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Minas Tirith Forums » Silmarillion » Gold and Silver: Tolkien's Yin and Yang?
Author Topic: Gold and Silver: Tolkien's Yin and Yang?
Thingol of Doriath
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Recent discussion about mellyrn has caused me to think of how Tolkien used gold and silver as two opposites of the same coin.

1. The Two Trees. The most obvious example...

quote:
The one had leaves of dark green that beneath were as shining silver, and from each of his countless flowers a dew of silver light was ever falling, and the earth beneath was dappled with the shadow of his fluttering leaves. The other bore leaves of a young green like the new-opened beech; their edges were of glittering gold. Flowers swung upon her branches in clusters of yellow flame, formed each to a glowing horn that spilled a golden rain upon the ground; and from the blossom of that tree there came forth warmth and a great light. Telperion the one was called in Valinor, and Silpion, and Ninquelótë, and many other names; but Laurelin the other was, and Malinalda, and Culúrien, and many names in song beside.

-"Of the Beginning of Days" The Silmarillion

Telperion, the male tree, and Laurelin, the female tree... silver and gold.

2. The Sun and the Moon. A continuation of the Two Trees really... made by the Valar using a silver flower from Telperion and a golden fruit from Laurelin.

quote:
Then Manwë bade Yavanna and Nienna to put forth all their powers of growth and healing; and they put forth all their powers upon the Trees. But the tears of Nienna availed not to heal their mortal wounds; and for a long while Yavanna sang alone in the shadows. Yet even as hope failed and her song faltered, Telperion bore at last upon a leafless bough one great flower of silver, and Laurelin a single fruit of gold.
These Yavanna took; and then the Trees died, and their lifeless stems stand yet in Valinor, a memorial of vanished joy. But the flower and the fruit Yavanna gave to Aulë, and Manwë hallowed them, and Aulë and his people made vessels to hold them and preserve their radiance: as is said in the Narsilion, the Song of the Sun and Moon. These vessels the Valar gave to Varda, that they might become lamps of heaven, outshining the ancient stars, being nearer to Arda; and she gave them power to traverse the lower regions of Ilmen, and set them to voyage upon appointed courses above the girdle of the Earth from the West unto the East and to return.

-"Of the Sun and Moon" The Silmarillion

Arien and Tilion, the Maiar who guided the Sun and Moon, also had a connection to gold and silver before their appointments.

quote:
The maiden whom the Valar chose from among the Maiar to guide the vessel of the Sun was named Arien, and he that steered the island of the Moon was Tilion. In the days of the Trees Arien had tended the golden flowers in the gardens of Vána, and watered them with the bright dews of Laurelin; but Tilion was a hunter of the company of Oromë, and he had a silver bow. He was a lover of silver, and when he would rest he forsook the woods of Oromë, and going into Lórien he lay in dream by the pools of Estë, in Telperion's flickering beams; and he begged to be given the task of tending for ever the last Flower of Silver.

-Ibid.

These opposites(sun/moon-gold/silver) show up later as well... Isildur and Anárion. Minas Anar and Minas Ithil. Two brothers, two towers... one associated with the sun(gold) the other with the moon(silver).

3. Galdriel and Celeborn. An Elven version of the Two Trees. In fact, Celeborn's name means "tree of silver"... and earlier name was Teleporno, a close resemblance to Telperion. And Galadriel's hair "was lit with gold as though it had caught in a mesh the radiance of Laurelin". Though there are references to her hair having a bit of silver in it as well... I'll get to that later.

quote:
On two chairs beneath the bole of the tree and canopied by a living bough there sat, side by side, Celeborn and Galadriel. They stood up to greet their guests, after the manner of Elves, even those who were accounted mighty kings. Very tall they were, and the Lady no less tall than the Lord; and they were grave and beautiful. They were clad wholly in white; and the hair of the Lady was of deep gold, and the hair of the Lord Celeborn was of silver long and bright; but no sign of age was upon them, unless it were in the depths of their eyes; for these were keen as lances in the starlight, and yet profound, the wells of deep memory.

