Orc actually means “demon” in old English, and so language, as something Tolkien used as the foundation for his stories, might give us the first clue, or at least a sense of ‘permission’, that exploring this line of thinking between demons and orcs might not be completely without merit.
To understand the basis for this belief, I would first reference Mormon theology and creation myth. In writings known to Mormons as “The Pearl of Great Price”, Abraham is shown a vision of the state of affairs leading up to the creation of this earth. In that vision, he sees two groups of beings: Souls and spirits. The souls I take as being those with bodies (this being consistent with the definition of a soul in other parts of Mormon teachings). Regarding the spirits, I am unsure as to whether they may have had bodies prior to when Abraham sees them. As such, I wouldn’t be able to say at this time whether they had always been spirits, or at some point also had bodies and through events and circumstance found themselves without them. Regardless, it seems at the time of the creation of the earth they were spirits.
Among the embodied souls were those named “Noble and Great Ones” (which Abraham was told he had been a part of) who were tasked by God to be 'rulers' for the spirits and, as I take it, learn from and work with God to bring about the salvation of those spirits. Part of that commission was in the creation of this world for those spirits to inhabit. How that played out, I think, is very similar to what Tolkien wrote of in the Ainulindale, and in my own thinking I use his terms - Valar, Maia, and even the Eldar/Elves, etc. - to describe the different groups of the embodied individuals who assisted with that creation. I will note, but won’t expand here in the discussion of demons and orcs, that among the Valar were the lead Powers known as the Aratar, or “Noble / Exalted Ones”, which correlate to Joseph Smith’s Noble and Great Ones just mentioned, and which Abraham was a part of (although obviously known by a different name).
Unlike these Great Ones and other bodied individuals, the spirits, however, would not have directly participated in this creation. They would ultimately incarnate here as Men, and their non-participation in the creation of this earth may be one reason why Elves and other beings noted that they seemed strangers to it.
Just as in both the Ainulindale and in Mormon teachings, Satan-Melkor rebelled and sowed discord prior to and during earth’s creation, launching a ‘war’ or conflict in Heaven, and ultimately drawing away a significant number of beings to his cause. These followers of Satan-Melkor would have consisted of both other embodied souls as well as spirits. In the case of previously embodied ‘demons’, Balrogs would be an example, as would other power-seeking Maia like Sauron.
As for the spirits who followed Satan-Melkor, these would have become demons also and it is these, specifically, that I believe were incarnated as orcs once Melkor found a way to make this possible.
It is important to note here that what a being became leading up to this point was a result of their choices. God did not make good and evil beings (or any beings at all), but rather through their own choices and agency, already-existing beings became or revealed themselves as good or evil actors. In other words, demons, at least at first, actively made choices that turned them into such. I say at first, because in the making of their choices, they also turned themselves into slaves-servants of Satan-Melkor, and thus were left with very little choice at all in the end but to remain in that state, with no hope for repentance – at least in this story. There may be other stories and some other creation for them, but not here.
It is because of this lack of choice and state of slavery they found themselves in, that I believe once Satan-Melkor chose to incarnate and become part of this creation, the Demons would have no choice but to also follow their master and aid him. When he called, they had to come, even if they would have wished not to incarnate on this earth at all. It was not their choice to make.
Drawing again on Mormon theology, it would appear that the bodies that housed Elves and Men were originally created with 'enmity' or protection that prevented evil spirits from being born into them. As in, only the Children of God (Men and Elves) could be born into the bodies that had been created for them.
Thus, Melkor could not simply take these bodies as they were and put his own followers into them. If one of his objectives was to bring his servants into this earth with him (and I believe it was), he would need to find another means to do so. Having no original creative power himself, he would need to rely on his ability to take already-existing creation and twist/ mar it into something fit for his purpose.
As Tolkien relates, Melkor imprisoned and tortured Elves and Men from the very beginning, and although not known exactly how or ever consistently resolved by either in-story characters or out-of-story guesses or communications by the author and others (to my knowledge, at least), it seems clear that these actions in some way resulted in the orc.
