by Marek Wypych ( angolhir @ gmail . com )

Dreadful is the power of the Necromancer“(1)


This small essay deals with somewhat darker themes of Arda mythology, namely necromancy, as practiced by evil powers, and Shadow/Wraith World, parallel to this one well known. I have tried to raise every issue of interest concerning these matters. The final fates of some inhabitants of Arda are mentioned, though only as a necessity, because they are not the subject of this essay. Note that Tolkien did not give a name to the other world, he used non-specific phrases: ‘wraith-world’, ‘the other side’ and ‘realm of shadows’, but for the purpose of the essay let’s assume a specific name of Shadow World, in contrast with our ‘world of light’, as named by Strider.

Every quote from Tolkien’s writings is given in italics between the quotation marks, and my supplementary comments are in the square brackets. References to the quotes are to be found at the end of text.

Chapter I. Necromancy and its place in the ‘cosmology’ of Arda

What is necromancy and what are its requirements?

Necromancy (Latin necromantia, Greek νεκρομαντία nekromantía) is the alleged divination by which a Necromancer uses a Spirit of Divination or an Operative Spirit to practice magic for them and thereby achieve a desired effect much more easily. The word derives from the Greek νεκρός nekrós ‘dead’ and μαντεία manteía ‘divination’. It has a subsidiary meaning reflected in an alternative and archaic form of the word, nigromancy, (a folk etymology using Latin niger, ‘black’) in which the magical force of ‘dark powers’ is gained from or by acting upon corpses. A practitioner of Necromancy is a Necromancer.” (taken from Wikipedia, entry for Necromancy)

So basically, Necromancy does not refer primarily to the raising and summoning the dead to a semi-life (as modern PC Games suggest), but to an art of communication with souls/spirits and using them to (mostly dark) purposes. It must be noted that Necromancy assumes existence of either after-life (souls of the dead) and/or various spirits. In the world of Arda there are both kinds. References to Maiar and Lesser Spirits are multiple, and what about the second type?

Each feä was imperishable within the life of Arda, and that its fate was to inhabit Arda to its end. (…) As soon as they were disbodied they were summoned to leave the places of their life and death and go to the ‘Halls of Waiting’: Mandos, in the realm of the Valar”(2)

[Side note: feäcorresponds, more or less, to ‘soul’; and to ‘mind’ (…) It was thus in its being (…) the impulse and power to think”(3)]

It [feä] cannot be brought to Mandos. It is summoned (…) yet it [the summon] may be refused”(2), moreover “refusal of the summons to Mandos and the Halls of Waiting is (…) frequent”(2), because it happened that “it [feär] were already committed to the Darkness and passed then into its dominion. In like manner even of the Eldar some who had become corrupted refused the summons, and then had little power to resist the counter-summons of Morgoth”(2), not to mention the possibility of Orcs originating from the Elves and thus having feär also.

What about souls of Dwarves and Men?

Tolkien did not write what happens after death of the Dwarf. We only know the beliefs about them (“For they say that Aulë (…) gathers them in Mandos in halls set apart for them”(21)), but given their stubborn nature, we may safely assume that they are of no use to the Necromancer after death. Men on the other hand upon their death leave Arda, with short midway stop in Mandos (“For the spirit of Beren at her [Lúthien’s] bidding tarried in the halls of Mandos, unwilling to leave the world, (…) But Mandos had no power to withhold the spirits of Men that were dead within the confines of the world, after their time of waiting; nor could he change the fates of the Children of Ilúvatar. (…) For it was not permitted to the Valar to withhold Death from him, which is the gift of Ilúvatar to Men.”(31), Beren, by the way, was an extreme exception, because he was released from Mandos back to Middle-earth), so that their souls are not subject to any but Eru (even Melkor heard “Beyond the Circles of the World you shall not pursue”(23) and he acknowledged it).

What could happen if somebody wanted to commune with the Unbodied?

It is (…) a foolish and perilous thing, besides being a wrong deed forbidden justly by the appointed Rulers of Arda, if the Living seek to commune with the Unbodied [which is the basis of Necromancy], though the houseless may desire it, especially the most unworthy among them. For the Unbodied, wandering in the world, are those who at the least have refused the door of life and remain in regret and self-pity. Some are filled with bitterness, grievance, and envy. Some were enslaved by the Dark Lord and do his work still, though he himself is gone.”(2) And why may the Unbodied desire to commune with the living? “Some say that the Houseless desire bodies (…) The wicked among them will take bodies, if they can, unlawfully. The peril of communing with them is, therefore, (…) the peril of destruction. For one of the hungry Houseless, if it is admitted to the friendship of the Living, may seek to eject the feä from its body; and in the contest for mastery the body may be gravely injured, even if it he not wrested from its rightful habitant.”(2) And that is what happens when the feä leaves the body: “[if] the feä departs from it [body], its function being at an end its coherence is unloosed, and it returns again to the general hron (…) of Arda”(2), plainly speaking: death.

(Note of interest: there is one quote suggesting otherwise. If Man was to be admitted to Aman either his hroä would dominate his feäor else the feä would in loathing and without pity desert the hroä, and it would live on, a witless body, not even a beast but a monster”(4). It is however under extremely special circumstances that “he [Man] remained in Aman”(4), where almost nothing decayed or died naturally because: “In Aman things were far otherwise than in Middle-earth.”(4))

So what does Necromancy actually mean in the world of Arda?

