Fertility Themes, the ultimate Key to a Song of Ice and Fire
The fertility of the earth is tied to the seasonal cycle, and the latter, we know, is highly irregular in George Martin’s fantasy world. Why the seasons are asynchronous remains an unsolved mystery within the story. Ice and Fire are extreme forms of water and warmth, two factors essential to the life cycle, but neither extreme promotes life itself. The destructive power of ice manifests in long harsh winters, while the worst-case scenario is personified by mysterious ice humanoids and a Long Night of absolute darkness. We spend a lot of time theorizing on the White Walkers, yet an extreme of the element of fire does not bode well for the planet either. A sun shining relentlessly upon the land means drought, famine, desertification and ultimately death. This summer extreme is symbolized by the dragon-culture of Old Valyria, which tellingly imploded on itself, collapsing in a fiery Doom.
I believe the author has cleverly expressed climate change and its effect on the planet in terms of human conflicts, political struggles and war. Themes of fertility, or the lack of it, accompany many important events in the story. This goes back to the dawn of days, beginning with the Great Empire of the Dawn, the first ten thousand years of which passed in peace and plenty. Legends such as those of Garth the Green and the Grey King are intimately connected to the fertility of the land and sea respectively. These ancient characters are of vital importance to the back story because each serve as the driving force behind the earthly prosperity of their respective cultures. Garth’s portrayal as a figure capable of magically inducing both the earth and women to “bear fruit,” and the suggestion he also had a darker aspect relates to our ancient gods of fecundity who personified the birth, death and resurrection of the seasons.
In a society where primogeniture determines the succession of lords and kings, the fertility of both men and women is a huge issue. Noblemen and kings need heirs to secure the future existence of their dynasties, but a lack of heirs or too many of them spell trouble as well. Women who don’t deliver as expected can be set aside (even Rhaegar is likely guilty of this), while a marriage left unconsummated loses its binding nature. Westerosi women even worry over giving birth to daughters only! So long as a woman is attractive and shows physical traits associated with fertility, the men of Westeros willingly put aside their contempt for wildlings and are quite eager to go in for a marriage:
Jon sighed. He was weary of explaining that Val was no true princess. No matter how often he told them, they never seemed to hear. “You are persistent, Ser Axell, I grant you that.” ADWD, Jon X
“Do you blame me, my lord? Such a prize is not easily won. A nubile girl, I hear, and not hard to look upon. Good hips, good breasts, well made for whelping children.” ADWD, Jon X
The southerners at Castle Black may regard Val as a princess but that’s not what Ser Axell is focusing on. The prize he is after is a woman with visible child-bearing attributes. From his male point of view a fertile woman will give him the heirs he desires. In faraway Essos, Daenerys too is caught up in the fertility theme. She has to wear special wedding gear – a white tokar fringed with baby pearls, the pearls symbolizing healthy children. Could there be more to all these hints than we think?
Without further ado, let us have a look at themes linked to seasonality and fertility in the narrative. Some are easily recognizable, while others require quite a bit of effort to decipher but all are central to the story itself. Theory fans may already be familiar with concepts like the horned god but bear with me and follow through. Garth the Green is one of our main models for the theme. As we progress, I shall provide examples of fertility customs and magic, as well as demonstrate that these rituals were corrupted to such an extent that the seasonal cycle lost its synchronicity. I promise you’ll be surprised at many of the connections found and examined, including familiar themes I approach from a different perspective.
Miscellaneous fertility-related mentions
- The Great Empire of the Dawn:
The World of Ice and Fire speaks of the Dawn Age as an era awash with a multitude of uncivilized peoples but the peace and plenty of the first god-emperor’s reign suggests that the Empire at least, was well versed in the practice of agriculture, and thus was a civilized nation. It is the shift from hunter-gathering to agriculture that prompted human settlement and allowed social, economic, and cultural practices to evolve into what we call civilization. Climate and geography also significantly impact agriculture. Desert regions lacking water significant water bodies were slow to develop, the main focus here being on animal husbandry. By contrast, river valley systems provided inhabitants with a reliable source of water for agriculture and other human needs, and offered additional benefits such as fishing and transportation. Unsurprisingly, the first great civilizations developed in river valleys. Mesopotamia arose between the Euphrates and the Tigris, Egypt along the Nile, and the Yellow River was the cradle of Chinese civilization.
In the story, present day Asshai by the Shadow which spreads out from the River Ash may have been the heart of the Great Empire of the Dawn. Located on the Zamoyos River in the jungles of Sothoryos, Yeen is said to be cyclopean, built of oily black rock so massive that it would require a dozen elephants to move them. The city has been deserted for millennia, but we can be certain it was once home to an advanced nation. For all we know, it may even have preceded the Great Empire itself. The Five Forts, each capable of housing 10,000 men, were possibly built during the Pearl Emperor’s time. Imagine the amount of sustenance required by an army of 50,000 soldiers! This not only suggests food production on a vast scale, it is also proof that the currently dry region east of the Bones mountain range must have been very fertile in the distant past.
2. The Harvest Feast: Harvest feasts are celebrated throughout the Seven Kingdoms but the only one described in detail is the celebration at Winterfell:
There were guests in Winterfell, visitors come for the harvest feast. This morning they would be tilting at quintains in the yard. Once that prospect would have filled him with excitement, but that was before. ACOK, Bran II
In the absence of his brother Robb, Bran hosts the feast for Stark bannermen or their representatives. As can be expected, there is much discussion on how much of the harvest to put aside for the coming winter. Hother Umber complains about half their harvest having gone to seed because most able men have joined Robb’s campaign. This highlights the effect of war on regions not directly affected by the fighting. The Umbers are not alone. It’s a serious matter because as we know, winter is coming. During the feast, Maester Luwin also advises Bran that men do not undertake the journey for the joy of eating alone:
The feast makes a pleasant pretext, but a man does not cross a hundred leagues for a sliver of duck and a sip of wine. Only those who have matters of import to set before us are like to make the journey.
ACOK, Bran II
Several lords have petitions to make and issues to discuss. I think it’s significant that the author specifically chose a harvest feast (the feast makes a pleasant pretext) to set the stage for several themes central to the plot. For one, it takes place shortly after the official declaration of summer’s end by the Citadel. A singer sings “The Night that Ended.” A few paragraphs later, we read of Ser Arthur Dayne and his legendary sword Dawn. Meera and Jojen who accompany Bran through the rigours of travelling to the Three-Eyed-Crow present themselves at the feast, formally renewing their oath to House Stark in the process.
Recently widowed Lady Hornwood is worried about Ramsay Bolton who is gathering fighting men at the Dreadfort and is looking hungrily to her lands. As it turned out, Lady Hornwood had every cause to fear. Ramsay kidnaps her on her way home after the feast. He weds her against her will and then leaves her to starve in a tower. By wedding Lady Hornwood, Ramsay becomes Lord of the Hornwood, a subject very relevant to the changing of the seasons and something I shall return to later.
3. The seventy-seven courses
The seventy-seven courses served at Joffery’s wedding to Margaery are symbolic of the decadence associated with Lannister dominated King’s Landing. Tyrion is disgusted by the opulence of the feast laid out for the wedding guests. Such an enormous display of wealth and food at a time when many in the city are starving for lack of nourishment is indeed repelling to all with a social conscience. This decadent lavish lifestyle is symbolized by the stink of King’s Landing, the putrefying smell of Tywin Lannister’s corpse and his rumored ability to shit gold. It’s quite simple: what goes in must come out and when a lot goes in, a great deal must come out. All that shit stinks to heaven. Tyrion expresses this very eloquently when he reveals he’s not very enthusiastic about the great pie to be served at the wedding:
“Symon says there’s to be seventy-seven courses and a hundred doves baked into a great pie,” Shae gushed. “When the crust’s opened, they’ll all burst out and fly.”
“After which they will roost in the rafters and rain down birdshit on the guests.” Tyrion had suffered such wedding pies before. The doves liked to shit on him especially, or so he had always suspected. ASOS, Tyrion II
4. The Wedding Pie
The wedding pie is a symbol of affluence, the birds raining down shit a metaphor for the corruption associated with extravagance. The stink that stems from a life-style based on overindulgence, greed and corruption was also a mark of Robert Baratheon’s reign, perpetuated also by Petyr Baelish, a clever man whose financial acumen always found the gold necessary to finance the king’s whims. Tywin’s and Littlefinger’s gold bear the same relationship to affluence as golden sunlight does. Both are a sign of prosperity (sunlight = food production) and both are symbolic of the metaphorical stink that rises to heaven when wealth and food are unjustly distributed between the rich and the poor. Things take a critical turn when the “stink” begins to overwhelm the sweetness of wealth. This is symbolized by the High Sparrow and his followers, the unwashed stinking sparrows that begin to crowd the capital. These poor souls have been deprived of their homes, farms, food and lives of their loved ones by high lords playing their game of thrones. Like the doves that rain down birdshit, they spread like a pestilence through the city, their main gathering place the steps of the Sept of Balor, whose statue they almost bury under the bones of their martyred dead.
5. Horns, Antlers and Unicorns
Being a symbol of power, strength and virility, the horn has been associated with gods of fecundity worshipped by most early civilizations. When ancient man observed animals such as deer, bulls, goats and rams fighting for their lives or for the right to mate, they could not fail to notice the ferocity with which these creatures employed their horns. It was a natural step to view the horn as a seat of concentrated power and logical that man came to use them as symbols of power, authority, virility, supremacy and even sovereignty. Horns adorned the heads of gods and headdresses of kings. Zeus often took the form of a bull. Bacchus/Dionysus and his satyrs wore goat horns and even Alexandra the Great was depicted wearing ram’s horns after conquering Egypt. The concept of the horned god is very significant in respect of seasonality in the narrative and we shall be looking at several characters who embody aspects of this deity further along in this analysis.
As a fertility symbol, the horn represented the penis, its phallic essence believed by farmers to be the force behind the plow’s coitus with the earth. The horns of certain animals have long been valued as erotic stimulants. Powdered elk and rhinoceros horn are sought after as an aphrodisiac to this day. Because of its shape and hollowness, it was also a popular drinking vessel and is considered a feminine symbol in this form and function. It was also used as a receptacle of holy oils of anointment in the Bible.
In the real world as in the narrative, horns are also instruments of communication, employed in signaling and to make music. The horn is still popular as a symbol for the postal service in Europe and long before that, shepherds used horns to gather their flock, hunters blew them to signal each other in the forests and army generals commanded troupes with their aid. In the narrative, the Night’s Watch relies on blasts of the horn to signal the return of brothers to the castle, the threat of wildlings and to announce the appearance of the Others themselves.
The Unicorn Horn (Alicorn)
The unicorn horn, also known as the alicorn, is a single long spiraling horn projecting from the forehead of a horse or goat-like mythical animal. Considering its existence has never been proven, the lore surrounding the legendary unicorn is quite astounding. Both the stag and the unicorn symbolize the soul and spirit in esoteric lore. As a rare and magical creature, it was thought the unicorn could never be taken by force. To capture one, a hunter would lead a young virgin into the woods where she would wait until the unicorn smelled her presence. The animal would thereupon become docile, run to her, lay his head in her lap, allowing her to fondle him to asleep. The hunter could then capture the unicorn and cut off his horn. Such a thing of great value was naturally reserved for kings. The story’s sexual character is unmistakable and underscores the alicorn’s reputation as a source of potency since medieval times. The notion of a unicorn placing its alicorn in a maiden’s lap reminds me somewhat of Rhaegar, who placed the garland of blue winter roses in Lyanna’s lap from the point of his spear.
That the unicorn possessed a single horn rendered it even more of a phallic symbol than more common two-horned creatures. Besides boosting potency, the alicorn found its way into healing powders and potions, said to cure a whole range of diseases. Both poisoned food and water could be detected by waving the magic horn over a banquet and no evidence to the contrary affected its reputation or price in any way. Queen Elizabeth I was presented with the most famous alicorn in history. Named the Horn of Windsor, it was listed among the crown jewels and valued at 10,000 pounds, an exorbitant amount at that time, enough to buy a whole castle estate. Interestingly, it was believed to have come from a unicorn of the sea.
In the narrative, this single horned creature is said to exist on the Isle of Skagos where it serves a mount for the primitive men of the sinister island. Though maesters doubt they ever existed, the children of the forest claim they once roamed Westeros along with now extinct species such as the great lions of the western plains. Amongst the “treasures” given up by the wildlings during their passage south of the Wall is an ivory phallus, and a helm made from a unicorn’s head, complete with horn. The unicorn remains mysterious, but we can be certain this helm, together with the phallus is a representation of an ancient horned fertility god.
Huge sorcerous dragon-binding horns were used by the Old Valyrians to bind dragons to their riders, the idea reminiscent of a wedding between male and female, especially considering the phallic symbolism surrounding the horn.
In the Bible, the horn is also associated with salvation. Jesus, whose name means “the Lord is Salvation,” is described in Luke 1 as the horn of salvation. In accordance with the symbolism of the horn, the salvation Jesus offers is strong, powerful and triumphant.