One line of thinking has been that these orcs were literally the identities or spirits of Elves and Men twisted to Melkor’s service through this torture and entrapment. My own view, and one of the main assumptions underpinning this post, is otherwise.
Rather, this twisting actually involved Melkor taking these bodies created for Jesus-Eru’s children, and finding a way around the ‘enmity’ or original protection designed into them. Thus, perverting God’s initial creation to be suitable to house his demon slaves.
To say more clearly, he would have used the bodies of Elves and Men he captured to conduct experiments on how to get around the protection, using his ability to twist and corrupt matter and creation to his purposes, which was to have bodies/ vessels for his slaves to use in joining him in this creation.
He could not, however, design the bodies to have the same fair form as Elves and Men. The changes required would have had to be too radical to preserve that. Rather, these orc-bodies would have had to be marred and twisted to such a degree as to be differentiate significantly from the original creation, not ever to be confused with it. Where the bodies for Eru’s children were for joy and happiness, even though marred and fallen to some extent, the orc-bodies seemed miserable, meant for pain, fear, and hate.
How Melkor was able to accomplish this great perversion and thus house his demon followers would not be known today, for good reason. Through the first three ages of the world, it seems that once ‘created’, orcs were able to procreate just as Men and Elves did and thus provide a natural means for demons to incarnate on earth. Sauron and even Saruman were able to accelerate, expand, and modify Orc proliferation to their own ends even after Melkor was banished, probably relying on some knowledge of his dark arts to accomplish this, with added experiments of their own, perhaps.
Specifically, Sauron’s involvement in these dark arts may be why he was referred to as the Necromancer in the Hobbit and LOTR. Following the War of Wrath, it seems the orcs were largely eliminated, or went underground/ into hiding. The reemergence of Sauron seems to have been strongly correlated with the reemergence and building of the Orc hordes, perhaps due to his direct involvement and carrying over the practices learned from his former master.
As a quick tangent, and not to overly complicate things, Sauron’s necromancy also may have involved rehousing the spirits of evil Men into various physical forms and bodies. These would not have been orcs, however, or really demons, but rather Men who chose evil and became Sauron’s servants. The King’s Men of Numenor, becoming the Black Numenoreans, would be included. Perhaps the Mouth of Sauron was just such a being, an evil man housed unnaturally and given long life as a result in Sauron’s service.
In any case, in the years following the 3rd age and the War of the Ring, the orcs were made extinct. With no orcs left to create other orcs, and with Melkor, Sauron, and Saruman all gone, there was no knowledge left, apparently, on how to start again and create bodies to re-house their spirits. This is why we would not expect to see demons in bodily form today, but only experience them through spirit-mind afflictions.
Since they were not born as Men, and have no path of being so, these once-embodied demons have no hope of a resurrection, since that is the path that Jesus-Eru set.
One test or approach Bruce suggested to assess the possibility of whether demons were once orcs was to compare the morality and behavior of orcs (from what we can read) with that of demons. It is a good suggestion. My sense in doing so, is that we should expect to find some inconsistencies, however – perhaps significant ones – along with some consistencies.
An explanation for why might lie in assessing our own behavior and situation as mortals on earth.
It is likely (in my opinion) there is a 'core' to ourselves - our own being and personality - that persists through time and various transformations but may be altered (sometimes significantly) depending on the bodies we take up and circumstances we come into. Therefore, demon/ orc behavior and morality may have also altered with them taking on bodies, and so one wouldn't expect that their behavior to be perfectly consistent between their spirit and embodied states.
In other words, we, as fallen Men, might in many ways be unrecognizable to our former (and future) selves were we to see ourselves in those states, and so the demons who became orcs might have been altered similarly during their mortal experience, particularly with being subject to pain and all other things a body brings. As noted earlier, theirs does not seem to be a particularly happy experience, obviously, perhaps both due to the nature of their spirits but also the nature of the cruel bodies that were made for them to take on.
