The Connection Between Groundhog Day and the Fall of Numenor

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I have done a somewhat sloppy job explaining myself in the previous article on the fall of Numenor and “the encircling of Arda.”  As many of you have pointed out, I have not demonstrated why the ring-shaped Arda (after it was made round) spiritually corresponds to grasping for immortality by the Numenoreans.

As I pondered about it, a new mythological connection emerged in my mind, which, I believe, will make the connection more succinct. In the famous movie Groundhog Day, Phil, the protagonist, finds himself stuck in one day, February 2, repeatedly.

Here’s an interesting summary of the movie I found on IMDb:

A weather man is reluctantly sent to cover a story about a weather forecasting “rat” (as he calls it). This is his fourth year on the story, and he makes no effort to hide his frustration. On awaking the ‘following’ day, he discovers that it’s Groundhog Day again, and again, and again. First he uses this to his advantage, then comes the realisation that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing every day.—Rob Hartill   

What caught my attention here is the reference to a “rat” and the “doom.” For a good part of the movie, Phil’s quest is to take advantage of his “immortality,” but he soon realizes that he is feeling like “butter spread over too much bread.” (Bilbo Baggin’s feelings after possessing the Ring for a long time).

Phil finds himself stuck in the rat race of life, repeating never-ending circles. As this circling continues, he slowly realizes that his newly acquired “immortality” does not deliver. So, he’s grasping for more and more “advantages,” believing that he might finally achieve happiness in the rat race he’s caught in.

But the more he grasps, the less it works. By the end of the movie, he realizes that he must let go of Self to survive his “doom.” He lets go – relinquishes control and drops the Ring of Power, so to say. He starts living for others because nothing else satisfies him. He’s not striving to break out of his prison anymore. And he doesn’t feel doomed anymore.

To his surprise, one day the endless circling ends. The vicious cycle is broken. Using Tolkien’s words, by accepting the doom (or gift) of Men, he has freed himself from the circles of the world. And this is exactly what the great mariners of men discovered after the fall of Numenor and the encircling of Arda.

What caused the downfall of Numenor?

Numenor craved immortality to such a degree that they tried to take it by force. This resulted in a curse – the drowning of Numenor and the encircling of Arda. Spiritually, this curse corresponds to the craving of their hearts. The wanted immortality at all costs but found themselves stuck in an endless circle of death.  

“Thus it was that great mariners among them would still search the empty seas, hoping to come upon the Isle of Meneltarma (Valinor), and there to see a vision of things that were. But they found it not. And those that sailed far came only to the new lands, and found them like to the old lands, and subject to death. And those that sailed furthest set but a girdle about the Earth and returned weary at last to the place of their beginning; and they said: ‘All roads are now bent.’ Thus in after days, what by the voyages of ships, what by lore and star-craft, the kings of Men knew that the world was indeed made round.”

This roundness mirrors the shape of the Ring of Power. When you seek immortality through some external means (the Ring as the ultimate technology), you are trapped in an endless circle. You perpetuate what you want to escape – weariness and death. You feel weary – like butter spread over too much bread. You are in a Groundhog Day.

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What is The Curse of Pandora’s Box or Why Sometimes It is Better not to Look

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What is the curse of Pandora’s box?

Speaking of the laws of fairyland in Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton explains that in all fairy tales “the vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden.”

In all fairy tales known to mankind, an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.

But why? Why should something be withheld?

Chesterton writes,

If Cinderella says, “How is it that I must leave the ball at twelve?” her godmother might answer, “How is it that you are going there till twelve?”

It is magic. In fairy tales, the condition is just as incomprehensible as the fairyland itself. The fairy godmother is working magic before your very eyes, which is just as incomprehensible as the condition she lays down. Just like Mary Poppins, she doesn’t explain anything. She is magical enough to silence all our questions.

And yet we want to look. We want to know. What we feel is Pandora’s itch as she gazed upon that strange gift of Zeus – the “magical” box she was forbidden to open. Pandora received her name from Hermes himself – her name means “all-gifted.” She received from the gods every possible gift, but Zeus gave her the strangest gift of all.

He gave her curiosity and a box that she wasn’t allowed to open. What an irony!

When I read this myth to my son, his eyes grew large,

“What?” he cringed. “Isn’t it cruel?”

