Monday 24 April 2023

Could Tolkien’s orcs be incarnated demonic spirits? An invited guest post by commenter WW

What follows is a guest post by commenter WW which I invited him to contribute on the basis of several very interesting comments on this theme:


Could Tolkien’s orcs be incarnated demonic spirits? It was hard for Tolkien to describe the history and nature of orcs to his own satisfaction; and the problem has continued among his commentators. I will suggest that orcs were constructed from material bodies made to house Melkor/ Morgoth’s demon followers in a form that could procreate on Middle Earth. Sauron, as the heir of Morgoth, was later able to accelerate, expand, and modify orc proliferation and this may be the reason he was referred to as the Necromancer. 


It is my belief that although consigned to existing as spirits today, there was a time that demons existed as mortal beings on this earth - a large number of them in the form of what we would call “orcs” (but never Men). In addition, I also believe that there are demon beings that were incarnated in some form prior to the creation of this earth, and therefore subsequent to their own re-incarnation here.

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.

The rebellion of Melkor and his demonic spirit followers

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.

The bodies of orcs

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.

Implications of orcs being demons

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 another post, Bruce explored the nature of demons and posed some thoughts suggesting that they may never been incarnated. This post picks up and explores an alternative view, and represents a collection and expansion of some thoughts in the comments section of that post, that there may be reason to believe that demons (at least many of them) actually have been incarnated at one time on this earth.

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.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! What a lot of fruit-of-thought that is food for further thought!

Without having thoroughly 'digested' it, or attempted to reflect on it systematically, I'll (I hope not too rashly boldly!) attempt some miscellaneous contributions to the discussion.

One question is, who - which sort of personal being - e.g., whether Ainur or Maiar - could become 'how bodily', and 'when', and with what relation to personal spiritual disposition to Eru-Ilúvatar (so to express it)?

For probably the most notable example, when and how could Melian become so 'thoroughly bodily' that she could marry Elu Thingol and they could procreate Lúthien, who could marry and procreate with the Man, Beren, producing children capable of further procreation?

For another notable 'group of examples', when and how could the Istari become as clearly 'thoroughly bodily' as they were?

A related question here is, was Saruman already (and, if so, presumably indiscernably to the Valar) corrupt/rebellious against Eru-Ilúvatar before becoming so 'thoroughly bodily'? Or, did Saruman only after becoming both 'thoroughly bodily' and 'wisely, beneficially' active in Middle-earth rebel against Eru-Ilúvatar and the (beneficient) Valar?

A different related question with respect to Melkor, Sauron, and Saruman is, in how far did/could each resemble Aule in his production of the Dwarves - or not?

Related to this is (I suppose) (1) the 'question' or 'matter' of the "Secret Fire" or "Flame Imperishable" of Eru-Ilúvatar, (2) Melkor's apparently unsuccessful 'search for'/'attempt to attain/obtain/master' this Fire/Flame (I need to reread about this!), and (3) the relation of Eru making the Dwarves 'actual thoroughly-bodily (procreative) persons' (so to express it) and this Fire/Flame (again, I need to reread!)?

Of possible importance is the apparent sexual lust of 'however-thoroughly-bodily' Melkor for Lúthien: could he 'merely' have 'bodily abused' her in some way, or could he (as it were, like a 'male analogue' of Melian) have procreated with her?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Epimetheus said...

This is a tremendous piece of serious theory. Well done!

Gareth said...

These ideas align with the themes one reads in Jubilees, Enoch and other “second temple” and apocryphal writings.

According to these books, demons are the disembodied spirits of the physical progeny that fallen angels had with human women. There were a limited number of fallen “watchers” or angels, most of whom, if not all, are now “in chains of eternal darkness” as per Jude in the NT, but demons operate as the disembodied nephilim/monsters in the spirit. The evil intention was to eliminate and outbreed humanity and destroy and maim God’s creation and man made in his image, and God destroyed them all while rescuing Noah. That’s the rough outline as I understand it.

I wonder how familiar Tolkien was with these ancient books. Might they have inspired his ideas?

William Wright (WW) said...

@DLD: Yes, good thoughts on the 'bodily' questions and examples. This is one area where I would depart from assumptions made that neither the Valar and Maia had bodies (and only showed themselves in bodily form at times) and suggest that they did in fact have physical bodies from the beginning. Tolkien later abandoned the idea, but earlier drafts of the situation in Aman had at least some of the Maia being children of the Valar. I think this may hint at family relationships existing in bodily form not just among the Eldar in that place, but also among the Ainur.

The nature and attributes/ powers of those bodies, obviously, were different - of a higher glory (though still in the same image of God) and they were much more aligned with the true nature of their being, perhaps being a natural extension of it? Whereas Men, at least modern Man in particular, might be likened more to a person wearing an ill-fitted suit... these bodies are not really a true extension of our spirits (more like a divided house - spirit and body warring against each other at times), but they are the only option we have if we wish to be here on this Earth at this time. I think Jesus' resurrection, in part, is meant to address and resolve that issue going forward, however. In addition, his condescension in becoming a Man was meant to help him understand through his own experience what a being 'was up against' in taking on these bodies, and thus be better able to aid us.

My own guess on Saruman is that he had already exhibited tendencies prior to coming to Middle-earth, and they were known to Eru, the Valar, and others, and that this might have also influenced who was to go with him (specifically Gandalf who, unlike Saruman, did not volunteer, but was told/ persuaded to go). But, it is likely easier to 'behave' or make right choices in a place like Aman surrounded by beings like you or even greater than you... the true test comes when you come to a place like ME and find yourself among the most powerful and have to decide how you will use that power.

