Teaching Journey to the Imaginal Realm: Reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings through Nura Learning was such a wonderful success last autumn, that we are now offering a new course devoted to reading Tolkien’s less well-known and more mythic work, The Silmarillion. Having the opportunity to teach Tolkien’s works has connected me to an extraordinary group of students, a devoted community of learners who have loved Middle-earth as I have, and who have wandered the imaginal realm with courage and curiosity. Whether you were part of the course on The Lord of the Rings, or are a newcomer to Nura Learning’s extraordinary educational platform, it would be a joy to have you in this course on Tolkien’s The Silmarillion.
Before Bilbo Baggins and the dragon, before Frodo and the Ring, before the love story of Aragorn and Arwen, Middle-earth had already been the scene of innumerable tales: of Elves and Dwarves, Valar and Maiar, dragons and balrogs, and a struggle against evil that started before the world was even created. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion begins with a cosmogony, and unfolds with an Elvish mythology and history that could rival the great myths and legends of the Norse, Greek, and Celtic traditions.
This course guides the reader through Tolkien’s sweeping saga of the First and Second Ages of Arda. The expansive vision and grand language can make The Silmarillion a more challenging read than The Lord of the Rings, so this course is designed to unpack the philosophical, spiritual, and literary meanings within Tolkien’s text. When Christopher Tolkien published the edited volume of his father’s writings in 1977, The Silmarillion was met with mixed reactions. Audiences had hoped for a book like The Lord of the Rings, but instead received a text that sounded, in the words of one disgruntled reader, like the Old Testament. Yet these stories were Tolkien’s most beloved—narratives that he had been writing and reworking since the First World War until nearly the end of his life. In this course we will view The Silmarillion through the lens of Tolkien’s theory of sub-creation, coming to understand the imagination and creativity that stands behind a full work of mythology written down by one man.
The astrologer Adam Sommer welcomed me back onto his podcast Holes to Heavensfor a rich conversation about The Red Books of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien, in which we explored astrology, myth, imagination, ecology, and the power of eclipses. From dragons to elf-light, this was a wonderful dialogue in which to participate.
Since I was 9 years old, I have been a devotee of the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and an avid explorer of the world of Middle-earth. I am therefore beyond excited to be teaching an online course through Nura Learning this autumn on Tolkien’s magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings. I feel as though I have been waiting half my life to teach this class, and at last such an opportunity has arisen. If you have never read The Lord of the Rings before, or wish to return to Middle-earth to deepen your connection with this remarkable tale, I would be delighted to have you in this course.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien has been a beloved story to several generations since its publication in the mid-1950s. The story has a timeless quality to it, and engages with a complex struggle between good and evil, death and immortality, power and freedom. The Lord of the Rings blends otherworldly romance with the high rhetoric of epic mythology, at times interwoven with the internal depths of the nineteenth century novel and the political climate of the twentieth century. As Tolkien’s close friend and colleague C.S. Lewis once said: “Nothing quite like it has been done before. This book is like lightning from a clear sky . . . here are beauties which pierce like swords and burn like cold iron.”
The Lord of the Rings is a text treated by many as a sacred text, one to be returned to year after year, or read aloud with loved ones. The Lord of the Rings, for many, has become a myth for our time. This course offers a journey through Tolkien’s magnum opus in a community of learning, guided by a scholar who has spent more than two decades engaging Tolkien’s writings and artwork. This course is designed both for newcomers to Tolkien’s narrative, and for veteran travelers through Middle-earth’s many realms. Together we will explore the grand themes and hidden nuances of Tolkien’s epic story, connecting The Lord of the Rings to the larger mythology of Middle-earth, and situating Tolkien’s process of writing within his own powerful experiences of the imaginal realm.
In anticipation of the International Transpersonal Conference, which will take place from September 28 to October 1 in Prague, I had the honor of joining Joe Moore in dialogue on his podcast Psychedelics Today. We spoke about C.G. Jung’s Red Book and J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories of Middle-earth and his Red Book of Westmarch, as well as exploring facets of transpersonal psychology, archetypal cosmology and astrology, and the participatory relationship of the imagination to the collective unconscious.
In the North Atlantic there is an island, and it is said that upon this island live two nations: the human nation of Iceland, and a second nation, one that is mysterious and veiled. This is the realm of the Huldufólk, Iceland’s “hidden people.”
This presentation, given at Esalen Institute in the autumn of 2016, offers a glimpse into the world of the Huldufólk and the dynamic landscape in which they live.