf. 'Nor does age lie so heavily on your shoulders as some would have you think. Cast aside your prop!'And so on. Later, when Gandalf advises Théoden to seek shelter at Dunharrow: 'Nay, Gandalf!' said the king. 'You do not know your own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be. Thus shall I sleep better.' ~ (The King of the Golden Hall, TTT)
They originally learned many of their arts and skills from the Elves, although doubtless they had their own knowledge and wisdom too. So at last Faramir and Éowyn and Meriadoc were laid in beds in the Houses of Healing; and there they were tended well. For though all lore was in these latter days fallen from its fullness of old, the leechcraft of Gondor was still wise, and skilled in the healing of wound and hurt, and all such sickness as east of the Sea mortal men were subject to. Save old age only. For that they had found no cure; and indeed the span of their lives had now waned to little more than that of other men, and those among them who passed the tale of five score years with vigour were grown few, save in some houses of purer blood. But now their art and knowledge were baffled; for there were many sick of a malady that would not be healed; and they called it the Black Shadow, for it came from the Nazgûl. And those who were stricken with it fell slowly into an ever deeper dream, and then passed to silence and a deadly cold, and so died. And it seemed to the tenders of the sick that on the Halfling and on the Lady of Rohan this malady lay heavily. Still at whiles as the morning wore away they would speak, murmuring in their dreams; and the watchers listened to all that they said, hoping perhaps to learn something that would help them to understand their hurts. ~ (The Houses of Healing, ROTK)Note that "art/skill" and "knowledge" are both mentioned -- that is, appplied technique or power, and medical lore. When trying to heal an unknown injury, healers attempt to gain understanding by listening closely to patients.
Uglúk thrust a flask between his teeth and poured some burning liquid down his throat: he felt a hot fierce glow flow through him. The pain in his legs and ankles vanished. He could stand.
'Now for the other!' said Uglúk. Pippin saw him go to Merry, who was lying close by, and kick him. Merry groaned. Seizing him roughly Uglúk pulled him into a sitting position, and tore the bandage off his head. Then he smeared the wound with some dark stuff out of a small wooden box. [...]He was healing Merry in orc-fashion; and his treatment worked swiftly. When he had forced a drink from his flask down the hobbit's throat, cut his leg-bonds, and dragged him to his feet, Merry stood up, looking pale but grim and defiant, and very much alive. The gash in his forehead gave him no more trouble, but he bore a brown scar to the end of his days. ~ (The Uruk-hai, TTT)Orc-healing is brutally efficient, relying on physical aids, not treating the spirit. It leaves scars, showing that the healing is imperfect. It also temporarily restores bodily strength.
Warriors As Healers - Or Not?
Male vs. Female Elves: Division of Labor
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 under 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 borne 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. ~ (Of the Laws and Customs Among the Eldar, Morgoth's Ring)
This was written very late in Tolkien's life. Unfortunately, it contradicts established canon. Glorfindel had a healing touch. Elrond is a powerful healer. Beleg Cúthalion is said to be an exceptional healer, and he is a hunter and marchwarden. Mablung is a warrior. Aragorn is a great fighter. So nearly all the healers in the histories are warriors.
There is really no way to reconcile the apparent contradiction, save for the fact that the passage says, "the Eldar deemed that the dealing of death...diminished the power of healing". Perhaps they were mistaken, and it was just a custom. Perhaps most warriors didn't study the art of healing, so after a while it became traditional for them not to be healers, and people began assuming there was some reason why they couldn’t be. Or perhaps most warriors really and truly were not good healers, with some rare exceptions. But the most plausible explanation is that Tolkien was trying to explain and set up a rational system of magic, many years after the fact, and wasn’t quite managing to fit what he had actually written in his stories.
And Powers of Endurance
There are many documented examples of Elves surviving wounds which would kill humans, or exhibiting remarkable powers and speed of healing and recovery. This is most true of the early Elves of the First Age, and of the Noldor, the High-elves, who are said to have greater power.
Maedhros, a Noldo
Again therefore in his pain Maedhros begged that he would slay him; but Fingon cut off his hand above the wrist, and Thorondor bore them back to Mithrim.
There Maedhros in time was healed; for the fire of life was hot within him, and his strength was of the ancient world, such as those possessed who were nurtured in Valinor. His body recovered from his torment and became hale, but the shadow of his pain was in his heart; and he lived to wield his sword with left hand more deadly than his right had been. ~ (Of the Return of the Noldor, Silmarillion)
Beleg, a Grey-elf
Now Beleg was sorely wounded, but he was mighty among the Elves of Middle-earth, and he was moreover a master of healing. Therefore he did not die, and slowly his strength returned ~ (Of Túrin Turambar, Silmarillion)
In the morning Beleg, being swiftly healed of his pains, after the manner of the Elven-folk of old, spoke to Túrin apart. ~ (Narn i Hîn Húrin, UT)
Now was it that it came into the heart of Beleg the hunter of the Elves to seek after Turin so soon as his own hurts were healed. This being done in no great number of days, for he had a skill of healing... ~ ITurambar and the Foaloke, BOLT2)
Two things to note: Beleg is a Grey-elf, yet his powers of healing are considerable (and exceptional).
General comments on Elven self-healing
The following very late passage explicitly outlines the exceptional endurance and self-healing powers of Elves.
They were thus capable of far greater and longer physical exertions (in pursuit of some dominant purpose of their minds) without weariness; they were not subject to diseases; they healed rapidly and completely after injuries that would have proved fatal to Men; and they could endure great physical pain for long periods. Their bodies could not, however, survive vital injuries, or violent assaults upon their structure; nor replace missing members (such as a hand hewn off). ~ (Author's notes, Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, Morgoth's Ring)
FÃ«a: The Role of the Spirit in Healing
...at least in Elven Healing
Body and spirit are both integral to healing. But what ARE body and spirit? Apparently there are two worlds, the physical, and the spirit world. High-elves, the Noldor, are unique in being able to consciously exist in both:
'Here in Rivendell there live still some of his chief foes: the Elven-wise, lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas. They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power.' 'I thought that I saw a white figure that shone and did not grow dim like the others. Was that Glorfindel then?' 'Yes, you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the Firstborn.' (Many Meetings, FOTR)
"Spirit", called Fëa in Quenya, is the inner nature, energy, or soul of a living creature. When Frodo put on the Ring, I think, he was drawn into the spirit-world, where the Ringwraiths' spirits still exist although their bodies have long since decayed. Irrelevent to healing, save that the body/spirit dichotomy seems to appear again and again in examples of healing. For instance, after Lúthien dies her father falls very ill, and when she returns to life she must touch him to remove what is a spiritual malady:
It is said that Beren and Lúthien returned to the northern lands of Middle-earth, and dwelt together for a time as living man and woman; and they took up again their mortal form in Doriath. Those that saw them were both glad and fearful; and Lúthien went to Menegroth and healed the winter of Thingol with the touch of her hand. ~ (Of the Fifth Battle, Silmarillion)
Healing of the spirit is both literal, in the sense of the soul, and metaphorical, in the sense of hope versus despair.
