Elbereth | Woman at Enmity with the Serpent

Meditation of the Day

During the attack on Weathertop, the Witch-king singles out Frodo, who has put on the Ring under the compulsion of the Ringwraiths’ evil will and the Ring’s own malice. At this terrible foe’s approach, Frodo throws himself on the ground, slashes at his enemy’s feet with his sword, and “[hears] himself crying aloud: O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!” The Witch-king lets out a cry, then stabs Frodo in the shoulder with a cursed blade, a Morgul-knife (morgul means sorcery; Minas Morgul is the Tower of Sorcery where the Nazgûl reside). Frodo passes out, as Aragorn leaps forward to defend him.

In the aftermath of the battle, Aragorn inspects the scene and retrieves a slashed black cloak. He deduces that this was the only damage done to the Lord of the Nazgûl, because if Frodo’s blade had actually made contact, it would have been destroyed. But, he says, “More deadly to him was the name of Elbereth.” At his most vulnerable moment, Frodo was inspired by the Secret Fire within to utter an urgent invocation of the name of his heavenly Queen—and as a combined effect of Frodo’s simple prayer and Aragorn’s authority, their otherwise invulnerable opponent was driven off. This is not Magic, that is, the manipulation of superior forces by an inferior being through the use of secret arts or technique: Frodo can efficaciously invoke the heavenly Lady’s aid only because he is “of the seed of the woman” (Rev. 12:17, echoing the exact wording of Gen. 3:15). He is an Elf-friend, or in Christian terms, a believer who belongs to the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

The following is Tolkien’s own definition of Magic: 

By [Magic] I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of developments of the inherent inner powers or talents – or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131 to Milton Waldman (1951)

Magic, in this sense, is what Sauron and his servants employ, because their aim is domination over other beings. The invocation of the name of Elbereth (or Mary), by contrast, is an appeal made to a higher power on the basis of a loving relationship, and for the sake of love. It is about upholding the true nature of things, restoring the proper order in creation, ensuring that the Creator’s purposes are not thwarted by evil. Likewise, when followers of her Son call on her name in their hour of need, our Blessed Mother recognizes the voice of her own children, and lovingly comes to their defence, every time. She interposes herself between us and whatever evil is threatening us. “Begone! This one is mine,” she declares, and the serpent’s head is crushed, time and time again.

In the Hail Mary, one of the most basic of all Catholic prayers, we invoke the holy name of Mary twice, and in between, we invoke the Name above all names, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the one before whom every knee shall bow, “of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth” (Phil. 2:10), the Name that makes the infernal legions tremble. Thus in this prayer Mary’s name enfolds that of her exalted Son, just as she once enfolded His tiny body within her womb. She is the perfect shrine for Him. “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; / God shall help her, just at the break of dawn” (Ps. 46:5).

Prayer

Ave María, grátia plena, Dóminus tecum. Benedícta tu in muliéribus, et benedíctus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta María, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatóribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostræ. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Aia María (Tolkien’s translation into Quenya)

Musical Selection

Action Points

  • Formal prayers and set times for prayer are both necessary for anyone who is serious about growing closer to God. But genuine love for God, and for our blessed Lady, is never content with fulfilling duties and meeting expectations; it wants to soar ever higher. The more we can weave prayer—in this case, the loving invocation of the name of our Mother—into the very fabric of our lives, the better. Today, let’s begin or grow in our practice of calling upon her often, throughout the day, in favorable and unfavorable circumstances. We can be sure she will respond to our efforts, even if they are feeble.
  • Let’s ask for the grace of a greater confidence in the power of Mary’s name to drive back the powers of darkness, just as effectively as the name of Elbereth inflicted pain on the Witch-king.

To Go Deeper

  • Learn about the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary (September 12). Take special note of the fact that this feast was instituted for the universal Church in recognition of the defeat of the Turks on Sept. 12, 1683, by Jan Sobieski, which was attributed to Mary’s intercession.
  • Mary, Terror of Demons