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15 Aug 2002

The "Dark Riders" of Social Change

a challenge for any Fellowship of the Ring

- / -

"I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth',
and indeed present aspects of it that can only be perceived in this mode."

(The Letters of J. R. R Tolkien, page 131)

Rings of power
Relationship between the rings
The "Dark Riders"
Nature of the "One Ring"
Fellowship of the Ring
Cycles: lost and found
The "One Ring" of cycles
Conversations with ourselves
In conclusion: varieties of ring


The movie Fellowship of the Ring has again given prominence to the archetype of the "Dark Riders". In J R R Tolkien's novel, The Lord of the Rings, these nine riders, "neither dead nor alive", hunt for the "ring". For young people today -- encouraged by the movie's promoters to join the Fellowship [more] -- that ring might well be understood as providing the bearer with the most repressive forms of control over social change and development.

This "One Ring" is described by Tolkien in the following description of the 20 Rings of Power:

Three rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die.
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

This archetypal tale may be used to explore the modern dilemma of social change and sustainable development -- and the emergence of viable alternatives to planetary and psychosocial degradation. There is a strong case for relating the mythical crisis for the world to the planetary crisis of today -- especially when the former has captured the imagination more effectively. This exploration recognizes that social policy needs to take account of the vehicles for meaning that capture popular imagination -- whether or not that meanhing is given legitimacy by the mainstream scientific or policy thinking which is itself faced with a crisis of legitimacy through its apparently limited ability to respond to manifest social needs.

Rings of power

From a planetary perspective, the various rings may be understood as cyclic sectoral processes vital to the sustainability of life. They might even be understood as natural or psychosocial cycles that ensure the dynamics of life on the planet -- or feedback loops in a systemic sense. The "One Ring" is a different matter altogether. Clearly it is important that the other rings mesh together functionally, rather than operating in systemic isolation from one another. How this meshing takes place, how it is thought about, and what kind of mind-set is brought to bear on how it should be controlled, are all questions which bear reflection.

The planet has benefitted from long centuries in which the "rings" or cycles effectively self-organized into a larger whole, compensating for each others' excesses and inadequacies at any period of time. This larger whole which "bound" them could be understood as an emergent property -- perhaps to be understood as a ring of higher dimensionality.

In the present period, each of the individual "rings" or cycles is being subject to intense interference by man. In particular the meshing, or interface, between the rings is becoming problematic. Deliberate efforts are effectively being made to control certain of the cycles -- as is most evident in the major monopolies or price fixing rings which control (or seek to control) certain sectors of the economy and the provision of particular services. Other efforts by vested interests are being made to control the weather, the water supply, the food supply, the energy supply, the air supply (and its degree of pollution), the supply of cultural products, the games people play, and the supply of information. The quality of thinking and motivation in each case leaves much to be desired. Tolkien's friend, C S Lewis, explored the ways in which some groups seek to establish complete human control over nature, including the face of the Earth and the human body itself (That Hideous Strength, 1945 [review; review]).

In the context of the tale, it was said that more rings were made but they are of a lesser nature than the 20 Great Rings of Power. Gandalf suggests as much when he explains their history: "In Eregion long ago many Elven-rings were made, magic rings as you call them, and they were, of course, of various kinds: some more potent and some less. The lesser rings were only essays in the craft before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles - yet to my mind dangerous for mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous." These "minor" rings can be usefully understood as secondary cycles important in some way to sustaining psychosocial and environmental systems.

Tolkien provides a revealing insight into the nature of the rings and their powers: "The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. 'change' viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance -- this is more or less an Elvish motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor -- thus approaching `magic', a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination. And finally they had other powers, more directly derived from Sauron...such as rendering invisible the material body, and making things of the invisible world visible." [Letters #131)

Such concern for slowing the passage of time and creating "islands of timeless beauty" echoes oddly the current preoccupations with sustainable development and protecting the beauties of the Earth and its ecosystems.

It is a mistake to imagine that the wise of earlier centuries were unable to recognize phenomena such as cycles in nature and society, however they chose to represent them for purposes of communication to their peers, their patrons or to the population. Various devices are chosen for this purpose in modern society. Rings were a good compromise for a culture nourished by myths. As an intellectual creation, a ring indeed "enhanced the natural powers of a possessor" -- as does any "model". Ironically, whilst they do indeed make "things of the invisible world visible" as does any such model of complex phenomena, they also render "invisible the material body", in that the bearer treats the abstraction as a reality and in so doing becomes an abstraction for the model with which he or she identifies. Rather than Tolkien's "Ringwraiths" of yore, the world is faced with the "Modelwraiths" of today.

Relationship between the rings

But the real challenge lies in how the different rings or cycles mesh together to engender a larger whole of higher dimensionality. In terms of spherical geometry, they are usefully understood as "great circles" of different orientation that interlock together to engender a sphere or globe. This approach was explored for the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) to cluster the initiatives and interlocking strategic dilemmas relevant to Agenda 21 [more with figures].