-"The Mirror of Galadriel" LotR

One could say that gold/silver can be seen in the hair color of the Noldor and Teleri... though not exclusively(there are examples of dark hair on both sides and red with the Noldor). The House of Finarfin had hair of gold... while Thingol and Celeborn(at least) had hair of silver. The Sindar loved the silvery starlight, while the march of Fingolfin came as the Sun dawned the first time.

4. Oromë and Tulkas. Also two sides of a coin... both warriors with different temperaments. Tulkas associated with gold(hair) and Oromë with silver(horse and starlight):

quote:
Greatest in strength and deeds of prowess is Tulkas, who is surnamed Astaldo, the Valiant. He came last to Arda, to aid the Valar in the first battles with Melkor. He delights in wrestling and in contests of strength; and he rides no steed, for he can outrun all things that go on feet, and he is tireless. His hair and beard are golden, and his flesh ruddy; his weapons are his hands... Oromë is a mighty lord. If he is less strong than Tulkas, he is more dreadful in anger; whereas Tulkas laughs ever, in sport or in war, and even in the face of Melkor he laughed in battles before the Elves were born. Oromë loved the lands of Middle-earth, and he left them unwillingly and came last to Valinor; and often of old he passed back east over the mountains and returned with his host to the hills and the plains... Nahar is the name of his horse, white in the sun, and shining silver at night.

-"The Valaquenta" The Silmarillion

Silver-lover Tilion, the guider of the Moon was a Maia of Oromë's.

5. Ulmo and Yavanna. This might be debatable... if you want to include Aulë in the mix, then these two might not be opposites of the same coin. However...

quote:
Ulmo is the Lord of Waters. He is alone. He dwells nowhere long, but moves as he will in all the deep waters about the Earth or under the Earth... If the Children of Eru beheld him they were filled with a great dread; for the arising of the King of the Sea was terrible, as a mounting wave that strides to the land, with dark helm foam-crested and raiment of mail shimmering from silver down into shadows of green...
. In reverence Yavanna is next to Varda among the Queens of the Valar. In the form of a woman she is tall, and robed in green; but at times she takes other shapes. Some there are who have seen her standing like a tree under heaven, crowned with the Sun; and from all its branches there spilled a golden dew upon the barren earth, and it grew green with corn;

-Ibid.

6. Valmar and Tirion/Alqualondë. In Aman the city of the Valar was gold while the cities of the Elves were silver/white/pearl.

quote:
In that time the Valar were gathered together to hear the song of Yavanna, and they sat silent upon their thrones of council in the Máhanaxar, the Ring of Doom near to the golden gates of Valmar.

-"Of the Beginning of Days" The Silmarillion

quote:
if they wished they could see the light of the Trees, and could tread the golden streets of Valmar...

-"Of Eldamar" The Silmarillion

quote:
Upon the crown of Túna the city of the Elves was built, the white walls and terraces of Tirion; and the highest of the towers of that city was the Tower of Ingwë, Mindon Eldaliéva, whose silver lamp shone far out into the mists of the sea.

-Ibid.

quote:
Many jewels the Noldor gave them, opals and diamonds and pale crystals, which they strewed upon the shores and scattered in the pools; marvellous were the beaches of Elendë in those days. And many pearls they won for themselves from the sea, and their halls were of pearl, and of pearl were the mansions of Olwë at Alqualondë, the Haven of the Swans, lit with many lamps.

-Ibid.

[] Gold and Silver together. Like Yin and Yang, when silver and gold support each other and are in balance... they are at their most powerful. It all starts with the mingling of the light of the Two Trees. Gold and silver coming together. From this Fëanor made the Silmarils... an idea he got from Galadriel's hair, which was said to have the light of the Two Trees. From the Silmarils we have the Star of Eärendil... and it's light(gold and silver intermingled) was put into the Phial of Galadriel. The beautiful mallorn also had traits of both trees in its appearance: silver bark and nuts and golden blossoms and leaves.