In later days he [Olórin] dearly loved the Children of Eru, and took pity on their sorrows. Those who hearkened to him arose from despair; and in their hearts the desire to heal and to renew awoke, and thoughts of fair things that had not yet been but might yet be made for the enrichment of Arda. ~ ( §10b, Later Quenta Silmarillion, Morgoth's Ring)
Words, touch, and song all play a factor in healing hearts and spirits.
Healing Case Studies
Examples of Healing in the Canon of Tolkien's Writings
Tolkien never wrote out the mechanics of how healing (magical or otherwise) worked in his Middle-Earth, or what kinds of healing lore and skill different people had. So if you're a gamer trying to roleplay/write a Middle-Earth healer, the best thing to do is to pick a similar example in canon as a model! Below, I excerpt ALL the examples of healing that I could find, not just in LOTR, but in Tolkien's postumously-published work.
Case Study I: Frodo's Morgul-Knife Wound
In "The Flight to the Ford" Chapter of Fellowship of the Ring
Preparation for healing
When he heard what Frodo had to tell, he became full of concern, and shook his head and sighed. Then he ordered Pippin and Merry to heat as much water as they could in their small kettles, and to bathe the wound with it. 'Keep the fire going well, and keep Frodo warm!' he said.
Aragorn first seeks clues about Frodo's wound by listening to the patient's report. He then orders water to be boiled (useful for cleaning cuts or preparing herbs) and for the patient to be kept warm.
...the blade seemed to melt, and vanished like a smoke in the air, leaving only the hilt in Strider's hand. 'Alas!' he cried. 'It was this accursed knife that gave the wound. Few now have the skill in healing to match such evil weapons. But I will do what I can.'
He sat down on the ground, and taking the dagger-hilt laid it on his knees, and he sang over it a slow song in a strange tongue. Then setting it aside, he turned to Frodo and in a soft tone spoke words the others could not catch. From the pouch at his belt he drew out the long leaves of a plant.
'These leaves,' he said, 'I have walked far to find; for this plant does not grow in the bare hills; but in the thickets away south of the Road I found it in the dark by the scent of its leaves.' He crushed a leaf in his fingers, and it gave out a sweet and pungent fragrance. 'It is fortunate that I could find it, for it is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle-earth. Athelas they named it, and it grows now sparsely and only near places where they dwelt or camped of old; and it is not known in the North, except to some of those who wander in the Wild. It has great virtues, but over such a wound as this its healing powers may be small.'
He threw the leaves into boiling water and bathed Frodo's shoulder. The fragrance of the steam was refreshing, and those that were unhurt felt their minds calmed and cleared. The herb had also some power over the wound, for Frodo felt the pain and also the sense of frozen cold lessen in his side; but the life did not return to his arm, and he could not raise or use his hand.
Aragorn recognizes that there is some spell or power in the blade, and combats it by singing— over the hilt, and over Frodo, as if he must combat both weapon and wound. His "strange words" may be Elvish, but we don't know the language. The key here is that Aragorn is evidently trying to combat bad magic with magic channelled through song or special words.
Only then does he treat the wound. He throws athelas into boiling water and bathes the whole area, which by now is growing numb and cold. The athelas seems to "have power over the wound" but not heal it; possibly it slows the evil influence of the shard, or gives the body strength to resist, or simply encourages circulation. The fragrance also eases the spirits of those who breathe it. It doesn't say explicitly that Aragorn bound the wound, but I can't imagine one would leave a knife-wound uncovered.
Strider said that Frodo must be kept warm, especially at night, while fire would be some protection for them all.
Glorfindel: a Second Opinion
Briefly Strider told of the attack on their camp under Weathertop, and of the deadly knife. He drew out the hilt, which he had kept, and handed it to the Elf. Glorfindel shuddered as he took it, but he looked intently at it.
'There are evil things written on this hilt,' he said; 'though maybe your eyes cannot see them. Keep it, Aragorn, till we reach the house of Elrond! But be wary, and handle it as little as you may! Alas! the wounds of this weapon are beyond my skill to heal. I will do what I can - but all the more do I urge you now to go on without rest.'
He searched the wound on Frodo's shoulder with his fingers, and his face grew graver, as if what he learned disquieted him. But Frodo felt the chill lessen in his side and arm; a little warmth crept down from his shoulder to his hand, and the pain grew easier. The dusk of evening seemed to grow lighter about him, as if a cloud had been withdrawn. He saw his friends' faces more clearly again, and a measure of new hope and strength returned.
Glorfindel first gathers information and investigates the weapon. He commands it to be kept. Either he thinks another healer may discover more information, or he thinks that Elrond, like Aragorn, may be able to do something magical with the hilt to affect the injury.
Glorfindel then examines the wound by touch. He can sense something beneath the surface, but it is unclear what exactly he suspects. Glorfindel's touch also has the same effect on Frodo as athelas: it eases his spirit, the cold, the pain, and his vision problems (which I think are caused by the Morgul-knife slowly drawing Frodo into the wraith world and away from the visible one).
Elrond's healing (from following chapter, "Many Meetings")
'How do the side and shoulder feel now?'
'I don't know.' Frodo answered. 'They don't feel at all: which is an improvement, but'—he made an effort—'I can move my arm again a little. Yes, it is coming back to life. It is not cold,' he added, touching his left hand with his right.
'Good!' said Gandalf. 'It is mending fast. You will soon be sound again. Elrond has cured you: he has tended you for days, ever since you were brought in.'
'Days?' said Frodo.
'Well, four nights and three days, to be exact. [...] Elrond is a master of healing, but the weapons of our Enemy are deadly. To tell you the truth, I had very little hope; for I suspected that there was some fragment of the blade still in the closed wound. But it could not be found until last night. Then Elrond removed a splinter. It was deeply buried, and it was working inwards.'
Frodo shuddered, remembering the cruel knife with notched blade that had vanished in Strider's hands. 'Don't be alarmed!' said Gandalf. 'It is gone now. It has been melted.'
Elrond tended him for days, but we don't know how -- spells, chants, herbs, or by touch as Glorfindel did. These were delaying actions only, until he found and removed the splinter. It is hard to guess whether Elrond did surgery or used some form of magic or art to coax the splinter out. Possibly the latter, since Frodo is able to move his arm and get up immediately afterwards, which is unlikely if Elrond had to cut out something that was "deeply buried". The wound never fully heals— it leaves a spiritual mark which makes Frodo's hand slightly transparent to Gandalf's eyes, and which makes him feel weak and sick on the anniversary of the wounding, or when the Witch-king is near.
Case Study II: Healing Sword-Cuts, Bruises With Athelas
Frodo and Sam after escaping Moria, Fellowship of the Ring
While Gimli and the two younger hobbits kindled a fire of brush- and fir-wood, and drew water, Aragorn tended Sam and Frodo. Sam's wound was not deep, but it looked ugly, and Aragorn's face was grave as he examined it. After a moment he looked up with relief.
