This is one of those few times where I’ve left myself a batshit note about Tolkien & witchcraft, like what does that even mean, except not only did I put an additional note in the actual body of the post, I already knew what I was talking about! I am notorious for leaving myself less than no hints when it comes to writing posts and scheduling things out weeks in advance, but this is a topic that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and it’s stuck with me for months now.
Lol, yes, I did just put Angmar there, Tolkien literally calls him the witch-king, and it’s amazing, but that’s not why we’re here! There are so many things that I could talk about that would echo back the deep roots of witchcraft throughout the world, but it’s all eventually going to lead back to hobbits, and that feels like an appropriate place to start anyway. (Which is mildly hilarious given I’m going to be talking about hobbits a lot this month.)
If you had to break down witchcraft to its most basic roots, it would be this: we love the earth, and we want to protect and honor it. The entire purpose of witchcraft is to honor where we’ve been so that, when we return to the earth, it welcomes us with open arms. The earth is single-handedly the most important part of witchcraft, and every single bit of magic that you attempt is going to come back to how it effects the earth, what tools you’re using from the earth, and how you can give back to the earth. And that kind of just sounds like everything hobbits are about.
In Tolkien’s opening chapter, he lays it out perfectly.
Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people, more numerous formerly than they are today; for they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt. They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skilful with tools. Even in ancient days they were, as a rule, shy of ‘the Big Folk’, as they call us, and now they avoid us with dismay and are becoming hard to find.Concerning Hobbits
Tolkien spends a lot of time talking about how hobbits are a slow-moving people who love food above all else, enjoy lazy days in the garden, and like to keep among their own. One of the truly most adorable things in the entire series is when Sam carries salt through Mordor because they might bump into a roast chicken and need a little seasoning. He carries his pots and pans around, he remarks on the strawberries in the Shire, and he forages for wild herbs constantly. And, like? That’s a witch. The amount of times that I have some kind of seasoning in my bag, whether or not it’s meant for a spell or just because I forgot that I was carrying cinnamon around. Put me in the wild, and I’m going to go hunting for leaves and exclaim over ferns and squat down to marvel at mushrooms.
And even if you took a step back from hobbits and just thought of Tolkien, he has many of the same qualities. He was forever infuriated by industrialization (I shudder to think what he would make of the world now), he loved walking in the woods and being far from people, and he related to hobbits above all other characters in his books because he, too, just wished for a plot of land that was quiet and away from the noise of society.
It would be just a nice nod to a better kind of life, too, if Tolkien hadn’t made it so deeply entrenched in Middle-earth. We might have just smiled at his reclusive nature and given Sam a little pat on the head, but Tolkien’s ties to something that echoes back to witchcraft is rooted inside of Middle-earth in a way that, to tear it out is to destroy the story.
By no means am I saying that Tolkien was a witch. The early practices of witchcraft throughout the world, and even the modernized ones now, come from cultures that long predate Christianity and Catholicism. The roots of most religions today are based in what people were just doing to make sense of the world, and that wouldn’t take on the name witchcraft for millennia. But it permeates Middle-earth in a way that makes it undeniable. If Sam was not a gardener and so in tune with the earth, he very likely would not have survived the wasteland of Mordor with so much optimism. If Merry was not a lifelong lover of playing in the trees and growing up on stories of the majesty of Fangorn, he might have let Treebeard hem and haw his way through the meeting of Ents until the war had passed them by. If Pippin was not so focused on making sure they were all fed and watered properly, they might have disbanded away from his stubborn resolve to keep them together. If you take any one of the hobbits out of the larger story, it begins to fracture, and it’s because of the earth-bound qualities that they bring with them.
At the end of the day, the defeat of Sauron is much more than just the defeat of evil. It’s the protection of the land, the saving of the earth around them. It’s allowing people to live in their homes again, to till their fields and grow their own food again, to feel safe in their mountains and forests. Mirkwood is sick because of Sauron’s evil, and Fangorn has slumbered because the trees have not been honored as they were once. There is so much magic bound into the very soil of Middle-earth, and the hobbits are the vehicle that Tolkien uses to show that magic, to unfold it and bring it to life.
At the end of the day, the worst possible thing that could happen to Middle-earth is the destruction of the Shire, and I think that speaks volumes of the deep roots of witchcraft that wove through Tolkien’s life.