The Houseless may also “plead for shelter, and if it is admitted, then it will seek to enslave its host and use both his will and his body for its own purposes. [which sounds much like possession] It is said that Sauron did these things, and taught his followers how to achieve them.”(2)

To attempt to master them [houseless spirits] and to make them servants of one own’s will is wickedness. Such practices are of Morgoth; and the necromancers are of the host of Sauron his servant.”(2)

(Note of interest: The other issue is that Necromancy was sometimes used by Tolkien in the subsidiary meaning: “The Quenya word ‘nole’ meant ‘lore, knowledge’, but its Sindarin equivalent ‘gûl’, owing to its frequent use in such combinations as morgul (cf. Minas Morgul in The Lord of the Rings) was only used for evil or perverted knowledge, necromancy, sorcery. This word gûl was also used in the language of Mordor [as in ‘Nazgûl’]”(3).

Tolkien wrote: “some would say that there is a latent distinction such as once was called the distinction between magia and goeteia. (…) The Enemy’s operations are by no means all goetic deceits (…). But his magia he uses to bulldoze both people and things, and his goeteia to terrify and subjugate. (…)”(5), where “Greek γοητεία [goēteia – an Ancient Greek word for ‘magic, witchcraft, jugglery’] (γόης, sorcerer); the English form Goety is defined in the O.E.D. as ‘witchcraft or magic performed by the invocation and employment of evil spirits; necromancy.’ “(6), yet “both sides use both [kinds of magic], but with different motives.”(5) Because the good side does not use ‘pure’ necromancy, consequently goeteia has broader meaning. Consequently it is often the case that when Tolkien writes about ‘Necromancy’ he has ‘Black Magic/Foul Knowledge’ in mind. In this essay only this more precise meaning of Necromancy is dealt with.)

(Side note: I would not regard other foul practices of Sauron, like sending spirits to dwell in the bodies of beasts (werewolves) as ‘necromantic’, firstly because it is rather implied that the spirits were possibly not of the Unbodied, as they were more powerful, but of the lesser spirits (compared to Maiar) created by Eru, who could not assume bodily raiment independently. Secondly, both Eagles and Ents are said to be similar beings, and it is obvious that Valar would not practice Necromancy.)

Chapter II. A recipe for a Wraith

The actual uses of necromantic and similar, foul crafts are listed underneath.

The Rings of Power

‘A mortal (…) who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings. Yes, sooner or later – later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last – (…) the dark power will devour him.’”(10) And so Sauron dealt out the Rings of Power, “hoping thus to bring under his sway all those that desired secret power beyond the measure of their kind. (…) to Men he gave nine (…). And all those rings that he governed he perverted, the more easily since he had a part in their making, and they were accursed, and they betrayed in the end all those that used them. (…) Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. (…) They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men (…). And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and under the domination of the One, which was Sauron’s. And they became for ever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraithes.”(7)

The Dwarves, that were given the Seven Rings, were not enslaved, because they “indeed proved tough and hard to tame; they ill endure the domination of others, and the thoughts of their hearts are hard to fathom, nor can they be turned to shadows.”(7) Similarly Hobbits and those akin to them (Sméagol) proved exceptionally resilient to the power of the One (which would nevertheless not save Gollum, if he has not used it rarely “now usually he hid it in a hole in the rock (…). And still sometimes he put it on, when he could not bear to be parted from it any longer, or when he was very, very hungry, and tired of fish.”(9). If he would use the Ring more often he would fade long ago, as indicated by the quote at the beginning of the section).

(Note of interest: At first Tolkien intended that there were more peoples ensnared by the Rings: “the Ring-lord made many of these Rings (…). He sent them to all sorts of folk – the Elves had many, and there are now many elfwraiths in the world, but the Ring-lord cannot rule them [compare it with the eventual, final mythology, in which feär of the Elves are present in Middle-Earth, and Sauron did not managed to subdue the Three]; the goblins got many, and the invisible goblins are very evil and wholly under the Lord; dwarves I don’t believe had any; some say the rings don’t work on them (…). Men had few (…). The men-wraiths are also servants of the Lord. Other creatures got them.”(8))


Firstly what was it like? “In one hand he [Witch-king] held a long sword, and in the other a knife; both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light.”(12) It was “a long thin knife. There was a cold gleam in it. (…)as he held it up in the growing light (…) the blade seemed to melt, and vanished like a smoke in the air, leaving only the hilt”(13), and “‘There are evil things written on this hilt (…) though maybe your eyes cannot see them.’”(13)

Witch-king stabbed Frodo with this fearsome weapon on the Weathertop, with intend to “pierce your [Frodo’s] heart with a Morgul-knife which remains in the wound. If they had succeeded, you would have become like they are, only weaker and under their command. You would have became a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord”(11) which does not mean that the wound to the shoulder is would not bring the same effect with time: “You were beginning to fade (…). The wound was overcoming you at last. A few more hours and you would have been beyond our aid.”(11) That Frodo is beyond aid was a belief of Nazgûl “they believe your master {Frodo] has a deadly wound that will subdue him to their will.”(13)

(Note of interest: In the early drafts Gandalf says “‘They attempted to pierce you with the sword of the Necromancer,’ said Gandalf. (…) But that was dangerous enough – especially with the ring on. For while the ring was on, you yourself were in the wraith-world, and subject to their weapons.’“(1) ‘Sword of Necromancer’ was later changed to ‘Morgul-knife’ (‘knife of black sorcery’, see note about Sindarin ‘gûl’), and passage “subject to their weapons” removed, which mean that Morgul-knife was eventually a ‘universal’ weapon.)