“Hm… I guess it may seem so at first,” I answered after a pause. “But think about it. To trust means to accept not knowing. If you must know, you cannot trust. And if you can’t trust, you cannot be happy.”

“Ah…” he nodded and went about his business, leaving me alone as I sat there pondering Pandora’s dilemma.  

You have been granted every gift in the world, and yet you are told to accept one small condition. You must not look into the box.


No explanation is given. The only feasible “explanation” is to trust that it’s better. But Pandora’s desire for knowledge gets the better of her. “What if there’s something there that will make me happier?” she muses.

The moment she opened the box, all the miseries and evils imaginable were unleashed into the world including sickness and death. She tries to push them back inside but can’t. It’s irreversible.     

Exhausted, she looks inside the empty box and sees a simple ray of light – a comforting gift from Zeus. When she looks away from her troubles and onto the ray of light, she feels hope and relief.

Pandora’s dilemma is a human dilemma. By trying to get knowledge at all costs, we let loose unthinkable evils into the world. Not everything should be done that can be done. Sometimes it’s best not to look under the lid. Some things, if let out, can’t be undone.

Knowledge is good. Our craving for knowledge is bad. When we can’t trust and accept a “no,” we are ignorant because we cannot attain true knowledge, which is a relationship.

When Adam and Eve were told not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it wasn’t because God was holding out on them. He was inviting them to a deeper knowledge – the knowledge that comes from “not knowing.” The knowledge of unknowing is always based on trust!

To unknow means you accept the idea that you are not god. We cannot know everything. We cannot predict everything. When we leave the role of God to God, we become divine.

There’s no true knowledge without accepting one little “no.” Knowledge only works when there’s room for trust – not knowing. There must be this happy tension between knowing and not knowing for knowledge to work.

Without this essential paradox, knowledge becomes a curse. So, what is the curse of Pandora’s box?

What is the main point of The Question Concerning Technology?

Martin Heidegger’s essay “The Question Concerning Technology” might be a case in point. According to Heidegger, we don’t seem to notice when we cross the line between using technology for our purposes and when technology starts using us. To make his point, he described what happened to water mills along the Rhine River.

Before the 20th century, there were many individual water mills along the Rhine. They were all “built into” the river. In the 20th century, a huge power plant was built at that spot, interlocking the river entirely. The river is now built into the power plant, not the other way around!

This is a fine illustration of what is happening with technology in our time – a slow and gradual change from “using a tool” to “being used by the tool.” Just as the Rhine is now built into technology and serves it, we are building our lives around the “instrument-defined reality.”

A tool must be a tool. It should help us get things done, but it cannot take up the entire space of our lives. When technology becomes the overarching reality, we build everything into it.

When technology has become the overarching principle of life, it’s no longer a tool but an artificial reality. The rhetoric “but it helps us get things done faster and more efficiently” no longer applies. This rhetoric works only in the case of a tool that we use for a while and then put down to do something else. With modern technology, we rarely do “something else.”

In J.R.R. Tolkien, the One Ring is the ultimate technology. It promises us the world but always takes away what it promises to give.

What is the name of Annatar?

The One Ring was wrought by Sauron himself who was called Annatar, “the gift giver.” It is said that since Sauron was behind the “technology” used in creating the magical rings, he had full control over them. The one who creates technology holds the power.

The Elves were deceived by him – they thought the technology Sauron offered was “neutral,” and they could use it for a good purpose. Eventually, they realized that Sauron knew their minds every time they put them on.

He was the Master of all the rings – even those he didn’t forge – because his technology was used in making them. Some elves took off the rings realizing that otherwise they would be forfeiting their freedom.

There’s only one way not to be controlled by the ring – take it off. Using Martin Heidegger’s analogy, a tool must remain a tool. When it takes up the whole space of our lives, it’s no longer a tool. It has a different name. It’s an idol.  

Rene Girard on How to End Violence in the World

Is it possible to end violence in the world?

In our day and age, violence is legitimized and sacralized – as it’s always been. Nations rise and declare war on each other on the grounds that seem perfectly justifiable.

Since times immemorial, people have believed in sacred violence because there seems to be no other way to set things right when you have been wronged. If a member of another tribe kills someone you love, it is impossible to replace this person by finding an equivalent. There is no equivalent.

