Inspired by What was Saruman the White's purpose?

The Istari are Maiar in corporeal form - it seems evident that some aspect of the Istari continues after the death of their corporeal (and can even reform as flesh in the case of Gandalf).

Is there any canon or notes from Tolkien to indicate that Saruman returned to the ranks of the Maiar as a non-corporeal?

3 Answers 3


TL;DR: Yes, he continued to exist as an ethereal Maiar after he was murdered, but he was without any power and he was doomed to wander but never to return to Middle-Earth

Well, he didn't actually die (since he was a Maiar, like you said), but his spirit separated from his body much like Sauron's after the Downfall of Númenor. As an incorporeal spirit, he should have been called to the Halls of Mandos, but the tale implies that he was barred from returning. Tolkien indicated that his spirit was left naked, powerless and wandering, never to return to Middle-earth:

Tolkien says:

"Whereas Curunir was cast down, and utterly humbled, and perished at last by the hand of an oppressed slave; and his spirit went whither-soever it was doomed to go, and to Middle-earth, whether naked or embodied, came never back"

I found an interesting discussion here.

Also, from Return of the King:

…about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a cold sigh dissolved into nothing […] long years of death were suddenly revealed in [the body], and it shrank, and the shriveled face became rags of skin upon a hideous skull.

That was more about what happened the moment he died. (When Tolkien refers metaphorically to the grey mist appearing like a pale shrouded figure gazing almost imploringly to the West), it is plain that a great wind, like the pounding of a judge's gavel, passed final judgement on both of them and dispersed their spirits forever. Unlike Morgoth, whose spiritual and/or physical manifestation was imprisoned until the final battle at the end of all things, Sauron and Saruman would remain incorporeal and impotent, and would no longer plague Middle-earth.

  • Is there another reference beyond the wikia?
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 0:50
  • TolkienGateway had the exact same info.I'll try to find some more Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 8:35
  • @HorusKol I added some more stuff I found Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 13:23
  • Good answer. I don't normally edit answers this old, but for readability I moved the TLDR to the top.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 16:46

Yes, unless Ilúvatar stepped in and changed his destiny.

Saruman, as one of the Ainur who came to Arda in it's beginning, is bound to the world until it's end. This is explicitly stated in the Ainulindale:

Thus it came to pass that of the Ainur some abode still with Ilúvatar beyond the confines of the World; but others, and among them many of the greatest and most fair, took the leave of Ilúvatar and descended into it. But this condition Ilúvatar made, or it is the necessity of their love, that their power should thenceforward be contained and bounded in the World, to be within it for ever, until it is complete, so that they are its life and it is theirs.

Things may be made more complex by the fact that Saruman, as an Istar, was bound in a physical body which was capable of "being slain" (as the Istari essay in Unfinished Tales puts it), but "being slain" here need not mean much more than "slain ye may be, and slain ye shall be" of the Noldor in the Prophecy of the North (Silmarillion). It's notable that the Prophecy of the North makes reference to "houseless spirits" of the Noldor, so one can deduce that Saruman (despite being a Maia) had a similar fate. By being bound in a physical body, being "slain" amounts to an unhousing of his spirit.

An alternative reading is that Saruman's spirit would actually leave Arda, in a similar manner to Gandalf's: "Then darkness took me; and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell". However, since Gandalf's fate was a result of a direct intervention of Ilúvatar in order to take up and enlarge the Valar's plan, I feel that we can attach less weight to this alternative.


For with the consent of Eru they sent members of their own high order, but clad in bodies as of Men, real and not feigned...

(Unfinished Tales, Part 4, II: "The Istari")

This suggests the possibility that the fundamental nature of their existence was change by Eru: they were not truly Maiar anymore, but something unique to the Istari.

Gandalf did not "reform"; he was collected(?) and sent back by Eru to complete his task. One could assume that Eru restored his "Maiar-ness" at some point (quite probably Gandalf the White was Olórin fully restored, and no longer one of the Istari).

Sauron was still a Maiar, but one who had "voluntarily" relinquished the larger part of his power by passing it to the Ring; he could not "reclaim" it when the Ring was destroyed.

Saruman, though, was killed as one of the Istari; disembodied, but no more one of the Maiar than he had been in life. The "cold wind from the West" mentioned in the Return of the King would be the Valar (possibly in proxy for Eru) rejecting the possibility that he could be reinstated as a Maiar. In this sense he and Sauron are still fundamentally different in nature, though roughly equivalent in their ability to transcend their current states.

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