Joshua chapter 6 relates how God delivered the city of Jericho into the hands of Joshua and the Israelites. The whole affair was a matter of faith, for the instructions given by God on how to take the city would have caused every army commander to shake his head in disbelief. Yet the Israelites had faith, and following God’s orders to the letter, succeeded in bringing down the walls of Jericho by blowing their trumpets of ram’s horns. Here is a short version of the biblical story:
The Lord said to Joshua, “…and seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns …and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.” And when they blew, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down! Joshua 6
Could this be the source of inspiration for the Horn of Winter, said to wake the giants of the earth and bring the mighty Wall of Ice crashing down?
Antlers are quite different from horns. Unlike horns which are two permanent separate structures consisting of keratin, antlers are true bony single branched structures that are shed annually. They are usually only found on males of the deer family and serve both as weapons and objects of sexual attraction. Antlers were fashioned into tools, ornaments and weapons by the ancients, later also used in fashioning hunting equipment and becoming popular as a substitute for the more expensive ivory. The yearly shedding and regrowth of antlers is that which links the stag to fertility and the rebirth of the seasons.
The constellation known to the Babylonians as the Stag (Cassiopeia and part of Andromeda), is one of the oldest recorded. It was associated with the sun and the rekindling of fire. The ancients sometimes portrayed it pulling the chariot of the sun instead of the more familiar horse. The constellation of the Stag rose just after mid-winter and its place in this region of the heavens symbolizes the rebirth of the sun after its winter-time death.
The crowned stag graces the heraldry of the Baratheons of Storm’s End. Both Renly and Robert wear antlered helms and both show parallels to Garth the Green, who as legend has it, may have worn antlers. Renly’s antlers which “run with flame” mirror the sun-stag of the Babylonians. These characters of course also personify the horned lord archetype.
In Shakespeare’s day, horns and especially antlers were a symbol of a cuckolded husband, i.e., the husband of an adulterous wife. The term derives from the cuckoo bird that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. It alludes to a husband unaware of his wife’s infidelity and to the possibility that he might raise children not his own. This applies to Robert Baratheon of course, who dies without ever knowing his three heirs are really the children of his brother-in-law, Jamie Lannister.
Lastly, the word horn derives from the Latin cornu and this brings us to yet another interesting horn, the cornucopia.
The arms of House Merryweather of Longtable in the Reach features a cornucopia, or horn-of-plenty, on their arms. The golden horn set on a white field rimmed by gold is shown spilling out vegetables and fruits of many colours. Their motto is “Behold our Bounty.” Notice how House Merryweather literally conveys the idea of agrarian success. Merryweather, Longtable, the cornucopia, the spilling food, the incorporation of gold (sunlight) in their sigil, their words – all these highlight the fruitfulness of the earth and a plentiful supply of food. A reading conjures up a huge banquet filled with mouth-watering tit-bits and dishes.
Lord and Lady Merryweather reflect this abundance as well. Lady Merryweather is described in terms of earthy imagery, while her husband personifies the fruits of the cultivated land:
In the closeness of the passage, the queen could smell the other woman’s [Lady Merryweather] perfume, a musky scent that spoke of moss and earth and wildflowers. AFFC, Cersei III
Petyr had once remarked that the horn of plenty that adorned House Merryweather’s arms suited Lord Orton admirably, since he had carrot-colored hair, a nose as bulbous as a beetroot, and pease porridge for wits.
Lady Merryweather’s portrayal suggests unspoiled nature, the yet to be cultivated land, while her husband embodies the cornucopia itself, the produce of the land. Together this alludes to ancient beliefs in an earth mother goddess who with her male consort is the source of fertility and life on earth. In mythology, the male role is often ascribed to a sky god and in Greek tradition, the original sky god Uranos is consort of the earth goddess Gaia. He is in turn succeeded by Kronos and Zeus, each of these sons usurping his father’s authority. This pattern is a recurring theme in human cosmology. As evidenced by the House name, Merryweather could very well reference a sun-deity (only sunlight can ensure merry weather), while the golden cornucopia, the horn, is a phallic symbol. Orton Merryweather can thus be viewed as a sun god who fertilizes an earth goddess to bring forth an abundance of food.
It seems to me the author chose all these meaningful symbols for a reason and we are here to find out why.
6. The Prince of Pentos:
Today it is the council of magisters that rules Pentos, for all practical purposes; the prince’s power is largely nominal, his duties almost entirely ceremonial. In the main, he presides over feasts and balls, carried from place to place in a rich palanquin with a handsome guard.
Each new year, the prince must deflower two maidens, the maid of the sea and the maid of the fields. This ancient ritual— perhaps arising from the mysterious origins of pre-Valyrian Pentos— is meant to ensure the continued prosperity of Pentos on land and at sea. Yet, if there is famine or if a war is lost, the prince becomes not a ruler but a sacrifice; his throat is slit so that the gods might be appeased.
And then a new prince is chosen who might bring more fortune to the city. The World of Ice and Fire
Essentially, the Prince of Pentos’ role in deflowering a maid of the sea and a maid of the fields is to ensure the bounty of both land and sea. Note that its origins are thought to be pre-Valyrian, the custom probably assimilated from an ancient culture that occupied the territory before it became a Valyrian colony. Indeed, the prince who rides about in a palanquin may be a subtle reminder of the legendary first god-emperor who was carried in a palanquin carved from a single pearl.
In many pre-historic societies, the king or priest was considered the earthly representative of the deity on whom the welfare of the entire community depended and as such, human prosperity or deprivation was closely linked to the king or priest himself. Sacrificing a leader in the event of drought, famine, illness or failure in battle was not only practiced to appease the gods. A flawed king was also killed to pave the way for a more vigorous man. Being a divine representative, the state of his health, sexual vigor or martial success was also projected onto the god. A feeble king meant the god himself was ailing and one such could not be tolerated to live by the community.
Before the advent of primogeniture, men had to prove their strength, virility and fighting power in order to be accepted by their community. In some cases their tenure was liminted to a certain number of years, after which they had to prove themselves again by facing challengers or die in the attempt. We find references to beliefs such as these in the narrative. Both the Dothraki and the Free Folk follow strength. Sons or daughters of a leader have no automatic right to the throne. The practice of the Daynes, who only pass on their fabled family sword Dawn to a member of the family worthy of wielding it is also an echo of these ancient beliefs. The notion of a feeble god can be found as well:
They said Stannis was ensorceled, that Melisandre had turned him away from the Seven to bow before some demon out of shadow, and …
worst sin of all … that she and her god had failed him (…)
(…) Ser Gerald Gower fought stoutly on the Blackwater, but afterward had been heard to say that R’hllor must be a feeble god to let his followers be chased off by a dwarf and a dead man. ASOS, Davos I
Have the gods of the First Men and the North, the weirwoods, become so feeble that they cannot prevail against the power of the Seven-Pointed Star of the Faith? Is this why their faces are sad or angry, more often than not? Along with Garth Greenhand and the Grey King, the Prince of Pentos is proof of the existence of ancient fertility customs and seasonal rituals invoked to promote the prosperity of individual cultures.
Garth the Green and the Horned God
Garth led the First Men to Westeros and was said to have been their first High King. He is famous for giving the gift of the seed, for teaching men how raise crops and to reap the harvest. By doing so, he transformed a hunter-gathering society into an agricultural one and paved the way for settlement, for developing communities, towns and kingdoms. In short, his influence civilized the First Men. Besides fathering numerous children, he is purported to have induced maidens to flower and barren women to recover their fertility. Garth is the symbol of human procreation and vegetational fecundity. He is described at length in the World Book:
“Garth made the corn ripen, the trees fruit, and the flowers bloom,” the singers tell us. A few of the very oldest tales of Garth Greenhand present us with a considerably darker deity, one who demanded blood sacrifice from his worshippers to ensure a bountiful harvest. In some stories the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring. This version of Garth is largely forgotten. Many of the more primitive peoples of the earth worship a fertility god or goddess, and Garth Greenhand has much and more in common with these deities. It was Garth who first taught men to farm, it is said.
The World of Ice and Fire.
Garth belongs to a set of fertility archetypes connected to male strength, virility and fertility. Other examples include the green man of vegetation, horned gods such as the Celtic Cernunnos, the Greco-Roman Pan/Faunus and derivatives such as Herne the Hunter. Related to this are the Holly and Oak Kings / Corn King myths and rituals in which the corn king represents the spirit of vegetation, coming into being in spring, reigning during summer, ritually dying at harvest time and being born again at the winter solstice to grow in strength and rule again. All these archetypes involve the idea of seasonal birth, death and rebirth. Corresponding agricultural rituals, often encompassing a sacrificial aspect to ensure the rebirth of spring or plant growth, have been practiced in many societies since antiquity. That George has drawn on these myths is evident in characters such as Garth and the fact that they embody seasonal death and rebirth is highly relevant to seasonal synchronicity in the narrative. Though Garth is not explicitly referred to as a horned god, the deity himself is mentioned in the form of a constellation and as a name or title of an ancient king-beyond-the-Wall (the Horned Lord).
Garth the Green’s physical appearance echoes that of the green men said to look after the trees on the Isle of Faces. With his green skin or clothes, hands or hair, sometimes wearing antlers, he can definitely be viewed as a horned god and green man figure. Darker tales also exist, referring to a deity who demanded blood sacrifices to ensure a bountiful harvest. This is in keeping with the legends and rituals surrounding horned gods and corn kings in folklore. Some of Garth’s children evidently inherited his talents and carried forth his legacy, each in his own different way. Thus, the Gardener Kings of the Reach, descended from Garth, founded Highgarden and were undisputed High Kings in the centuries that followed. Highgarden became the bread-basket of the realm and despite having changed hands to the Tyrells, continues to live up to its reputation as a supplier of abundance to this day.
Another son, Gilbert of the Vines, taught the men of the Arbor to make sweet wine from the lush grapes that grew on the island. Gilbert, founder of House Redwyne can be compared to Bacchus/Dionysus, god of the grape, wine and intoxication, also a horned god figure in Greek mythology. Harlon the Hunter and Herndon of the Horn of Horn Hill were twin sons of Garth who can also be associated with horned lord archetypes. Maris the Maid, the Most Fair, whose beauty was so renowned that fifty lords vied for her hand at the first tourney ever to be held in Westeros is an example of a Queen of Love and Beauty. She is the kind of perfect fair maid that the Prince of Pentos would have been chosen – a fitting partner to a fertility god’s divine representative on earth. The divine representative was usually a high priest or king of a community, or, as in the case of our narrative, the winner of a public tourney during which knights vie with each other for the champion’s title, the title giving them the right to choose and name the fairest maid of the season. The queen of love and beauty really represents a version of the mother goddess and she is tied to the changing of the seasons. Our Miss World traditions are vestigial remnants of such customs.
In Brandon of the Bloody Blade, we find echoes of the darker aspect of Garth.
The Horned God and Triple Goddess in modern Wicca
Let us take a closer look at the Horned God and Triple Goddess as viewed by modern Wicca and other forms of neopaganism. The Goddess and God are aspects of the same being; both are essential to the perfect balance of male and female cosmic energies. Things become unbalanced and unnatural when the focus becomes one-sided, i.e., when one deity is worshipped or emphasized to the exclusion of the other. In terms of the seasons, the Others that accompany the extreme winter are an example of male dominated cosmic energy, while Daenerys as Mother of Dragons represents the summer extreme of female power.
Modern Pagans celebrate the Wheel of the Year, an annual cycle of seasonal festivals which reflect the relationship between the Horned God and the Goddess. Born in winter, the Horned God impregnates the Goddess who gives birth to life on earth. He dies during the autumn and winter months to be reborn by the Goddess at Midwinter (in other religions, he is reborn in spring). Since the festivals are tied to the sun’s movements, they are generally accompanied by solar mythology and symbolism.
The Horned God
The Horned God is associated with strength, sexuality, the hunt, the wilderness and the natural seasonal life-cycle. He is often portrayed with a beast’s head, bearing the antlers of a stag or the horns of a ram, bull or goat. He is the personification of the life force energy in animals and the wild and symbolic of the group soul of hunted animals. As the group soul, the Horned God is also the sacrificial victim, the beast that is slain so that the clan might live.
As a fertility god, he is also the spirit of vegetation, of all things green. In this aspect, he is the dying and resurrecting god who passes away with the harvest and is torn apart as the grain is gathered in the fields. He is buried as the seed, which arises fresh and green from the ground in spring, reborn from the womb of the Mother Goddess. This he has in common with other fertility gods of death and rebirth – Adonis, Dionysus and Osiris, to mention a few.