[ 05-13-2006, 10:09 AM: Message edited by: Thingol of Doriath ]

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Tuor
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Just to make sure:

You're not saying that silver and gold actually represent the ying and yang. You are not saying that within good there must be evil and evil there must be good.

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Thingol of Doriath
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Good grief no... I am by no means discussing anything along the lines of good/evil in Tolkien's world. Others have beaten that horse past death in this forum. []

I am referring to yin and yang symbolically... two primal opposing but complementary forces. Night/day, dark/light, cool/warm, feminine/masculine, north/south...

It just occured to me that Tolkien had several pairs that fell along the lines gold/yellow/sun vs silver/white/moon.

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Tuor
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Yes, in Tolkien's mythology there is night/day, good/evil and gold does get paired with silver.
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Imbëar
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a white fish dark of eye, and a dark fish eyed with light


Imbëar

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Roll of Honor Gna
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quote:
You're not saying that silver and gold actually represent the ying and yang. You are not saying that within good there must be evil and evil there must be good.
I would have predicted that one who appears to be fond of consistently judging the behavior of others as morally good or evil should so grossly misinterpret the Confucian and Taoist significance of yin and yang. []

Great thread idea, Thingol! The use of gold and silver themes continues into the Akallabêth, but the two are not set up in contrast or in balance. Here are some of the quotes:

quote:
The mightiest and proudest was Ar-Pharazôn the Golden of all those that had wielded the Sceptre of the Sea-Kings since the foundation of Númenor....
quote:
And men saw his sails coming up out of the sunset, dyed as with scarlet and gleaming with red and gold, and fear fell upon the dwellers by the coasts, and they fled far away.
Armenelos is also described as "the Golden", and Sauron causes a temple to be built there, which has a dome roofed with silver; the silver glitters in the sunlight, but turns black in darkness.

Tar-Míriel, perhaps in contrast to Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, is described at the end as "fairer than silver or ivory or pearls".

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Tuor
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I was told that ying and yang had to do with the nature of good and evil. Perhaps I was told wrong.
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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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Also Idril Celebrindal, the Silver-foot, "whose hair was as the gold of Laurelin before the coming of Melkor", and mother of the Saviour of the First Age.
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Thingol of Doriath
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I had actually thought of including her in my list...

I also noticed several things in Lórien(besides the mellyrn) that incorporated the two metals.... the scabbard Galadriel gave to Aragorn as a gift "with a tracery of flowers and leaves wrought of silver and gold", the silver belts with gold clasps given to Merry and Pippin and the fact that the Silverlode flowed through the Golden Wood.

There is one specific instance where gold is not paired with silver... the One Ring. [] Though I'm sure that there are others as well..

quote:
Tar-Míriel, perhaps in contrast to Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, is described at the end as "fairer than silver or ivory or pearls".
Gna. []

Tuor- Here is a brief description of yin and yang. While good and evil might fit in the parameters of the philosophy, it is by no means what it is about.

I just noticed from that website that the moon is often associated with yin and the sun with yang...

[ 05-13-2006, 03:21 PM: Message edited by: Thingol of Doriath ]

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Thingol of Doriath
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7. Flowers. It seems that almost all of Middle-earth's flowers are gold/yellow and silver/white.

Gold/yellow: Elanor and Mallos.

Silver/white: Aeglos, Alfirin/Simbelmynë, and Niphredil.

The only flower that I can think of that isn't one of the two colors is Seregon, which was red.

There are a couple of instances(Cerin Amroth and Lebinnen) where the yellow and white flowers grew together.

quote:
'Behold! You are come to Cerin Amroth,' said Haldir. `For this is the heart of the ancient realm as it was long ago, and here is the mound of Amroth, where in happier days his high house was built. Here ever bloom the winter flowers in the unfading grass: the yellow elanor, and the pale niphredil. Here we will stay awhile, and come to the city of the Galadhrim at dusk.'

