The Valar – the Powers of the World – were the Ainur that descended into Arda upon its coming into being. They were so enamoured of the beauty of the world that wished to abide there and prepare the place for the Children of Ilúvatar. While some of the Valar dwelt alone, most of them were in spousal relationship. 

However, the Valar’s marriages were very different from our usual understanding of the concept. In the published Silmarillion the Valar are joined in purely spiritual unions between the two. A careful look will reveal a certain complementary nature of these couples: both partners are usually responsible for different aspects of one and the same domain. Thus together they form one complete whole which embraces all of the domain’s features down to the tiniest detail. Another side of this complementarity includes better understanding of the outer world when the two are together. The best example of this is Manwë and Varda: 

When Manwë there ascends his throne and looks forth, if Varda is beside him, he sees further than all other eyes, through mist, and through darkness, and over the leagues of the sea. And if Manwë is with her, Varda hears more clearly than all other ears the sound of voices that cry from east to west, from the hills and the valleys, and from the dark places that Melkor has made upon Earth.

(Silmarillion, p.16)

Manwë and Varda are seldom parted, and when together they seem to form an ideal partnership where the presence of one naturally benefits the other. Based on both – similarities and differences, but also with one common goal and sphere of influence, this is the marriage where the two fit in with each other like the details of a jigsaw to form a complete piece. This highly spiritual kind of relationship looks more like a union of soulmates perfectly becoming these divine beings. 

Throughout the creation process of The Silmarillion, though, Tolkien altered the nature of the Valar’s spousal relationship. For a long time the idea of making their unions resemble those of the incarnate beings persisted: till 1950s the Valar had been able to have children:  

There are also those whom we call the Valarindi, who are the Children of the Valar, begotten of their love after their entry into Ea. They are the elder children of the World; and though their being began within Ea, yet they are of the race of the Ainur, who were before the world, and they have power and rank below that of the Valar only.

(Morgoth’s Ring, p. 66)

Eventually Tolkien rejected this concept altogether – the Valarindi turned into the Maiar and the Valar became childless. This decision sealed the nature of the Valar’s unions as spiritual, platonic ones, and showed a clear difference between the marriages of divine and incarnate beings. The reason is well explained in Ósanwe-kenta

Pengolodh also cites the opinion that if a “spirit” (that is, one of those not embodied by creation) uses a hröa for the furtherance of its personal purposes, or (still more) for the enjoyment of bodily faculties, it finds it increasingly difficult to operate without the hröa. The things that are most binding are those that in the Incarnate have to do with the life of the hröa itself, its sustenance and its propagation. Thus eating and drinking are binding, but not the delight in beauty of sound or form. Most binding is begetting or conceiving.


Eating and drinking are possible for the Valar at great feasts in token of respect, lordship, indwelling of Arda and for the blessing of the sustenance of Ilúvatar’s Children. Otherwise the Valar do not eat, drink or beget children so as not to become tied to their hröar. Thus they are not constrained by their bodily needs and do not deplete their powers. The only exception of the Great Ainur was Melkor, who at a certain point was not able to master his hröa any more because of the use he had made of it in the purpose to become the Lord of Incarnate and all the evil deeds he had performed in the bodily form. Melkor was bound to his body and could no longer change it through dissipating his powers and weakening himself to the pitiful state he could not alter. Being divine beings as well as the rulers of Arda, the Valar could not possibly bind themselves like this.

Another interesting change pointing to the shift in the concept of inter-Valar marriages was the total substitute of the word «wife» to «spouse» when speaking of Valier. This significance is given in a marginal note by Tolkien himself to one of the later Silmarillion drafts. Next to one of such changes he wrote: Note that «spouse» meant only an association (Morgoth’s Ring, p. 69). Curiously, among the synonyms of «association» are «mental connection», «union» and «bond» which also make fitting descriptions and explain the nature of the Valar’s marriages.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definition to the word «wife»: a married woman considered in relation to her husband. While «spouse» gets a similar explanation with the only difference of referring to both – women and men, the two words differ in their essence.