Traditional Wicca sees this deity as a dualistic god of day and night, light and darkness, summer and winter and as such, he is also the Lord of Darkness or Death, ruler of the underworld, where he is thought of as the comforter and consoler of the dead before their reincarnation. His darker aspect is therefore the lord of the shadows, of the dark depths of the forest, and the darkness of the Underworld. These two aspects, the Lord of Light and the Lord of Darkness, are symbolized by his two horns. Some forms of Wicca present him as a triune god, as one being with three aspects: the youth/warrior, the father and the sage. Besides the Horned God, the Green Man and Sun God also serve as depictions of masculine divinity in Wicca.
Theory enthusiasts will have recognized the connection between the Horned God, Garth the Green and the Baratheon brothers, which I’ll expand on shortly.
The Triple Goddess
The Horned God’s consort is the triple Goddess (or Mother Goddess), represented by the phases of the moon. She is the creator and the source of life, the universal mother from whom her divine consort, the horned god, is born. She is fertility, wisdom and love. Her three aspects are the Maiden (or Virgin), the Mother and the Crone, each of whom rule a separate stage in the female life-cycle and preside over the realm of heaven, earth and the underworld respectively.
As the Maiden she is associated with the waxing moon, and with Venus as the Morning and Evening Star. As the “Queen of Heaven,” she rules over heaven, the vast starry realm and the dawn. She is tied to spring, to new beginnings, birth and youthfulness. She is sometimes known as the Virgin, not in the physical sense, but in respect of her independence, of being responsible for her own actions. The Maiden may decide to live out her sexuality or to remain chaste, as is her prerogative. She is also mistress of the woodlands, a skilled hunter and friend to all young creatures. Her sacred colours are white and blue. The Greek Artemis, Persephone and Roman Diana correspond to the Maiden. In the story, Sansa and Margaery are our two prime maidens and both their story arcs revolve around marriage.
The Mother is represented by the full moon. She is the adult mother who cares, nurtures and protects. She is the Bride, the Lady of Growth, summertime, fruitfulness, the patron of flocks and herds, and the fertility of the land. In Wicca, she is viewed as the Preserver and the Goddess of Sovereignty, for only through his sacred marriage to her does the King (the Horned God), hold his throne. Her sacred colour is red. The poet and historical writer Robert Graves who first put forward the theory of the triple goddess believe that the goddess in her ancient form took the gods of the waxing and waning year successively as lovers. Greek Aphrodite and Demeter as well as the Egyptian Hathor and lion-headed Bastet, or the Roman Cybele are examples of fertility deities associated with the Mother. Cersei and Daenerys are our most prominent mothers.
The Crone is an Elder. She is the Matriarch and Time the Destroyer (the word crone has its origins in the Greek cronus, meaning time). Whatever is young must age, grow old and die. As a destroyer, she dissolves all redundant forms, paving the way for new life and new beginnings. She brings natural cycles to completion and is the gateway to death and rebirth. The crone’s colour is black; she who absorbs all light is the darkness of the underworld where all life resides before rebirth. Her season is winter. Despite this dark imagery, the crone is also the personification of wisdom and those who seek her out receive guidance. Her symbols include the Lantern of truth and wisdom as well as the Key, which is symbolic of unlocking the deep mysteries of life. Examples of goddesses associated with The Crone include the Greek Hecate, Indian Kali, Finnish Kalma and the Celtic crow goddess Morrigan. Olenna Tyrell and Lady Stoneheart personify the Crone.
The Maiden, Mother and Crone trinity is also related to the Greek Fates and to the Norse Norns. We can regard these goddesses as weavers and determinators of destiny. The Greek fates named Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos were regarded as the spinners, measurers and cutters of life respectively.
The Maiden, Mother and Crone of course form aspects of the seven-faced-god of the Faith of the Seven. Like her Wiccan counterpart, the Crone of the Seven carries a lantern. There are definite parallels between the concepts of triple goddess and horned lord to be found in the narrative. Cersei, Lysa and Catelyn are typical Mother personifications. Catelyn embodies the Crone in her Lady Stoneheart aspect. Lady Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, can also be identified as the Crone. Her granddaughter Margaery, Sansa, as well as Shae and Tyrion’s lost love Tysha, even poor Lollys, are Maiden types. Ygritte is the embodiment of the Maiden as she should be: an independent young woman, fully in charge of her own destiny and sexuality.
Mirri Maaz Duur’s prophecy
Denied motherhood through the loss of her child, Daenerys remains a quasi-maiden as well. Mirri Maaz Duur’s prophecy can be understood in terms of the relationship between triple goddess and her consort, the horned lord:
“When will he be as he was?” Dany demanded.
“When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east,” said Mirri Maz Duur. “When the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child. Then he will return, and not before.”
True to the imagery of the Maiden, Daenerys asserts her role as a Khaleesi and takes charge of her own sexuality, transforming that previously painful part of her relationship into the source of pleasure that it was meant to be. Seas going dry and mountains blowing in the wind like leaves are symbolic of desertification, or the loss of fertility on earth. This will only change when Dany gives birth to NEW LIFE, when she becomes a Mother in the true sense of the word, symbolic also of a renewal of life on earth. Here, Mirri identifies Daenerys as a divine mother goddess.
To restore seasonal cycles to their proper place, Dany needs a new consort, a new horned lord, her stallion having expired by her own hand. Indeed, the ungelded, virile, temperamental Stallion is just another version of the Horned Lord. Recall at this point that the constellation known as the Stallion in the south is called the Horned Lord beyond the Wall and that the Babylonian Stag that is sometimes portrayed pulling the chariot of the sun instead of the horse.
Dany’s consort, the most powerful horselord Drogo, is the personification of the Stallion. As demonstrated by his strength, virility and invincibility in battle, he is a perfect consort to the Mother Goddess. He is also the summer consort who by his death, frees the Maiden-Mother to take her next consort, the winter husband, in the form of Hizdahr zo Loraq.
Why is Hizdahr a winter husband?
Because he gets to preside as king over a city that he himself claims is dying:
“What is love? Desire? No man with all his parts could ever look on you and not desire you, Daenerys. That is not why I would marry you, however. Before you came Meereen was dying. Our rulers were old men with withered cocks and crones whose puckered cunts were dry as dust.
They sat atop their pyramids sipping apricot wine and talking of the glories of the Old Empire whilst the centuries slipped by and the very bricks of the city crumbled all around them. Custom and caution had an iron grip upon us till you awakened us with fire and blood. A new time has come, and new things are possible. Marry me.”
ADWD, Daenerys IV
Grey beards with withered cocks and crones with puckered cunts are not symbolic of life. This is an ancient city ruled by old folk in the winter of their days. Hizdahr is quite right. The nobility of Meereen are past it and should make way for a rejuvenation of life. By marrying the dragon goddess queen, Hizdahr aims to inject new life into the rotten system. Reinforcing this winter association is Dany’s dream. She feels no neither passion nor stirrings when he kisses her:
Beneath her coverlets she tossed and turned, dreaming that Hizdahr was kissing her … but his lips were blue and bruised, and when he thrust himself inside her, his manhood was cold as ice.
I fear Hizdahr is more likely to be a Night’s King symbol than the Horned God who can help her usher in spring. Notice also that in keeping with the beliefs that define the Mother, Hizdahr’s kingship derives from Daenerys’ sovereignty alone. Incidentally, some Meereenese customs are reminiscent of Northern Westerosi traditions – the practice of stripping the flesh off their dead and burying the bones beneath their pyramids, for example, but that’s another story. Let’s get back to the godswife.
Mirri’s prophecy is quite complex because though Daenerys is not a mother of a human child, she is the Mother of Dragons and her children were born from Drogo’s funeral pyre – from his death fires, so to speak. He returns to the spiritual Night Lands (in reality, the underworld – don’t let his ascension confuse you), there to await his rebirth that will usher in the next cycle. Mirri’s statement can only be understood in terms of seasonality: symbolically, Drogo will only return when Dany bears a living child, when she gives birth to him, the Stallion, Drogo himself, again in the next seasonal cycle.
The Stallion that Mounts the World
The Dothraki culture of recognizing strength in a leader, of accepting only men who have asserted their power and disposing of this leader when his strength fails him (expressed by the Dothraki as being no longer able to ride), is a direct parallel to the customs of our ancient ancestors here on earth. As I touched on above, the tradition reaches back to an era in which priests and kings were viewed as “godly,” as divine incarnations of the deity from whom the community’s bounty flowed and on whom their very life, indeed, that of the whole world depended. In this world view, the very course of nature is dependent on a leader’s physical strength, sexual vigor and authority. Should he fail, so will life.
Old, feeble or sick kings had no place in this world view, their very lingering in power jeopardizing the prosperity of the people. Such societies averted this danger by killing the leader as soon as he showed symptoms of failing and by doing so, ensured his still healthy divine soul could be transferred to a vigorous successor before it could show signs of decay. Thus, Khal Drogo lost his claim to leadership when he fell from his horse. Daenerys knew what that meant: “a khal who could not ride could not rule, and Drogo had fallen from his horse.”
The wildlings beyond the Wall are no different from the Dotharki in this respect. “You do not become King-Beyond-the-Wall because your father was.” They too must be convinced of a man’s strength before they will submit to his authority as king. In fact, contrary to the Westerosi tradition of arranged marriages, a man of the Free Folk must prove his worth to the woman he desires:
“Amongst the free folk, when a man desires a woman, he steals her, and thus proves his strength, his cunning, and his courage. The suitor risks a savage beating if he is caught by the woman’s kin, and worse than that if she herself finds him unworthy.”
Archaic societies took every precaution to protect the divine king’s life. This is also the case with Dothraki Khals, who name three blood riders to serve as body guards dedicated to their defense.
The kingsguard also fulfill this role, as does the Night’s Watch. In fact, the Night’s Watch can be considered a Queen’s Guard because they are responsible for protecting mother earth herself from the death and destruction that is brought by the white walkers and their army of the dead!
The Dothraki live this world view to the extreme, constantly seeking to prove their worth by warring not only on other cultures, but on each other. Bells and long uncut hair are symbols of their success and prowess, the bells an indicator of the number of battles won and long uncut hair, fashioned into a braid, a visible sign of invincibility. When Drogo becomes too ill to ride, Ser Jorah explains what Dany does not fully understand:
Why should we flee? I am khaleesi. I carry Drogo’s heir. He will be khal after Drogo …”
Ser Jorah frowned. “Princess, hear me. The Dothraki will not follow a suckling babe. Drogo’s strength was what they bowed to, and only that. When he is gone, Jhaqo and Pono and the other kos will fight for his place, and this khalasar will devour itself. The winner will want no more rivals. The boy will be taken from your breast the moment he is born. They will give him to the dogs …”
AGOT, Daenerys VIII
While prowess in battle proves the strength of Dothraki males, public displays of sexual intercourse testify to their virility and fertility. Daenerys and Drogo demonstrate this by twice copulating in full view of the clan, once under the night sky and again after the horse-heart-eating-ceremony, after pregnant Dany emerges from bathing in the lake known as the Womb of the World.
Naked, she stepped gingerly into the water. Irri said the lake had no bottom, but Dany felt soft mud squishing between her toes as she pushed through the tall reeds. The moon floated on the still black waters, shattering and re-forming as her ripples washed over it.
Note that the lake, the Womb of the World, is a direct reference to fertility and to birth and that by emerging from it, pregnant Dany is again playing the role of a Mother Goddess here. This is reinforced by the full moon’s reflection in the lake which shatters and reforms as she bathes, this being representative of both the Mother Goddess and the seasons, which come to an end and are renewed in the next cycle.
Eating the heart of a horse, believed to imbibe the unborn child with strength, is also symbolic of assimilating the soul of the Stallion, of the Horned God himself, which will then be passed on to the unborn child, whom the crones of Vaes Dothrak proclaim as the Stallion who Mounts the World. The custom is a direct parallel to the ancient beliefs in the transference of the divine soul from the previous leader to his successor.
This Stallion who Mounts the World is said to be one who will unite all clans of the Dothraki, to go forth and conquer the whole world. Miiri interprets this in terms of a supreme leader who will rape and burn cities and trample nations into dust. Being a warring culture, this is probably what the Dothraki envisage too. Looking at the prophecy from another perspective leads us to an additional interpretation however. The Stallion who mounts the World expresses the union between the Horned God and the Mother Goddess, where mounting represents the coupling itself. The main question here is whether this “mounting” refers to a consensual act or whether it symbolizes the rape of the Mother Goddess. Miiri’s interpretation points to a rape.
Note that she herself is a godswife who was violated by several horselords, succumbing to four men before being saved by Daenerys. This question is also central to the mystery of Rhaegar and Lyanna; was she raped as the tales insist, or did she consent? Whatever the case, neither Rhaegar nor Rheago survive, with Daenerys taking on the role of the Stallion in the TV-series when she eliminates all Khals to unite the Dothraki and lead them to Westeros herself.
Mirri’s killing of the declining divine king and horned lord of summer is symbolized by her use of Drogo’s red Stallion as a sacrifice for her ritual, while Daenerys herself kills the husk that was once Drogo. The godswife also puts an end to the Stallion’s successor, whom we have seen was imbibed with the spirit of his father and was shown to be a monstrous rotten thing, full of worms. We can thus associate Drogo and Rhaego (the Stallion) with a line of corrupt horned gods, who in their attempt to usurp all life (conquer the world), violated the goddess. It is fitting then, that Rhaego is subjected to cleansing fire in Dany’s waking the dragon dream.