Meshing with each of these "great circles" would be the different secondary cycles. The "great circles" go around the sphere circumferentially, whilst the secondary circles are effectively of lesser "diameter" and lie on different parts of its surface meshing with particular great circles and with one another. Constructors of geodesic domes are very familiar with these features.

It is unfortunate that there is no systematic classification of environmental and psychosocial cycles in order to explore these correspondences. However the work done on feedback loops in global modelling goes a long way in this direction. Also confusing is the form of information with respect to the metabolic pathways made up of many cycles vital to cellular life that might well be similarly portrayed.

The current controversy about "globalization" might then usefully be understood as being about the "One Ring to rule them all" -- namely how the different rings are together to be controlled, and by whom. There is a curious parallel between the amateur, colourful, "hobbit"-like, often enchanting behaviour of the anti-globalization, communal "halflings" (with whom many readily identify) and the powerful and often ugly bodies (directed by dark-suited males) against whom they protest (and whom many love to hate). In this current period it would indeed appear to be the case that the "hobbits" are protecting something vital to humanity which the powerful seek to possess and control for their own very particular ends.

The "Dark Riders"

In Tolkien's tale, the Nazgûl, or Dark Riders, were humans who have long been corrupted by the power associated with possession of the major rings. They have lost their essential humanity and been transformed into "Ringwraiths". As such they are the servants of Sauron, the Dark Lord who seeks so assiduously through them for the One Ring.

The question raised by this exploration is whether any social change initiative in some way tends to attract the attention of "Dark Riders" of some kind. The situation with regard to the major environmental cycles lends itself to this conclusion as was suggested above. Monopolies and invisible price fixing rings are being set in place worldwide to control and exploit access to water, food and the like. Individual names may not be known but those acting for unknown power mongers "behind the scenes" may well be at this time. Rightly or wrongly, the "halflings" have their suspicions -- and have borne witness to violence against their number for voicing them.

Perhaps of much greater concern are the "Dark Riders" who may be associated with major social change initiatives on which many place so much hope. These would include initiatives on: human rights, housing, refugees, education, nuclear proliferation, family planning, health, dissemination of cultural products, intellectual copyright, etc. The most challenging situations are those associated with major UN Conferences (eg climate, human rights, sustainable development, population, etc).

The "Dark Riders" might well be highly visible in some other guise, but typically would act primarily "behind the scenes" through "structural violence", deceit and treachery -- only using physical violence as a last resort. In this sense they would indeed be "invisible" and might well appear in some guise to be associated most closely with actively promoting the initiatives -- only to undermine or vitiate them without revealing their role. Indeed they would tend to be the first to express regret at the failure of any positive initiative.

Of greater concern is the possibility that the "Dark Riders" and their minions would benefit from new generations of psychosocial and behavioural technologies -- secret developments of behavioural modification and other research. Such suspicions, frequently expressed by conspiracy theorists on the web, are of course readily dismissed as fantasy -- as with the suspicion that they might even be aliens.

Nature of the "One Ring"

Lord of the Rings: Tolkien presents the challenge of the One Ring in terms of the necessity for its destruction to safeguard humanity and the planet. The Fellowship of the Ring assembles to engage in a heroic mission to achieve this.

As noted earlier however, the One Ring may be indicative of how the cycles necessary to sustain life on this planet interlock appropriately. Part of the challenge may then lie in how this One Ring is to be understood -- as is evident in the acrimonious debate amongst good people about "globalization".

The ring that the Fellowship seeks to destroy is the one understood to have been "forged" by Sauron -- having tricked the elves into forging the 19 lesser rings that can be controlled by it. In the modern world it is academia that perhaps best reflects the function of the elves -- and it is indeed academia that has "forged" the conceptual models of the cycles vital to sustaining life on the planet. It is through these models that control over the cyclic phenomena is focused.

The forging of the ring designed to control them -- perhaps through some super "global model" -- is another matter. Can the Club of Rome be seen to have prepared the way for this through the early Limits to Growth (1972) modelling exercises that resulted in the creation of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis -- and prefigured the preoccupation with sustainable development? For some conspiracy theorists, the Club (and related bodies such as the Bilderberg Group, the Bohemian Club, and the Trilateral Commission) are indeed highly suspect as contributors to any such plot [more] -- as foreseen in C S Lewis' famous novel That Hideous Strength (1945).

But there is a strange symmetry to Tolkien's tale, for in many ways the Fellowship of the Ring was itself forged as an alliance of disparate peoples to harmonize the destabilizing forces of Middle Earth. It in some ways mirrors the One Ring. The bonds of the Fellowship of the Ring are in fact tempered through the quest to destroy the One Ring that brought the Fellowship together. In some respects the Fellowship becomes the more appropriate form of the One Ring -- and exerts its "control" in a more appropriate manner.