In further assessing and (in my case) dismissing whether orcs were actually just as Men and Elves, but corrupted, there are some hints within the text of the LOTR itself. As one example, there is an interesting dialogue between Treebeard, Merry, and Pippen, that may shed some light, or at least give us a window into Treebeard’s understanding of the origin of orcs.
In the dialogue, Treebeard suggests that orcs are counterfeits of elves, created by the Enemy, just as Trolls were counterfeits of Ents. But in saying this, Treebeard states that Trolls were never Ents, don't possess their same strength, etc., and so one might infer that elves are referred to in that same sense. A cruel mockery of God's initial creation, but not actually the beings of Elves turned into orcs, which wouldn't be referred to as merely a counterfeit, but rather as the real thing corrupted.
Additionally, one would need to ask that if the orcs did procreate as Men and Elves, and were also comprised of a spirit with a body, then what spirits are they? I can't imagine that Eru would have allowed any of his children or the spirits aligned with good to be forced into those bodies. They would have had to come from somewhere else, and existing hordes of demon-spirits/ Melkor slaves may be the best solution as to what, then, would be expected to be housed in these bodies. Meaning, Melkor, and later Sauron and Saruman, would have had to draw from an already existing pool of evil spirit-slaves (made slaves due to their choices before this creation, as mentioned before) to support their orc armies.
Lastly, and not happily, I suggest that while the orcs are relegated to spirit-only forms now, there may, in fact, still be embodied demons here on (or within) earth, and so we aren’t left with a completely house-less demon horde to deal with. In saying this, I do not think it would be many – perhaps only a couple/ few. These beings would be known as Balrogs, I suppose, and would have been driven to or found hiding in the deep places of the earth, similar to the Balrog that the Fellowship encountered in Moria. I have no other insight into this than my own experience and intuition, and so this is probably the most speculative notion (of an extremely speculative train of thought!).
I view the current orc-demon-horde as largely mindless servants of evil. With Melkor and Sauron gone, however, they may still operate under the direction of these embodied evil beings in hiding, and thus what we see on display in our own world is the influence of these Balrogs – who are very aware and cunning - spreading through their demon-spirits hordes and into the minds of Men. Concentrations of demonic influence in our current world might actually serve as clues as to where these Balrogs are located physically and/ or the topics, concerns, and strategies on which they are largely focused (and which may and probably do differ between, and sometimes conflict with, other Balrogs / Demon leaders).
There are happier topics to think on, obviously. And I guess in some ways one really only wants to take this so far as to understand the nature of the evil one is up against, and no further if not absolutely necessary. That is the approach I have tried to follow. So, while I definitely would hope for clarification, correction, or confirmation on much that I have written and guessed at here, I would hope it continues to be in the context of a much larger and better story about the Good forces and powers at work, and our ultimate redemption.
Note from author WW:
In exploring this possibility, I have drawn on the stories and mythologies of Tolkien’s Legendarium and Joseph Smith’s Mormonism, for lack of better descriptors. There may be other ways to understand these things, but these are languages and stories that I am most familiar with and so that is what I have used.
This is also a part an ongoing work of imagination at this point for me, but imagination meant to help me understand reality. As such, I am not arguing that what I write here is necessarily true, but it does reflect my current understanding of how things may be. I am also not arguing that Tolkien or Joseph Smith intended these interpretations, or even considered them, in their writings. So please take this post in that spirit, and I would expect there to by a wide range of opinions on this matter, as nothing I find is definitive, and my train of thought is speculative. My own views and guesses continue to evolve, and some of what is written here will most likely be wrong. But, there is potentially enough right to not throw it out completely.
I also have not really been focusing on orcs or demons in my own thinking up to this point (for good reason), so much of what I try to summarize here is based on or gleaned from efforts focused on other, more ‘positive’ topics. This is another reason that some details about orcs here may not be completely right or some of my assumptions and conclusions thought through as well as they ought to have been.