Drogo’s cremation is very significant because the fires of the pyre mediate the release of his soul to the Night Lands, where he will reside until the time comes for him to be reborn. Through Daenerys, we are treated to a visual representation of the flight of his soul. In place of the fiery red stallion that also serves as a representation of summer, his spirit now rides a great grey stallion, surely a symbol of winter, of the horned god of winter. The allusion to winter is also expressed by Aggo’s feeding the grey stallion a withered apple prior to killing it for Dany’s ritual.
She saw a horse, a great grey stallion limned in smoke, its flowing mane a nimbus of blue flame. Yes, my love, my sun-and-stars, yes, mount now, ride now. AGOT, Daenerys VII
With her sun-and-stars now residing in the Night Lands, Dany “gives birth” and we are presented with new life in the form of dragons along with a symbol of motherhood:
The painted leather burst into sudden flame as she skipped closer to the fire, her breasts bare to the blaze, streams of milk flowing from her red and swollen nipples. AGOT, Daenerys VII
We know who her milk is meant for, for the spirit of Drogo indicates this with a crack of his whip:
Now, she thought, now, and for an instant she glimpsed Khal Drogo before her, mounted on his smoky stallion, a flaming lash in his hand. He smiled, and the whip snaked down at the pyre, hissing.
She heard a crack, the sound of shattering stone. The platform of wood and brush and grass began to shift and collapse in upon itself. Bits of burning wood slid down at her, and Dany was showered with ash and cinders. And something else came crashing down, bouncing and rolling, to land at her feet; a chunk of curved rock, pale and veined with gold, broken and smoking. AGOT, Daenerys VII
Drogo’s whip initiates the cracking of the stone eggs, the first dragon to hatch representing his successor. This happens to be the pale cream and gold egg, the dragon later named Viserion, after Dany’s brother Viserys. Viserys’ image is not a positive one. As a beggar king without a kingdom and one whom the Dothraki mocked as the Sorefoot King and the Cart King, he is Khal Drogo’s opposite number – a king with neither strength nor authority, a weakling, certainly not one to preside over the season of summer during which life must necessarily grow and flourish. This is made clear by what the Dothraki associate with walking and with being carried, as opposed to riding:
In his stubborn ignorance, he had not even known he was being mocked; the carts were for eunuchs, cripples, women giving birth, the very young and the very old.
AGOT, Daenerys IV
Notice the implied reference to infertility in the citation here. Neither eunuchs, the very young or the very old are fertile. Depending on their handicap, cripples may or may not be impotent/barren, while women in the act of giving birth are at that moment, not fertile in respect of conceiving either. Clearly, like the winter months, a Cart King is associated with diminished virility and as such, Viserys and the dragon named after him can be regarded as representative of the cold months of the year. Drogo thus chooses a fitting successor when his whip initiates the cracking of Viserion’s egg, this notion of succession reinforced by Dany’s placement of the cream and gold egg between Drogo’s legs. Remember also, that Drogo kills Viserys by crowning him with the melted gold of his own belt of gold discs, the latter like Drogo, symbolic of the sun. The crown of molten gold is thus a metaphor for the dissolving of the sun, or its destruction. But Drogo’s spiritual whip also has a menacing touch – it snakes down, and hisses, and his accompanying smile may not be as benevolent as we may think. Dany begs his forgiveness, but does he really forgive?
The allusion to Viserion as symbolic of winter, makes Viserys, as the party with the melted down sun, a symbol of the night and of the Others. Like Viserys, the Walkers are akin to beggar kings without a kingdom, relegated to an existence behind the Wall, without access to the Mother Goddess, or as we would put it, to Night’s Queen. Like Viserys, they are hell bent on retaking their kingdom but lacking any access to life, have devised a means to employ the dead in their mission.
That the entire ritual of Drogo’s cremation and the waking of dragons from stone is connected to the seasonal cycle is made very evident by the portent that precedes it:
Jhogo spied it first. “There,” he said in a hushed voice. Dany looked and saw it, low in the east. The first star was a comet, burning red. Bloodred; fire red; the dragon’s tail. She could not have asked for a stronger sign.
AGOT, Daenerys VII
The comet is the metaphorical sword that slays the season. It appears before summer’s spirit (Drogo) is dispatched to the heavens. It appears on the day the Conclave of the Citadel declare Robert Baratheon’s long summer of ten years, two turns and sixteen days as officially ended. Whatever else other characters think it may symbolize, this is its true meaning. As the dragon’s tail, it represents the sword that will sever each individual head (season) of the three- headed-dragon so that the seasons may be restored to their natural cycle. Daenerys is the dragon’s tail, symbolic of the downtrodden violated Mother Goddess whose seasons have been turned upside down, returned to set things straight.
However young she may be, a widowed Khaleesi is not allowed to remarry. Instead she must join other widowed spouses of deceased Khals, otherwise known as the crones of Vaes Dothrak. That Khaleesies immediately become crones testifies to the seasonal cycle yet again. It is the natural conclusion to the end of the life cycle that occurs when their Stallion dies (the crone being the aspect of the Triple Goddess that represents the end of a cycle).
I believe the three dragons Dany “births” by her wedding to the funeral fires (funeral fires are fires of death), represent three seasons, specifically a seasonal extreme of winter (Viserion), a seasonal extreme of summer (Drogon) and a rotten summer (Rhaegal). By lashing towards Viserion’s egg with his whip, Drogo symbolically hands over his summer reign* to a reign of extreme winter. Their human “horned god” counterparts are Khal Drogo (extreme summer), Viserys (extreme winter) and Rhaego (rotten summer). All died to pave the way the for one true horned god who must unite with the goddess to reclaim the seasons and restore the cycles to their proper order, and Drogo must certainly not be reborn.
*The Dothraki reign over an extreme summer is symbolized by everything they (and fire) stand for: temperament, strength, sexual vigour, warring nature, Century of Blood and the razing of countless cities. They believe the world will end when the luminous ghost grass spreading from Asshai engulfs the Dothraki sea. This is another way of saying that long summers are followed by long harsh winters and as we know, long harsh winters have the potential to destroy all life.
The rotten summer
You may ask why Rhaegal is symbolic of a rotten summer. Rhaego, Dany’s monstrous scaled baby full of worms is one clue. Notice that Rhaegal’s colouring is green and bronze, the green representing vegetation, while the bronze (instead of gold) alludes to tarnished sunlight. His colouring represents a long summer brought about by unnatural means.
Long summers such as Robert’s are not normal either and can therefore be considered flawed or “rotten,” as well. I agree with the prophet of the begging brothers on that score:
“Corruption!” the man cried shrilly. “There is the warning! Behold the Father’s scourge!” He pointed at the fuzzy red wound in the sky. From this vantage, the distant castle on Aegon’s High Hill was directly behind him, with the comet hanging forebodingly over its towers. A clever choice of stage, Tyrion reflected. “We have become swollen, bloated, foul.
Brother couples with sister in the bed of kings, and the fruit of their incest capers in his palace to the piping of a twisted little monkey demon. Highborn ladies fornicate with fools and give birth to monsters! Even the High Septon has forgotten the gods! He bathes in scented waters and grows fat on lark and lamprey while his people starve! Pride comes before prayer, maggots rule our castles, and gold is all … but no more!
The Rotten Summer is at an end, and the Whoremonger King is brought low! When the boar did open him, a great stench rose to heaven and a thousand snakes slid forth from his belly, hissing and biting!” He jabbed his bony finger back at comet and castle. “There comes the Harbinger! Cleanse yourselves, the gods cry out, lest ye be cleansed! Bathe in the wine of righteousness, or you shall be bathed in fire! Fire!”
ACOK, Tyrion V
The passage speaks for itself and much of the prophet’s rantings are based on fact. Notice also how the hissing and biting snakes sliding from Robert’s open belly echo Drogo’s menacing whip that snakes down and hisses. Presented as an enemy, the snake brings to mind a scene in which Daenerys chops up und and chars a snake as food for her dragons. It seems significant, particularly because Robert was her adversary, both from her point of view and from his. The snake is also a phallic symbol and the same can be said of Robert, so it’s interesting Daenerys disposes of this snake by feeding it to her dragons. It ties into the idea of the revenge of a violated Goddess who now disposes of the men who raped her and usurped her role.
Fire made Flesh
George Martin’s multiple symbolism does not make interpretation easy for us readers. On the one hand, the three individual dragons represent extremes of season and on the other, they are fire made flesh and thus in their entirety, personifications of fire and of summer. Drogo’s ascension to the Night Lands, to the starry khalaasar in the sky, serves as a link to the Others with their star-like sapphire-blue eyes. Dragons borne of his funeral fires also imply Drogo is the father of dragons, and of an extreme summer, while his ascension to the Night Lands is also symbolic of the coming of an extreme winter (Night Lands / Long Night).
Nature needs its balance, but this is not the kind of balance that promotes life. Recall also that in the TV-series, the Others arrange dead, dismembered horses in a spiral formation after the wight attack on the Fist of the First Men. Notice the dead horses link to the horselords/stallion, and the spiral to the cycle of life. In that scene, the Others destroy and dismantle the representative of summer, the Stallion of the south. The time has come for them to rule. Drogo’s and Ygritte’s death can be interpreted in terms of summer’s end. These two are also linked via their respective funerals, both being burned to ultimately release their spirits into the “night lands.” Cersei, a decadent summer queen, must also de dispatched. On the winter side, Balon Greyjoy (more on this below), has already met his end. Similarly, to pave the way for a normalization of the seasons, Roose, Ramsay, Stannis and Euron must also meet their ends. All can be regarded as corrupt horned lords who contribute to an extension of winter beyond the confines of normality.
So far we’ve been talking about the seasons in terms of a temperate climate but the concept of dying and resurrecting gods extends to regions of our world that experience only dry and rainy seasons as well. Consider the god Ba’al who was widely worshiped by Semitic peoples in the Levant for instance: as a weather god, Ba’al had power over lightning, rain, wind and fertility. He was said to go to the underworld during the dry summer period, his return in autumn bringing the storms and rain that revived the land. Winter or summer, depending on the a region’s location on the globe, it makes sense for the predominant season of no growth to be assigned to the fertility deity’s departure from the earth.
The theme of death paying for life is overwhelming in Daenerys’ last two chapters in a Game of Thrones. Death paying for life is also central to the seasonal cycle and to ancient beliefs regarding the manifestation of godhood within an earthly representative, a vigorous god-king who must die, or be replaced to secure the very existence of humankind.
As we shall see further on in this essay, a Song of Ice and Fire is full of leaders who seek to circumvent the natural order of things and by doing so, symbolically prolong the season over which they preside.
Notes on the Faith of the Seven
Though we are not initiated into the secret of the origins of the Faith of the Seven, we can be certain the Faith arose out of previous archaic religions centered around the concept of a Mother Goddess as creator of all life, and her consort the Horned God. The five-pointed star of Wicca bears resemblance to the seven-pointed star of the Faith of the Seven in that the former also maps the three aspects of the goddess and the two aspects of the god to the five points of a pentagram. Recall that the Horned God of Wicca is also sometimes portrayed as a trinity – the warrior, the father and the sage, while the Faith counts the warrior, smith and father as the three male aspects. The three male faces of the Faith reflect the changes the horned god underwent over the centuries. Advanced agricultural societies no longer need to hunt for their livelihood. Weapons once of import to hunting, such as the dagger, spear or bow and arrow, were adapted to serve predominantly as weapons of war. The hunter thus becomes the warrior. With no real arms of their own, peasant farmers also employ their farming utensils as instruments of war, either in self-defense or when they become foot-soldiers in support of their lords or kings. The Smith is representative of masculine working strength and of the labour required to produce both food and items necessary to civilized life. Without strength, the worker cannot continue to labour for family and community. The Father takes on the Horned Lord’s authoritative mantel as well as his role in procreation, the sexually vigorous aspect of the ancient god. Septon Meribald sums this up quite nicely when he explains the role of the Smith to Podrick Payne:
“I have never known a boy who did not love the Warrior. I am old, though, and being old, I love the Smith. Without his labor, what would the Warrior defend? Every town has a smith, and every castle. They make the plows we need to plant our crops, the nails we use to build our ships, iron shoes to save the hooves of our faithful horses, the bright swords of our lords.
No one could doubt the value of a smith, and so we name one of the Seven in his honor, but we might as easily have called him the Farmer or the Fisherman, the Carpenter or the Cobbler. What he works at makes no matter. What matters is, he works. The Father rules, the Warrior fights, the Smith labors, and together they perform all that is rightful for a man. Just as the Smith is one aspect of the godhead, the Cobbler is one aspect of the Smith.