Ring of the Nibelungs: In Richard Wagner's opera, the story is based on the succession of struggles over a single ring that gives great power. Like that of Tolkien, it is "forged" out of gold by a problematic figure in the early phase of the tale. Curiously, possession of the gold starts with the Rhinemaidens playfully enjoying the alluvial gold in situ (Rheingold) and passes through a sequence of successors -- each transfer influenced significantly by a human value, including vices and ills (theft, deceit, betrayal, murder, incest, etc), finally to be returned -- subtly empowered through exposure to desire and flame -- to shimmer in the river with the Rhinemaidens at the end of the cycle. At one stage, its nature as a "ring" is even forgotten, and the focus shifts to the gold. In a parallel cycle, the potential of glory and power passes through the hands of the Gods into the hands of Humans.

Donivan Bessinger (Possessing the Ring: Wagner's Ring and human nature, 1996) thoughtfully explores the relation between Wagner's ring cycle and the life-cycle of the psyche and the triumph over ego domination -- reconciling the Self with the outer world of daily experience in which problems of survival must be solved. He concludes:

We now are in the midst of a turbulent transition from a cold war to some new type of world-order at the threshold of another millennium. If the biophilic life-affirming aspect of the psyche is eventually to come into full ascendency, we will need to find new ways to give expression to a sense of human spirituality and oneness. If that can be so, the twilight of the gods will not be the twilight before the darkness, but before a new dawn. It will not represent the extinguishing of Psyche's gods, but their integration into wholeness of life.

According to his view:

Individually, we must learn to see that the good is not the so-called good of malignant ego gratification; the good is homeostasis, integrating our inner and outer polarities into a balance that brings the psyche into alignment with the homeostatic order of creation. In other words, we must complete the ring to "possess the ring."

It is that psychological circle of wholeness which gives each of us power over our world. The struggle to obtain it is an heroic one, but surely the effort is worthwhile. Possessing this ring confers great power indeed.

Journey to the West: Possibly the most intriguing "ring" features in one of the principal classic tales of China -- that of the Journey to the West written by Wu Cheng'en in the 16th century (and translated by Arthur Waley, 1942). Otherwise known as The Monkey King, this is the tale of Monkey as the mischievous protagonist who takes on the heavens and the gods in a sequence of stories. The novel follows his adventures in search of wisdom and the Sutra, the Buddhist holy book, as assistant to a monk. The tale borrows its title and its premiss from a factual work of the same name written in the 7th century.

The adapted tale is a comic fantasy spanning the entire mythological cosmos, including Heaven and Hell, in which the monk acquires some very unlikely travelling companions. Ironically, the most resourceful of these is Monkey -- with his vast supernatural powers and a human body. The third, Pigsy, had been banished to Earth from Heaven for violating a daughter of Yu Di, and had been reincarnated as a monster with a man's body and a pig's face. The fourth, another fallen celestial official, had taken the name of Brother Sand and supported himself by waylaying and murdering travellers until offered the chance to redeem himself by joining their quest.

Monkey neatly portrays the invasive, disruptive initiatives undertaken by many powerful groups in modern society -- who are disparaging of constraints and dismissive of consequences of which they often choose to be ignorant. As a symbol of curiosity common to the West, he nicely parodies the irresponsibilty of science and technology.

The tale of the Monkey King is presented as one of a number of examples of the individuation process identified by C G Jung as "the process by which a person becomes an individual, that is, a separate indivisible unity or whole." As such the dauntless and irreverent Monkey King -- a Trickster hero of truly archetypal proportions is an inspiration for everything from classical Chinese opera, to comic strips [more; more], and to a wildly popular TV series of the 1970's [more]. Monkey became so popular throughout China that he himself became an object of veneration; images of him even appearing in temples.

After causing considerable upheaval in the heavens [more], Monkey was imprisoned for his misdeeds. He was released through the intercession of Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, only on condition that he fulfill his destiny by accompanying the Buddhist monk Xuanzang to India to bring the Buddhist scriptures back to China. To restrain his natural violence, the goddess put a band on his head that tightened on command, instantly giving him a splitting headache. At the end of his successful quest with companions (resembling some in the Fellowship of the Ring), Monkey was left with only one concern: to be rid of the migraine-inducing ring that Guan Yin had put around his head. When Xuanzang asked him gently if it had troubled him recently, he raised his hand to his temples. Only then did he realize that it had disappeared of its own accord along with the last traces of his animal nature [more].

The "band" originally placed on Monkey's head shares attributes with a "ring" in relation to power and control. Curiously both terms have a collective significance. On the heroic quest Monkey is part of a band of companions, just as Frodo is part of a ring forming the Fellowship. In its final transformation, the band recalls the halo around the heads of the holy. In various religions, East and West, halos are depicted as adorning circles of light denoting cosmic understanding and enlightenment. Similarly the ring or circle is the most ancient representation of the wholeness of the cosmos -- seen, for example, in the pi'i discs of earliest Chinese art.


