The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Existed from very ancient times, far back in the Years of the Trees; it no longer exists, or at least cannot be found
The distant east of Middle-earth, on the eastern shores of the Sea of Helcar
Other names


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  • Updated 29 November 2014
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Water of Awakening

A name for Cuiviénen

Map of the Water of Awakening
This map is adapted from Map IV from The Shaping of Middle-earth (volume 4 of The History of Middle-earth). It is unclear how much of the detail of that early map Tolkien meant to stand, but it is the only source we have that shows the Water of Awakening in any detail. See Note 1 to the entry for Cuiviénen for more details.

After the fall of the Lamp Illuin, a great circular inland sea, the Sea of Helcar, formed where its roots had been. On the eastern shores of that sea was the bay that came to be known as Cuiviénen, the Water of Awakening, because this was the place where the Elves later awoke in Middle-earth.

The great mere lay in the eastern parts of Middle-earth, somewhat to the north. This was a time long before the making of the Sun or Moon, so its surface reflected a permanent starlight. On its eastern edge, the lake met and cut into a range of red mountains, the Orocarni, and formed an immense cliff down which a single narrow waterfall fell into its waters. The lands that spread widely around this bay and cliff were rugged and rocky, and it was fed by many other streams running down from the highlands of the Orocarni to the east.

The Awakening of the Elves

It was into this land on the shores of the Sea of Helcar that the first Elves awoke into the World, beneath the brilliant new stars placed in the sky by Varda to herald their coming. Hence this bay and the lands along its shore became known as the 'Water of Awakening' (from Quenya Cuiviénen)1.

These earliest of the Elves dwelt by Cuiviénen for several hundred years, gradually developing the first forms of Elvish speech. Even in those ancient times, the Elves were divided into three clans or kindreds, which would later become known as the Vanyar, the Noldor and the Teleri.2

As the years passed, the Elves were discovered by others. The first of these was Melkor, who sent dark creatures against them, and even long afterwards the legends of the Elves spoke of flying shadows, and of a dark Rider who would steal away wanderers. Some decades later, another traveller encountered the Elves: this was the Vala Oromë, and the result of this meeting would have far-reaching consequences for all of Arda.

At first the Elves feared Oromë as they did the dark Rider of Melkor, but he succeeded in gaining their trust. After returning briefly to Aman to alert the other Valar of the coming of the Elves, he returned and stayed with them for a time. Later, the Elves found that the lands around the Water of Awakening were guarded, and they saw a great tumult in the north; the sky was filled with fire and the earth shook beneath them. This was the Battle of the Powers, in which the Valar overcame Melkor and took him captive to protect the newly awakened Elves.

The Departure of the Elves

After the defeat of Melkor, Oromë made the offer of the Valar to the Elves: that they should leave the place of their awakening in Middle-earth and travel to dwell with the Valar in Aman beyond the Sea. To help the Elves make their decision, three ambassadors travelled to Valinor: Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë, each representing one of the Three Kindreds. When they returned, they convinced a great part of the Elves to depart the Water of Awakening for the West.

Oromë led these Elves away northward around the shores of the Cuiviénen, leaving behind those who had refused the summons. These Avari (as they became known) were shortly joined by others who had soon abandoned the march. Seeing the black clouds that marked the aftermath of the Battle of the Powers, they had abandoned the Great Journey and made their way back to their kin at the Water of Awakening. The Avari remained at Cuiviénen for some time, but a great number of them, at least, would eventually depart themselves and spread throughout Middle-earth.

The Fate of the Water of Awakening

We have no clear account of the Water of Awakening after the sundering of the Elves and the departure of the Eldar with Oromë. Almost all we can say for sure is that there were still at least some Avari dwelling there at the time of the making of the Sun and Moon, nearly four thousand years after the Elves of the Great Journey set out.3

At some point after this, the Water of Awakening was lost to the Elves. The nature of the World was changed,4 and the way back to that far eastern land was lost. Whether there were still Elves there at the time of these changes is unknown, but in the later Ages of the World Cuiviénen, the Water of Awakening, remained only as a memory in the Elves who had left it behind.



The translation 'Water of Awakening' does not quite communicate the depth of the Elvish original, as the verb cuivië meant not simply 'awakening' but also 'coming to life'. The Sindarin equivalent of this name, Nen Echui, came from the same linguistic roots.


The Silmarillion gives us almost no detail about the first years of the Elves, but various sources within The History of Middle-earth give us more information. From The Grey Annals in volume 11, we can work out a general chronology: the Elves awoke in Valian Year 1050 (about 4,300 years before the first rising of the Sun); they had some three centuries of peace before they were discovered by Melkor, and about another fifty years passed before Oromë came upon them.

Elsewhere in volume 11, the essay Quendi and Eldar gives us an account of the origins of the Three Kindreds with three 'Elf-fathers' named Imin, Tata and Enel. These awoke fully formed (as did all of this first generation of Elves) and founded three clans originally named the Minyar, Tatyar and Nelyar ('First', 'Second' and 'Third'). The Minyar was the smallest group, starting with just twelve members, and gave rise to the Vanyar, while the other two larger clans gave rise to the Noldor and the Teleri.

It should be emphasised that it is unclear how much of this - if any - was intended to stand by Tolkien, but it does give some insight into the shape of the Elves' first centuries in Middle-earth.


Part of the reason for the making of the Sun and Moon to give light to Middle-earth was the existence of the Avari at Cuiviénen: 'For [the Valar] remembered the Avari that remained by the waters of their awakening...' (Quenta Silmarillion 11, Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor)


The Silmarillion is not specific about exactly which changes in the World caused Cuiviénen to become lost. It says only that '...the shapes of lands and of seas have been broken and remade...' (Quenta Silmarillion 3, Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor) and describes a shifting of rivers and even of mountains. Perhaps this was due to the cataclysm at the time of the Downfall of Númenor, and especially the change in the nature of the World that happened at that time.

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