AFFC, Brienne V
Meribald also implies that the Warrior is associated with youth, while the Smith is symbolic of the older man or sage. The Horned God’s death aspect has its own place on the Seven-Pointed-Star. Here, death is the Stranger, an interesting choice of name, because it suggests the Faiths views death as a phenomenon alien to life, rather than a natural part of the life-cycle. According to Catelyn, the Stranger is an outcast and wanderer from far places. This really should not be the case because the dark aspect of the horned god is an integral part of the death and resurrection of life itself.
the seventh face … the Stranger was neither male nor female, yet both, ever the outcast, the wanderer from far places, less and more than human, unknown and unknowable
Catelyn’s description of the Stranger evokes the Others who are also outcasts and wanderers, humanoid but not human and as yet, mysterious and unknowable.
I believe we can trace the origins of the Faith back to the dawn of days, to the Great Empire of the Dawn and to the Maiden-made-of-Light, the sun mother goddess and her consort, the moon deity, the Lion of Night. The Bloodstone Emperor’s Church of Starry Wisdom is a significant clue in this respect. Some may object to the idea of a sun as representative of a mother goddess, yet in our world, the sun too has had its fair share of female representatives. Examples include Amaterasu, sun-goddess of Japan, Shemesh of Ugarit and the Norse sun goddess Sol or Sunna. That the sky goddess eventually became associated with the moon is a result of the shift to patriarchal societies over the millennia. Archeologists acknowledge a phenomenon known as “solarization” in this context. This is process of assigning solar and celestial symbolism to the masculine image while leaving the feminine with the “lower” lunar and earthly aspects.
Déanism is a New Age religion that opposes male dominated godhood. Déanism is the worship of God as Mother of the universe and single Supreme Being. She is thought of as the Source and Origin of all that is, the One without a second, upon whom the existence of anything whatever is absolutely dependent.
The trinity is thought of as:
- God the Mother
- God the Daughter and
- She Whose Name has not been spoken in this world
Here, the Maiden, Mother, Crone trinity contrasts between the Solar Mother and Lunar Daughter (the Maiden). According to Déanists,
When, at the dawn of time, souls became separate from Dea, ceasing to live in perfect union and bliss with Her, it is said that the Light of the Solar Mother became “too bright for us to look upon”.
It was then that the Mother gave birth to a Daughter that was one with Her and yet apart from Her, so that the Daughter could take the Light of Dea into those places where Dea was not.
Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun in a gentler radiance, so the Daughter reflected the Mother’s Light with a radiance that mortal beings can look upon. (source)
Essentially, the gentler lunar maiden daughter reflects her solar mother’s light, which became too hard to look upon after humankind ceased to live in union with her. Now, I think this is significant in terms of the narrative and explains why Daenerys, who appears to be a solar figure, is the “moon” of Khal Drogo’s life. The Solar Mother who becomes too bright to look upon is also reminiscent of the Maiden-Made-of-Light who turns her back on the world because of the wickedness of man. Now, the Daughter of Déanism is also a Sacrificial Daughter, one who descends to the underworld and triumphantly returns or is resurrected to salvage the world. She is a female version of a Child of God savior who in fact predates the male savior of Christianity. The female version can be found in the mythology of Ishtar of Babylon, of Sumerian Inanna and in the tale of Demeter and Persephone.
The tale of Demeter (meaning God-Mother) and Persephone is a story of the origin of the seasons and bears directly on the theme of fertility in George Martin’s work. Demeter was the goddess of cultivation and the harvest and mother of Persephone. When her maiden daughter was carried off to the underworld by Hades, Demeter searched the earth in grief, neglecting the land to the extent that famine ensued. She eventually learned of her daughter’s whereabouts through the sun god Helios and went to Hades to retrieve her. Before leaving the underworld, Persephone ate the seeds of a pomegranate given to her by Hades and this bound her to the underworld. Thus bound, she had to return to the underworld each year, for half a year (or a third of a year in some versions), during which time her mother grieved, and nothing grew. Persephone’s return to earth then marked the resumption of fertility and growth and thus the seasons were born. She is the Sacrificial Daughter who ensures the continuation of the life-cycle on earth. See sweetsunray’s essay on Lyanna as Persephone of the Winterfell Crypts for a very detailed analysis of this theme.
Parallels to this myth are evident in the story of Lyanna’s abduction by Rhaegar, her death and installment as sole Queen amidst the Kings of Winter in the Crypts of Winterfell. She becomes queen of the underworld, a queen of winter, but before she dies, she gives birth to a son, to life. Note that Rhaegar’s crowning of Lyanna as Queen of Love and Beauty during the False Spring is followed by winter’s return to Westeros. Lyanna is a prime example of a maiden tied to a season, to winter, while Cersei is woman associated with summer, a summer that carries on for too long.
From this viewpoint, the Amethyst Empress of the Dawn Age may have been the sacrificial daughter whose death brought about a change of season, the main purpose of her death being to usher in a necessary winter after an unbearably Long Summer of drought and famine, but whatever magic was at work here went wrong, leading to a generation long winter and Long Night instead. I shall return to this theme of devastating long summers in another essay. Nissa Nissa, who gave her life to empower Azor Ahai’s sword can also be regarded as a Sacrificial Daughter whose sacrifice helps to bring an end to the Long Night. Now, Nisan or Nissan, is the first month of the ancient Assyrian calendar. The name is still used in Arabic today, for the month of April. It derives from the Sumerian nisag, meaning first fruits.
Significant in the context of Azor Ahai’s forging of Lightbringer is that Nissan is the name of a month or moon, the word month itself derived from moon which marks the passage of time and seasons and is a symbol of the goddess. Further, Nissa Nissa’s willing sacrifice restored the day and with it, the first fruits after the Long Night. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is thought to have taken place during the month of Nissan as well and indeed, Christians usually celebrate Easter in April, the exact date being calculated according to the lunar cycle. Via this interpretation, Nissa Nissa is indeed the Sacrificial Lunar Daughter whose death empowered her husband to bring about a seasonal change.
Let us return to the triple goddess theme in respect of the story. Do the three female aspects of the Faith, – Maiden, Mother and Crone – appear anywhere else in the story? One of the closest hints we have are references to the Moonsingers of the Jogos Nhai and of the slaves of Old Valyria. There is a great temple dedicated to them on Braavos. The temple is the largest in the city because the moonsingers are said to have directed mutinous slaves of Valyria to the secret foggy isle of Bravos, a place where they could settle and establish a new state far from the prying eyes of their former Valyrian masters.
That is the Temple of the Moonsingers.”
It was one of those that Arya had spied from the lagoon, a mighty mass of snow-white marble topped by a huge silvered dome whose milk glass windows showed all the phases of the moon. A pair of marble maidens flanked its gates, tall as the Sealords, supporting a crescent-shaped lintel.
AFFC, Arya I
Note the windows show all phases of the moon, that is, the waxing, waning and full moon. Though a mother and crone are not mentioned, the building does feature a pair of maidens holding up another feature of the moon, a crescent-shaped lentil. This temple stands right next to the temple of the Lord of Light and if we pay attention, we realize that we have representatives of the sun and the moon placed right next to each other on this strip of land in Braavos.
A deity known as the Moon Mother is also worshipped by some, but we have no clue as to whether the Moon Mother is a goddess in her own right or if she is an aspect of the phases of the moon shown by the Temple of the Moonsingers.
We can however infer that the moonsingers are linked to birth and to fertility. Miiri Maaz Durr learned birthing songs to aid women in childbirth from a moonsinger in Asshai. As mediators of birth, they are linked to the Maiden of the Trinity.
According to the Jogos Nhai, their moonsingers sing of the glorious day to come when the Jogos Nhai shall prevail against the Patrimony of Hyrkoon to spill over the mountains (the Bones) and claim the fertile lands beyond. These folks live in one of the most arid regions of the planet, so perhaps their desire to conquer their neighbours to gain access to routes that lead to the more fertile western region of Essos is natural. I would say it’s natural for the Moonsinger Mother to want to reclaim her fertile lands.
Their prophetic ability relates to the wise crone . In the context of the triple moon goddess, the moonsingers and their temple in Braavos can be viewed as a stage in the development of the Faith of the Seven.
The twin marble maidens of the temple suggest an emphasis on the maiden of the trinity of moon phases, this idea reinforced by the crescent-lintel that needs their support. The arrangement implies the crone is being propped up by the maidens. In fact, the topography of Braavos is reminiscent of symbolism normally attached to the crone. The island is stony and foggy, certainly not very sunny or conducive to plant growth. It is a flat city of stone architecture and granite monuments. Trees do not grow there either, we are told, the main source of prosperity stemming from the sea, and from trade. The Braavosi have even had to construct a sweetwater river to supply them with fresh water. It’s evident that the Mother who gives life to the earth is absent from Braavos. The Sealord of Braavos who is said to own a menagerie of exotic animals, is the horned lord variant here. His connection to unnatural exotic animals indicates he is a horned lord deviant and an example of the corruption of the original horned god’s nature . As defender of the city, the Titan can be identified as the warrior. Seeing as Braavos is also known as a bastard daughter of Old Valyria, my feeling is that the two maidens propping up the crone represent a legitimate and a bastard daughter, or a white and a black pearl, respectively.
While the Mother appears to be absent on Braavos, she is definitely a prominent feature in Westeros. Besides her obvious presence in the fertile middle regions of the continent, we find her in the two hills named first after Barba Bracken and then after Missy Blackwood by Aegon the Unworthy – Barba’s Teats and Missy’s Teats – respectively, this relating also to the Mother of Mountains at Vaes Dothrak in Essos. The latter links back to the Titan, a giant. Giants are generally associated with stone, boulders and, as evidenced by Gregor Clegane’s unofficial title, with mountains. The Mother of Mountains is thus both a mother of giants and mother of warriors and indeed, Braavos is famous not only for the Titan but also for the bravos who duel each other at night. The Mother is also present in the Mountains of the Moon that border the fertile Vale of Arryn. Dorne represents the summer extreme, an arid largely infertile desert. This region is dedicated to an extreme aspect of the Maiden, represented by Oberyn Martell’s illegitimate daughters, I believe. North of the Neck we find the Crone and here the the Goddess ends. Beyond the Wall is the realm of a particularly dark aspect of the horned god, symbolized by the Others and the Haunted Forest. Until Euron was named king, the Iron Islands embodied a milder aspect of the dark horned god. The Stormlands are dominated by the summer aspect of the god and this shall be our next topic.
The brothers Baratheon
Robert Baratheon, the Horned Lord of the Hunt and the Wild
These three brothers are significant to the theme of fertility and seasonal change, though here I believe the author has split the subject among the siblings. As a strong virile warrior who fathered many children, Robert Baratheon embodies the faunal aspect of the horned god, that of human and animal fertility. He differs in this respect from Garth Greenhand, who was linked to both faunal and vegetational fertility. Befitting a horned lord of the wild, hunting was one of Robert’s favourite pastimes and he even graced the walls of the throne room with tapestries depicting various hunting scenes.
The king’s generally jovial image, his passionate nature, lustful debauchery and love of wine also mark him as a Dionysus archetype, the god associated with the grape, with wine and drunkenness, with wild women (the Bacchantes), and with the satyrs, Pans and Sileni that made up his entourage. Pan was the god of the wild, of shepherds, flocks and rustic pipe music. Like the satyrs or fauns, Pan was a half-man, depicted with the body of a man, the hindquarters, legs and horns of a goat, and was linked to fertility and the season of spring. Dionysus and Pan, as well as other horned variations personify those fertility gods classified as horned gods in mythology.
The Baratheon sigil, the Stag, is symbolic of their association with the horned god and the representation is reinforced by the antlered helms both Robert and Renly wear. Ned even thought as much:
He found himself thinking of Robert more and more. He saw the king as he had been in the flower of his youth, tall and handsome, his great antlered helm on his head, his warhammer in hand, sitting his horse like a horned god. AGOT, Eddard XII
Celebrated for his victories and ferocity in battle, Robert, ever the warrior, sits his horse like a horned god and is very similar to Khal Drogo, the horned lord of the southern summer of Essos. Recall Robert presided over the longest summer in living memory. Robert exudes the Dionysan nature of this summer, and he invites Ned to come south to enjoy the flowers, fruit, summerwines and of course the women who seem to lose all their modesty in the heat.
During his reign, the realm enjoyed relative peace and plenty, but the long summer took its toll on Robert, who having grown fat on a life of pleasure, was no longer the fit, lean and muscular man Ned remembered. Peace and plenty ended upon his death too, the kingdom soon plunging into the War of the Five Kings. Robert’s demise is reminiscent of the myth of another ancient fertility god, Adonis, who likewise ended up being gored by a boar. By having him die during a hunt, George Martin chose a fitting death, in keeping with beliefs regarding the horned lord as the group soul of hunted animals that is slain so that others might live. His death by the boar is also symbolic of his demise through the hand of his Lannister squire and queen, the boar being a hidden representation of that family (read The Winterfell Huis Clos, The Animal Powers, for more on the association). But Robert does succeed in killing the boar as well, so we can expect the final end to the Lannisters perhaps by way of one of his remaining illegitimate children (Gendry or Edric).