Lord of the Rings: The theme of shadow and darkness runs through any ring process. The "Dark Riders" are necessarily "of the shadow". Thus for Tolkien:

" And much of the strength and will of Sauron passed into that One Ring; for the power of the Elven-rings was very great, and that which should govern them must be a thing of surpassing potency; and Sauron forged it in the Mountain of Fire in the Land of Shadow. And while he wore the One Ring he could perceive all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them." [more]

Ring of the Nibelungs: In the case of the Ring of the Nibelungs, according to Donivan Bessinger, the shadow also figures through the Nibelung dwarfs of the shadows, and in the chthonic realm of the underworld, Nibelheim, the home of spiritual mists and of shadow. The considerable shadow energy of the psyche, is seen in Alberich's evil reaction to rejection, in Wotan's awful betrayal of Youth and Beauty (Freia) to build his castle; in his stripping Brünnhilde of her immortality and his imprisoning her in the ring of fire in order to regain the ring of power.

Shadow energy is also seen in the struggle between Siegfried and Mime, his evil stepfather -- the orphaned Siegfried is raised by his shadow, Alberich's brother! That same shadow energy also provides resistance to the reintegration of the psyche. Siegfried had to slay a dragon, but he also had to struggle with the Gibichungs. They defend the castle which guards access to the Rhine. But there is also a paradox: The same shadow also provides the painful final link by which the psyche is made whole. [more]

Journey to the West: In the case of Monkey, as an archetypal Trickster, in jungian terms, his role is to hamper the hero's progress and to generally make trouble. However in this case it is Monkey who becomes the hero, effectively hampered by his own shadow. His companions, Pigsy and Brother Sand, also carry shadow qualities.

Fellowship of the Ring

There is a curious symmetry between the Dark Riders and the Fellowship of the Ring. Each is composed of nine members. The Dark Riders are unnamed. The Fellowship consists of Frodo, assisted by: the wisdom of Gandalf; the loyalty of his friends Sam, Merry and Pippin; the courage of Aragorn and Boromir; the precision of Legolas; and the strength of Gimli. Outside the Fellowship, but assisting the quest, are the elves Arwen, Galadriel and Elrond, whose knowledge of the Ring brings to light the true danger and importance of their journey. The process in which the Fellowship engages is described from a jungian perspective by Patrick Grant [Tolkien: Archetype and Word] as:

Within the quest, Frodo, at the beginning, is childlike, and must. endure the terrors of monsters, dragons, and the underworld. Aragorn, his companion, who equally undergoes such trials, is of strange and royal origins, protector of a noble lineage, and a semi-divine figure with the magic power of healing. Frodo and Aragorn represent different aspects of the hero--Frodo his childlikeness, Aragorn his nobility and power, and each must support and learn from the other. The Hobbit, for good reason, as we shall see, receives foremost attention, and the story is in a special sense his. As it proceeds, Frodo puts off more and more the childlike ways of the Shire, and assumes the lineaments of heroism, acquiring, at the end, a truly numinous quality. Moreover, as his understanding deepens, Frodo moves through a process equivalent to Jung's individuation, which is charted by the main action of the book. He encounters the shadow (Gollum), anima (Galadriel), and Old Wise Man (Gandalf). Each archetype has a good and bad side, the good leading to understanding and fellowship, the bad to death, isolation, and the loss of identity or Self. So Galadriel is opposed by Shelob, the heroes by the Ringwraiths, and Gandalf by the evil magician Saruman. Gollum is, by nature, ambivalent.

The Dark Riders are effectively the collective shadow of the Fellowship. This points to the real challenge for sustainable development initiatives. It is as much the problem of recognizing and dealing with the denied "internal", shadowy dysfunctionalities of any Fellowship engaged in such a mission to "save the world" as it is of seeking to blame "external" shadowy figures in positions of power able to forestall it. This concern is explored by those concerned with processes and types associated with the 9-fold enneagram (Anthony Blake, 1996; International Enneagram Association).

In endeavouring to understand the operation of the "nine" in Tolkien's tale, Donivan Bessinger provides a very helpful insight into the life-cycle of the Ring of the Nibelungs from a jungian perspective. He focuses on the manner and sequence by which the ring is possessed by the nine principal protagonists -- in what might here be called Wagner's ring "Fellowship".

For Bessinger, possession of the "ring", following the story of the 4-part opera, begins in the homeostatic self (with the Rhinemaidens). With life experience, there is shadow development (through Alberich) which is followed by ego inflation (through Wotan, Fasolt, Fafner) and heroic ego struggle (through Siegfried). If ego-self integration is successful (through Brünnhilde, Siegfried, and again Brünnhilde), the self regains possession of the ring of wholeness (through the Rhinemaiden Flosshilde). The chain of possession of the physical ring as an object turns upon itself to become a ring of experiential process. The spiral then continues, hopefully with the person becoming more conscious during each cycle. Unfortunately, the spiral can also turn backwards [more]

The challenge is whether mytho-poetic insights into how transformative fellowship "works" (whether from Tolkien or Wagner -- or even Monkey) can be transformed into operational insights in relation to the challenges of collective action in response to the condition of the planet. This question brings the focus back to how the different cycles function in relation to one another -- whether as cycles of the larger environment, or cycles sustaining life within a group, or the corresponding cycles within a person. To what extent do the cycles in each case resonate in structure and function with those in other cases?