'Good luck, Sam!' he said. 'Many have received worse than this in payment for the slaying of their first orc. The cut is not poisoned, as the wounds of orc-blades too often are. It should heal well when I have tended it. Bathe it when Gimli has heated water.'
He opened his pouch and drew out some withered leaves. 'They are dry and some of their virtue has gone,' he said, 'but here I have still some of the leaves of athelas that I gathered near Weathertop. Crush one in the water, and wash the wound clean, and I will bind it.' ~ (Lothlórien, FOTR)
First, Aragorn investigates the wound. He determines that it is not poisoned (suggesting that orc poisons are sap or other substances which leave visible traces). Meanwhile, Aragorn has others boiling water. Aragorn instructs someone to crush an athelas-leaf in boiling water and use this water to cleanse the wound. Then he will bind it. Note that Aragorn says the plant's virtue (power) is lessened by age/drying. With the Black Breath, the "hands of a king" make a major impact on the effectiveness of the herb, but here, Aragorn is evidently not concerned about who is applying the herb— otherwise, in light of the fact that the virtue of the athelas was already "lessened", he probably would have applied it himself to retain as much of its potency as possible.
Aragorn healing Frodo's contusions from same battle
There was a dark and blackened bruise on Frodo's right side and breast. Under the mail there was a shirt of soft leather, but at one point the rings had been driven through it into the flesh. Frodo's left side also was scored and bruised where he had been hurled against the wall. While the others set the food ready. Aragorn bathed the hurts with water in which athelas was steeped. The pungent fragrance filled the dell, and all those who stooped over the steaming water felt refreshed and strengthened. Soon Frodo felt the pain leave him, and his breath grew easy: though he was stiff and sore to the touch for many days. Aragorn bound some soft pads of cloth at his side. ~ (Lothlórien, FOTR)
As usual, Aragorn first investigates the wound. Then he bathes the bruises in the same athelas infusion that has been prepared for Sam. The fragrance restores the strength and spirits of the party. The infusion, applied to the wound, removes most of the immediate pain; Frodo afterward remains "stiff and sore" probably meaning that it hurts when touched. To mitigate this, Aragorn includes padding when he finishes treatment by binding the injury.
Case Study III: Gimli's Axe-Wound
Following the Battle of Helm's Deep, in The Two Towers
He had no helm, and about his head was a linen band stained with blood; but his voice was loud and strong.[...] In spite of his hurt the dwarf would not stay behind. 'It was only a feeble blow and the cap turned it,' he said. 'It would take more than such an orc-scratch to keep me back.' 'I will tend it, while you rest,' said Aragorn. ~ (The Road to Isengard, TTT)
Not much detail here, but first, it tells us the Riders have physical healing arts, and second, that bandages can be made of linen. Aragorn believes he can do more to accelerate the healing, perhaps by cleansing it, or perhaps by using herblore or other skills.
Case Study IV: Frodo's Amputated Finger
"The Pelennor Fields," Return of the King
He sat up and then he saw that Frodo was lying beside him, and slept peacefully, one hand behind his head, and the other resting upon the coverlet. It was the right hand, and the third finger was missing.[...]'The fourteenth of the New Year,' said Gandalf; 'or if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning. But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King. He has tended you, and now he awaits you. ~ (The Field of Cormallen, ROTK)
Thirteen days after having his finger bitten off, Frodo is not wearing any bandages. One must assume that the wound is completely healed over. That seems fast for an amputation, particularly a ragged one like a bite. We do not know exactly what Aragorn did, but also keep in mind that Frodo and Sam had been overcome by noxious fumes before they were rescued, and were nearly dead. Aragorn had to treat them for exhaustion, dehydration, and probably lung damage, which explains why both of them were unconscious for nearly two weeks.
Case Study V: Athelas vs. Black Breath (Faramir)
...And the Lore of Kingsfoil in Return of the King
There is something in the line of Elendil that grants its heirs special healing powers apart even from the other Númenorean-blooded nobles of the city. Remember, this is a common motif in legends: the "healing king" appears in many tales.
'Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.' ~ (Ioreth in the Houses of Healing, ROTK)
Healing the Black Breath: Preliminary steps
Aragorn went first to Faramir, and then to the Lady Éowyn, and last to Merry. When he had looked on the faces of the sick and seen their hurts he sighed. 'Here I must put forth all such power and skill as is given to me,' he said. 'Would that Elrond were here, for he is the eldest of all our race, and has the greater power.'
Aragorn first examines the patients, as usual. He states that Elrond is the eldest of his race and has greater healing power. Which race? Not Men, of course. Aragorn shares with Elrond the blood of Lúthien (whose healing powers are known and unique, since she is half Maia), and of two Elves, Idril and Nimloth. It is hard to say whether the Elf-blood itself gives them any special powers, or whether the Maia strain is the origin of their healing abilities. On the one hand, Glorfindel obviously has some healing abilities as a High-elf. On the other hand, Elrond, only half-elven, is a better healer.Gondorian athelas lore
'Have you athelas?'
'I do not know, I am sure, lord,' she answered, 'at least not by that name. I will go and ask of the herb-master; he knows all the old names.'
'It is also called kingsfoil,' said Aragorn; 'and maybe you know it by that name, for so the country-folk call it in these latter days.'
Oh that!' said Ioreth. 'Well, if your lordship had named it at first I could have told you. No, we have none of it, I am sure. Why, I have never heard that it had any great virtue; and indeed I have often said to my sisters when we came upon it growing in the woods: kingsfoil I said, 'tis a strange name, and I wonder why 'tis called so; for if I were a king, I would have plants more bright in my garden. Still it smells sweet when bruised, does it not? If sweet is the right word: wholesome, maybe, is nearer.'
This is indicative that its properties have been forgotten in Gondor, not necessarily that it doesn't have any.
Thereupon the herb-master entered. 'Your lordship asked for kingsfoil, as the rustics name it, he said; or athelas in the noble tongue, or to those who know somewhat of the Valinorean. . .'
'I do so,' said Aragorn, 'and I care not whether you say now asëa aranion or kingsfoil, so long as you have some.''
'our pardon lord!' said the man. 'I see you are a lore-master, not merely a captain of war. But alas! sir, we do not keep this thing in the Houses of Healing, where only the gravely hurt or sick are tended. For it has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness. Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days which women such as our good Ioreth still repeat without understanding.When the black breath blows
and death's shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!It is but a doggerel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives. Its meaning I leave to your judgement, if indeed it has any. But old folk still use an infusion of the herb for headaches.'
'Then in the name of the king, go and find some old man of less lore and more wisdom who keeps some in his house!' cried Gandalf.
The old folk remember that an infusion helps headaches, and the rhyme says that athelas is especially effective against the Black Breath, but Aragorn’s use of it elsewhere in LOTR shows it has multiple uses, only some of which depend on him applying it personally. It is hard to say whether Elves in general could combat Black Breath, or only those with Maia ancestry.
Now Aragorn knelt beside Faramir, and held a hand upon his brow. And those that watched felt that some great struggle was going on. For Aragorn's face grew grey with weariness; and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing, as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked afar in some dark vale, calling for one that was lost.