The stormy aspect of Robert’s personality is exemplified by the thunder god of Norse mythology, Thor, who like Robert, was renowned for his great hammer. As befitting a god of thunder, this weapon, named Mjolnir, also emitted lightning. Storm’s End was undoubtedly named after the legend of Durran Godsgrief who incurred the wrath of the god of the sea and goddess of the wind when he married their divine daughter Elenei.
Notice that the Storm personifies three elements of nature: fire (lightning), water (rain) and air (wind). Thunder or sound is an aspect we shall put aside for the mean time.
Via his hammer (lightning) and personality, Robert is mainly associated with the fiery aspect of the storm. Keep this in mind for later. If you need confirmation of the symbolism, look to Lord Beric, the Lightning Lord and disciple of R’hllor.
Despite the bounty of his regency, we must not forget that the summer of his reign was unnaturally long, that Robert was not a particularly good king and that his excesses caused the Crown to accumulate huge debts – to the Lannisters, the Faith of the Seven and the Iron Bank of Braavos. Compounding this, he neglected his children, was abusive towards his wife, condoned the murder of Rhaegar’s children and ordered the assassination of Daenerys and her unborn child. Robert can thus be viewed as a corruption of the stag and fully deserving of the charge of having presided over a Rotten Summer.
Renly Baratheon, the Green Man
Unlike Robert, Renly has more in common with a vegetation deity, especially through his link to the Tyrells. Indeed, after sealing his alliance with Highgarden by marrying Margaery Tyrell, he incorporated a green colored stag and the golden rose of his wife’s house into his crown.
The slender circlet around his brows seemed to suit him well. It was soft gold, a ring of roses exquisitely wrought; at the front lifted a stag’s head of dark green jade, adorned with golden eyes and golden antlers.
Note his departure from the black onyx stag of the Baratheons, opting for a stag’s head of dark green jade instead. Renly was very partial to the color green, favouring green velvet tunics as well as a suit of splendid armor made of forest-green plate. Through his relationship with Loras the Knight of Flowers, his symbolic association with vegetation and the bounty of the land is evident even before wedding Margaery Tyrell.
Renly is the green man vegetational archetype of the horned god. Like the green men who are guardians of the weirwood groove on the Isle of Faces who permit no unauthorized person to set foot there, Renly’s forest green armour stands sentry at the entrance to his tent.
Beside the entrance, the king’s armor stood sentry; a suit of forest green plate, its fittings chased with gold, the helm crowned by a great rack of golden antlers. The steel was polished to such a high sheen that she could see her reflection in the breastplate, gazing back at her as if from the bottom of a deep green pond.
ACOK, Catelyn II
As I mentioned above, there is a distinct separation to be made between the green man and the horned lord of the hunt in respect of the Baratheons. Robert, with his strength, passion, love of the hunt, great fighting prowess and love of women represents the strong virile horned lord. Though he gathered a large army in support of his bid to be king, Renly was no warrior; he never experienced a true battle and he was no Cassanova either. Catelyn highlights this when she accuses Renly and his entourage of playing at war. He is one of her knights of summer, green boys yet unblooded, who think themselves immortal, seeing only a chance for glory and the spoils of war. Later, Brienne thinks of Catelyn’s words and thinks to herself:
What was it Catelyn Stark had called them, that night at Bitterbridge? The knights of summer. And now it was autumn and they were falling like leaves
AFFC, Brienne III
Notice the seasonal references and how the knights of summer lose their claim to the summer season, falling like the leaves of autumn. Catelyn goes a step farther. She pities them, “… because they are the knights of summer, and winter is coming.”
His lack of interest in women stands in stark contrast to Robert’s whoring, as well as to the masculine role in procreation. Preferring men to women is a deviation from the profile a horned god should exhibit, but his marriage to Margaery, daughter of the “breadbasket of the realm” compensates for this deficiency. Besides her familial connection to a plentiful supply of food, she also ministers to the poor and needy of King’s Landing, supplying them with food and generally engaging in public acts of charity. The young lady Margaery is comparable to an earth goddess in this constellation. The folk love her.
The distinction between the horned god and green man is also hinted at elsewhere. Consider the following conversation: when Gilly and Sam meet Bran and company at the Nightfort, they relate how Coldhands saved them from the wights, adding that he rides an elk. All the children are startled by this revelation, prompting Bran to ask more questions:
“Was he green?” Bran wanted to know. “Did he have antlers?”
The fat man was confused. “The elk?”
“Coldhands,” said Bran impatiently. “The green men ride on elks, Old Nan used to say. Sometimes they have antlers too.” ASOS, Bran IV
So in Westerosi collective memory, green men rode elks and sometimes but not always had antlers as well. Green men also look after the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces; like Renly’s armour that stands sentry, green men are the guardians of the trees. Elk have given way to horses meanwhile and I suspect green men do get to wear antlers at some point, but only if they prove themselves worthy of that distinguished honor. How would they prove themselves worthy of a pair of antlers? Robert answers that question for us. In accordance with the profile of a horned lord, a green man would have to prove himself both a fearless warrior and a hunter. But that is not all. Proving himself a man by demonstrating his sexual virility is paramount to the role and this would include both deflowering virgins (like the Prince of Pentos) to ensure the prosperity of the land, and fathering children. In lieu of this, the green man remains green and is unblooded (thank you Catelyn) in every sense of the word.
I’ll spell that out again: green men are unblooded both on the battlefield and in the bed. Indeed, unlike Brandon Stark, Renly would never have a bloody sword, neither the one nor the other. That green men have to prove themselves worthy before they can become horned lords is also suggested by the that fraternity the Manderlys claim membership to – the Order of the Green Hand. To gain membership to this order, knights of the Reach had to prove themselves in tourneys. Only the greatest champions were honoured with invitations.
In the days before the Conquest, the Kings of the Reach and their queens presided over tourneys of love and beauty, where the greatest knights of the Reach competed for the love of the fairest maids not only with feats of arms, but with song, poetry, and demonstrations of virtue, piety, and chaste devotion.
The greatest champions, men as pure and honorable and virtuous as they were skilled at arms, were honored with invitations to join the Order of the Green Hand. TWOIAF, The Seven Kingdoms, The Reach, Highgarden
Note that they competed for the love of the fairest maids and that the Order of the Green Hand alludes to Garth Greenhand who embodied both faunal and floral aspects of fertility. The tourney offers a more civilized stage for proving strength and vigor and thus winning the right to (blood, deflower) a maiden. The maiden is a divine representative of the goddess of course, the champion her horned lord and consort. The Dothraki engage in a more primitive form of this ritual, repelling to more civilized palates but the same thing in essence. This is demonstrated at Dany and Drogo’s wedding, where men fight to the death over the right to copulate with a woman. The victor not only proves his worth, he is also well and truly blooded, the scene itself very significant because the Dothraki believe that a wedding (a union between man and woman) without at least three deaths is a dull affair:
“A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is deemed a dull affair,” he had said. Her wedding must have been especially blessed; before the day was over, a dozen men had died. AGOT, Daenerys I
As Lord of Storm’ end, Renly is also associated with storms, but not with Thor, the fiery lightning aspect. Rather, having incorporated the golden rose of the Tyrells in his sigil, he represents a gentler form of fire, that of golden sunlight, the warmth that fuels life on earth. Note his highly polished green breastplate is also compared to a pond, to water, and I think this is the key. Robert has the fire and Renly has the water. That he like to play at being the rain god as a child further highlights him as the rain aspect of the storm. As we know, the rain god is a deity whose benevolence is essential to cultivation and in respect of his marriage to Margaery, Renly is associated mainly with the rain that is necessary to ensure that mother earth’s crops grow. In analogy, Margaery sows the seeds and Renly waters the fields.
Renly’s summer reign proved to be a short one, his protective green armour failing him at a crucial moment. He is killed by the shadow of his brother Stannis, who in contrast to his brothers, is the epitome of infertility.
Attempting to prolong Summer
By crowning himself king when summer is over, Renly symbolically tries to prolong a growing season and long summer that had run its course and as such, he can be regarded as a usurper of the seasons. Recall also that the stag is associated with the sun and its rekindling. He is not outdone even in death, returning with a vengeance in pseudo-ghostly form, a part played by Loras’ brother Garlan (another summer link) to lead an army heavily associated with summer (Tyrell / Lannister), defeating Stannis, the sombre symbolic king of winter, in the process. Notice that Garlan’s performance waters the field with blood, and it is not really Renly who is associated with this “blooding.” The seasonal analogy continues with the Tyrell-Lannister alliance, the placement of golden Tommen on the throne, married to the equally golden rose of Highgarden. In the midst of all this, Cersei, who is the epitome of golden summer imagery, described by her uncle Kevin as “the rising sun,” strives to acquire power herself (and as we see in the TV-Series, she does succeed in her endeavor). She connives to have Margaery arrested for adultery, her motivation for this action symbolically significant:
If Margaery Tyrell thinks to cheat me of my hour in the sun, she had bloody well think again.
Again, the seasonal allusion is the determination to prolong a summer that should end and Cersei is symbolic of a warped Mother Goddess who connives to usher in a summer extreme. Her preoccupation with wildfire is another clue.
Renly’s ghostly return is analogous to the return of the of the green man of vegetation (or spirit of spring and summer) at a time when the god should be residing in the underworld to await his rebirth in spring.
Is it any wonder then, that winter strikes forcefully to assume its rightful place at this affront to its legitimate place in time?
There has been much debate over Renly’s famous peach but its symbolism is quite straightforward. It is a sweet ripe fruit representing the bounty of summer and the sweetness of life. This fruit is associated with all who represent summer, and are symbolically involved in the unnatural extension of the summer season. The peach is mentioned in relation to Robert, Daenerys, Sansa, the Dornishman’s wife, Kraznys of Astapor, Varys and even Bran.
Robert’s and Daenerys’ link to the summer peach should be obvious now. Sansa’s can be understood in relation to her love of the south, of King’s Landing and the affluence it represents, her initial desire to wed Joffery and her admiration for the Queen; with their golden imagery, the sun is a symbol of the Lannisters. Sung by Mance Rayder, the Dornishman’s wife tells of how a man slept with the wife of a Dornishman and was killed by her husband for the atrocity. The woman has a voice as sweet as a peach. Dorne is a dry arid region, always hot and sunny and represents a summer extreme in Westeros. Varys is not part of my investigation but his connection becomes clear when you consider his plot to reinstate a Targaryen dynasty in Westeros. Hailing from old Valyria and the Lands of the Long Summer, that House has the heaviest association with that season. Bran’s link to the sweet peach will become clear further on. As suggested by his self-chosen title, “Prince of the Green,” and by the name of his direwolf, Summer, Bran is not a true representative of Winter.
The peach has another layer of meaning in the narrative. It is a symbol of immortality in Chinese culture, this being relevant to Renly’s “resurrection” in the form of his brother Garlan. Jorah giving Daenerys a peach after their arrival in the City of Bones is another allusion to immortality. The peach comes after a long trek through the arduous the Red Waste. Many of Dany’s small Khalasaar do not survive the journey. The city saves them from certain starvation, giving all a second lease on life (like Renly) and this is expressed by the peach. In the City of Bones, the peach is however also a symbol of life cheating death. By paying attention to the symbolism, we realize that while such a peach could grow in a natural oasis, it should not really be growing in a destroyed city heavily associated with death. The symbolism ties into that of Renly whose arc tells the hidden story of a green man unwilling to give up his season, dying but rising shortly after to continue his claim to summer. A peach in a dead city is symbolic of the unnatural magic employed to extend growing seasons on the planet. Stannis is perplexed by Renly’s peach but even though he does not realize it, killing his brother is symbolic of an attempt to put an end to the vicious cycle of quirky seasons.
Stannis’ serious and grim demeanor, austere life-style, inability to sire more heirs and the themes of starvation in his arc speak to a lack of warmth in his make-up. He was introverted, solemn and joyless even as a youth. Tall, hollow-eyed and gaunt, his receding hair a mere shadow of a crown, Stannis can definitely be linked to the cold season of winter. And as a winter king, he rightfully puts his summer brother Renly to rest. The manner in which he rids himself of the summer king also emphasizes his role as the dark aspect of the Horned Lord, as Lord of Death and Lord of the Underworld. Note also that after sun-king Robert’s death, and in keeping with seasonal cycle, Stannis really is the legitimate ruler, not only of Westeros but of the season of winter that is setting in. Following the motif, as the rightful ruler of winter, Stannis’ deadly shadow has full authority to enter his brother’s tent and has no problems by-passing the “green armoured sentry” his brother had just donned. The shadow can also be interpreted as the spirit of winter, birthed from the union of the horned god (Stannis) and the mother goddess (Melisandre) to claim the season denied to him.