How do you then compensate for the loss? How do you appease the wrath? What do you do with the pain? What sacrifice is sufficient to restore peace in your soul?

The usual reasoning goes like this: I must make the offending party pay with something they hold dear. They must sacrifice someone they love. It can’t be just anyone. It should be someone pure and perfect, a holy sacrifice. A king, a maid, or a child. There is a strong mythology developed around the sacred victim because it seems to be the only workable solution.

“The victim becomes sacred and the process of sacralization remains a fundamental structure of all archaic religion.” Rene Girard

When the sacrifice is made (usually by violence), peace is restored. Wrath seems to be appeased. Or is it? In any case, it seems to work for a time – at least, it dulls the pain well enough.

What is the theory of Rene Girard?

Rene Girard, a French historian, literary critic, and philosopher, said that people have only two ways of dealing with violence in this world. One is to look for a scapegoat. The other one is to become a scapegoat – willingly.

The first way is pagan. All pagan religions sooner or later come up with the idea of a scapegoat – someone who will bear the guilt of all.

The second one was epitomized by Christ – an innocent scapegoat who willingly takes upon himself the guilt of all the transgressions.

Rene Girard says,

“Christianity must be the religion of the end of sacrifice, because it says that there is only one victim, who is God.”

Pain always pushes us to look for a scapegoat. Until our pain is healed, we will need a sacrifice to appease our own anger. We will lash out. We will demand a sacrifice. We are hurting, so we need to hurt. We can’t just leave it like this. So, we will ALWAYS find a scapegoat – someone who will pay the price.

The trouble with this approach is that it DOES NOT heal the pain that caused the violence in the first place – it only dulls it for a while. By lashing out against our chosen scapegoat, we feel a temporary relief from our pain but the root of it remains. We will be relieved for a while until something else or someone else triggers our pain again.

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What is a Name According to the Inklings? A Label or a Portal into Being?

What is a name according to the Inklings?

When Frodo stabs a Ringwraith at Weathertop with his sword and cries out in Elvish, “O Elbereth Gilthoniel!” he doesn’t know what he is doing. Later, Aragorn explains what happened at that moment,

More deadly to him [the Witch-king] was the name of Elbereth.

But why is the name of Elbereth (Varda) so deadly to the Witch-king? Isn’t it just a sound?

It turns out, it’s not. In our divided consciousness, we tend to separate the name from its bearer. We do so subconsciously because modern consciousness perceives everything in fragments. We think that the name is merely a sound, and the thing it denotes is a physical object that exists separately from its name. But that’s not what we find in the Inklings.

In Tolkien’s legendarium, the Elvish languages seem to represent the one proper language, or “language as it should be.” It is the primal proto-language not yet divided by the curse of Babel. It proceeds from the consciousness that perceives the world as a Whole, and in it, words are always one with what they name. In fact, words contain what they name as in a “house.”

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger spoke of words as “the house of being,” not labels or tags on things. He said,

For words and language are not wrappings in which things are packed for the commerce of those who write and speak. It is in words and language that things first come into being and are.

So, what is a name according to the Inklings? It is a portal that ushers the invocator into the invisible realm concealed behind the sound.

For the Inklings, the name and the named are one. The named one is IN the name. The Lord of the Rings was written from a different consciousness than ours as Tolkien himself seems to indicate – it was the consciousness of participation, not separation. Tolkien said,

I have long ceased to invent… I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself.

For a participated consciousness, there is no difference between the name of a thing and the thing itself. The thing exists in its name. That’s why words always effect what they name. The name is not a denotation; it’s an invocation. That’s why Elbereth was really there at Frodo’s call. There is no other explanation for Frodo’s survival – if Varda wasn’t there, Frodo would have been consumed by the Darkness. But she was there fully present in her name.

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The Effect of the “Distant Forest” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle – Whispers Amplified by Imagination


As I got off the phone with an old friend this morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being under some spell.

He had shared a video with me from 12 years ago when we were much younger, my daughter was 10, and my son was 6.

We had a picnic around a fire, cooking hotdogs, chatting, and enjoying a warm summer evening in Siberia.

As I watched my daughter’s cute chubby face chewing on the hotdog and my son’s frantic hopping and jumping over the fire, I teared up.