-"Lothlórien" LotR

quote:
Silver flow the streams from Celos to Erui
In the green fields of Lebennin!
Tall grows the grass there. In the wind from the Sea
The white lilies sway,
And the golden bells are shaken of mallos and alfirin
In the green fields of Lebennin,
In the wind from the Sea!

-"Last Debate" LotR

Mallos was yellow and alfirin was white.

8. Edoras. Of note... the "golden" halls of Edoras are surrounded by mounds of white simbelmynë.

9. Nimrodel.

quote:
An Elven-maid there was of old,
 A shining star by day:
Her mantle white was hemmed with gold,
 Her shoes of silver-grey.

-"Lothlórien" LotR

In fact, the whole song is filled with silver/white and gold/yellow references....

[ 05-14-2006, 06:32 AM: Message edited by: Thingol of Doriath ]

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Roll of Honor Gna
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The Wikipedia article states:

quote:
It is also possible to look at yin and yang with respect to the flow of time. Noon, is full yang, sunset is yang turning to yin; midnight is full yin and sunrise is yin turning to yang. This flow of time can also be expressed in seasonal changes and directions. South and Summer are full yang; West and Autumn are yang turning to yin; North and Winter are full yin, and East and Spring are yin turning over to yang.
The first sentence especially is interesting with respect to the lights from the Two Trees, and the way in which they intermingled:

quote:
Thus in Valinor twice every day there came a gentle hour of softer light when both trees were faint and their gold and silver beams were mingled.
Númenor also had plants of silver and gold, most notably the malinornë trees. From Unfinished Tales:

quote:
Its bark was silver and smooth...its leaves were pale green above and beneath were silver, glistening in the sun; in the autumn they did not fall, but turned to pale gold. In the spring it bore golden blossom in clusters like a cherry, which bloomed on during the summer; and as soon as the flowers opened the leaves fell, so that through spring and summer an grove of malinorni was carpeted and roofed with gold, but its pillars were of grey silver.
The philosophy of yin and yang does not support interpretation as absolutes of evil and good, nor absolutes of anything, really. As the Wikipedia article states, yin and yang both complement (or support) and consume each other-one is not necessarily better than the other. Many of the silver/gold analogies from Tolkien's work fit quite well with this; here's an example from The Names of Celeborn and Galadriel:

quote:
...for the Teleri prized silver above gold, and their skill as silversmiths was esteemed even by the Noldor.
From the same section on Galadriel and Celeborn, there is also a description of the blending of the light of the Two Trees in Galadriel's hair, and the familial origins of her hair color:

quote:
It was golden like the hair of her father and of her foremother Indis, but richer and more radiant, for its gold was touched by some memory of the starlike silver of her mother; and the Eldar said that the light of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, had been ensnared in her tresses.

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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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I couldn't find a link to the Burl Ives song from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. []
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Thingol of Doriath
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Burl Ives is waaaay before my time. [] What do the lyrics have to do with the thread at hand?

Gna- The intermingling of the light is very reminiscent of the concept of flow in yin and yang. []

The malinornë are the same as mallorn. The first being the Quenya name the other Sindar... though that quote is great and will help me in another thread. []

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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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You've never seen Rudolph [] []

There's a song in it called Silver and Gold.

I think. []

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Thingol of Doriath
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Ooooh... were those the old claymation-like Christmas shows? I don't remember that song, though I do remember the Heat Miser and Snow Miser. Very Yin and Yang they were... []
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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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Those guys were actually from a different Rankin-Bass movie, The Year Without a Santa Claus.

But this is a good thread and I shouldn't be mucking it up with silliness.