In terms of the elements comprising the storm, Stannis is linked to water and later to ice and snow. As former master of ships and commander of a fleet, he is connected to the sea. His Hand is a former sea-faring smuggler now known as Davos Seaworth. Being too salty, sea water however, is not conducive to cultivation on land. The Dothraki fear of the “poison water,” salt water that their horses cannot drink is a good analogy to the unsuitability of sea water as a promoter of growth on land. Most plants and all terrestrial animals will expire upon ingesting sea-water over a period of days. It is known. The stallion is quite right to be cautious of that potentially lethal body of water. The sea is thus not valid as a representation of water that is essential to life on land. Stannis’ connection with the sea could be a reference to Elenei’s godly father though – he was a sea god.
Upon discovering Maester Aemon’s letter asking for help, Davos urges Stannis to head for the Wall and this he does, arriving just in time to defeat Mance Rayder and his wildling army. His plot continues in the frigid north; he offers Jon Snow legitimacy, the Stark name, Winterfell and Val the wildling princess. Jon refuses but advises him to free Deepwood Motte from Asha’s Ironborn and after that to court the men of the mountain clans to win them to his banner. The plan succeeds. After this he marches towards Winterfell to give the Boltons battle but ends up snowbound at a crofter’s village three days from his destination. Stannis is embroiled in the politics of the North and his profile now includes an association with ice and snow.
Being a capable war commander, Stannis appears to share the storm’s fiery aspect, but he has no real thirst for battle and his style of leadership differs very much from his warrior brother Robert’s. The intensity of this symbolic fire is further compromised by his inability to rally men to his cause. Unlike Renly and Robert who were loved by the people, Stannis personality does not induce love in the people he seeks to recruit. Neither his personality nor his discomfort around women suggest anything passionate or temperamental. In fact, before the red priestess comes along, there was hardly anything fiery in his profile. This aspect is therefore compensated for by the fiery Melisandre, whom he takes on board, including her symbol, the burning
heart, the heart also being a symbol of love.
The Fleet, the Wind and the Soul
The fleet Stannis commanded did not belong to him either. After the death of Jon Arryn, Stannis fled to Dragonstone, taking with him most of the royal fleet. Later, Davos recruits the pirate Salladhor Saan whose fleet bolsters Stannis’ armada and upon losing all his borrowed ships to the Battle of the Blackwater (and later, the support of Salladhor Saan), Stannis personally owned no ships at all. The fleet is very important because it represents the wind element of the storm. Ships with sails require adequate winds to be able to traverse the ocean. Without the wind to propel it forward, a ship is becalmed, lifeless. Dany experiences this dire condition first hand:
And so Daenerys Targaryen must rely on wood and wind and canvas to bear her home. The wood and the canvas had served her well enough so far,
but the fickle wind had turned traitor. For six days and six nights they had been becalmed, and now a seventh day had come, and still no breath of air to fill their sails. ASOS, Daenerys I
Without a breath of air, ships are lifeless. Most creatures living on land would soon be lifeless without a breath of air. I need not tell you that breath, wind and air are equivalent to the spirit or the soul in a religious context. The breath, or the spiritual entity we call the soul is that which is believed to animate the body to this day. Stannis is the blue-eyed king of Dany’s visions, the one who casts no shadow, a king who has no soul. The analogy is obvious: a master of ships without a fleet of his own has no soul or no control over souls. Further, Stannis essentially sacrificed part of his soul to oust the false pretender to summer, and again to capture Storm’s End and take custody of his nephew Edric Storm.
Davos Seaworth says it like it is:
Davos had protested. “A kingdom’s not a ship … and a good thing, or this kingdom would be sinking. I know wood and rope and water, yes, but how will that serve me now? Where do I find the wind to blow King Stannis to his throne?” ASOS, Davos V
What do we make of this? Let’s recap the symbolism of the Storm:
The Storm encompasses three elements of nature: water (rain), fire (lightning), air (wind = spirit/soul)
- Robert embodies fire (lightning via his personality and Thor’s hammer).
- Renly embodies water (rain god). Renly symbolically rises in ghostly form, but he does not really rise, in fact, someone else takes his place, thus Renly does not qualify for the wind.
- Stannis embodies none of the above. Neither sea nor ice qualify as life promoting. His fire is borrowed from Melisandre and he gives his soul away.
What’s missing here is the wind, the spirit, the soul. None of our stags embody the soul. This is a serious matter! Lacking a soul, the horned lord cannot be born again to usher in a new season, that’s the idea. The Battle of the Blackwater is a symbolic representation of the death of the Spirit of Winter and of the victory of Summer over Winter. But wait. As indicated by “Renly’s ghost,” we’ve seen that a substitute “soul” may replace the deceased seasonal king. But what happens if there is no substitute? What happens if that horned lord happens to be the winter designate, and there is no suitable soul that can be sacrificed to rise again in his place? There is only one answer to that – If there is no soul available for rebirth, winter cannot end, but will continue indefinitely, until a suitable substitute or the real thing is found. Notice also, that wildfire is green and that the fluid substance is kept in pots shaped like fruit, in all a pretty good allusion to the growing seasons of spring and summer which forcibly oust winter’s soul, represented by Stannis’ fleet of ships.
My guess is that Edric Storm was Stannis’ intended substitute soul, his kingsblood supposed to wake dragons from stone. The boy is very much like his father and his uncle Renly and his Florent mother is of import in this context too. The meaning becomes clearer if you consider dragons as symbolic of warmth, summer and life itself. When Salladohr Saan asks for Davos opinion on the matter of sacrificing Edric, his phrasing even places the boy in relation to a dragon:
Will the king give the boy to the red priestess, do you think? One little dragon could end this great big war.” ASOS, Davos V
Edric’s blood may not have woken real dragons from stone but as a substitute for Stannis’ missing soul, his “dragon” spirit would banish winter to return the spring.
Edric Storm’s exact role requires further investigation but looking at it in this context, it’s easier to understand why his kingsblood “killed” three other pretenders to the throne – to the throne of summer: Renly, Joffery and Robb Stark (more on why Robb is a summer king in the Winterfell section).
The Black Stag
This brings me to the symbolism of the crowned black onyx stag that graces the Baratheon sigil. I propose the black stag represents a corruption of the original Horned God, suggested also by the splitting of the original Garth the Green model of combined floral and faunal fertility discussed above. Robert’s vices, Renly’s unsuitability (as a homosexual he cannot impregnate the goddess) and Melisandre’s negative influence on Stannis (dark arts, taking his soul) are the signposts leading to my conclusion. Indeed, despite his just image, Stannis becomes morally corrupt by allowing himself to be ensnared by the red priestess’s sorcery. In a twist on the seasonal motif, Stannis, though the lawful winter king, ends up fighting the season he should be ruling over. But his intentions are noble, I hear you say, after all, someone must try to stop the Others, and the long cold night. That’s true, but that’s not his job. Fighting winter is the prerogative of the Starks, or more precisely, that of Jon Snow. This calls for an interpretation of the white hart, Robert’s opposite number. Black Stag Robert goes off to hunt the white hart, a representation of an extreme of winter. But the wolves find the rare and magical creature first (think of white hart in terms of the rare and magical Others), and finish it off.
You don’t send a stag to hunt a stag, you send a wolf.
They found the white hart, it seems … or rather, what remained of it. Some wolves found it first, and left His Grace scarcely more than a hoof and a horn. Robert was in a fury, until he heard talk of some monstrous boar deeper in the forest. Then nothing would do but he must have it. AGOT, Eddard XII
Perhaps you have noticed the colors of the three Stags: white (the white hart), green (Renly), and black (Robert/Stannis). Stannis changes his sigil to include a fiery heart that envelops the black stag. These colors match those of Dany’s dragons, whom I have decreed as seasonal representatives of an extreme of winter, a rotten summer and an extreme of summer respectively. The three stags portray this even more clearly. The fiery heart is an emblem of transformation. Though Melisandre is a corrupting influence, her fires also have cleaning powers and the fiery heart’s role in Stannis’ heraldry echoes the dragon-fire of Daenerys dream, a fire that scours her clean, strengthens and renews her.
The First King
Garth the Green’s characteristics serve as a model of what a horned lord should personify – a virile fertile masculine god who influences both faunal and floral aspects of earthly life. As the green man, he is the spirit of vegetation, and as the antlered lord, he is the group soul of animal life, including humankind. In his dark aspect, he is the god of winter and lord of death who dies and is reborn from the goddess come spring. In his dark aspect, he was the Barrow King who once ruled the land of winter in the North and like Stannis he rightly cursed all those who dared usurp his crown.
The rusted crown upon the arms of House Dustin derives from their claim that they are themselves descended from the First King and the Barrow Kings who ruled after him. The old tales recorded in Kennet’s Passages of the Dead claim that a curse was placed on the Great Barrow that would allow no living man to rival the First King. This curse made these pretenders to the title grow corpselike in their appearance as it sucked away their vitality and life.
TWOIAF, The Seven Kingdoms, The North.
Garth the Green and the Barrow King are both said to have been the first Kings of the First Men. They are two sides of a coin, a coin with two faces, bright and dark, summer and winter, yet one coin. Together they personify the one true horned god and consort to the mother goddess. George Martin has been quite precise about the nature of his horned god, if only we have the eyes to see.
That neither Robert, Renly nor Stannis fit the role perfectly is apparent from the analysis above. Khal Drogo comes close but as in Robert’s case, the aspect of vegetation is missing: like the Ironborn, the Dothraki do now sow. The grasslands of the Dothraki Sea do not qualify. Stannis is a “pretender to the title” of the Barrow King, and as we shall see below, men like the Grey King are pretenders as well. So, we must ask who the true Lord and Consort to the Goddess is. Who incorporates all aspects of the original god, of Garth and his darker aspect? Who possesses the true spirit of vegetation? Who possess the true spirit of virility, the wild and the hunt (warrior)? And most of all, who is in possession of the soul that will be reborn through the goddess to return in spring? Is there any one person or has George split these aspects as well? This is my hypothesis:
Bran is the spirit of vegetation. This is symbolized by his status as a greenseer, union with the Weirwood and by his direwolf Summer. Bran is the green man who weds the earth goddess of Westeros, the weirwood. It I also symbolized by his name, Bran, and with his formerly feeding the crows corn. Think of him as Bran instead of Brandon and you realize that bran is a cereal. In the real world, bran is also called miller’s bran. Wasn’t there something about miller’s boys? Crippled as he is, Bran can never be the knight he dreamed of being, and the knight is analogous to the horned lord of strength, the hunt and the wild. He will never have children either but he is a Prince of the Green. Bran thus represents another figure associated with the growing season, an unnatural growing season, also indicated by his feeding the crows corn. Crows are carrion birds that arrive to feast on the dead. Feeding the crows is an expression the author uses very often to impress the effects of war upon us and its meaning is no different where Bran is concerned. Unnaturally extending a summer season disrupts the life cycle. Long summers are followed by long harsh winters and death. By feeding the crows corn, Bran is feeding death. This is also expressed by the one mention of the peach in his arc:
He liked the way the air tasted way up high, sweet and cold as a winter peach. He liked the birds: the crows in the broken tower, the tiny little sparrows that nested in cracks between the stones, the ancient owl that slept in the dusty loft above the old armory. Bran knew them all.
AGOT, Bran I
Here, the peach no longer represents summer, but becomes a cold winter peach associated with the crows of death and the sparrows that arrive like a pestilence in the wake of a rotten summer (see above). George has given us all the clues. After his fall, Bran forever loses the chance to become a fully fledged horned lord. He can no longer feed the crows. Symbolically, he is now a Fisher King archetype who must fulfill the quest to heal the land himself by becoming a greenseer dedicated to fighting a dire winter brought on by human meddling with the seasonal cycle.
Khal Drogo was the spirit of virility, the wild, the hunt and of warriorship. The belled Stallion and horned lord of the south. His hunting aspect is symbolized by his vanquishing the white lion of the plains, another emblem of masculinity, and Daenerys wears this pelt for warmth and because it makes her feel safe. Could the white lion be an epithet of the white wolf? Wild Rickon also falls in this category. Robert also embodied these aspects of the god but neither of these qualify either.
Jon is Lord Snow, the true keeper of the Spirit of Winter. The association is obvious is it not? He is not Lord Ice, he is Lord Snow, symbolic of a normal winter and the spirit is represented by Ghost, his direwolf. Jon is probably also the complete and undiluted horned lord. So far, we have seen his winter face only, but if his dad really is Rhaegar Targaryen, who was drawn more to Summerhall than to Dragonstone, then his summer aspect becomes apparent. Further, with its hot springs and glass gardens, Winterfell is an oasis of life in the North – more on that further down.
The Late Walder Frey
Her father had once said of Walder Frey that he was the only lord in the Seven Kingdoms who could field an army out of his breeches. When the Lord of the Crossing welcomed Catelyn in the great hall of the east castle, surrounded by twenty living sons (minus Ser Perwyn, who would have made twenty-one), thirty-six grandsons, nineteen great-grandsons, and numerous daughters, granddaughters, bastards, and grandbastards, she understood just what he had meant.