(Note of interest: There are more cases of vanishing, powerful blades connected with creatures of necromancy. “With what strength he [Frodo] had he hewed at the crawling arm [of Barrow-wight] near the wrist, and the hand broke off; but at the same moment the sword splintered up to the hilt. (…) The sword broke sparkling into many shards.”(17) Merry stabbed Witch-king and “there lay his weapon, but the blade was smoking like a dry branch that has been thrust in a fire; and as he watched it, it writhed and withered and was consumed.”(19) Finally, sword of Éowyn “broke sparkling into many shards”(19) after she delivered blow to the Witch-king. And “Sam does not ‘sink his blade into the Ringwraith’s thigh’ (…). If he had, the result would have been much the same (…) sword would have been destroyed.”(24). Indeed “all blades perish that pierce that dreadful King.”(13))


It was at this time that an end came of the Dúnedain of Cardolan, and evil spirits out of Angmar and Rhudaur entered into the deserted mounds and dwelt there.”(14) and “A shadow came out of dark places far away, and the bones were stirred in the mounds. Barrow-wights walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers, and gold chains in the wind.”(15) And what that “shadow” might be? “The Witch-king (…) had known something of the country long ago, especially of the Barrow-downs, whose evil wights had been sent there by himself.”(25) From upper facts and the notion that Wights had normal physical bodies (“he hewed at the crawling arm near the wrist, and the hand broke off!“(17)), they may be evil spirits (probably quite powerful, as the Wights were able to practice kind of sorcery: “he was probably already under the dreadful spells of the Barrow-wights about which whispered tales spoke”(17)) sent by Lord of Nazgûl to reanimate bones of the dead Men resting in the mounds. It is also interesting, that though Wights haunted the Barrows for a long time Black Captain visited Barrows again and he “stayed there for some days, and the Barrow-wights were roused, and all things of evil spirit, hostile to Elves and Men, were on the watch with malice in the Old Forest and on the Barrow-downs”(25), which can indicate that he had to spent some time to breath new ‘vitality’ into them.

The reaffirmation of Witch-king’s necromantic origins and powers comes from Éowyn “Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!”(19) (In Old English, the word dwimor means ‘phantom, ghost, illusion, delusion, apparition’ ( The word laikbeing the Old Norse ending -leikr corresponding to Old English -lác”(62) which had the sense of ‘the act of (being) …’. This suffix was common in Old English in words such as as breowlác ‘brewing’, feohtlác ‘fighting’ as well as wedlác ‘wedlock’ ( Thus the word dwimmerlaik as employed by Éowyn could be literally translated ‘an act of sorcery’ where the sorcery is illusionary, apparitional or phantasmic. It is this last meaning where the necromantic sense can be seen since Dwimordene is (to Wormtongue) a ‘vale of illusion’ but Dwimorberg, is a ‘haunted mountain’.). Black Captain in return threatens her that “‘ he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.’“(19), probably meaning the turning of Éowyn into the wraith (certainly not slaying her, thus releasing her soul to Eru), given that Gandalf said to Frodo: “You would have became a wraith [so without real flesh] under the dominion of the

Dark Lord; and he would have tormented you”(11).

(Note of interest: Originally Tolkien was considering closer relation between Ringwraithes and Barrow-wights as seen in the note: “Barrow-wights related to Black-riders. Are Black-riders actually horsed Barrow-wights?”(16))

The Curse

The curses can have terrible power in Arda (consider the curse of Morgoth on Hurin’s children, or two known curses cast by Mîm), even turning the target into the ghost. Such is also the case of the curse of Isildur.

Upon [a hill] the King of the Mountains swore allegiance to [Isildur] in the beginning of the realm of Gondor. But when (…) Isildur summoned the Men of the Mountains to fulfill their oath, and they would not: for they had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years. Then Isildur said to their king: ‘Thou shalt be the last king. And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk: to rest never until your oath is fulfilled. For this war will last through years uncounted, and you shall be summoned once again ere the end.’ And they fled before the wrath of Isildur [and] slowly dwindled in the barren hills. And the terror of the Sleepless Dead lies about the Hill of Erech and all places where that people lingered.”(26) The curse was fulfilled, and I think that the fact that Men of the Mountains worshipped Dark Lord in their time helped a little, and certainly did not hindered the curse.

(Note of interest: Did the Dead possess physical bodies? Most probably not, firstly because they were dead, not just turned into wraiths like Nazgûl, secondly, they do show non-physical, supernatural qualities: “To every ship they came that was drawn up, and then they passed over the water to those that were anchored”(27). Thirdly their presence was at times visible “at whiles they may themselves be seen passing out of the door like shadows”(28), sometimes barely “There they stood (…) hardly to be seen, save for a red gleam in their eyes”(27), and often not at all “all the paths behind were thronged by an unseen host that followed in the dark”(26) (though one may argue that they were unseen because of the glooms), but most importantly their gear was also ghost-like, not real (like in the case of the Ringwraiths, who needed real gear to have “dealings with the living”(11)): “shapes of Men and of horses, and pale banners like shreds of cloud, and spears like winter-thickets on a misty night. The Dead are following”(26), “Pale swords were drawn; but I know not whether their blades would still bite, for the Dead needed no longer any weapon but fear. None would withstand them”(27). Another intriguing feature is that “the Dead come seldom forth and only at times of great unquiet and coming death”(50), but why so and what for, we do not know.)

The curse can also be self-inflicted. Such may be the case of Gorlim the Unhappy: “Thus Gorlim died a bitter death | and cursed himself with dying breath”(29)(the passage occurred only in the early versions of the tale of Beren). Upon his cruel death he called on Beren in his dream: “Gorlim I was, but now a wraith of will defeated, broken faith, traitor betrayed.”(30) It can be argued that wraith of Gorlim only existed in a dream, but other apparitions and delusions were actually the work of foul arts.