«Wife» comes from the Old English word wīf meaning simply «woman». «Spouse», on the other hand, has a source word of a wider meaning. It comes through French spous and spouse from the Latin verb spondēre meaning «to pledge». So «spouse» implies a deeper nature of the relationship based on a solemn oath or promise given to the other. Thus «spouse» acquires a more spiritual meaning which «wife» does not fully convey, and seems an ideal word to describe the marriage between divine beings who form a perfect, eternal, complementary union. 

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien – Ósanwe-kenta.

Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.

8 thoughts on “Marriage divine.

  1. What a lovely piece of writing! Thank you especially for your reflection on wife and spouse. In the last few years I have been trying to offer couples a deeper word than the current favourite, partner. After all, I tell them, my wife is a partner in a professional sense and surely I need a stronger word than that to describe a relationship of 25 years (we celebrate our silver wedding anniversary this month!). I have been offering the word, spouse, to them, mainly because I like it, but now you have given me a richer vein of reflection to offer and I am grateful to you.

    1. Thank you so much, Stephen!
      It’s been a very illuminating and enlightening research for me. It was very interesting to see how Tolkien gradually rejected the word wife in reference to the Valier, and I loved his attention to this detail. A closer look shows that it really matters.
      I totally agree that to describe long, close relationship, like yours – and what a great month it is for you! – with the word partner is not entirely just to such a strong union. Spouse does the job better.

      1. That reflection on wife is one that I will give much thought to. It is rare for Tolkien to give precedence to a word from a Latin root over one with a Germanic one. But, of course, his catholicism took that route as well.

      2. That’s right! I hadn’t fully comprehended it before you said it. His love of the words of Germanic origin was great indeed, and it’s telling here that he consciously made a different choice.

  2. I’m not sure how I missed this last week, but I’m glad to have found it today — as usual, a wonderful read!

    The importance of the word ‘spouse’ (as opposed to ‘wife’) is even further observed when you search for each word in The Silmarillion: not only is ‘spouse’ the term Tolkien uses to describe the relationship between married Valar, but he does *not* use the word ‘spouse’ in any other context in the book. Once we are dealing with Elves and Men, only ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ are used.

    Shawn and I are prepping for our episode on The Ruin of Doriath and this passage seems especially relevant:

    “For Melian was of the divine race of the Valar, and she was a Maia of great power and wisdom; but for love of Elwë Singollo she took upon herself the form of the Elder Children of Ilúvatar, and in that union she became bound by the chain and trammels of the flesh of Arda.”

    (As I don’t have access to the Ósanwe-kenta, I wanted to find something published that echoed that same sentiment of an Ainu using a hröa would become bound to it.)

    1. Thank you so much, Alan!
      That is extraordinary! I haven’t observed it, and the distinction Tolkien drew between Elvish and human vs Ainur’s marriages is so clear. Thank you for pointing that out!
      That’s a wonderful quote on Melian! Now when I’ve dived deeper into this issue it has a new significance. Ósanwe-kenta proves this point on her, calling Melian another exception of the divine race, who became bound to their body forms.

  3. I love your insight into the etymological connotations of ‘spouse’ instead of ‘wife’. With Tolkien’s writing, etymology is always a great lens with which to view the prose and this is no exception. Your observation about ‘spouse’ implying a pledge truly gets to heart of the nature of the relationships, and one can see why terms like ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ (‘house-master’) would be inadequate.

    I also like the way you worded the fact that the Valarin couples’ roles often complement so that they represent “different aspects of the same domain.” I agree completely, and though I think it is true even at the lesser-Vala level, these common domains aren’t always obvious. I would love for someone to make a list someday that charts the Valarin couples in terms of the ways they complement each other: not just the major ones like Manwë/Varda and Aulë/Yavanna, but also down to Irmo/Estë and Oromë/Vána.

    Hmm … weekend project?

    1. Thank you, Shawn!
      It all occurred to me so suddenly while reading Morgoth’s Ring. Such revelations are yet another reason why History of Middle-earth is such a treasury of information.
      Hmm, that’s a good idea! I’ve always been interested to have a closer look to how they share responsibilities. We should collaborate 😀

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