And at last Bergil came running in, and he bore six leaves in a cloth. 'It is kingsfoil, Sir,' he said; 'but not fresh, I fear. It must have been culled two weeks ago at the least. I hope it will serve, Sir?' Then looking at Faramir he burst into tears.
But Aragorn smiled. 'It will serve,' he said. 'The worst is now over. Stay and be comforted!' Then taking two leaves, he laid them on his hands and breathed on them, and then he crushed them, and straightway a living freshness filled the room, as if the air itself awoke and tingled, sparkling with joy. And then he cast the leaves into the bowls of steaming water that were brought to him, and at once all hearts were lightened. For the fragrance that came to each was like a memory of dewy mornings of unshadowed sun in some land of which the fair world in Spring is itself but a fleeting memory. But Aragorn stood up as one refreshed, and his eyes smiled as he held a bowl before Faramir's dreaming face.
'Well now! Who would have believed it?' said Ioreth to a woman that stood beside her. 'The weed is better than I thought. It reminds me of the roses of Imloth Melui when I was a lass, and no king could ask for better.''
Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes, and he looked on Aragorn who bent over him; and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes, and he spoke softly. 'My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?'
'Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!' said Aragorn. 'You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.'
While waiting, Aragorn first attempts to call Faramir's spirit back from despair and bad dreams, with a hand on his brow. It is a form of mind-to-mind communication between healer and patient (which does not happen with Éowyn or Merry; evidently both parties must have Númenorean blood.) Once Aragorn receives the herb, he crushes the leaves in boiling water, and those who smell the fragrance feel renewed strength and hope. He then holds up the bowl to Faramir's face and lets him breathe it. This is all it takes to rouse Faramir, who hoped for the king. Also notice that Aragorn uses two leaves for each patient, dividing his whole supply among them; he used less for Frodo and Sam earlier, on lesser wounds.
Case Study V: Athelas vs. Black Breath (Ãowyn, Merry)
Varying Treatment According to Patient's Spirit
But Aragorn came to Éowyn, and he said: 'Here there is a grievous hurt and a heavy blow. The arm that was broken has been tended with due skill, and it will mend in time, if she has the strength to live: It is the shield-arm that is maimed; but the chief evil comes through the sword-arm. In that there now seems no life, although it is unbroken.'
'I have, maybe, the power to heal her body, and to recall her from the dark valley. But to what she will awake: hope, or forgetfulness, or despair, I do not know. And if to despair, then she will die, unless other healing comes which I cannot bring. Alas! for her deeds have set her among the queens of great renown.'
Then Aragorn stooped and looked in her face, and it was indeed white as a lily, cold as frost, and hard as graven stone. But he bent and kissed her on the brow, and called her softly, saying:
Éowyn Éomund's daughter, awake! For your enemy has passed away!'
She did not stir, but now she began again to breathe deeply, so that her breast rose and fell beneath the white linen of the sheet. Once more Aragorn bruised two leaves of athelas and cast them into steaming water; and he laved her brow with it, and her right arm lying cold and nerveless on the coverlet.
Then, whether Aragorn had indeed some forgotten power of Westernesse, or whether it was but his words of the Lady Éowyn that wrought on them, as the sweet influence of the herb stole about the chamber it seemed to those who stood by that a keen wind blew through the window, and it bore no scent, but was an air wholly fresh and clean and young, as if it had not before been breathed by any living thing and came new-made from snowy mountains high beneath a dome of stars, or from shores of silver far away washed by seas of foam.
'Awake, Éowyn, Lady of Rohan!' said Aragorn again, and he took her right hand in his and felt it warm with life returning. 'Awake! The shadow is gone and all darkness is washed clean!' Then he laid her hand in Éomer's and stepped away. 'Call her!' he said, and he passed silently from the chamber.
'Éowyn, Éowyn!' cried Éomer amid his tears. But she opened her eyes and said: 'Éomer! What joy is this? For they said that you were slain. Nay, but that was only the dark voices in my dream. How long have I been dreaming?'
This treatment is different, using more direct physical contact. Aragorn investigates her condition first and checks that her broken arm has already been tended appropriately. Before he uses the athelas, he calls to her and encourages her spirit, but only verbally. Again the athelas uplifts and restores those who breathe its fragrance. He bathes both her injured arm and her brow to rouse her. The bathing of the arm restores its warmth. Aragorn's treatment causes Éowyn to stir, but he is unable to reach her spirit, so Éomer must do the calling to finish the healing.
I see this as proof that NON trained healers may have some effect, in wounds which are spiritual not physical... but only in certain ways. Éomer could not have called to her in the manner Aragorn did to Faramir, mind to mind. He could only call to her aloud, as Aragorn had a moment before. A non-healer cannot do "magic". Finally note that Aragorn put Éowyn's hand in Éomer's to help: physical contact is important, not just for mending the body, but the soul. (All of which is common sense, of course, but some physicians forget that component.)
'Do not be afraid,' said Aragorn. 'I came in time, and I have called him back. He is weary now, and grieved, and he has taken a hurt like the Lady Éowyn, daring to smite that deadly thing. But these evils can be amended, so strong and gay a spirit is in him. His grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom.'
Then Aragorn laid his hand on Merry's head, and passing his hand gently through the brown curls, he touched the eyelids, and called him by name. And when the fragrance of athelas stole through the room, like the scent of orchards, and of heather in the sunshine full of bees, suddenly Merry awoke, and he said:
'I am hungry. What is the time?'
Aragorn calls Merry first. He then places his hand on Merry's brow: he seems to be concentrating his efforts there for all three patients, as if this helps against the Black Breath (or, more generally, afflictions of spirit). The fragrance of the athelas is as usual noticeable, and this time there is no mention of whether Aragorn even brings it near the patient. Even though Merry stabbed the Nazgûl, he does not seem to have any lasting effects on his arm, as Éowyn did. This is evidently due to the "strong and gay spirit" in Merry and (I assume) the legendary resilience of Halflings.
Aragorn and Gandalf went now to the Warden of the Houses of Healing, and they counselled him that Faramir and Éowyn should remain there and still be tended with care for many days.
The Lady Éowyn,' said Aragorn, 'will wish soon to rise and depart; but she should not be permitted to do so, if you can in any way restrain her, until at least ten days be passed.'
As for Faramir,' said Gandalf, 'he must soon learn that his father is dead. But the full tale of the madness of Denethor should not be told to him, until he is quite healed and has duties to do. See that Beregond and the perian who were present do not speak to him of these things yet!'
'And the other perian Meriadoc who is under my care, what of him?' said the Warden.
'It is likely that he will be fit to arise tomorrow, for a short while,' said Aragorn. 'Let him do so, if he wishes. He may walk a little in the care of his friends.'
Again, we see the Hobbit is more resilient than both humans, although they are trained warriors. The Black Breath is an affliction of the spirit, and Aragorn advises the healers to prevent the patients from hearing things which may dampen their spirits.
