As Ainur, the Maïar are essentially immortal spirits, souls that are originally fully severable from any form they might adopt. Their bodies, while not required, enable them to interact in Arda, for a physical being is essential to a complete experience in a physical world. Even while at home in Valinor, the Maïar maintain form, walking among their Elven compatriots.
This was the case with Sauron. The Dark Lord’s form was destroyed twice in the Second Age, and each time he was unable to bring his power to bear upon Middle-earth until he could take a new form. With the destruction of the One Ring, his physical link to Arda was shattered, and he could never again assume a body. Accordingly, the Lord of the Rings passed out of the World. His soul did not die; it was simply incapable of affecting or remaining in Arda.
The Spirit’s Effect on Maïa Form
When a Maïa takes a form, it reflects the nature of his soul. His metaphysical spirit invariably colors his physical body. Some elemen¬tal Maïar become manifestations of their one-dimensional character. Fire- and Water-spirits, for instance, take forms which display their elemental essence. Arien and the Balrogs — all Fire-spirits — adopted fiery variations of form, the former pure and the latter corrupted. The Water-spirits such as Ossë, Uinen, and Goldberry took more gen¬tle, “liquid” forms which embodied the character of their watery association.
Evil affects form, just as it perverts the spirit. Thus, the corrupt Maïar inevitably find themselves tied to a hideous body. Even Sauron, strongest of the Maïar, eventually became unable to adopt a beautiful or pleasing form. Weakened by the loss of his Ruling Ring, as well as the death of his third body in the Downfall of Númenór, the Dark Lord never again assumed a fair-seeming guise. Throughout the Third Age, his body was an unveiled manifestation of his inner self — his soul — just as the Balrogs’ bodies reflected their character.
Saruman the Wizard experienced a similar slide. As he fell from grace, he became tied to his body, a form which declined as his essence was debased. With the diminishing of his power, his body aged rapidly until it became enfeebled. When he was murdered by Gríma Wormtongue, his form was a pale shadow of its earlier incarnation. This decline mirrored the weakening of his spirit which, by the time of his body’s death, was too weak to reassume form. Saruman, like Sauron, passed from Arda.
The Maïa Spirit’s Ties to Physical Creation
When Eru gave the Valar guardianship over Arda, the Maïar assumed the role of executing his vision. It was their job to imple¬ment the details of the scheme for the World, assisting the Valar in the process of creation. This mandate defined the Maïar’s presence in Ea.
Creations outside this scheme, however, were not contemplated or condoned. Thus, Maïar who sought to make things on their own required more effort and, in a sense, were forced to put more energy into their labors. In each creative act, a part of their spirit was im¬parted to their legacy. Maïar like Sauron, who sought to craft powerful things of their own vision, instilled much of their inherent essence and strength into their creations. The One Ring, for example, em¬bodied a tremendous part of the Dark Lord’s soul. While it preserved and accentuated the Evil One’s strength, he was crippled without it; and the further the Ring and its master were apart, the weaker the Lord of Mordor became.
Fallen Maïar — those acting independently of Eru’s scheme and the Valar’s guidance — gradually diminished in spirit. Just as they slowly became tied to their adopted form, their creative acts sapped their inner strength. This process was accelerated in areas outside Aman, where the Light of the Valar lent power to all around them. With the fall of Morgoth, the diminution of the corrupt Maïar was further hastened, since they could no longer draw on the awesome spirit of the Black Enemy.
Saruman’s tale illustrates this decline. As he deviated from his given mission, he enjoyed less help from above. Then, as he utterly aban¬doned the quest and decided to create his own host, his decline began. The more effort he expended, the weaker his spirit became.
The Maïar’s Use of Power
Maïar restraint was also exemplified in their selected use of power. Those who adhered to Eru’s vision deployed their magic selectively, in accordance with the Balance of Things. They abided by the scheme born out of the Song of the Ainur. Their role defined, these Maïar executed their goals carefully, always knowing that their great strength harbored the potential for vast abuse. Even a well-meaning enchant¬ment could produce uncontemplated and adverse effects.
Other Maïar, of course, did not care to restrain their obviously superior talents. The Fallen sought to dominate lesser beings and create their own visions. The misled or confused — such as the wayward Wizards — endeavored to achieve their own goals, often believing they were right. In either case, grim results followed, and the Balance of Things was upset.
Nowhere was the Balance as precarious as it was in Endor. Ever aware of the dangers of intervening in the affairs of Eru’s Children, the Valar were reluctant to send the Maïar into Middle-earth. Such missions were rare. They justified the embassy of the Istari in the Third Age on the grounds that their enemy, Sauron, was also a Maïa. As always, the Lords of Valinor ascribed to the rule that power should be used only to combat like power.
Gandalf maintained his commitment to the unwritten law gover¬ning a Maïa’s use of power in Endor. His displays of magical strength were tempered with restraint and never involved any enchantments beyond those minimally appropriate for the given situation. The other Wizards, particularly Saruman and Alatar, proved less reluctant to exercise their skills overtly.
GM NOTE: See 7.2 for more information regarding the use of magical power in Middle-earth. Generally, the rule of thumb for playing with Maïa characters in Endor is simple: a Maïa loyal to the Valar who sent him or condoned his visit will always employ the minimum of power necessary to complete his mission. Subtlety is at a premium. Of course, renegade Maïar like Sauron or the Balrogs rarely concerned themselves with the Balance of Things, and they did as they pleased. Their only concern was being discovered before they were assured absolute success.
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