Phantoms and delusions

Gorlim himself betrayed because he was granted a reunion with Eilinel, his wife that he saw in the forest, before being captured by Sauron. Then “he mocked Gorlim, and revealed to him that he had only seen a phantom devised by wizardry to entrap him”(31)(“Thou fool: a phantom thou didst see | that I, I Sauron, made to snare | thy lovesick wits. Naught else was there”(30)) and granted the reward: he cruelly slain Gorlim, thus uniting him with his (long departed) wife. Devising a spectre was not probably a big deal for Sauron, because “In glamoury | that necromancer held his hosts | of phantoms and of wandering ghosts”(29). Indeed in that time Sauron became “a sorcerer of dreadful power, master of shadows and of phantoms, foul in wisdom, cruel in strength, misshaping what he touched, twisting what he ruled, lord of werewolves; his dominion was torment.”(31)(in the early draft of this paragraph, instead of “master of shadows and phantoms” there was “master of necromancy“(22)),

Taught by that lesson Beren was more cautious “Beren seeing their approach was dismayed; and he wondered, for he had heard the voice of Tinúviel, and he thought it now a phantom for his ensnaring.”(31)

(Note of interest: At first it was Morgoth who devised this malicious scheme: “thus men believed that Morgoth made | the fiendish phantom that betrayed | the soul of Gorlim”(29))

Sauron resorted to such arts often: “and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron.”(7)

Spirits themselves also delude the living They [Houseless seeking body-haven] will not speak truth or wisdom (…)The peril of communing with them is, therefore, not only the peril of being deluded by fantasies or lies.”(2)

(Note of interest: Not until Gandalf visited Dol Guldur was it known that the Necromancer who abode there was indeed Sauron. That he earned this title would suggest that either ‘Necromancer’ was a title not rare for various Evil Powers, or that he practiced Necromancy there (Dol Guldur, known as Amon Lanc prior to Sauron settling there, means ‘Hill of Black Magic’, from “dol ‘head'(…) often applied to hills and mountains”(54), already mentioned ‘gûl’, and “dûr ‘dark’”(54)), yet all we know is that a shadow fell over the surrounding forest and it came to be called Mirkwood, and that gloom was especially heavy around the stronghold and Great Spiders came to dwell around the hill.)

Sam wonders if that is of Sauron’s doing, that dead faces are seen in the pools of the Dead Marshes. Gollum does not know, but he adds: “You cannot reach them, you cannot touch them. We tried once, yes, precious. I tried once; but you cannot reach them. Only shapes to see, perhaps, not to touch.”(32), clearly indicating that it is a work of someone adept in such, no doubt evil (“A fell light is in them”(32)), arts.

(Note of interest: Gollum says to the Hobbits about the lights on Dead Marshes: “The tricksy lights. Candles of corpses, yes, yes. Don’t you heed them! Don’t look! Don’t follow them!”(32), yet the one of the previous quotes (“You cannot reach them …”) suggests that he did it once, but he says nothing about why it may be dangerous.

In the drafts that did not made it to the eventual book there is another interesting trait of the pools “In the moon if you looked in some pools you saw your own face fouled and corrupt and dead”(53) and so “The moon came out of its cloud. They looked in. But they saw no faces out of the vanished past. They saw their own…… Sam, Gollum and Frodo looking up with dead eyes and livid rotting flesh at them.“(53))

Morgoth engaged in arts of delusions from the beginning: “Melkor, ever watchful, was first aware of the awakening of the Quendi, and sent shadows and evil spirits to spy upon them and waylay them”(55) “Some of these things [that hunted elves] may have been phantoms and delusions.”(4) He filled also some places with phantoms of dread: “Now Morgoth’s power overshadowed the Northlands (…) the forest of the northward slopes of that land was turned little by little into a region of (…) dread and dark enchantment (…). The trees that grew there after the burning were black and grim, (…) and those who strayed among them became lost and blind, and were strangled or pursued to madness by phantoms of terror.”(57)

(Note of interest: Dark Lords are not the only ones that use confusing delusions to their purpose “And in that time also, which songs call Nurtalë Valinóreva, the Hiding of Valinor, the Enchanted Isles were set, and ail the seas about them were filled with shadows and bewilderment.”(56), “and Melian put forth her power and fenced all that dominion round about with un unseen wall of shadow and bewilderment”(61).)

The delusive Bait of Longevity

The incomprehension of the Gift of Death granted by Eru led many astray, and among them Númenóreans: the fear of death grew ever darker upon them, and they delayed it by all means that they could (…) their wise men laboured unceasingly to discover (…) the secret of recalling life, or at least the prolonging of Men’s days. Yet they achieved only the art of preserving incorrupt the dead flesh of Men”(33). Then they are seduced by Sauron into belief that immortality will be granted to them, if they will worship Melkor, which actually leads them to even quicker and painful death.

(Note of interest: Here are original, rejected drafts concerning the deeds of Númenóreans: “A new religion, and worship of the Dark, with its temple under Sauron arises. The Faithful are persecuted and sacrificed. The Númenóreans carry their evil also to Middle-earth and there become cruel and wicked lords of necromancy, slaying and tormenting”(34) and they achieved only the art of preserving uncorrupt for many ages the dead flesh of men. Wherefore the kingdoms upon the west shores of the Old World became a place of tombs, and filled with ghosts.”(35) It is unclear if those ghosts were metaphorical, or of dead Men. In the latter case, it would collide with the fact that Men leave Eä after death. Finally, rejected quote about most intriguing beliefs and customs And in the fantasy of their hearts,and the confusion of legends half-forgotten concerning that which had been, they [Númenóreans] made for their thought a land of shades, filled with the wraiths of the things of mortal earth. And many deemed this land was in the West, and ruled by the Gods, and in shadow the dead,bearing the shadows of their possessions, should come there, who could no more find the true West in the body [which is actually quite accurate for the issue of Aman and the dead Elves]. For which reason in after days many of their descendants, or men taught by them, buried their dead in ships and set them in pomp upon these a by the west coasts of the Old World.”(35))