Gna and of course Thingol - good stuff. []

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Roll of Honor Herendil
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Naturally, the Vanyar would represent gold, and the Sun, while the Teleri would represent silver, and the Moon, and the Noldor would represent the stars, something that should also be taken into account in this discussion. The Noldor were also the second clan, between the Vanyar and the Teleri. Though I am not sure that the symbolism of Tolkien is as simple as this. For example, the Vanyar and Noldor of Tirion loved the White Tree.

Thingol of Doriath:
quote:
One could say that gold/silver can be seen in the hair color of the Noldor and Teleri...
No, but of the Vanyar and the Teleri.
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Thingol of Doriath
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That's right... the touch of silver came from her mother(Teleri) while the gold came from her grandmother(Vanyar).

I guess we could write out the Eldar from the equation... I did say "not exclusively" in the first post because I was bothered with the fact that there were three groups and two other hair colors in play. And which is why I didn't give them their own subject header, but included it as a sidenote to Galadriel/Celeborn.

[ 05-14-2006, 01:02 PM: Message edited by: Thingol of Doriath ]

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Roll of Honor Gna
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In Unfinished Tales it is also written that the malinornë trees of Nísimaldar reached a height almost comparable to those in Eressëa, and that although Galadriel established a grove of the trees in Lothlórien, they never reached the height or girth of those in Númenor.

The theory of flow in yin and yang philosophy has its counterpart with alchemists and the transmutation of base metals into gold. Supposedly a monk named Wenzel Seiler achieved partial transformation of a silver medal into gold, by alchemical means, and this medal was (perhaps still is) on display in Vienna. [] This comes back around to Tolkien, in the tale of Alexander the Great's encounters with a Sage of the Hermetic Arts and alchemy in India:

quote:
...and leaving the rest to await his return, he followed the Sage, and came to the Trees of the Sun and Moon. The Tree of the Sun has leaves of red gold, and the Tree of the Moon has leaves of silver, and they are very great...
These two trees "talk", and act as oracles, so the interpretation (in Manly P. Hall's book The Secret Teachings of All Ages) is that they are merely wooden tablets, and the Tree reference is symbolic.
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quote:
It is quite possible, of course, that certain 'elements' or conditions of matter had attracted Morgoth's special attention (mainly, unless in the remote past, for reasons of his own plans). For example, all gold (in Middle-earth) seems to have had a specially 'evil' trend - but not silver.
Morgoth's Ring

While trying to find this quote (I don't have my books at the office) I stumbled across a discussion that noted that Boromir was given a gold belt by Galadriel while Merry and Pippin were given silver belts. Hmmm.

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quote:
No, but of the Vanyar and the Teleri.
Are you so sure of that ? []

quote:
Míriel was the name of his mother. Silver was her hair ...
(Morgoth's Ring, p. 185)

So I think we can add Míriel and Indis to the list. And not only for their hair.

Míriel is of course strongly associated with the Gardens of Lórien, where we find silver again :

quote:
Then Finwë lived in sorrow; and he went often to the gardens of Lórien, and sitting beneath the silver willows beside the body of his wife he called her by her names.
(The Silmarillion, p. 64.)

As for Indis and her golden hair, she is also closely linked to Laurelin the Golden :

quote:
And when Finwë heard that song fallinf from above he looked up and saw Indis in the golden light, and he knew in that moment that she loved him and had long done so.
(Morgoth's Ring, p. 238.)



[ 05-15-2006, 12:54 PM: Message edited by: Eluchil ]

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Thingol of Doriath
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Wow... good finds Thorin & Eluchil. []

It's typical that Morgoth's Ring is one of the few HoMe books I don't have... does Tolkien go more into depth about gold having an evil trend? I can't really think of anything besides the One Ring being gold and evil. Vilya, for example, was gold as well...

I love the fact that Finwë's two wives had gold and silver hair, an important fact considering that his remarrying caused so much strife.

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Thingol of Doriath
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quote:
A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shone for ever fair and bright.