“This is Paradise,” I thought. “Why didn’t I see it then?”

“Paradise,” echoed my friend on the other side of the conversation.

“Hmm…,” I thought to myself after I hung up. “Why is it that we tend to see an experience as ordinary when we are in the middle of it? And when there’s some distance between us – whether it’s time or geography – it transforms into something else.

Why didn’t I see all that before? It was an ordinary evening. Yes, I enjoyed it very much, but now I almost see it as a doorway into some inexplicable magic. A picture of another world.

Is my memory playing a trick on me, so am I imagining something that wasn’t there?

Or maybe it’s the other way around – my memory shows me something that was there, but I was too close to it to see it for what it is.

“You can’t recognize a person’s face when you are too close to it,” said the Russian poet Sergey Esenin.

But how do I know that my memory is not deceiving me?

Owen Barfield said in his poem The Tower:

But many times, the secret-breathing world
Whispers to thee, yet whispers with a voice
Which memory shall warehouse as a shout.

This world is breathing secrets, but we often don’t hear its whispers until something amplifies them for us into a shout.

Our memory is that shout that amplifies the whispers that we didn’t hear.  

But what are those secrets that we tend to overlook because we are too close to reality to recognize its face?

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The Magic of Lothlórien – How Tolkien Used Vertical Speech to Allure us into the Silence Around Words

The magic of Lothlórien in The Lord of the Rings is a fine example of how the Inklings use the power of vertical speech.

Quoting Max Picard from The Worlds of Silence, Peter Kreeft said that in modern writing, words have lost their vertical static quality:

The architecture of the Hebrew language is vertical. Each word sinks down vertically, column-wise, into the sentence. In language today we have lost the static quality of the ancient tongues. The sentence has become dynamic; every word in every sentence speeds on quickly to the next … each word comes more from the preceding word than from the silence and moves on more to the next word in front of it than to the silence.

In modern writing, words are used primarily as communication tools. People use words to get their message across. This type of speech is message-driven, not meaning-driven.

You look for words just to move the reader along as quickly as possible from one word to the next horizontally. Words are whips to get the reader going.

The Inklings use words vertically, not horizontally.

For them, each word is alive. Each word speaks through a particular sound shape – and needs to be heard.

When you “hear” the word’s speech, the curtain of the world is drawn for a second or two and you see… what the words dimly point to.

The Inklings use words to allure the reader to the silence around the words – not to get the message across. As Treebeard said:

You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.

To use words vertically means to find words that make the reader spellbound for a second or two. Preferably longer.

The right words are inspired by Mercury himself – they descend from heaven like fire and become “proper names” in the mouth of the herald.

Like a piercing line of poetry, they make you stop breathing the air of the world and plunge into a meditative reverie as you breathe in the fragrance from beyond the walls of the world.

Tolkien’s description of the magic of Lothlórien is a case in point.

How does Tolkien describe Lothlórien?

Just like Tom Bombadil, Lothlórien could easily have been left out of the plot. Linearly speaking, nothing “happened” there except that the fellowship felt the magic of Lothlórien and got some rest.

Technically, the chapter about Lothlórien is just as extraneous as the chapter on Tom Bombadil.

But it’s a fine example of vertical speech that introduces the reader to the perilous realm of Faerie.

The effect of entering the realm of the Lady is such that all the company feels the presence of some inexplicable magic.

For some, it is a delight. For some, it is torment.

Tolkien seems to suggest that the whole land was Galadriel’s mirror – not just the stone mirror itself. As the fellowship walked through the enchanted wood, they saw their secret thoughts and desires revealed as if in a mirror.

Some liked it; some hated it. But they couldn’t hide from it.

They stepped into a land of the Last Judgement unfolding 24/7.

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What Led Anakin To The Dark Side – Can “Good” Lead to Evil?

Anakin Skywalker

Like any true myth, the story about Anakin Skywalker turning to the dark side is compelling in its overwhelming persuasiveness. What led Anakin to the dark side?

C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter to Peter Milward that a good myth is

“a story out of which varying meanings will grow for different readers and in different ages.”  

And then he added that a myth is not really dependent on the words in which it is told or the art form in which it is conveyed. It’s not the narrative itself that makes the myth convincing but something much more elusive. 

“The narrative is more of a net whereby we catch something else.”