Cycles: lost and found

In the tale of the Lord of the Rings, the rings are variously lost, misplaced, hidden or unworn. The elves had "taken off all their rings" having realized the corruption that the Dark Lord could exert through them. At the time of the tale, their three rings were held by Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel and were respectively associated with Fire, Air and Water. Of the seven originally given to the dwarf lords, three had been consumed by dragons and four were in Sauron's possession -- as were the nine originally given to men. The One Ring was in the possession of Frodo the Hobbit -- our hero!

Frodo, as a representative of the "halflings" nicely reflects the incompleteness of our individual psychosocial makeup, our relative ignorance, our doubts, and our sense of disempowerment in the face of large (and menacing) forces far beyond our individual control. Indeed if we were true to our hobbit nature, we would stay at home and celebrate in the peaceful haven in which we are wont to live -- our cocoons. But as the anti-globalization forces have indicated: "the meek are getting ready"!

In society today, the cycles vital to sustaining the planet might also be said to have been "variously lost, misplaced, hidden or unworn" in the sense that particular cycles may be the concern of many (notably business and market cycles) but their totality is largely the concern of none. Exceptions include bodies such as the Foundation for the Study of Cycles (founded by Edward R Dewey in 1940) and individuals providing web resources such as Ray Tomes [more] and Robert Macleod Christie [more] . The Foundation built a database of over 1,300 identified cycles and is later claimed to have catalogued some 20,000 cycles [more]. In 1970, Dewey and others started a Journal of Interdisciplinary Cycle Research that has now become Biological Rhythm Research (journal of the European Society for Chronobiology). The disciplines covered include frequencies pertaining to astronomical phenomena, solar phenomena, earth movement in space cycles, earth geological cycles, climatic cycles, weather cycles, electromagnetic cycles, evolutionary cycles, circadian rhythms, other biological cycles, behavioural cycles, economic events, financial cycles, wars, battles, prices, demographics, political, and so on.

In the continuing work on the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential [online] efforts have been made to document the thousands of loops or cycles linking world problems, or the global strategies in response to them [more]. Users can experiment with visualizing them in various ways [more] and even binding them to music [more]. In a web-enabled knowledge society, there is a case for exploring how such patterns of links contribute to the "songlines of the noosphere" rather than thinking of them in relation to "information highways" [more]. The phenomenon of "webrings" that link related web sites is a move in this direction (with 62,000 Rings, 1.08 million active Sites, and 670,000+ unique registered users in July 2002) [more]. The possibility of "songlines" even suggests the merit of envisaging the sacralization of hyperlink geometry [more].

The "One Ring" of cycles

Given the jungian interest expressed in many studies on the work of Tolkien, Wagner's Ring, and Monkey, it is appropriate to note C G Jung's own interest in the Chinese I Ching (or Book of Changes) to which he provided an introduction [text] when it was first translated. The book claims to offer insight into the whole pattern of changes -- whether in nature, in society, in the family, or in the individual. It acquired great popularity in the West during the transformative period of the 1960s and thereafter.

There are many texts on the I Ching, notably on the web [resources; resources; resources], reflecting a variety of levels of interest. Of special interest is the fact that one of the approaches to an overview of the complete pattern of changes is through various classical circular arrangements of "hexagrams" (based on a binary coding used to represent the conditions between which change takes place) [more; more; more]. The most common of these being the King Wen sequence (Later Heaven) and the Fu-Shi sequence (Earlier Heaven). One such diagram groups the 64 hexagrams into a circular (active or Yang) arrangement within which is placed a square (passive or Yin) arrangement [more]. This diagram was originally sent to Leibniz in 1703 by Joachim Bouvet from China. It originally came from the book True Meaning of I Ching by Zhu Xi, a Neo-Confucian of the Song dynasty.

In terms of the preoccupations of this exploration with the "One Ring", the circular diagram of 64 hexagrams can be usefully understood as a deeply considered effort to portray such a ring. As normally presented, the component cycles are implicit as a feature of the binary notation associated with a hexagram. Each hexagram represents a condition that may transform along implicit pathways into specific other conditions -- indicated by other hexagrams in the ring of hexagrams. As an indication, some of these links have been made explicit in one circular representation [more]. Cyclic pathways from hexagram to hexagram can be explored in relation to a range of perspectives: dialogue, vision, conferencing, networking, policy-making, community, and lifestyle [more].

The particular interest of this "One Ring", that does indeed "bind" the many transformational pathways, is that as an emergent property it does not lend itself to "possession" in any normal sense of the term. Indeed each condition within it is a challenge to understanding that can only be effectively evoked using metaphor. One such metaphor is related to the notion of "fellowship", for example.

