The first staff of Gandalf the wizard speaks of his earthly nature. With his staff Gandalf pounds the earth as he walks and within it he carries his pipe. Gandalf’s pleasure in the earth is woven into the staff. The staff is the wizard’s emblem. He carries it for the Shire and the peaceful folk of middle earth who love nature as he does. The staff of Gandalf symbolises that he has chosen to be earthbound. When Gandalf holds aloft his staff he affirms his eartly commitment as an act of his own free will. He could be sovereign but he chooses to be master only of himself. He accepts the limits and is proud. It is his pleasure.
Compare the staff of Gandalf to Saruman's. By contrast Saruman's staff seems synthetic, not at all from nature.
Indeed the white wizard's staff is a denial of nature. The four spikes stand for the denial of the four elements. Saruman's staff is for repelling the earth and nature.
The head of the staff is the made from the root of a sapling. Holding aloft the staffhead Gandalf is telling us that though he is higher than us he is still ‘rooted’ to the earth.
The second staff of Gandalf has had a new element added to it . To the element of Earth has been added fire. The head of the staff now is more flame like. The staff head looks like a fire sputtering in the wind. Blown back towards the wizard. The staff now is also a bearer of flame. When a crystal is added the staff becomes a vessel of light. The staff is now more of a chalice, a bearer of light. The flame like head prefaces that the staff is an instrument of alchemy. Flame will be used as an agent of transformation in Gandalf.
The third staff of Gandalf is a symbol of his transformation and its effect on the earth. The staff now is not just a carrier of light but is itself the embodiment of light. This light will shine an inspiration to free people. The shape of this last staff is a shepherd's crook. Gandalf is to lead and inspire.
The changes in the Staff of Gandalf mirror the wizard’s transformation. From earth then fire is added then through that fire a sacred magic is born that will bring in a white light. The staff shows that Gandalf ascends from the earth but never loses his intimate connection to it. Earth to fire and light. The change is a story of earth purified by fire into a risen light.
Gandalf, Alchemist and Magician
The clue about why Gandalf does not simply magic himself out of the Balrog's clutches is that he is an agent of transformation for the whole of middle earth. If he simply jumped back up to the bridge of Khazad Dum, whistled for Gwahir and plonked the ring into Mt Doom nothing would change. Imagine if Christ came to earth, fixed everything in a blast of white light and then ascended back up again. In six months things would return to bleak normality. Christ redeemed the world be weaving himself into the very earth. Ok Gandalf is no allegorical christ figure but he must accomplish the same thing. If he simply kapowed the Balrog, grabbed a white robe and healed the world of the Dark Lord he would have the same impact as an Isildur ie not much. We would find a dusty manuscript in the vaults of Minas Tirith which would tell of a wizard in white who made everything better for a couple of years until it all fell apart. Gandalf must make his evolution part of the evolution of the whole earth. Gandalf can only do this by choosing to limit himself and his powers and by becoming part of the earth itself. Gandalf uses sacred magic not magic tricks. Sacred magic will put him at the centre of evolution. Through sacred magic the Balrog can be used as a sacred fire. Fire is the only alchemical element that can do this. Then by his simple redeemed presence amongst all the folk of middle earth Gandalf has impact. He kapows Gimli's axe to show he can but chooses not to intervene after that except as an inspiration. Gandalf can then be a truly magical presence and not just a magic act. By weaving himself into the evolution of the earth he can give it a little tilt away from the direction of evil.