One mystery to many Lord of the Rings fans (who haven’t read Morgoth’s Ring) is Elven marriage. Wandering around the fandom, we see all sorts of marriage ceremonies; from Christian ones to very elaborate ceremonies involving bloodletting. This essay answers the question: What is an Elven marriage like?
Tolkien wrote an essay called, The Laws and Customs of the Eldar, wherein he describes Elven marriages in great detail. Since Tolkien went to such great lengths to make sure Elven marriages were understood, it seems only fitting to use and honor the information.
- Most Elves choose their spouse while they are still young – 50 to 100 years old. There are a few exceptions, and marrying late seems to be connected to
ill chances or strange fates.
- When the two Elves involved decide that they are going to marry for certain, they promise to marry each other. The act is called betrothal.
- They give each other silver rings.
- They hold a betrothal feast, in which they announce their betrothal to the world, and their families meet.
- At least a year passes between betrothal and marriage, to make certain that they are meant to marry each other.
- If they decide not to marry in this time, they return their silver rings publicly, then melt the rings, so no one can ever wear the rings again. (This is very rare. Elves don’t make these decisions carelessly.)
- A great feast is held in celebration of the couple’s decision to marry.
- At some point during the feast, the couple joins hands and goes to a place where everyone at the feast can see them.
- The mother of the bride and the father of the bridegroom come forward and bless the marriage. (No mortal has ever heard these blessings, so Tolkien made certain that we mortals didn’t know them either. All we know of the blessings is that the father names Manwë and the mother names Varda as witness to the marriage, and it is one of the rare times that the name of Eru Ilúvatar is spoken.)
- They give back the silver rings they gave each other in betrothal; these rings are treasured forever.
- Then they give gold rings to each other. The gold rings are worn on the index finger of the right hand.
- The Noldor have another ritual for this feast (though it isn’t bound to the feast, it can happen before the feast as well). The bride’s mother gives the bridegroom a jewel on a chain, and the father of the bridegroom does the same to the bride.
- Finally, after the celebration is done, they will do the actual act of marriage. They have sex.
In Times of Trouble
- They will skip the rituals and feasts and go straight to the having sex part. Even if they can’t have the party, they will speak the blessings and give each other Lore Names. It is rude not to celebrate and give various rings and blessings when they are able to. This short marriage isn’t unlawful, because to the Elves, sex is marriage, with parties or without.
Important Facts About Elven Marriage
- Death does not part them. Elves marry for life and death. (This law was set in stone after Fëanáro’s father married twice, and the second marriage tore his family apart and led to the downfall of the Noldor.) The only chance of marrying twice comes if there is absolutely no way that the former spouse will be able to meet the Elf wanting to remarry, in life or death.
- Parents have very little say in whom their children marry. This means that an arranged marriage is highly unlikely. In fact, no arranged marriages have ever been recorded, and the very nature of the arranged marriage goes against the Elves’ true-love attitude towards marriage.
- The parents can make wishes or demands to the person their child has chosen, but the future spouse in question doesn’t have to submit to the demands; however, it is rude and disrespectful not to. (That is why Beren went after the Silmarilli for Thingol, and Aragorn waited until he was king to marry Arwen.)
- Elven marriages must be of free will. Rape and forced marriage murders the Elven victims.
- Marrying family members (incest) is highly taboo. Even among cousins it is considered ‘icky’, though it isn’t outlawed.
- Morgoth’s Ring by Tolkien, Laws and Customs of the Eldar
See also: Elven Wedding Vows