Though punished severely Númenóreans in Middle-earth “still, as they had in their own kingdom and so lost it, hungered after endless life unchanging. Kings made tombs more splendid than houses of the living, and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry; in secret chambers withered old men compounded strong elixirs, or in high cold towers asked questions of the stars.”(52)

Yet Sauron knew how to prolong the life of mortals, whether by means of the Rings of Power (Ringwraithes, Gollum and Bilbo), or other arts. It could be that Mouth of Sauron, a Black Númenórean, is such an example. It is said that “he entered the service of the DarkTower when it first rose again, and because of his cunning he grew ever higher in the Lord’s favour; and he learned great sorcery“(36). Whether he was over 3000 years old (assuming that the quote refers to Sauron’s return to Barad-dûr in year 3320 of Second Age) or no less than about 90 (assuming the quote refers to rebuilding of the Dark Tower 68 years prior to the War of the Ring), and the fact that he was to rule in future western parts of Middle-earth, his life-span had to be great (given that Edain scarcely achieved 100 years, with the exception of the Dúnedain, and that worshiping of the Dark led Númenóreans to actually shorter life). We may, then, assume that the “great sorcery” that he was taught, might have been partly connected with prolonging his own life.

Yet it must be noted that Mouth of Sauron suffered because of this sorcery, as he (even no longer remembered his own name). As is seen also in the case of the Ringwraiths, Dark Lord can provide immortality, though at highest cost, “They had, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them” not to mention that the Nazgûl were bereft of almost every shred of their individuality, becoming “[Sauron’s] mightiest servants, the Ring-wraiths, who had no will but his own”(25). The physical degradation and split personality were also the shown in Smégol/Gollum.

As Tolkien wrote “Longevity or counterfeit ‘immortality’ (true immortality is beyond Eä ) is the chief bait of Sauron“(51), moreover “To attempt by device or ‘magic’ to recover longevity is thus a supreme folly and wickedness of ‘mortals’ (…) it leads the small to a Gollum, and the great to a Ringwraith.”(51) and “Any creature that took him [Melkor; but I think Sauron suits also acceptably well] for Lord (and especially those who blasphemously called him Father or Creator) became soon corrupted in all parts of its being, the fëa dragging down the hröa in its descent into Morgothism: hate and destruction.”(4)

(Note of interest: There is a quote of Morgoth imposing sort of unwelcome immortality against the will of receiver There he [Húrin] was bound by the power of Morgoth; and Morgoth standing beside him cursed him again and set his power upon him, so that he could not move from that place, nor die, until Morgoth should release him”(63))

The Lingerers

Not all inhabitants of the wraith-world are of such shadowy origins. There are for example, the Elves that are not dead, but faded: “the Lingerers, whose bodily forms may no longer be seen by us mortals, or seen only dimly and fitfully”(2) (in comparison to the Houseless “rebels at least against the Rulers, and maybe even deeper under the Shadow”(2)). “Moreover, the Lingerers are not houseless, though they may seem to be. They do not desire bodies, neither do they seek shelter, nor strive for mastery over body or mind. Indeed they do not seek converse with Men at all, save maybe rarely, either for the doing of some good, or because they perceive in a Man’s spirit some love of things ancient and fair. Then they may reveal to him their forms (through his mind working outwardly, maybe), and he will behold them in their beauty.”(2)

Thus it may be seen that those who in latter days hold that the Elves are dangerous to Men and that it is folly or wickedness to seek converse with them do not speak without reason. For how, it may be asked, shall a mortal distinguish the kinds [Lingerers and Houseless]?”(2) “Yet the answer is not in truth difficult. Evil is not one thing among Elves and another among Men. Those who give evil counsel, or speak against the Rulers (or if they dare, against the One), are evil, and should be shunned whether bodied or unbodied.”(2)

Chapter III. Upon the ‘Other’ Side

Having established the characteristics of Middle-earth Necromancy, it is time for the second major theme: Wraith-world. It was already noted that there were things “in worlds invisible to mortal men”(7) (example: evil writings on the hilt of Morgul-knife), but what did it look like?


One known way for the mortal to enter the realm of shadows is to wear a Ring of Power, “Then he [Sam] put it on. The world changed, (…). At once he was aware (…) sight was dimmed (…). All things about him now were not dark but vague; while he himself was there in a grey hazy world”(39), “the things of this world seemed thin and vague. The rocky walls of the path were pale, as if seen through a mist.”(40) The sensation of vague sight was shared also by Frodo “At first he [Frodo] could see little. He seemed to be in a world of mist in which there were only shadows”(37).

(Note of interest: Though it is obvious that The Ring enabled to see clear things that belonged to the Shadow World – Immediately, (…) the shapes [Nazgûl] became terribly clear (…). In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel.”(12) – there is also an early quote about Ring actually increasing ‘normal’ powers of sight of the wearer: “But he [Sam while wearing the Ring] can see with terrible clearness – even through the rocks. He can see every crevice filled with spiders [originally there were more spiders planned than just Shelob]”(41). The fact that things in Shadow World were vague does not mean that Ringbearers could feel comfortable: He [Sam] did not feel invisible at all, but horribly and uniquely visible”(39), maybe Sam could also subconsciously fear other beings able to see in the mists. As Gandalf says to Frodo “You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were half in the wraith-world yourself, and they [Nazgûl] might have seized you. You could see them, and they could see you”(11) and so consequently as Frodo put on the One “Their eyes fell on him and pierced him, as they rushed towards him.”(12))

Many things seemed dim in the Shadow World, even fire and torches “they marched up like a phantom company, grey distorted figures in a mist, only dreams of fear with pale flames in their hands.”(39)

But not everything was pale in the Shadow World was pale: “Desperate, he [Frodo] drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand.”(12) What is interesting is that Frodo was the only one to see the flash. Sam for example “heard Frodo’s voice, (…) crying out strange words. They saw nothing more, until they stumbled over the body of Frodo” (though in the early drafts it was probably not so: “‘There was a flash’; but this is absent in [The Fellowship of the Ring]. Perhaps the reference is to Bingo’s [future Frodo] sword that ‘flickered redly as if it was a firebrand’”(58)). And similar quote “His hand left the bridle and gripped the hilt of his sword, and with a red flash he drew it”(13).

