Marriage among Elves

by Elatan-(Valar)
October 20, 1999

Back to Elves

    The Elves wedded only once in life and that was for love and of free will. Marriage was the natural course of their lives and they would wed for the most part in their youth and normally soon after their fiftieth year.
    Very often they would choose one another early in youth, even as children. If they were children (had not reached fifty years) the betrothal awaited the judgement of the parents of either. If they were of fitting age, the betrothal was announced at a meeting of the two Houses concerned and if allowed the betrothed gave silver rings one to another.
    According to the laws of the Eldar this betrothal was bound to stand for one year at least and during this time it could be revoked by a public return of the rings; the rings would then be buried and never used again for a betrothal.
    After at least a year had passed since the betrothal-feast, it was the part of the betrothed to appoint the time of their wedding and the feast of the two involved houses. At the end of the feast the betrothed stood forth and the mother of the bride and the father of the bridegroom joined the hands of the pair and blessed them.
    The form of this blessing is not known for no mortal man has ever heard it, but the Eldar say that Varda was named in witness by the mother and Manwë by the father and the name of Eru was named too. Then the betrothed gave back the silver rings, but in exchange they gave slender rings of gold worn upon the index of the right hand.
    For the Noldor there was also the custom that the mother of the bride should give the groom a jewel upon a chain or collar and the groom's father should give a gift like that to the bride. This gift could be given before the wedding-feast.
    These ceremonies were not necessary to marriage;  they were only a gracious mode to recognize the union of the two Houses. It was the act of bodily union that achieved marriage and after which the bond was complete. It was at all times lawful for any of the Eldar (if unwed) to marry without ceremony or witness, save blessings and naming the names, and in times of trouble, in flight or in exile and wanderings, such marriages were often made.
    There is no record of any among the Elves that took another's spouse by force because this is against their nature. One so forced would have rejected bodily life and passed to Mandos. It is scarcely possible, for the Eldar can read at once in the voice and eyes of another whether they are wed or not.
    I will here give the Law of Ilùvatar concerning marriage which was pronounced because of the two marriages Finwë had, which conflict with the statement of the top line where it said Elves married only once in life. The Law about marriage as Mandos told it to the councillors of the Eldar :

    "This is the law of Ilúvatar for you, his children, as you know well. The Firstborn shall take one spouse only and have no other in life while Arda endures. But this law takes no account of Death. This doom is now made, by the right of lawgiving that Ilùvatar committed to Manwë, that if the spirit of a spouse, husband or wife, forsaking the body, shall for any cause pass into the keeping of Mandos, then the living shall be permitted to take another spouse. But this can only be, if the former union be dissolved forever. Therefore the one that is in the keeping of Mandos must there remain until the end of Arda, and shall not awake again or take bodily form. For none among the Quendi shall have two spouses at one time alive and awake. But since it is not to be thought that the living shall, by his or her will alone, confine the spirit of the other to Mandos, this disunion shall come to pass only by the consent of both. And after the giving of the consent ten years of the Valar (95,82 Sun-Years) shall pass before Mandos confirms it. Within that time either party may revoke this consent, but when Mandos has confirmed it, and the living spouse has wedded another, it shall be irrevocable until the end of Arda."

Reference :History of Middle-earth: Morgoth`s Ring