Case Study VI: LÃºthien Heals Beren's Arrow-Wound
The Most In-Depth Example We Have of Elven (?) Healing
Curufin shot again, and Beren sprang before Lúthien, and the dart smote him in the breast.
It is told that Huan pursued the sons of Fëanor, and they fled in fear; and returning he brought to Lúthien a herb out of the forest. With that leaf he staunched Beren's wound, and by her arts and by her love she healed him; and thus at last they returned to Doriath. ~ (Of Beren and Lúthien, Silmarillion)
The following is the fullest account I can find of Elven healing, and unfortunately we run into the old problem: how many of Lúthien's powers (or those of Elrond and Aragorn) are due to her Maia mother? But a detailed examination suggests most of what she does is possible for ordinary Elves.
Now sank she weeping at the side
of Beren, and sought to stem the tide
of welling blood that flowed there fast.
The raiment from his breast she cast;
from shoulder plucked the arrow keen;
his wound with tears she washed it clean.
The first step was to clear the area of the wound, cleanse it, and remove foreign matter (the arrow). Her weeping may not be merely poetic; Lúthien's tears elsewhere are said to have healing properties, so she may have been using them to stem the blood-flow. (If so, I suspect it's due to her Maia powers not Elven).
Then Huan came and bore a leaf,**
of all the herbs of healing chief,
that evergreen in woodland glade
there grew with broad and hoary blade.
The powers of all grasses Huan knew,
who wide did forest-paths pursue.
Therewith the smart he swift allayed,
This herb eases the "smart", that is, the pain of the wound, and is called the most powerful of herbs. See below at ** for the likelihood that this is athelas.
while Luthien murmuring in the shade
the staunching song, that Elvish wives
long years had sung in those sad lives
of war and weapons, wove o'er him.
A key passage: Lúthien's song is a specific song or incantation used by Elven women to "staunch" a wound, that is, to slow the blood loss, and to heal injuries caused by weapons. A very specific sort of song— dare one say a spell? like that which Aragorn sang over the hilt of the Morgul-knife and Frodo's injury therefrom. The song itself may not be magical; Beren, for instance, probably could not use it. Rather, it may help the healer channel her will towards a desired effect. And there could be other staunching-songs, or one might use one's will without a song at all. But perhaps, like a brace used by a carpenter to steady his hand, it may aid the healer in achieving the state of mind needed to conjure healing energy.
The shadows fell from mountains grim.
Then sprang about the darkened North
the Sickle of the Gods, and forth
each star there stared in stony night
radiant, glistering cold and white.
But on the ground there is a glow,
a spark of red that leaps below:
under woven boughs beside a fire
of crackling wood and sputtering briar
there Beren lies in drowsing deep,
walking and wandering in sleep.
After treating the wound, Lúthien keeps the patient warm. Vital for most sorts of physical injuries that include shock or blood loss.
Watchful bending o'er him wakes
a maiden fair; his thirst she slakes,
Keep the patient hydrated.
his brow caresses, and softly croons
a song more potent than in runes
or leeches' lore hath since been writ.
Another song or chant or spell. Does it speed his recovery? Anchor his spirit? Encourage the body to knit itself? We do not know, but it is "leeches' lore" meaning medical knowledge, not simply some power she has from her mother. (Leech is an old term for a healer.)
Slowly the nightly watches flit.
The misty morning crawleth grey
from dusk to the reluctant day.
Then Beren woke and opened eyes
and rose and cried: 'Neath other skies,
in lands more awful and unknown,
I wandered long, methought, alone
to the deep shadow where the dead dwell;
but ever a voice that I knew well,
like bells, like viols, like harps, like birds,
like music moving without words,
called me, called me through the night,
enchanted drew me back to light!
Healed the wound, assuaged the pain!'
Beren reports that Lúthien called to his spirit mind to mind, just as Aragorn did for Faramir, Éowyn, and Merry. She did this with her singing, with her touch, and, I guess, with her will/spirit.
~ 3112ff, (Lay of Leithian, Lays of Beleriand)** 3119. Against this line my father wrote in the margin of the B-text the word athelas. ~ Commentary for this canto.
Case Study VII: LÃºthien Tends Beren's Severed Hand
She can't replace the hand, but at least she can save his life...THIS time.
There the eagles laid her at Beren's side and returned to the peaks of Crissaegrim and their high eyries; but Huan came to her, and together they tended Beren, even as before when she healed him of the wound that Curufin gave to him. But this wound was fell and poisonous. Long Beren lay, and his spirit wandered upon the dark borders of death, knowing every an anguish that pursued him from dream to dream. Then suddenly, when her hope was almost spent, he woke again, ~ (Of Beren and Lúthien, Silmarillion)
She "healed him as before", evidently using the same techniques, but the poison makes it more difficult. Another version of the same tale adds:
Tinuviel wept over the maimed arm of Beren kissing it often, so that behold it bled not, and pain left it, and was healed by the tender healing of her love. ~ Tale of Tinúviel, BOLT2
Spirit — in this case her love — is a factor, and her weeping and kisses staunch the blood and ease the pain. This may of course be the poetic embellishment of a storyteller, rather than literal, but I am inclined to think it may be true because of the following:
'Lo, I have heard that the magic of Tinuviel's tender kisses healed Beren, and recalled his spirit from the gates of Mandos, and long time he dwelt among the Lost Elves wandering the glades in love with sweet Tinuviel.' But another said: 'Nay, that was not so...' ~ Tale of Tinúviel, BOLT2
This passage is in reference to Beren's death during the hunt for Carcaroth. The dispute is over whether her kisses healed him. Another then points out that she died, and had to go to Mandos to beg the gods to let him live. However, it sounds like her kisses were known to have healing properties!
But it is said in song that her tears falling from on high as she passed came like silver raindrops on the plain, and there a fountain sprang to life: the Fountain of Tinuviel, Eithel Ninui, most healing water until it withered in the flame. ~ (Commentary on an early draft of Quenta Silmarillion, Lost Road)
Her tears are most definitely known to have healing properties. In both cases, however, these are probably unique powers of Lúthien's, which she inherited from her divine mother. I doubt even the most powerful Vanya would have such abilities.
Objects With Healing Properties
Healing Potions? Well, Sort Of.
"Healing Potions" that cure injury have become a stock item of fantasy games which almost all, in some way or other, derive some game mechanics and motifs from Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien, as usual, is more subtle. There are stones that assist in healing, herbs with restorative properties, and food and drink that sustain and reinvigorate the body, but they tend to enhance the body's own energies or boost a healer's native powers. They do not bestow abilities the healer lacks. So, for example, a Hobbit couldn't use the Elessar as Aragorn did.
Here is a list of all the healing-related items I've found in Tolkien's writings.
The "Cordial of Imladris"
'This will be the death of the halflings, Gandalf,' said Boromir. 'It is useless to sit here until the snow goes over our heads. We must do something to save ourselves.'
'Give them this,' said Gandalf, searching in his pack and drawing out a leathern flask. 'Just a mouthful each — for all of us. It is very precious. It is miruvor, the cordial of Imladris. Elrond gave it to me at our parting. Pass it round!'