Although Frodo did not wear the Ring in that time, he was under the influence of the Morgul-knife wound. Even though he had been “healed in Rivendell of the knife-stroke, that grim wound had not been without effect. His senses were sharper and more aware of things that could not be seen”(49), and the effect was lasting “to the wizard’s eye there was a faint change just a hint as it were of transparency, about him, and especially about the left hand that lay outside upon the coverlet”(11), not to mention every year anniversary pains. And so Frodo “could see them [Ringwraiths] clearly now: they appeared to have cast aside their hoods and black cloaks, and they were robed in white and grey. Swords were naked in their pale hands; helms were on their heads. Their cold eyes glittered, and they called to him with fell voices.”(13)

Yet Frodo saw not only Wraiths: “To Frodo it appeared that a white light was shining through the form and raiment of the rider, as if through a thin veil.”(13), “With his last failing senses Frodo heard cries, and it seemed to him that he saw, (…) a shining figure of white light.”(13) Frodo questions Gandalf about it: “‘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’”(11).

Courage and Terror

Glorfindel was “one of the mighty of the Firstborn. He is an Elf-lord of a house of princes.”(11) He was one of the “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”(11) (as seen also in the case of the writings on the Morgul-knife hilt, which only Glorfindel can see).

It must be note that only Eldar from Aman possess such power, not every Elf. And so, when Bilbo puts on the Ring, he is not seen by the Elves of Mirkwood, and Legolas seeing a Balrog wailed and “gave a cry of dismay and fear”(60) as “a power and terror seemed to be in (Balrog) it and to go before it”(60). Indeed Gandalf cries “Fly! This is a foe beyond any of you.”(60), though if Glorfindel, bane of one of the Valaraukar, was present, it would not be so.

(Note of interest: At first it was to be that more Elves have such power. “The Elves of Rivendell are indeed descendants of his chief foes: the Gnomes [future Noldor]. They fear no Ring-wraiths, for they live at once in both worlds, and each world has only half power over them, while they have double power over both”(1) but soon Tolkien began to ponder “‘But perhaps only the High Elves of the West [are in both worlds]?‘”(59) and so he modified the passage.)

Though Moriquendi (the Dark Elves) could not equal lords like Glorfindel, and may be terrified by Balrog, they still may be more ready to face some unseen evils: “’I also will come,’ said Legolas, ‘for I do not fear the Dead.’”(26), “The company halted, and there was not a heart among them that did not quail, unless it were the heart of Legolas of the Elves, for whom the ghosts of Men have no terror.”(26).

Both quotes refer to the Paths of the Dead, that were haunted by the Oathbreakers. It must be noted that chief power of those belonging to the wraith-world lay in the ability to stir up exaggerated fear and terror. Such was also the case of the Sleepless Dead “and the Shadow Host pressed behind and fear went on before them”(26), “defenders and foes alike gave up the battle and fled (…)all the mariners were filled with a madness of terror and leaped overboard”(27).

The most known case of inspiring terror is of course that of the Nazgûl: “their chief weapon was terror. This was actually greater when they were unclad and invisible; and it was greater also when they were gathered together”(25) also “Their peril is almost entirely due to the unreasoning fear which they inspire (like ghosts).”(24) Even their yet undetected presence was troubling: “We can feel their presence – it troubled our hearts.”(12) The most powerful manifestation of the fear they brought was a shuddering cry “piercing the heart with a poisonous despair”(43), and an enduring exposure to it could result in deadly illness: “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.”(43) The power of the evil words could affect even the walls “the Black Captain rose in his stirrups and cried aloud in a dreadful voice, speaking in some forgotten tongue words of power and terror to rend both heart and stone.”(43), which resulted in breaching the Gate of Minas Tirith.

How come that Nazgûl are visible during the War of the Ring?

Rings of Power clearly rendered them invisible: “Those who used the Nine Rings (…) could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world (…) And they became for ever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring”(7).

Firstly there are strong premises that Ringwraiths did not have their Rings: “Sauron, who still through their nine rings (which he held)”(45), “the Nine [Rings] he [Sauron] has gathered to himself”(10), “the Eye of him [Sauron] that holds the Seven and the Nine”(46), “the Ring-wraiths, (…) being each utterly subservient to the ring that had enslaved him, which Sauron held”(25) and finally Nazgûl “were entirely enslaved to their Nine Rings, which he [Sauron] now himself held”(25) (also the absolute power of Sauron over the Ringwraiths is shown well here: “The Witch-king, their leader, is more powerful in all ways than the others; but he must not yet be raised to the stature of Vol. III. There, put in command by Sauron, he is given an added demonic force. But even in the Battle of the Pelennor, the darkness had only just broken.” (24)).There is only one quote suggesting otherwise: “The Nine the Nazgûl keep”(47), but altogether quotes rather lean more strongly towards Nazgûl-without-Rings option, though a matter of a debate.

