Ainur (Singular Ainu) are fictional spiritual beings from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. The Ainur were the first beings created by Eru Ilúvatar. The word Ainur is from the Quenya language, and translates as "Holy Ones".
In the beginning the Ainur came from Eru Ilúvatar. After the creation of the world, Eä, some of the Ainur enterend into it, while the others stayed outside. Those of the Ainur that entered into Eä are known as Valar and Maiar. The Valar are a small group of those that were the most powerful and who became the leaders of the Ainur in Eä. The Maiar are those that were less powerful, and are great but uncounted in number. The Valar and Maiar were able to clothe themselves in any physical form they wished, and often took forms resembling the Children of Ilúvatar, the Elves and Men. Many of them took a great part in the shaping the world, and most of them have some part of creation or craft especially dear to them, of which they are guardians.
The Valar (Quenya "the Powers", Singular Vala) are the most powerful of the Ainur that entered into Eä. At the beginning there were fifteen of them. But the Vala Melkor became corrupted and worked against the others, and was cast out of their ranks; he was later known as Morgoth. The remaining fourteen Valar are divided equally into seven male "Lords of the Valar" and seven female "Queens of the Valar"; the female Valar are also called Valier (Singular Valië). The Valar reside in Aman.
The Lords of the Valar were: Manwë Súlimo, Ulmo, Aulë, Oromë, Mandos (Námo), Lórien (Irmo), and Tulkas. The Valier were: Varda Elentári (Elbereth Gilthoniel), Yavanna Kementári, Nienna, Estë, Vairë, Vána, and Nessa.
The Aratar (Quenya: "Exalted") are the eight most powerful of the Valar. The brothers Lórien and Mandos are together known as the Fëanturi ("Masters of Spirits").
The Maiar (Quenya "the Beautiful", Singular Maia) are lesser Ainur that entered into Eä. Their number is unknown. Many Maiar live as followers to one of the Valar.
The Istari (Quenya "Wise Ones", singular Istar) are a group of Maiar that came to Middle-earth in the Third Age. Among the peoples of Middle-earth they were often called "Wizards", and the individual Istari also became known by many names. They were sent to help and guide the peoples of Middle-earth in their struggles against Sauron.
The Istari arrived in Middle-earth in the eleventh century of the Third Age. They appeared in the physical form of old men, and were bound and limited by this form, although they still kept some of the knownledge and power of their true selves.
The Istari were Curumo (Saruman), Olórin (Gandalf), Aiwendil (Radagast), and the Blue Wizards. While the former stayed mostly in the west of Middle-earth, the Blue Wizards went into the far east. It is unknown what became of them, but they probably failed or were themselves corrupted.
- "The cycles begin with a cosmogonical myth: the Music of the Ainur. God and the Valar (or powers: Englished as gods) are revealed. These latter are as we should say angelic powers, whose function is to exercise delegated authority in their spheres (of rule and government, not creation, making or re-making)." The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, #131