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Inspired by this question What is earliest version of a "horcrux"?; is the Ring keeping Sauron alive?

I always thought that the Ring was only a source of power; while without it Sauron would be too weak to influence anything, the survival of Sauron's spirit is not enhanced by it; he would have survived the Fall of Numenor simply by being a spirit (and Eru not willing to eliminate him directly)

Clarification:
I realised that the concept of death for an Ainu is ill-defined. I think that it's better, for the purposes of this question, to assume that the death of an Ainu means that the spirit is unable to influence the physical world. That is, the question can be rephrased to:

If Sauron never made the Ring, would he be able to manifest again and influence the events in Middle Earth after the Fall of Numenor (or after his defeat in the War of the Last Alliance)?

  • Are you asking if Sauron died at the end of LotR? – Valorum May 18 '15 at 18:29
  • Possible dupe of scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/7932/…? – Valorum May 18 '15 at 18:30
  • @Richard not quite, I'm going to clarify it in the question as the term die is indeed not appropriate for Ainur – falsedot May 19 '15 at 12:22
  • wow, first time I get two contradictory answers that both make sense! :/ – falsedot May 19 '15 at 12:35
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I take a different route of thought than Matt's answer on this; for the humanity of Middle Earth, presence in the physical realm is the only version of life that matters. Like a lich's phylactery, the ring is now what keeps Sauron within the mortal realm. Its destruction prevents his spirit from taking form once more, as the destruction of a lich's phylactery prevents their spirits from taking a body (because they're dead -- but their spirit still lives in most settings).

And into this ring he poured all his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life.

In summary: Sauron used up so much of himself in making the Ring that he tied his ability to act on the mortal realm to its existence. As such, it is akin to a phylactery in most fantasy settings, wherein the destruction doesn't destroy a lich's soul; it just kills the lich. It doesn't hold his soul, but does hold most of his power and thus it has the same purpose.

  • I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "within the mortal realm"; but I think I see what you mean. – Matt Gutting May 18 '15 at 19:57
  • The physical realm, which is separate from the spiritual realm, is the only realm humans know. A native spirit without a body (such as a maia or vala) cannot affect the world without becoming incarnate. While human spirits act differently in that universe (they go beyond creation immediately unless held by something else, like corruption), the native outsiders (See what I did there?) continue to exist once they shed their mortal coils. Losing too much strength to make a new body, then, is the same as a human dying in most universes (I.E. a spirit cannot take form and cannot act in-universe). – Slacklord the Terrible May 18 '15 at 20:10
  • @Axelrod - +1 - Even though I usually agree with Matt, this time I don't and I think your answer the right one. That said, I don't agree with the comment you made, because the Ainur didn't need a shape, as is stated in The Silmarillion (Ainulindalë): "...and they need it not (their shapes), save only as we use raiment, and yet we may be naked and suffer no loss to our being". The Ainur created Ëa which is also the physical world long before coming to Arda and taking shape. So it's not the body of Sauron that is tied to the ring, but his part of the Imperishable Fire. We could say the Soul. – Joel May 18 '15 at 22:59
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Sauron, being a (fallen) Maia, is immortal, and cannot die in any sense. Gandalf describes to the Council of Elrond what he hopes to achieve by destroying the Ring:

If [the Ring] is destroyed, then [Sauron] will fall; and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of the strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape.

(Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 2, "The Council of Elrond")

Since Sauron cannot die, and doesn't die even when the Ring is destroyed, one can't truly call the Ring a device for keeping him alive. Thus, no; the Ring is not a "soul keeper" or "horcrux" of any sort for Sauron.

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