What led Anakin to the dark side?

What I caught in the net of the Star Wars myth is HOW Anakin was led to the dark side — it happened, oddly enough, through his inordinate desire for something good.

As a young boy he swore a solemn oath at his mother’s grave: “When I grow up, I will become strong and will never let my loved ones suffer and die.” 

This oath marked his transition to the dark side long before it happened in chronological time. At that moment, a bargain was struck in his soul for the possession of a loved one in exchange for breaking God’s law.

At that moment, he made a decision for himself to never ever part with his loved ones again, no matter the cost. The perfectly good desire — to protect his loved ones from death — turned in him into a demonic possession when he put it on a pedestal.

As Tim Keller said, an idol is a good thing turned into the ultimate thing.

An idol is usually a good thing that we make ultimate. We say, “Unless I have that, I am nothing.”

Why did Anakin choke Padme?

When Anakin had to choose between losing Padme — fearing that she might die in childbirth — or turning to evil to “save” her from death, he chose evil. It was his desire to “save” her at all costs that led Anakin to the dark side. For him, the dark side became a means of saving his loved one. He chose evil to achieve what he thought was the ultimate good. 

Ironically, this led to Padme’s death. He choke the one he wanted to save with his own hands. When we turn a good thing into the ultimate thing and try to get it at all costs, we lose that good thing — destroy it with our own hands.

Such is the harsh logic of idolatry. We are captivated by some version of good and turn it into the “summum bonum” — without noticing it. And then everything becomes a means to an end, a sacrifice offered on the altar of this god. 

A wise man once said that a myth is something everyone knows without being told. This “story” lives in humanity’s collective unconscious, and we all instantly recognize it once it is put in the form of a narrative.

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The Power of an Empty Mind – The Wisdom of Meister Eckhart

“The soul does not grow by addition but by subtraction.”

Meister Eckhart

I was looking at the lampshade that I was designing as part of my business. I liked the way it turned out. And yet, something made me doubt whether it was ready to go to the client. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was.

Was it the shape? The size?

Straining my mind for an answer, I suddenly felt some unease growing in me. I knew very well what it meant. It usually means that I am frustrated with how things are going and want quick results.

Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, told a parable of an archer who “needed to win.” At first, he was shooting just for fun and seldom missed.

When he was offered a reward, a brass buckle, he became nervous. Then, he was offered a prize of gold and went blind – started seeing two targets.

His skill didn’t change, but the prize divided him. He cared more about winning than shooting. The need to win drained him of power.  

I also knew what my mind was doing. It was set on winning. On results. Not on the fun of designing. My unease made me blind – I couldn’t see what was lacking in the lampshade.

I stopped and took a breath. I needed a break. “The soul does not grow by addition but by subtraction,” the famous quote crossed my mind.

It felt counterintuitive – I had a deadline to meet. The project was due the next day. Just thinking about it gave me more anxiety. I was desperately grasping for control.

Sitting down in a chair by the window, I turned away from the lampshade. Do I really need to get it done today? What if I let it go and stay inactive for a while? The thought sent shivers down my spine. I could lose the client if I didn’t ship it on time.

But there was something else behind it all that I feared even more. Deep down in my heart, there was a little perfectionist who couldn’t bear the thought of not meeting someone’s expectations.

It was my self-image, my EGO, I was holding on to. It was my ego that made me so uneasy. I knew I needed to let go. I will stop striving for results and will trust my creative instincts.

Taking the leap of faith, I finished the last of my coffee and stepped out for a bike ride.

For the rest of the day, I was watching my mind intently – it would shoot back to the lampshade again and again. But, after some time of silence, it slowly loosened its grip.

I sat by the window, watching the kids play with a plastic bag that they inflated like a balloon. My wife was busy in the kitchen making pancakes! And then, finally, my mind was empty. For a while, I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular.

Noticing the smells, the rustling of the plastic bag, the laughter of the boys, I was becoming increasingly aware of what was going on around me. And there was peace, undisturbed by any thinking.

The next morning, I walked into the room and looked at the lampshade. And suddenly – bang! I got it. It struck me like lightning. It was a simple solution that only an empty mind could produce.

I added one piece to the shade and immediately knew in my heart that it was it. There was no doubt. Because it came out of emptiness. There was no ME in it.

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