The ring of hexagrams is effectively well-equipped to deflect efforts to "possess" it, since "possession" is one of the polarized conditions that it encodes. It was undoubtedly such features that were attractive to Jung, especially in the light of his interest in the psychosocial implications of the alchemical challenge of identifying the "container for the universal solvent". The "One Ring" is of that nature. A modern technical parallel is the magnetohydrodynamic design of a "magnetic bottle" to contain plasma to prevent it from being "quenched" by the walls of the container during nuclear fusion [more]. In this sense efforts to possess the ring have effects on the emergence of higher order insights equivalent to the process of quenching [more]. Interestingly, such designs and the wiring designs of motors and dynamos both have features suggestive of the circular arrangements of hexagrams.

More generally, of special interest in the I Ching ring arrangement is the way any polar conditions, such as light-dark and subjecive-objective, are interwoven -- reflecting much of the ambiguity of the "shadow" discussed above. Indeed the importance that Jung attached to understanding the psychosocial implications of shadow, and the nature of the "One Ring" shed a different light on Tolkien's description of that ring:

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

As an enthusiast of Jung's work, Tolkien would indeed subscribe to the notion that the One Ring, and the insights it represents, necessarily involve an encounter with shadow. But the subtlety of the One Ring that emerges from that encounter is different from that golden ring "forged by the Dark Lord" on which conscious attention is focused in such a way as to obscure recognition of the subtler emergent ring. In that sense, as an intellectual model, it does indeed need to be "destroyed". But it is indeed through the emergent ring that the many other rings may be "found".

Conversations with ourselves

As stressed from a jungian perspective, these archetypal stories are exemplifications of the individuation process. At the same time they offer templates through which people can gain some intuitive understanding of patterns operating collectively -- through the projection from individual experience into the collective. It is with these collective patterns that the planet is now seriously confronted -- although any possibility of fruitful collective response (as a Fellowship) is necessarily undermined by our individual challenges.

The daily news brings numerous examples of failures of dialogue -- exemplified by "11th September" and its sequel -- and an increasingly vague sense of what might constitute a viable way forward. There is also a sense that many international dialogues that are hopefully intended to clarify the way forward are themselves caught in cycles -- trapped by our own very human propensities. One of the first policy scientists, Geoffrey Vickers, made the point: "A trap is a function of the nature of the trapped" (Freedom in a Rocking Boat, 1978).

Curiously there are a multitude of international conferences organized into series, normally with a cyclic periodicity of 1 to 6 years (see International Congress Calendar). These are the formal vehicles of official and unofficial international dialogue. There is however no sense of how these cycles of dialogue interact to engender the "One Ring" which would amplify any synergies and harmonies between them.

Of course the same is true of the multitude of conversations that are the vehicle of life in any local community. All that can usually be said is that in certain communities the cycles and themes of conversation seem to self-organize in such a way as to sustain and enhance the life of the community -- whereas in others the reverse occurs.

The point is even more poignantly made in the case of the "internal dialogues" through which each person articulates their world and their response to it. There too there are repeating cycles on a variety of issues by which one is entrapped in some way. There too, these cycles may self-organize serendipitously to enlighten one's relationship to the world -- although the reverse is perhaps more often the case [Judge, 1997].

Using Tolkien's figures, it is in this sense that the Frodo-like aspect of our character is in a form of Fellowship with a Gandalf-aspect, an Aragorn-aspect, etc -- in an effort to respond to our personal Dark Riders and the Sauron-aspect behind them. We may be able to identify our evanescent elven-aspects that have knowledge of the "rings". We will certainly have to deal with the Saruman-aspect with its highly knowledgable authority, arrogance and subtle treachery. And clinging desperately to each of us is the slimy Gollum-aspect that would so dearly like to re-possess the One Ring for itself alone -- caricaturing the most problematic feature of intellectual copyright in a knowledge society.

In conclusion: varieties of ring

One way to bring together the various threads above is to cluster and distinguish the varieties of ring:

1. Ring as physical protective fence: "circling the wagons", fortress wall, ring of fortresses, "ring of fire", walled off settlements and ghettos, gated community, rings of satellites ("star wars" strategic defence), sporting (or gladiatorial) arena

The object so encircled is the traditional focus of possession and divisive concerns about ownership of property.

2. Ring as psycho-social organization: poetry circle, round and ring dancing, drug ring, crime ring, call-girl ring, price fixing ring, "ring fencing", seasonal migration routes, circle games (ring-a-ring-a-rosy), cycles of violence, cycles of substance abuse, slave rings (sex, immigrant, etc), magic circle, fellowship of a gladiatorial ring, roundtable

Some of the groups bounded in this way may also be possessed as property subject to ownership -- as in the case of corporations or some sports teams.

3. Ring of information: ring of websites (webring), singing rounds, surveillance ring, spy ring, ring of detectors (sentries, listening posts, radar stations)

Again information held in this way may be subject to possession as intellectual property. Of particular interest is the current technical importance attached to "broken rings" (and their detection), whether in computer networks or in webrings.

