Gandalf Brihaspati – For Tolkien Jayanti

Yes, we know it’s not Thursday … but it IS J.R.R. Tolkien’s Birthday ! So, upon this occasion of Tolkien-Jayanti , here’s something we prepared earlier looking at a rather … surprising underpinning Indo-European characterization to the figure of Gandalf :


Now, some among ye are presumably looking a bit in askance at this … because that’s Gandalf. Except … bear with me here …

First up, Gandalf is, rather strongly and directly, based on Odin. I’m pretty sure Tolkien went a bit further and made the representation explicit. But even leaving this aside, consider some of the further similarities: Síðhöttr [‘Wide Hat[ed]’], Síðskeggr [‘Long Beard[ed]’], Váfuðr and Gangleri [‘Wanderer’], Göndlir [‘Wand-bearer’, ‘Staff-carryer’ – same root as Gand-alf’s actual name], Hroptr and Sviðurr [‘Wise One’]; the One in the dark-blue head-covering Who turns up where unexpected and most needed.

And Odin, as we demonstrated rather resoundingly in the course of the GHOST DIVISION series, is Brihaspati. Or, to phrase “Brihaspati” in Old Norse … Galdraföðr.

Yet what … nearly had me falling out of my seat, were the following lines from the translation of a certain RigVedic Hymnal:

“2 He who with might bowed down the things that should be bowed, and in his fury rent the holds of Śambara:
Who overthrew what shook not, Brahmaṇaspati,—he made his way within the mountain stored with wealth.
3 That was a great deed for the Godliest of the Gods: strong things were loosened and the firmly fixed gave way.
He drave the kine forth and cleft Vala through by prayer, dispelled the darkness and displayed the light of heaven.
4 The well with mouth of stone that poured a flood of meath, which Brahmaṇaspati hath opened with his might—
All they who see the light have drunk their fill thereat: together they have made the watery fount flow forth.
5 Ancient will be those creatures, whatsoe’er they be; with moons, with autumns, doors unclose themselves to you.
Effortless they pass on to perfect this and that, appointed works which Brahmaṇaspati ordained.
6 They who with much endeavour searching round obtained the Paṇis’ noblest treasure hidden in the cave,—
Those sages, having marked the falsehoods, turned them back whence they had come, and sought again to enter in.”

Now, I am not going to do an in-depth commentary upon all the allusions and meanings of those lines – either in English or in Sanskrit.

Only note that a ‘surface portion’ what is effectively being described there is Brihaspati’s successful vanquishing of ancient and even downright demonic evils in forts, dungeons, and (a) cave(s) – including one Dragon, thence liberating and redistributing its lost, ill-gotten, pilfered, glittering hoard.

And there are futher similarities, too – all those lines pertaining to the re-flowing of waters, the attainment and piling up of wealth, the restoration of ancient ways and proper conduct (especially in songs), the bringing of joy and happiness with His arrival, and the citation elsewhere in the hymn for the Solar Rays of His Beneficence causing the plants to grow … well …

“The King beneath the mountains,
The King of carven stone,
The lord of silver fountains
Shall come into his own!

His crown shall be upholden,
His harp shall be restrung,
His halls shall echo golden
To songs of yore re-sung.

The woods shall wave on mountains
And grass beneath the sun;
His wealth shall flow in fountains
And the rivers golden run.

The streams shall run in gladness,
The lakes shall shine and burn,
All sorrow fail and sadness
At the Mountain-king’s return!”

But the part from the aforementioned RigVedic Hymnal that always gets me is this line:
” with moons, with autumns, doors unclose themselves to you.”

After all, how is it that the Lonely Mountain is gained access to? Moon-Runes, on the Last Moon of Autumn, which provide the unlocking of the door. The Granting of the Boon of Insight – especially as applies language and word-games – is Brihaspati’s to make use of and to bestow. [note: I’m not seriously proposing that either a) that’s how that line is to be fully interpreted; nor b) that Tolkien was intentionally and consciously running off ancient Vedic scripture in its construction. I just find it a pretty extraordinary ‘lining up’]

Although one of the more subtle points of close coterminity betwixt Brihaspati and Gandalf, is also one of the seriously important – Brihaspati is hailed as bringing, as selecting, sending, empowering, Heroes.

And if you think about it … as mighty as Gandalf most assuredly is (whether Grey or White) – His grandest contribution to the legendarium of Tolkien in some ways, has tended to be in exactly that.

Of course, you may be wondering about the RPG – it’s certainly a bit of a furtherance of Gandalf’s well-known proclivity for pyrotechnics. A weapon forged by Elves. Soviet Elves!

This, too, has a certain level of Indo-European mythological precedency: the chief weapon of Brihaspati is often reckoned to be the Bow [also occasionally the Spear] ; the arrows of which are most certainly impressively armour-piercing. And, dependent upon the war-head in question [yes, Divine Arrows have quite a variable payload in that particular regard – hence the various “-Astra” weapons of just such various natures], quite likely explosive upon detonative contact with the foe.

Anyway, while Sir Anthony Hopkins has done a pretty decent job portraying Odin in a recent filmic trilogy [and Liam Neeson, star of the entire genre of films known as “Liam Neeson Kills People”, as well as being a rather decent Jedi, has been Zeus for at least two franchises] … I think that there is a pretty decent argument to be made for Sir Ian McKellen to retain this particular role in some hypothetical #NAS film.

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