As soon as Frodo had swallowed a little of the warm and fragrant liquor he felt a new strength of heart, and the heavy drowsiness left his limbs. The others also revived and found fresh hope and vigour. ~ (The Ring Goes South, FOTR)
It was evening, and the grey light was again waning fast, when they halted for the night. They were very weary... Gandalf spared them one more mouthful each of the miruvor of Rivendell. When they had eaten some food he called a council. ~ (A Journey in the Dark, FOTR)
'Let us sit and rest and have something to eat, here on the landing, since we can't find a dining-room!' said Frodo. He had begun to shake off the terror of the clutching arm, and suddenly he felt extremely hungry.
The proposal was welcomed by all; and they sat down on the upper steps, dim figures in the gloom. After they had eaten, Gandalf gave them each a third sip of the miruvor of Rivendell. ~ (A Journey in the Dark, FOTR)
It is called the "cordial of Imladris" or "miruvor of Rivendell", and therefore must be something unique to that valley; other Elves would probably not use it. It's unclear whether anyone besides Elrond would be allowed to dispense miruvor; it may simply have been a parting-gift from Elrond, then again, he may hold sole authority over its use, just as Melian and Galadriel are the only ones who ever give out lembas.
Miruvor removes weariness and restores bodily strength, and it raises spirits when people are tired and discouraged.
Special Streams or Waters
'Here is Nimrodel!' said Legolas [...]'I will bathe my feet, for it is said that the water is healing to the weary.'[...] Frodo stood near the brink and let the water flow over his tired feet. It was cold but its touch was clean, and as he went on and it mounted to his knees, he felt that the stain of travel and all weariness was washed from his limbs. ~ (Lothlórien, FOTR)
Yet another example of healing that removes weariness. Also remember the fountain of Lúthien's tears in Gondolin.
Herbs and Salves
...and Lissuin, perhaps?
There did all the people flock to meet them when their approach was noised among them, and some bore them meat and cool drinks and salves and healing things for their hurts, and but for the harm that Beren had met great indeed had been their joy. ~ (Tale of Tinúviel, BOLT2)
No details here, just underscoring the fact that ordinary Grey-elves had herblore and were able to make salves. They are trying to treat Beren's deadly injury from Carcaroth, but he dies soon after.
Thus the Eldar graced the wedding of Erendis, for love of the people of the Westlands, who were closest in their friendship. Their ship was laden with flowers for the adornment of the feast, so that all that sat there, when evening was come, were crowned with elanor and sweet lissuin whose fragrance brings heart's ease. ~ (Aldarion and Erendis, UT)
Lissuin: "whose fragrance brings heart's ease" could merely be a poetic description of a particularly lovely flower. Or, possibly, the flower could have some bona-fide properties to soothe the spirit, a common theme of healing in Tolkien's writing. Some Tolkien scholars have guessed that this flower's name means "ever-sweet" from the ui ending which appears in Fanuilos (everwhite) and other words, and from the lis root meaning "honey" or "sweet" (see ETYMOLOGIES, LR, and Ardalambion's analysis of lissÃ« in Galadriel's lament).
Powerful Herb, Or the Herb of the King?
Numerous examples of healing discussed in the case studies above. Aragorn employed it for a sword-wound on Sam's scalp (where he gave the athelas to Gimli and Sam to use), Frodo's bruises, the Morgul-knife wound, and the Black Breath. Lúthien used it to heal Beren's arrow-wound-- if that was really supposed to be athelas. In that passage it's said to be the most potent healing herb.
[note: In the course of writing LOTR, Tolkien changed his mind about athelas' origin. First draft of LOTR:
'it is a healing plant, known only to Elves, and to some of those who walk in the wild: athelas they name it.' (Commentary, "From Weathertop to the Ford", The Return of the Shadow)
The published version goes:
'These leaves,' he said, 'I have walked far to find; for this plant does not grow in the bare hills; but in the thickets away south of the Road I found it in the dark by the scent of its leaves.' He crushed a leaf in his fingers, and it gave out a sweet and pungent fragrance. 'It is fortunate that I could find it, for it is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle-earth. Athelas they named it, and it grows now sparsely and only near places where they dwelt or camped of old; and it is not known in the North, except to some of those who wander in the Wild. It has great virtues, but over such a wound as this its healing powers may be small.' (Flight to the Ford, FOTR)
A handy detail: it doesn't grow on bare hills, only in thickets, and as usual the sweet scent is very noticeable.
So here we have a dilemma. In the Lay of Leithian, written before Lord of the Rings, athelas is used by Lúthien and is said to be the most powerful healing herb. But Aragorn says it's Númenorean. We could resolve the discrepancy by assuming it existed in Beleriand, but it was lost when Beleriand sank, save that some of it was preserved and taken to Númenor, where it was re-introduced to Middle-earth. Evidently it is rare in the north, and I would further suggest the Elves might use it sparingly, only for the most serious wounds, lest they lose this precious herb by overharvesting. That would prevent godmodding. So would a reminder that even athelas, powerful as it is, does not instantly heal, although it lessens pain and seems to restore warmth (circulation) to injured areas. It heals the spirit, too, but that may be in combination with Aragorn's (and Lúthien's) unique Maia descent.
The Queen's Bread
Lembas has restorative properties, and is given to travellers to sustain them through hardship on difficult journeys. The queens or leading women among the Eldar are its custodians and choose when and to whom it may be gifted:
'Another gift I will give to you, Cúthalion,' said Melian, 'that shall be your help in the wild, and the help also of those whom you choose.' And she gave him store of lembas, the waybread of the Elves, wrapped in leaves of silver, and the threads that bound it were sealed at the knots with the seal of the Queen, a wafer of white wax shaped as a single flower of Telperion; for according to the customs of the Eldalië the keeping and giving of lembas belonged to the Queen alone. In nothing did Melian show greater favour to Túrin than in this gift; for the Eldar had never before allowed Men to use this waybread, and seldom did so again. (Of Túrin Turambar, Silmarillion)
Beleg yielding to his love against his wisdom remained with him, and did not depart, and in that time he laboured much for the good of Túrin's company. Those that were hurt or sick he tended, and gave to them the lembas of Melian; and they were quickly healed, for though the Grey-elves were less in skill and knowledge than the Exiles from Valinor, in the ways of the life of Middle-earth they had a wisdom beyond the reach of Men. ~ (Of Túrin Turambar, Silmarillion)
'But we call it lembas or waybread, and it is more strengthening than any food made by Men...these things are given to serve you when all else fails. The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them. One will keep a traveller on his feet for a day of long labour, even if he be one of the tall Men of Minas Tirith.' (Farewell to Lórien, FOTR)
A very late text explains the origins of lembas and its great value.
'This food the Eldar alone knew how to make. It was made for
the comfort of those who had need to go upon a long journey
in the wild, or of the hurt whose life was in peril. Only these
were permitted to use it. The Eldar did not give it to Men, save
only to a few whom they loved, if they were in great need.*
The Eldar say that they first received this food from the Valar
in the beginning of their days in the Great Journey. For it was
made of a kind of corn which Yavanna brought forth in the
fields of Aman, and some she sent to them by the hand of
Oromë for their succour upon the long march.