4. Ring of symbolism: marriage ring, fraternity ring, emblematic signet ring, ring of authority, Olympic rings, memoral ring of stones (Stonehenge)

Although apparently outmoded, such rings remain of major importance to individual and collective identity -- and are also the focus of psycho-political manipulation (as illustrated by past initiatives in relation to the Olympic rings). Symbols, in the form of such logos, may also be possessed as designs, although their meaning cannot be so effectively owned. But, as it is said of the circular designs of Celtic knotwork: If that which is not prose must be poetry, knotwork's meaning defies literal translation and should be sought at a deeper level. The repeated crossings of the physical and the spiritual are expressed in the interlace of the knots. The never ending path of the strand represents the permanence and the continuum of life, love and faith. There are no distinct boundaries between this world and the otherworld, nor between birth, life and death. The phases of life are envisaged as an endless journey and so the endless knot of Celtic art represents the binding of the soul to the earth, the eternal travel of the human spirit through successive incarnations on a search for sacred and divine wisdom [more]

5. Ring of power: as with Tolkien's "One Ring" and the magical powers of "old-style" control and surveillance it conferred upon the bearer -- and through which subservience may be expressed by those so controlled.

There are many examples of circular magical talismans and rings acquired and worn in order to ward off evil spirits. Magical circles have a long tradition of use by magicians to protect themselves in rituals for conjuring spirits. Invocational rites tend to occur within such a circle, drawn by the practitioner for the occasion, and then erased or ended to "release" the powers to go on with their performing of the work the rite asked of them. Roundtables, in the Arthurian sense, are a collective variant -- now transformed into boards of directors of the powerful and especially into situation and war rooms supported by rings of command consoles (with missile keys). Many corporate struggles relate to efforts to posses and control such configurations of power [Etzion and Niv, 1994]. Curiously the management sciences employ many centro-symmetric strategic models [eg Magic Quadrant] that resemble those traditionally favoured by magicians also endeavouring to control and direct the forces of their environment.

6. Ring as cycle (involving creation and destruction): as with Wagner's "passing of the gold" around a ring, here the ring is defined primarily by the movement of passing (rather than by the coveted physical ring that is passed), with those (actors) in that process activating the ring cycle through the dynamics between them at each stage. It is the cycle of actions that defines the ring (of which the physical ring -- created in the process -- then becomes a symbol).

So-called gift (potlach) cultures may, to some degree, function this way. Gift cultures are adaptations not to scarcity but to abundance. They arise in populations that do not have significant material-scarcity problems with survival goods, notably among aboriginal cultures living in ecozones with mild climates and abundant food and in certain strata of industrialized society, especially in show business and among the very wealthy (elaborate and usually public acts of philanthropy). The potlach is a process of work and saving, fasting and feasting, capital formation and distribution -- a gift ritual prevalent among several groups in the American northwest. It may be understood as a system by which goods are destroyed in order to attain rank and as such is practised in varying forms by every culture on this planet. Abundance makes command relationships difficult to sustain and exchange relationships an almost pointless game. In gift cultures, social status is determined not by what you control but by what you give away. Involvement in the open source software community has been described in these terms. The abundance of information tools creates a situation in which the only available measure of competitive success is reputation among one's peers. The open source community has provoked considerable discussion about how this process might be "possessed" in the same way that other horizontally or vertically integrated processes have been possessed by the corporate sector.

7. Disciplinary ring: as with the ring worn involuntarily by Monkey as a constraint on disruptive behaviour. That ring is a form of psycho-behavioural "implant" that is effectively "absorbed" as the bearer disciplines his actions -- the discipline of the ring is progressively embodied.

A rosary or circlet of mala beads might be seen in the same light [more]. Both might be contrasted with contemporary physical analogues such as the electronic restraint (stun belt) for prisoners, or fitting an electronic cuff to arm or leg for monitoring of probationers -- as successors to slave rings. In this context it is effectively "know-how" (in contrast to information or power) that is the focus of "possession" through the acquisition of discipline. The process whereby any discipline is acquired may however be owned (and even copyrighted and franchised), although traditionally it has been a matter of imposing, or evoking, obedience to a "rule" or ritual (as in monasteries and ashrams). The commercialization of education may lead to a situation, in which the process of acquisition of knowledge in many sectors is possessed as property in this way (as in certain "certification" processes) -- reinforced by binding people into a cycle of refresher courses to maintain their competence.

8. Ring as meta-organization: In contrast to Tolkien's "One Ring", and complexifying Wagner's ring of transformative processes, the circular arrangement of hexagrams of the I Ching may be understood as a form of meta-organization of the transformative processes of change.

This organization suggests a form of discipline, or "way" to be journeyed, in the sense explored by Monkey -- but one in which both correct and incorrect pathways are still "bound" within the way as a strange attractor [more]. It is an emergent property of the self-organization of change processes -- traditionally described negatively with all the ambiguity of Lao Tze [Tao Te Ching] and Chung Tzu [more] as the "way which can be described is not the way". It is possible that conversation, such as in the form of dialogue to which David Bohm (On Dialogue, 1996) aspired, can acquire a form of organization like this. As noted earlier, any such meta-organization is highly elusive to possession. But the representations of such organization can easily be subject to copyright and ownership -- as is regrettably the tendency with respect to many insights of this kind, whether old or new.