-"A Journey in the Dark" LotR

While this isn't a clear cut gold/silver instance... I found it curious that the lamps of Khazad-dûm follow the theme of the Silmarils(and phial of Galadriel) and have the light of the Two Trees in them, though in this case I'm sure it is just poetic licence.

It is perhaps of interest to note that the last two ancient gates of Gondolin were the Gate of Silver and the Gate of Gold. The seventh gate(Steel) was built at a later date by Maeglin. The Gates are filled with the gold/silver symbolism I discussed earlier: Gold/Sun/Laurelin and Silver/Moon/Telperion. The grass between the tweo gates are filled with gold and silver flowers as well.

quote:
Tuor saw beside the way a sward of grass, where like stars bloomed the white flowers of uilos, the Evermind that knows no season and withers not; and thus in wonder and lightening of heart he was brought to the Gate of Silver.
The wall of the Fifth Gate was built of white marble, and was low and broad, and its parapet was a trellis of silver between five great globes of marble; and there stood many archers robed in white. The gate was in shape as three parts of a circle, and wrought of silver and pearl of Nevrast in likenesses of the Moon; but above the Gate upon the midmost globe stood an image of the White Tree Telperion, wrought of silver and malachite, with flowers made of great pearls of Balar. 28 And beyond the Gate in a wide court paved with marble, green and white, stood archers in silver mail and white-crested helms, a hundred upon either hand. Then Elemmakil led Tuor and Voronwë through their silent ranks, and they entered upon a long white road, that ran straight towards the Sixth Gate; and as they went the grass-sward became wider, and among the white stars of uilos there opened many small flowers like eyes of gold.
So they came to the Golden Gate, the last of the ancient gates of Turgon that were wrought before the Nirnaeth; and it was much like the Gate of Silver, save that the wall was built of yellow marble, and the globes and parapet were of red gold; and there were six globes, and in the midst upon a golden pyramid was set an image of Laurelin, the Tree of the Sun, with flowers wrought of topaz in long clusters upon chains of gold. And the Gate itself was adorned with discs of gold, many-rayed, in likenesses of the Sun, set amid devices of garnet and topaz and yellow diamonds. In the court beyond were arrayed three hundred archers with long bows, and their mail was gilded, and tall golden plumes rose from their helmets; and their great round shields were red as flame.

-"Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin" Unfinished Tales

Tuor's armour, left by Turgon in Nevrast, is also filled with references to gold and silver...

quote:
Then Tuor marvelling saw that on the wall behind the throne were hung a shield and a great hauberk, and a helm and a long sword in a sheath. The hauberk shone as it were wrought of silver untarnished, and the sunbeam gilded it with sparks of gold...
Thus armed he went forth from Turgon's hall, and stood upon the high terraces of Taras in the red light of the sun. None were there to see him, as he gazed westward, gleaming in silver and gold, and he knew not that in that hour he appeared as one of the Mighty of the West, and fit to be the father of the kings of the Kings of Men beyond the Sea...

-Ibid.



[ 05-18-2006, 03:36 AM: Message edited by: Thingol of Doriath ]

From: Sverige! | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Belthronding
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This is a great thread.

In light of this conversation, I felt an edited quote from Cosmos and Psyche, a historical analysis of archetypal astrology by Richard Tarnas, would be appropriate:

quote:
Sun: yang, male, vital creative energy, the will to exist, the impulse and capacity to be, to manifest, to be active, to be central, to radiate, to shine, to rise above, the individual, the personal identity, mind, spirit, the animus, ascent and descent, ruler of the day sky, of the clearly visible, the solar deity.

Moon: yin, female, the womb, the matrix of being, the psychosomatic, that which senses and intuits, the feeling of nature, to recieve and reflect, to relate and respond, to need and to care, the anima, waxing and waning, the ruler of the night sky, of the diffusely visible and the invisible, luminosity, the lunar deity.


From: Boston, MA | Registered: Mar 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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