Secondly they still could be totally invisible and could just clad themselves additionally: “The Lord of Morgul [Which King] therefore led his companions [Nazgûl] over Anduin, unclad and unmounted, and invisible to eyes (…). They reached the west-shores of Anduin (…) and there received horses and raiment”(25). And so “they are real horses; just as the black robes are real robes that they wear to give shape to their nothingness when they have dealings with the living.”(11) Which does not mean that the Nazgûl did not wear clothes that were also ‘succumbed’ to wraith-world (as is the case with Hobbit Ring-bearers): “He [Frodo] was able to see beneath their black wrappings (…) under their mantles were long grey robes”(12), “He [Frodo] could see them clearly now: they appeared to have cast aside their hoods and black cloaks, and they were robed in white and grey.” (13)

(Note of interest: There is one indication what the actual body of Nazgûl might have been like. Merry stabbed Witch-king “cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will”(19). The quote can be taken poetically or literally, but consider this: “No other blade, (…) would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter.”(19) The sword was “work of Westernesse, wound about with spells for the bane of Mordor”(18), wrought slowly “long ago in the North-kingdom when the Dúnedain were young and chief among their foes was the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king.”(19) The conclusion may be that spells laid on the sword helped, which indicates that the spell holding sinews was also real, not metaphorical. Even tough Men did not use magic, Tolkien deliberated: “But the Númenóreans used ‘spells’ in making swords?”(6) What is more in the first drafts Tolkien wrote about the blades: “the one kind of sword the Riders fear”(1) and in an isolated note “Why did the Black Riders fear it [sword of the Barrow-downs] ? – because it belonged to Western Men.”(1) On the other hand Ringwraiths did not died, “They had, as it seemed, unending life”(7), they just faded (we do not know to what extend), just as the Elves faded and were present in the Middle-Earth physically, though their flesh could not be seen (as opposed to the elven feär, that did not obey the summons).

Opposite effects of the full sunlight and darkness

If you slipped that ring on your finger, you were invisible; only in the full sunlight could you be seen, and then only by your shadow” (9) and so consequently “the sun came out from behind a cloud and shone bright (…). Suddenly one of the goblins inside shouted: „There is a shadow by the door. Something is outside!” [Bilbo with the Ring]”(9). What is more full daylight have also effect upon the Ringwraithes: “They [Nazgûl] themselves do not see the world of light as we do, but our shapes cast shadows in their minds, which only the noon sun destroys”(12) and curiously “All except the Witch-king were apt to stray when alone by daylight”(25), also “Of Khamûl it is said here that he was (…) the one whose power was most confused and diminished by daylight.”

On the other side, it may be deduced that Wraiths were relatively well suited to darkness, because those partly in Shadow World manage well in shades: “They have no great physical power against the fearless; but what they have, and the fear that they inspire, is enormously increased in darkness.”(24), “in the dark they [Nazgûl] perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us“(12), “for in that gloom the Shadow Host seemed to grow stronger and more terrible to look upon.“(26), “It no longer seemed very dark to him [Sam wearing Ring] in the tunnel, rather it was as if he had stepped out of a thin mist into a heavier fog.”(40), “One sign of change [the incurable effects of Morgul-knife wound] that he [Frodo] soon had noticed was that he could see more in the dark than any of his companions, save perhaps Gandalf.”(49)

(Note of interest: Another example of not-so-complete invisibility provided by the One Ring: “Isildur turned west, and drawing up the Ring (…) he set it upon his finger with a cry of pain, and was never seen again by any eye upon Middle-earth. But the Elendilmir of the West could not be quenched, and suddenly it blazed forth red and wrathful as a burning star. Men and Orcs gave way in fear; and Isildur, drawing a hood over his head, vanished into the night.”(48) Clearly if Men and Orcs gave way in fear, they must have seen the flash of Elendilmir (Symbol of royalty among the Kings of Arnor and their descendants: a radiant white gem set on a silver fillet), so its light could not be dim solely by the Ring, but covering of it was necessary to do the trick. It must have been a remarkable gem indeed.)

Sounds and voices

Strange things seem to happen to the sounds connected in any way with Shadow World (quite apart from extremely sensitive hearing and understanding of languages that Frodo and Sam experienced, which were most probably the effect of wearing the One Ring), especially with the relative distance of the coming of the sounds.

He [Sam on Weathertop] heard Frodo’s voice [crying out name of Elbereth while wearing the Ring], but it seemed to come from a great distance, or from under the earth”(13)

Now compare it with the song of Barrow-Wight (their connection with Necromancy will be dealt with later): “Suddenly a song began: a cold murmur, rising and falling. The voice seemed far away and immeasurably dreary, sometimes high in the air and thin, sometimes like a low moan from the ground. (…)”(17) and “Then [as Tom Bombadil banished the Wight] there was a long trailing shriek, fading away into an unguessable distance”(17)

Finally the Dead of the Shadow Host: “And a voice was heard out of the night that answered him, as if from far away”(26), “Faint cries [from charging Host] I heard, and dim horns blowing, and a murmur as of countless far voices: it was like the echo of some forgotten battle in the Dark Years long ago”(27) and “Then Elrohir gave to Aragorn a silver horn, and he blew upon it and it seemed to those that stood near that they heard a sound of answering horns, as if it was an echo in deep caves far away”(26).

(Note of interest: As stressed in last quote it was a sensation shared by those near Strider.

The nearness of somewhat voices was sensed by Gimli likewise: “there seemed an endless whisper of voices all about him, a murmur of words (…) and a rumour came after him like the shadow-sound of many feet”(26), though the Dead could behave utterly silently: “There was no answer, unless it were an utter silence more dreadful than the whispers before”(26), “Then there was silence, and not a whisper nor a sigh was heard again all the long night”(26) and “Some I saw riding, some striding (…). Silent they were” (27). Together with the fact that Dead probably did not possess physical ‘outer’ raiment it implies that they were able to displays curious range of sounds and made them (even ‘normal’ sounds of walking) only when they wished to.)