9. Ring as breathing cycle: The many spiritually-oriented disciplines of breathing (from the misleadingly superficial to the incomprehensibly profound) necessarily focus on the respiratory cycle understood as divided into various stages of transformation of energy.

Jung, for example, associated these with a process of internal alchemy [more]. He proposed a meditative individuation process using the metaphors of alchemy and the archetypes of the subconscious -- anima, animus, shadow and projection, plus many others. Curiously it is Gregory Bateson in a section on Form, Substance and Difference [more] of his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) that relates the depth psychology work of Jung to the thermodynamics of Sadi Carnot. But it is in another book, translated by Jung's colleague Richard Wilhelm (1929), that Jung comments on a fundamental cycle identified in a Chinese text T'ai I Chin Hua Tsung Chih (The Secret of the Golden Flower) -- more recently translated by Thomas Cleary (1991) -- which showed Jung how to initiate this alchemy through the breathing cycle [more; more]. This focus has also been compared to the Nestorian Gospel of St Thomas [more]. The much-cited Chinese work discusses the "circulation of the light" of awareness through various conditions during meditation [diagram] reminiscent (if only in the metaphors used to describe them) of stages of the Carnot heat cycle. The "circulation of the light" refers to the movement of energy along a central pathway -- posing challenges metaphorically reminiscent of the design and operation of high-energy particle accelerators, cyclotrons and synchrotrons (for which there are many applet demos on the web) [resources]. The light is associated with contemplation suggesting that a form of energy (awakened as the body becomes still) attains the qualities of the light as the mind focuses upon or contemplates the spiritual ideal [more]. It is implied that this cycle necessarily embodies the insights associated with the transformations of awareness encoded by the circular arrangement of the I Ching. Whilst breathing has traditionally been valued as a metaphor in terms of "inspiration", much remains to be discovered about how "inspiration" works for a group and how "expiration" is to be understood as its cyclic complement.

Each succeeding type of ring above embodies and transcends in interesting ways the attributes of the previous rings. From an emphasis on the physical or social nature of the ring, the shift is to psycho-social dynamics and to their embodiment in new patterns of understanding that are ultimately what sustains life most intimately. But at each stage, part of the learning dynamic lies through the effort to "possess" the ring. The learning is associated with the discovery that the nature of what one seeks to possess in this way, and what can be so possessed, is a mere shadow of the intuition of why one would seek to possess it and of how "possession" might then be understood. From this persepctive, "possession of the ring" may then be understood in terms of new forms of "self-possession" that enactively embody the environment more dynamically and cast new light on the nature of the ring of Fellowship "within" [more; more]

Tolkien's tale, and the movie, offers a variety of dramatis personae and locations that merit reflection at this time

Tolkien's Tale

An Equivalent

The Fellowship

Frodo Baggins: the very ordinary person with extraordinary potential Each of us
Gandalf: the wise wizard, bearer of Narya, the Ring of Fire; held Hobbits near to his heart, and their race in high regard Various eminent figures that function across institutional and sectoral boundaries who place great value in very ordinary people
Aragorn: the man of the world protective of the disadvantaged, otherwise known as Strider; led the Fellowship of the Ring after Gandalf's fall Many community development leaders active under dangerous conditions in developing countries
Boromir: representative of Men; succombed to the temptation of the Ring.  
Legolas: representative of the Elves  
Gimli: representative of the Dwarves  
Samwise: loyal friend of Frodo Baggins  
Pippin: loyal friend of Frodo Baggins  
Merry: loyal friend of Frodo Baggins  

Elven Support

Galadriel: queen of the elves at Lorien; bearer of Nenya, the ring of adamant; provider of gifts to the Fellowship of the Ring  
Celeborn: elven ruler at Lorien  
Elrond: bearer of the ring Vilya, one of the 3 elven rings of power.  

Forces of the Shadow

Sauron: the creator of the One Ring and served by the 9 Nazgûl or Dark Riders; master of deceit and treachery; creator of Black Speech; breeding of the Olog-Hai  
Nazgul: collective name of the nine men corrupted by the power of Sauron's Nine Rings, and transformed into his dark and deathless servants -- the Dark Riders or Ringwraiths  
Saruman: long-standing leader in apparent opposition to repressive forces, who concealed his secret desires for power, glory, and possession of the One Ring; extremely well-informed concerning the rings and the possibilities for their control; despises Gandalf who would not be involved in his schemes; extremely skilled speaker Some highly intelligent and eminent figures with hidden agendas and associations with repressive forces
Gollum: a filthy slimy creature who lived on the small underground lake, in the center of the cave and held the One Ring as his most precious treasure  


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