Aragorn’s Banner is Revealed at the Stone of Erech

One of the great joys of reading a great book again and again is that every time I do I discover new things. I don’t think that I have ever really paused at the Stone of Erech before. I think that I was about 14 when I read The Return of the King for the first time. I borrowed the book from my school library and after I had eaten my evening meal I began to read and did not stop until the book was finished. Reading at that speed was a thrilling experience but I missed a lot of detail. Now, nearly fifty years later, after many readings, I am here again.

And what a strange place it is to stay. The Stone of Erech stands upon a hill top and it is black, “round as a great globe, the height of a man, though its half was buried in the ground.” It was brought there by Isildur from the wreck of Númenor and it was said that in times of fear the oath breakers would gather round it, whispering. Surely they were asking whether this might be the time of their release?

And now that time has finally come.

Aragorn speaks to them. “The hour is come at last. Now I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me. And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart for ever. For I am Elessar, Isildur’s heir of Gondor.”

And as he speaks he bids Halbarad to unfurl the banner that he carries, “and behold! it was black, and if there was any device upon it, it was hidden in the darkness.”

It was Arwen who created the banner in Rivendell. It was “wrought in secret, and long was the making.” Arwen is a contemplative and her work is secret. I do not want to waste time in arguing whether contemplation or action are superior to each other. Nor do I want to say that one who contemplates is superior to one who acts. Éowyn is a woman who longs to act, to do the great deed, and her desire will be fulfilled. Arwen is a woman who withdraws into the secret and the dark in order to do her work. Neither is superior to the other and both need each other. When Aragorn declares that he is king at the Stone of Erech he draws upon a strength that has been forged, not only through the longest years of his waiting, but also in the secret years of Arwen’s thought. Arwen draws her mind into her heart. By this we do not mean that she turns from thinking to feeling. She turns from all that is mere surface to the very ground of her being and from that ground flows a work of making that when revealed in the darkness at the Stone of Erech is black and calls the Dead to fulfil their oath and when revealed in a bright day at the Pelennor Fields carries a device not seen in Gondor for long years and all the hosts of Mordor are driven before it.

There is a wonderful weaving here of the mystery of contemplation in the secret place and the majesty of the deed that is done in the open and the union of Aragorn and Arwen expresses that weaving perfectly. If the work that we do is to have meaning then we must find that weaving ourselves. To some degree we must find both within ourselves and the people that we meet who are most complete will have done this work. However, most of us will tend either to the active or to the contemplative. We need each other. And when we work best it will be in a flow that comes, from an inner connectedness from a connection to one another and from the connection to the truest Ground of our Being.

 

The Paths of the Dead. A Journey from Despair to Life .

At the end of the Second Age the King of the Mountains swore allegiance to Isildur at the Stone of Erech. But when war against the Dark Lord came the king proved faithless for he had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years and still believed the dark to be greater than the light. And so Isildur said to him:

“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.”

The miserable story of the King of the Mountains acts as a kind of parable within The Lord of the Rings concerning the fate that awaits all who give way to the Dark believing either that their advantage lies that way, or that they have no choice, or some combination of the two. The story of Saruman is another expression of this reality and, if Sauron had triumphed, no doubt the story of the king and people of Harad and the other allies of Mordor would have been another. Isildur’s curse is not an act of arbitrary power. He simply declares what all worshippers of the Dark most truly desire; to exist in the darkness.

When Aragorn declares that he is the true king, the heir of Isildur, he calls the Dead to fulfil their oath. They must now serve him. Unlike the hapless Baldor, son of Brego the second king of Rohan, who sought to tread the Paths of the Dead in his own pride and without authority, Aragorn comes as one to whom authority has been given and so the dead must obey him. Baldor died because the way was shut “until the time comes”. The time has now come. The king has spoken and the dead must hear.

In one of his Advent reflections that you can find in his collection, entitled Waiting on the Word, Malcolm Guite calls Jesus “the king who walks alongside us disguised in rags, the true Strider.” https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/o-rex-gentium-a-sixth-advent-reflection/ This reference to Aragorn belongs to a poem inspired by the Advent antiphon,  O Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations and their desire. The Lord of the Rings is an Advent work proclaiming light in the darkness as we saw a few months ago when we heard Frodo cry out “Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!”, Hail Eärendil O Brightest of Stars! when he was lost in the utter darkness of Shelob’s Lair. https://stephencwinter.com/2016/01/12/the-dayspring-from-on-high-comes-to-the-aid-of-the-hobbits/ Advent is also the time when we long for the true king to come and heal the lands. We long for “the true Strider”. The Lord of the Rings shows us those, like Faramir, who have kept the faith, waiting for the true king and perhaps for the restoration of Númenor and maybe even the deepest reality of all, that to which Númenor, even at its most true, could only point to. It also shows us those, like Denethor, who lose faith, or those like Saruman or the King of Harad who come to believe in a perversion of the Advent hope believing the lie that declares that it is the dark that is the true reality.

Aragorn’s journey through The Paths of the Dead calling the dead to obedience and so to an end to their misery also recalls the ancient story of how Jesus went down to the dead after his death on the cross and so harrowed hell leading the dead from despair to life.

This is the journey that Aragorn now takes with the companions who follow him and he points us to the true Strider who calls us, too, to follow him through darkness into light.