And the most known example of unearthly voices: the cries of Ringwraiths.

They cried with the voices of death”(7): “a rending screech, shivering, rising swiftly to a piercing pitch beyond the range of hearing”(42), “long screech rose and fell”(43), “a long wailing cry, high and thin and cruel”(32), “cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom”(19) that “pierced all other sounds”(44). The interesting thing is that in those shrills and cries words were included as well: “’It was a call, or a signal – there were words in that cry, though I could not catch them’”(38) and “Nazgûl came with their cold voices crying words of death”(36) (probably in the Black Speech, the vilest language known).

Upon our side

The case of the Ringwraiths is the one when we can glimpse how possibly those almost wholly belonging to the Shadow World could perceive ours.

For the black horses can see, and the Riders can use men and other creatures as spies (…) They themselves do not see the world of light as we do, but our shapes cast shadows in their minds, which only the noon sun destroys; and in the dark they perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us (…). And at all times they smell the blood of living things, desiring and hating it. Senses, too, there are other than sight or smell. (…) they feel [our hearts] more keenly.”(12)


Strange and fearsome is the world of Shadows and Necromancy to the mortals, and not easy to understand, even more tempting and dangerous to immerse oneself into. No wonder that the Dark Powers resorted to every foul art connected with it, using their powers to subject the living, and teaching their followers such craft.

Much of their intentions succeeded, because Men proved easy to ensnare and deceive, either by promise of love (Gorlim), power (Nazgûl) or immortality (Men of Westernesse)

Yet often their evil deeds turned into their undoing, fortunately. Though “Dreadful is the power of the Necromancer“(1), sometimes he was defeated by his own malicious designs. “Strange and wonderful I thought it that the designs of Mordor should be overthrown by such wraiths of fear and darkness. With its own weapons was it worsted!”(27)



1 – The Return of the Shadow (HoME 6), The First Phase, At Rivendell

2 – Morgoth’s Ring (HoME 10), The Later Quenta Sil., Laws and Customs among the Eldar

3 – Morgoth’s Ring (HoME 10), Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth

4 – Morgoth’s Ring (HoME 10), Myths Transformed

5 – The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #155 To Naomi Mitchinson (draft)

6 – The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #155 To Naomi Mitchinson (draft) – Notes

7 – Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

8 – The Return of the Shadow (HoME 6), The First Phase, Of Gollum and the Ring

9 – The Hobbit, Riddles in the Dark

10 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Shadow of the Past

11 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Many Meetings

12 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, A Knife in the Dark

13 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Flight to the Ford

14 – The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, The North-kingdom and the Dúnedain

15 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, In the House of Tom Bombadil

16 – The Return of the Shadow (HoME 6), The First Phase, Tom Bombadil

17 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Fog on the Barrow-Downs

18 – The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, The Departure of Boromir

19 – The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, The Battle of Pelennor Fields

20 – The Hobbit, The Return Journey

21 – The War of the Jewels (HoME 11), The Later Quenta Sil., Concerning the Dwarves

22 – The Lost Road and Other Writings (HoME 5), Part Two, Quenta Silmarillion

23 – Unfinished Tales, Part I, Narn i Hîn Húrin

24 – The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #210 to Forrest J. Ackerman

25 – Unfinished Tales, Part III, The Hunt for the Ring

26 – The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, The Passing of the Grey Company

27 – The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, The Last Debate

28 – The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Muster of Rohan

29 – The Lays of Beleriand (HoME 3), The Lay of Leithian

30 – The Lays of Beleriand (HoME 3), The Lay of Leithian Recommenced

31 – Silmarillion, Quenta Sil., Of Beren and Lúthien

32 – The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, The Passage of the Marshes

33 – Silmarillion, Akallabêth The Downfall of Númenor

34 – The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #131 To Milton Waldman (early stage)

35 – The Lost Road and Other Writings (HoME 5), Part One, The Fall of Númenor

36 – The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, The Black Gate opens

37 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Breaking of the Fellowship

38 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, A Short Cut to Mushrooms

39 – The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Shelob’s Lair

40 – The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, The Tower of Cirith Ungol

41 – The War of the Ring (HoME 8), Part Two, Kirith Ungol

42 – The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, The Stairs of Cirith Ungol

43 – The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, The Siege of Gondor

44 – The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Mount Doom

45 – The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #246 From a letter to Mrs Eileen Elgar (drafts)

46 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Mirror of Galadriel

47 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond

48 – Unfinished Tales, Part III, The Disaster of Gladden Fields

49 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, A Journey in the Dark

50 – The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Muster of Rohan

51 – The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #212 To Rhona Beare (draft)

52 – The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, The Window on the West

53 – The War of the Ring (HoME 8), Part Two, The Passage of the Marshes

54 – Silmarillion, Appendix Elements in Quenya and Sindarin Names

55 – Silmarillion, Quenta Sil., Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor

56 – Silmarillion, Quenta Sil., Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor

57 – Silmarillion, Quenta Sil., Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin

58 – The Return of the Shadow (HoME 6), The First Phase, From Weathertop to the Ford

59 – The Return of the Shadow (HoME 6), The First Phase, ‘Queries and Alterations’

60 – The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

61 – Silmarillion, Quenta Sil., Of the Sindar

62 – The War of the Ring (HoME 8), Part Three, The Battle of Pelennor Fields

63 – Children of Húrin, Chapter III The Words of Húrin and Morgoth