The fact that he made the choices he did in a body that would have been similar, if not the same (although reduced in glory and 'modified' to allow him to be in ME) to what he possessed in Aman and thus closer aligned to his own being, perhaps implies that his opportunity for repentance and capacity for change is less than our own, since those choices sprang from a more core part of himself.

I had neglected the Dwarves in any of my thinking here! Good point. My spur-of-the-moment thought is that Melkor and Sauron's acts differed greatly, in that Aule seems to show some ability for positive, unique creation... meaning, these are not just twists or derivatives of existing bodies as Melkor would have done, but something entirely new, although still patterned in form after and in harmony with Eru's original design. Thus, they were blessed as you mentioned with life through Eru's Fire. What spirits, though, would have inhabited these creations under the theory in this post, I don't really know. I probably need to re-read some things also.

William Wright (WW) said...


Thanks! As with all things, I can't take sole credit for some of the ideas behind and building blocks underlying this post, but it has been an rewarding effort in trying to weave those things together, build on them, and try to develop something cohesive. Still a work in progress.

William Wright (WW) said...


I am not too familiar with those writings myself, and good question on how knowledgeable Tolkien may or may not have been. Perhaps Bruce or someone else might know?

Your summary of the situation in the books reminded me strangely of Numenor, and perhaps some of the things that went on there - many things we likely don't have a good understanding of, and again for good reason. I touched on it briefly in the post, but Sauron's necromancy title may have has actually more to do with his Numenorean activities that with the orcs (which Melkor had already set in motion, and Sauron and Saruman expanded and modified). Whereas Melkor successed in created a path for demons to be born as orcs, I believe Sauron was exploring, and perhaps succeeding, in finding ways for the spirits of Men to be reanimated or rehoused in the bodies of Men. This would have been particularly tempting for the Numenoreans who had begun to fear death and thus been willing participants in Sauron's necromancy. This is one reason why I mentioned Sauron's mouthpiece as an example (though not sure on that one), but this topic was a bit of a tangent to the orc-demon discussion. In any case, demonic and evil spirits inhabiting bodies, whether orc or men, to mock and ultimately destroy Eru's creation (in Melkor's case) or twist it to their domination (in Sauron's) seems to be a primary weapon.

Pharazon's assault on Eressea and Aman may have included both natural Men as well as some of these reanimated or necromanced Men. Their destruction/ burial under the earth (perhaps similar to 'the chains of eternal darkness' mentioned in the writings you reference?), the flood that drowned Numenor, and Elendil's sailing to ME to continue on the line of the Faithful and preserve the Palantir may be the basis for, or at least of ties into, the Noah mythology that is recounted in the bible (and some of these other writings you mention?)

As another interesting touch point, in the Mormon Pearl of Great Price scriptures, Moses is shown in vision Enoch causing massive earthly upheaval in a great battle where he led 'the people of God' against evil forces. Following this battle, a land is brought up out of the depths of the sea. The giants or nephilim you mention are even in this tale. I currently believe what Moses is seeing (although has been recorded or transmitted in a rather garbled, not-completely-accurate form we have today) involves the War of Wrath, Numenor rising out of the sea, and subsequent events.

Lucas said...

Very interesting! This makes a lot of sense. I'd add to your list that the orcs are never shown to have any kind of memory of a past life. They do not taunt elves or men with their former selves, neither are any secrets given up nor betrayals effected by orcs, rather by tortured elves and men. And if Morgoth or the orcs could cause pain to men and elves by reminding them of who the orcs used to be, they certainly would.

William Wright (WW) said...


Great points.

There is also no pain or pity felt by men or elves at the consideration of the plight of orcs, or a desire to 'reclaim' them as we see sometimes in the interactions of Good individuals with those turned or even forced into evil service who are of the same type/ order/ race. For example, Gandalf showing mercy and even trying to recruit Saruman back to good at Orthanc, Theoden and Wormtongue, Frodo obviously with Gollum, etc. There is a connection that one almost seems to sense through the bent nature of what that being has become to what still might be in there... but with the orc no connection like that seems to exist for elves or men at all (granted we have limited interactions to measure that, though).

Anonymous said...

Tangential to Gareth's comment, the article "List of Books in Tolkien's Library" (and links) includes The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish, and Arthur Ungnad, Babylonisch-Assyrische Grammatik mit Übungsbuch (in Transkription). 3nd ed. Munich: C.H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung (1926), and there is John Garth's "Ilu’s Music: The Creation of Tolkien's Creation Myth" in Sub-creating Arda (2019) on the one hand, and, on the other, the easy availability of, e.g., R.H. Charles's works on Enoch and Jubilees (etc.) when Tolkien was at school and an undergraduate, so it would seem quite plausible that he was aware of and attentive to them and their 'subject matter' (so to put it). There are also extensive records of who ordered which books at the Bodleian Library, when, which might specify at least that degree of attention by Tolkien, but they await scrutiny.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Anonymous said...

Oops! - the first article I refer to is at Tolkien Gateway.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Anonymous said...

Tolkien was working on his mythology well before E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros appeared, but I wonder if consciously doing things differently from Eddison's bizarre peopling of Mercury with (nominal?) Imps, Goblins, horned Demons, Witches, Pixies, and Ghouls as human-like intermarrying beings ever contributed anything to Tolkien's later developments?

David Llewellyn Dodds