Since it came from Yavanna, the queen, or the highest among the elven-women of any people, great or small, had the keeping and gift of the lembas, for which reason she was called massánie or besain, the Lady, or breadgiver.
Now this corn had in it the strong life of Aman, which it could impart to those who had the need and right to use the bread. If it was sown at any season, save in frost, it soon sprouted and grew swiftly, though it did not thrive in the shadow of plants of Middle-earth and would not endure winds that came out of the North while Morgoth dwelt there. Else it needed only a little sunlight to ripen; for it took swiftly and multiplied all the vigour of any light that fell on it.
(* This was not done out of greed or jealousy, although at no time in
Middle-earth was there great store of this food; but because the Eldar
had been commanded to keep this gift in their own power, and not to
make it common to the dwellers in mortal lands. For it is said that, if
mortals eat often of this bread, they become weary of their mortality,
desiring to abide among the Elves, and longing for the fields of Aman,
to which they cannot come.) (Of Lembas, Last Writings, HOME XII)
The Elfstone of Idril, Second Edition
There was in Gondolin a jewel-smith named Enerdhil, the greatest of that craft among the Noldor after the death of Fëanor. Enerdhil loved all green things that grew, and his greatest joy was to see the sunlight through the leaves of trees. And it came into his heart to make a jewel within which the clear light of the sun should be imprisoned, but the jewel should be green as leaves. And he made this thing, and even the Noldor marvelled at it. For it is said that those who looked through this stone saw things that were withered or burned healed again or as they were in the grace of their youth, and that the hands of one who held it brought to all that they touched healing from hurt. [...]
And indeed at Sirion's Haven there were many hurts to heal both of Men and Elves, and of beasts that fled thither from the horror of the North; and while Eärendil dwelt there they were healed and prospered, and all things were for a while green and fair.
The Elessar, the "Elfstone" was brought to Sirion's haven and used by Idril, daughter of the King of Gondolin, mother of Eärendil. Note also the powers of preservation go hand in hand with healing:
And when Olórin had told her many tidings she sighed, and said: "I grieve in Middle-earth, for leaves fall and flowers fade; and my heart yearns, remembering trees and grass that do not die. I would have these in my home." Then Olórin said: "Would you then have the Elessar?"And Galadriel said: "Where now is the Stone of Eärendil? And Enerdhil is gone who made it." "Who knows?" said Olórin. "Surely," said Galadriel, "they have passed over Sea as almost all fair things beside. And must Middle-earth then fade and perish for ever?" "That is its fate," said Olórin. "Yet for a little while that might be amended, if the Elessar should return. For a little until the Days of Men are come."
The Elessar's preservative properties are used by Galadriel. (The history is somewhat confused here, as some accounts say she did not dwell in Lórien until later.)
Wielding the Elessar all things grew fair about Galadriel, until the coming of the Shadow to the Forest. But afterwards when Nenya, chief of the Three," was sent to her by Celebrimbor, she needed it (as she thought) no more, and she gave it to Celebrían her daughter, and so it came to Arwen and to Aragorn who was called Elessar.
And the Elessar may have helped Aragorn prove himself king by healing people:
And Aragorn hearing him, turned and said: 'Verily, for in the high tongue of old I am Elessar, the Elfstone, and Envinyatar, the Renewer': and he lifted from his breast the green stone that lay there. ~ (The Houses of Healing, ROTK)
The Three Elven-Rings and Time Effects
Turning Back the Clock, Slightly?
because they do not count the running years, not for themselves. The passing seasons are but ripples ever repeated in the long long stream. Yet beneath the Sun all things must wear to an end at last.'
'But the wearing is slow in Lórien,' said Frodo. 'The power of the Lady is on it. Rich are the hours, though short they seem, in Caras Galadhon, where Galadriel wields the Elven-ring.' ~ (The Great River, FOTR)
Time has not stopped in Lórien and Imladris; there are still seasons, and leaves fall, and trees blossom. But the impact of time seems to be muted, and one can sometimes glimpse the past, through the present. Moreover, there is one hint that the Rings of Power -- at least those not touched by the enemy -- may actually heal wounds of body and/or spirit, not just softening the flow time:
'Thus it was that I came to Caras Galadhon and found you but lately gone. I tarried there in the ageless time of that land where days bring healing not decay. Healing I found...' ~ (The White Rider, TTT)
The days in Lórien, as in Imladris, seem to be conducive to healing, and Gandalf contrasts this to decay. Healing, in a sense, is time reversed, restoring the body to its original, stronger form, as opposed to decay, where the body is falling away from its original form.
Failure to Heal
Or, Immortal Doesn't Mean Unkillable
Celebrían wife of Elrond was journeying to Lórien when she was waylaid in the Redhorn Pass, and her escort being scattered by the sudden assault of the Orcs, she was seized and carried off. She was pursued and rescued by Elladan and Elrohir, but not before she had suffered torment and had received a poisoned wound. She was brought back to Imladris, and though healed in body by Elrond, lost all delight in Middle-earth, and the next year went to the Havens and passed over Sea. ~ Appendix A (iii), ROTK
Elrond was able to heal his wife’s physical but not spiritual injuries. Her wounds included not only the poison, but "torment in the dens of the orcs" (Many Meetings, FOTR) which doubtless included torture. As with Éowyn and the Black Breath, the state of one's spirit... hope or despair... strongly dictates the recovery of the patient. Elves do not die easily, so their bodies may live on even while their spirits are badly wounded. Evidently those whose spirits cannot heal in Middle-earth find healing in the West.
Likewise the Ringbearer takes permanent damage and must go to West to be whole.
"If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed. But wear this now in memory of Elfstone and Evenstar with whom your life has been woven!' ~ (Many Partings, ROTK)
One evening Sam came into the study and found his master looking very strange. He was very pale and his eyes seemed to see things far away.
'What's the matter, Mr. Frodo?' said Sam.
'I am wounded,' he answered, 'wounded; it will never really heal.'
But then he got up, and the turn seemed to pass, and he was quite himself the next day. It was not until afterwards that Sam recalled that the date was October the sixth. Two years before on that day it was dark in the dell under Weathertop.
Time went on, and 1421 came in. Frodo was ill again in March, but with a great effort he concealed it. ~ (The Grey Havens, ROTK)
The text mentions that Frodo always wears the jewel and often "fingers" it but it is not clear whether the jewel aids him, or whether it is truly just a token, by which he remembers Arwen and is comforted. Regardless, he feels his old wounds on the anniversary of receiving them, and that must be something spiritual, since time would make no difference for physical injuries.
What Elven and/or Healing Is
How Does It Work?
From their beginnings the chief difference between Elves and Men lay in the fate and nature of their spirits. The fear of the Elves were destined to dwell in Arda for all the life of Arda, and the death of the flesh did not abrogate that destiny. Their fear were tenacious therefore of life 'in the raiment of Arda', and far excelled the spirits of Men in power over that 'raiment', even from the first days protecting their bodies from many ills and assaults (such as disease), and healing them swiftly of injuries, so that they recovered from wounds that would have proved fatal to Men. ~ (Of the Laws and Customs Among the Eldar, Morgoth's Ring)
Possible origin of Elves' healing powers
For which reason it is said that whereas there is now great evil in Arda and many things therein are at discord, so that the good of one seemeth to be the hurt of another, nonetheless the foundations of this world are good, and it turns by nature to good, healing itself from within by the power that was set there in its making; and evil in Arda would fail and pass away if it were not renewed from without: that is: that comes from wills and being [sic] that are other than Arda itself. ~ (Myths Transformed III, Morgoth's Ring)
But beside all this Aman is called also the Blessed Realm, and in this was found its blessedness: in health and joy. For in Aman no creatures suffered any sickness or disorder of their natures; nor was there any decay or ageing more swift than the slow ageing of Arda itself. So that all things coming at last to fullness of form and virtue remained in that state, blissfully, ageing and wearying of their life and being no swifter than the Valar themselves. And this blessing also was granted to the Eldar.
On earth the Quendi suffered no sickness, and the health of their bodies was supported by the might of the longeval fear. But their bodies, being of the stuff of Arda, were nonetheless not so enduring as their spirits; for the longevity of the Quendi was derived primarily from their fear, whose nature or 'doom' was to abide in Arda until its end. Therefore, after the vitality of the hroa was expended in achieving full growth, it began to weaken or grow weary. Very slowly indeed, but to all the Quendi perceptibly. For a while it would be fortified and maintained by its indwelling fea, and then its vitality would begin to ebb, and its desire for physical life and joy in it would pass ever more swiftly away. Then an Elf would begin (as they say now, for these things did not fully appear in the Elder Days) to 'fade', until the fea as it were consumed the hroa until it remained only in the love and memory of the spirit that had inhabited it. (Myths Transformed XI, Morgoth's Ring)
The Elves' healing powers led them to desire to preserve perishable things. Sometimes they went too far with this... the Elfstone and Rings of Power were examples.
In the first we see a sort of second fall or at least 'error' of the Elves. There was nothing wrong essentially in their lingering against counsel, still sadly with the mortal lands of their old heroic deeds. But they wanted to have their cake without eating it. They wanted the peace and bliss and perfect memory of 'The West', and yet to remain on the ordinary earth where their prestige as the highest people, above wild Elves, dwarves, and Men, was greater than at the bottom of the hierarchy of Valinor. They thus became obsessed with 'fading', the mode in which the changes of time (the law of the world under the sun) was perceived by them. They became sad, and their art (shall we say) antiquarian, and their efforts all really a kind of embalming – even though they also retained the old motive of their kind, the adornment of earth, and the healing of its hurts. ~ (Letters 131)
A discussion of "Elf-magic"
I am afraid I have been far too casual about 'magic' and especially the use of the word; though Galadriel and others show by the criticism of the 'mortal' use of the word, that the thought about it is not altogether casual. But it is a v. large question, and difficult; and a story which, as you so rightly say, is largely about motives (choice, temptations etc.) and the intentions for using whatever is found in the world, could hardly be burdened with a pseudo-philosophic disquisition! I do not intend to involve myself in any debate whether 'magic' in any sense is real or really possible in the world. But I suppose that, for the purposes of the tale, some would say that there is a latent distinction such as once was called the distinction between magia and goeteia. Galadriel speaks of the 'deceits of the Enemy'. Well enough, but magia could be, was, held good (per se), and goeteia bad. Neither is, in this tale, good or bad (per se), but only by motive or purpose or use. Both sides use both, but with different motives. The supremely bad motive is (for this tale, since it is specially about it) domination of other 'free' wills. The Enemy's operations are by no means all goetic deceits, but 'magic' that produces real effects in the physical world. But his magia he uses to bulldoze both people and things, and his goeteia to terrify and subjugate. Their magia the Elves and Gandalf use (sparingly): a magia, producing real results (like fire in a wet faggot) for specific beneficent purposes. Their goetic effects are entirely artistic and not intended to deceive: they never deceive Elves (but may deceive or bewilder unaware Men) since the difference is to them as clear as the difference to us between fiction, painting, and sculpture, and 'life'.
Both sides live mainly by 'ordinary' means. The Enemy, or those who have become like him, go in for 'machinery' – with destructive and evil effects — because 'magicians', who have become chiefly concerned to use magia for their own power, would do so (do do so). The basic motive for magia – quite apart from any philosophic consideration of how it would work – is immediacy: speed, reduction of labour, and reduction also to a minimum (or vanishing point) of the gap between the idea or desire and the result or effect. But the magia may not be easy to come by, and at any rate if you have command of abundant slave-labour or machinery (often only the same thing concealed), it may be as quick or quick enough to push mountains over, wreck forests, or build pyramids by such means. Of course another factor then comes in, a moral or pathological one: the tyrants lose sight of objects, become cruel, and like smashing, hurting, and defiling as such. It would no doubt be possible to defend poor Lotho's introduction of more efficient mills; but not of Sharkey and Sandyman's use of them.
Anyway, a difference in the use of 'magic' in this story is that it is not to be come by by 'lore' or spells; but is in an inherent power not possessed or attainable by Men as such. Aragorn's 'healing' might be regarded as 'magical', or at least a blend of magic with pharmacy and 'hypnotic' processes. But it is (in theory) reported by hobbits who have very little notions of philosophy and science; while A. is not a pure 'Man', but at long remove one of the 'children of Luthien'. ~ (Letters 155)
Tolkien did not have ALL his writings at his disposal when he wrote this. He says magic is not to be come at by lore or spells. Yet Gandalf says he uses spells, and his fire-spells are spoken aloud in SINDARIN Elvish, which surely he must have adapted from the Elves. Lúthien and Aragorn both sing songs to combat wounds. They exhibit herblore, use salves and special drinks, and occasionally Elves create objects with restorative powers like gems, cordials, and waybread. Also, Aragorn mentions both skill and power, separately, saying he has skill, but Elrond has more power. Therefore, I think the distinction must be that the chants and "spells" Lúthien and Aragorn used were not inherently magical, and could not be used by those lacking special power, but instead, were a focus that allowed them to channel their will. Other words, other techniques, might be used. The effectiveness of these chants or songs would depend partly on the power of the person doing it. Thus, healing consisted of skill (knowledge of physical techniques) power (innate energy or spirit) art (the knowledge of how to use that power) and lore (herblore, other medical knowledge). Elves had powers beyond mortal kind, so all would be able to use such spells— Lúthien's "staunching song" was one used by wives in the forest of Doriath, who would have been Grey-elves— but some Elves, the High-elves, had more powerful spirits, and greater healing abilities, which might explain why Glorfindel’s touch was enough to affect even the wound caused by the Morgul-knife, at least temporarily. He was bolstering Frodo's spirit.
© 2009 tinw