AGOT, Catelyn IX
Lord Frey is as fertile as he is fickle, and he has a long lease on life. Having gone bald, gouty, toothless and infirm, Walder looks his ninety years but is still very much in charge of his House. He is also ill-tempered and is said to brood on every slight he has ever suffered. Above all, Lord Frey has a multitude of descendants, has survived seven wives and planned to marry the eighth on his ninetieth name day.
Hoster Tully, his liege lord, thinks him untrustworthy and named him “The Late Lord Frey.” Though he earned this title because he arrived after the Battle of the Trident had already been won, it also alludes to his longevity and his apparent capacity for defying death. Lord Frey speaks often of how people are waiting for him to die, his sons included, but he has no intention of doing anyone that favour. His continuing status as the head of his House stands in contrast to the Dothraki doctrine that a leader must “ride,” be strong and healthy, or be deemed unworthy to rule his people. In fact, as old and feeble as he is, Lord Frey can no longer ride. Like a Cart King, he is carried in a litter instead. If a leader’s well-being is tied to the strength and viability of his kingdom, what then legitimizes Walder Frey’s claim to leadership?
Let us turn to the Bible for clarification. Kings 1 records the attempted usurpation of David’s throne by his son Adonijah over Solomon, whom the king had chosen as his rightful heir. The failure of the king to be aroused by the charm of a young virgin is used as a metaphor to demonstrate his weakness, his impotence a sign of his inability to rule the kingdom effectively, rendering his throne forfeit and ripe for the taking.
Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.
So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.
And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.
Kings 1, KJV
Unlike the stricken King David who “gat no heat,” and “knew the damsel not,” the ailing 90-year-old Frey has no such problems. As husband to seven wives, he has sired so many offspring that he can “field an entire army out of his breeches.” Proven beyond doubt, his astounding virility is that which legitimizes his right to continue ruling his House even in advanced old age. All bow to his authority while waiting patiently for his death. Potency of this magnitude is not usually a characteristic of men his age, certainly not of men who are as debilitated as he is. So where does this enduring “heat” come from? Walder Frey tells us so himself. The secret to his virility lies in his wives who come to his bed as young virginal maidens:
Save your sweet words, my lady. Sweet words I get from my wife. Did you see her? Sixteen she is, a little flower, and her honey’s only for me. I wager she gives me a son by this time next year. AGOT, Catelyn IX
Honey in this context reminds me especially of the food of the gods, of which nectar, milk and ambrosia are also examples. In the myths of Greece, the gods ate of nectar and ambrosia to stay forever young, while the gods of Sumer grew strong by drinking the milk of the goddess Ninhursag (Lady of Heaven and fertility goddess), who was depicted as a cow. Mead, sometimes called honey-wine or nectar of the gods, is made by fermenting honey with water, fruit grains and spices. It was referred to as liquid gold, a sacred drink in many cultures, purported to bestow potency upon those who drank of it. Indeed, discovering a recipe for the Elixir of Life was an earnest undertaking in the ancient past. In magical terms, Walder Frey’s string of wives, who could not have been much older than the eighth Lady Frey when he married them, are the source of this honey of potency that was his alone, extending his sexual vigor and lease on life beyond the life expectancy of the era in which he lives. Being a House from the Riverlands, which are watered by the many tributaries of the Trident, House Frey is also heavily associated with the fertility of the land. Not convinced? Well, then consider Tormund Giantsbane who counts “Mead-King of Ruddy Hall” amongst his titles. No other character talks as much of his manhood than Tormund, the mead being the link to his potency. Besides having a preference for mead, he is a living phallic symbol in every sense of the word, exuding strength, virility and authority. He also boasts endlessly of the size of his member, which must be gigantic by any terms:
See, lad, that’s why he’s king and I’m not. I can outdrink, outfight, and outsing him, and my member’s thrice the size o’ his, but Mance has cunning. ASOS, Jon I
His other title, “Husband to Bears,” and the associated story, is a clue to the origin of the honey that fuels his potency and it does not require much thought to progress from there to the “Bear and the Maiden Fair,” a song featuring a bear that licks the honey from the hair of a maiden fair:
She kicked and wailed, the maid so fair,
But he licked the honey from her hair.
Her hair! Her hair!
He licked the honey from her hair!
You’ll find the entire lyrics here.
Like Mance Rayder, Walder Frey also has cunning. That is his “weasel” aspect and no doubt this cunning also contributes to his long reign as head of his house, but unless “cunning” is another bit of wordplay on “cunny,” being cunning alone does not explain both longevity and virility. We do recall that for all his sexy talk, Tormund has no wife and so far, has only been husband to bears. Jamie saves twice saves Brienne, another independent Maiden, from having the “honey licked off her hair” by Vargo Hoat.
Frey and Freyr
The name Frey itself alludes to the Norse god Freyr, whose benevolence manifested itself in sexual and ecological fertility, bountiful harvests, wealth, and peace. This role was symbolized by his large erect phallus and by his spirit animal, the golden bristled boar Gullinborsti. Sacrifices to this god were generally made at harvest feasts and at weddings. Freyr is also said to have been the ruler of Alfheim, the homeland of the Elves, the latter being more beautiful than the sun and capable of intuitive powers and magical healing.
Lord Frey evokes this Norse god. Freyr’s boar appears in the form of Fat Walda, daughter of Amarei Crakehall, Walder Frey’s third wife. House Crakehall’s sigil happens to be a black and white brindled boar. Lady Amarei bore Walder Frey seven children. Indeed, as we learn from Catelyn’s thoughts, Crakehall women seem to be a fertile lot:
They had a Crakehall look about them, and Lord Walder’s third wife had been of that House. Wide hips to bear children, big breasts to nurse them, strong arms to carry them. The Crakehalls have always been a big-boned family, and strong.
Fat Walda doubly fits the image of Freyr’s fertile golden bristled boar. She is overweight, a round pink butterball of a girl, with a huge bosom and limp yellow hair. Becoming Lady Bolton pleased her, and she conceived in no time at all. Emotionally dearth Roose Bolton even seems fond of his new wife and can look forward to a trueborn heir to the Dreadfort. Having lost his grown son Domeric (died from a sickness of the bowels, or more likely killed by Ramsay), and all the babes born to his previous wives, Roose certainly has need of a fertile woman, and he is in luck with his new mother goddess figure.
Intriguingly, the Elves of the Norse legend also mirror the children of the forest and though Lord Frey does not rule over them, he does finally succeed in ruling over one of their former homelands – the Riverlands. As we know, this is the location of the God’s Eye with its Isle of Faces as well as the once living weirwood groove known as High Heart.
I must point out that the seat of House Frey, The Twins, is another indicator of fertility and that Cersei Lannister, also a twin, is likewise a version of Freyr’s golden bristled boar.
In terms of the seasons, Walder Frey belongs in the realm of summer. This is his domain, and symbolically, his age, long reign, virility and refusal to depart this life represent are linked to the prosperity of the land as well as a prolonged summer season. In fact, his involvement in the demise of Robb Stark, (King in the North and symbolic king of winter), testifies to his role as summer king who has no intention of giving up his season. Lord Frey is not directly connected to the Horned Lord in the text, but he is linked to the triple goddess: a horned moon is in the sky as Robb’s army crosses the Frey bridge:
They crossed at evenfall as a horned moon floated upon the river.
Reminiscent of a scythe, the horned moon is a foreshadowing of Robb’ impending doom at the hand of the Bolton’s and Freys. It is also symbolic of the Tripple Goddess, the horned crescent in this case representing the crone, as we shall see in a moment.
In fact, Walder Frey himself personifies the crone of the trinity. He has usurped her role in bringing a natural end to the cycle and has taken her place as the keeper of the gateway to death and rebirth (the bridge). We can again draw on the horned moon in relation to his usurpation of the crone because in this case, the female crescent moon now sports a phallic horn. That he looks a little like a vulture also reinforces his link to the death aspect of the crone, the vulture being a carrion bird that feeds on the deceased. In Babylonian astronomy, the Great Twins (known to us as Gemini) were related to the king of the dead in Mesopotamia. The Twins guarded the entrance to the underworld. Their main function was to prevent the dead from rising up to overwhelm the realm of the living. It’s thus no accident that Lord Frey’s bridge is situated in the far north of the Riverlands, near the border to the North and to winter. As Lord of the Crossing he controls the gateway between the season of life (the south) and the season of death (the North).
When Arya dispatches Lord Frey and his family in the TV-show, her words “Winter has come for House Frey,” are not simply a cool rendition of the words of her house. “Winter has come for House Frey” means exactly that – summer has met its end after defying winter for so long. What’s cool is no Frey will ever enjoy a taste of Arya’s maiden honey.
The Undying of Qarth
Certain aspects of the back story become clearer when you consider Walder Frey, the Grey King and “what is dead must never die …,” in terms of corrupt fertility deities who persisted in holding on to life: they are in essence undying, bringing this analysis round to the Undying of Qarth. The Undying too were hanging on to life, the Red Waste and rain-starved region of their abode directly related to their prolonged existence. Is it any wonder they reside in a Palace of Dust? They needed the fire of life as badly as the Drowned God and Grey King did (more on this below) and they nearly got it too, from Daenerys who was lured into their chamber by the promises of the warlock Pyat Pree. And in analogy to Aeron Damphair who claims the bleeding star as a burning brand sent by the Drowned God, the “splendor of wizards” that greet her in the hall before the chamber of the Undying claim they sent the comet to show Daenerys the way. So, let’s take a look at what the wizards have to say:
A kingly man in rich robes rose when he saw her, and smiled. “Daenerys of House Targaryen, be welcome. Come and share the food of forever. We are the Undying of Qarth.”
“Long have we awaited you,” said a woman beside him, clad in rose and silver. The breast she had left bare in the Qartheen fashion was as perfect as a breast could be.
“We knew you were to come to us,” the wizard king said. “A thousand years ago we knew, and have been waiting all this time. We sent the comet to show you the way.”
“We have knowledge to share with you,” said a warrior in shining emerald armor, “and magic weapons to arm you with.
I believe these wizards, these phantom images of the Undying, were once heavily engaged in fertility and weather magic but unlike the Grey King who substituted farming with fishing and whose role included prolonging the winter by neglecting to die, the Undying were responsible for enhancing the fertility of the land. Their job was to prolong the growing season during which nature flourishes. Notice they welcome Daenerys by asking her to share the food of forever. What is the food of forever? Prophecy? The food of immortality? Or just plain food? In this context, the warrior in shining emerald armor is a reminder of Renly, who liked to play at being the rain-god and whom we have already identified as a floral green man archetype linked to vegetation.
Conjuring up rain is the role I ascribe to the Undying. It’s certain they lost their power somewhere along the line though, their inability to perform causing the land to wither and dry up. Indeed, the Qartheen were hounded by both the Sarnori and the Dothraki in the past, causing them to flee the upper grasslands in favour of the southern regions. Though they established new cities on the way, these also succumbed to their adversaries, leaving only Qarth on the northern shore of the Jade Straits. What’s interesting is that history notes the land turned to desert even as they fled south. Could ancestors of the Qartheen have influenced the climate in the region? I suspect so, for if they had specialized in weather control of a kind benevolent to cultivation, the numerous wars they suffered would have taken their toll on their magicians and knowledge would have been lost. Perhaps members of their race (the Pureborn imply they are the last of a specific race) were even genetically disposed to affect weather cycles? Again, wars would have culled their number considerably. I would not be writing this if my hypothesis had no basis. Our own history testifies to the ubiquitous practice of invoking rain by ritual, by imitation ceremonies, by rain dances and even by prayer. Rain is of utmost importance to cultivation. Not much will thrive without this nourishing moisture from the heavens and even rivers and lakes will dry out in its absence. There are indications of this in Essos, notably the drying out of the Silver Sea, a huge expanse of water once covering the grasslands now known as the Dothraki Sea.
Native American and African rain dances are among the best documented in our world and are practiced to this day. Traditional rain-invoking dances were usually carried out during long dry periods of summer. Special costumes were worn in Native American tradition and always included feathers to symbolize the wind, and turquoise gemstones (blue) to symbolize the rain itself. In tribal African communities of the Sahara, the rain-maker was often the most important personage in the village. His success or failure at his magical art was bound up with the very survival of his tribe, for without rain, the flocks and herds would perish. Failure to produce rain incurred the people’s wroth and could very well end in the rain-maker’s death.
Hints pointing to rainmaking in the past
Is there any evidence suggesting the Undying may have been involved in fertility rituals or rain-making in particular? Well, the custom of weeping
at will peculiar to the Qartheen, and considered by them to be highly civilized behavior, is a clue.
The Qartheen wept often and easily; it was considered a mark of the civilized man …
Tears are symbolic of rain and vice versa. The ability to weep on command could be a signpost to the ancient art of invoking rain from the heavens, especially considering the Red Waste surrounding Qarth. Cultivation, which depends on water and on rain, is certainly a mark of civilization.
Xaro of the Thirteen also derisively declares that the Pureborn have “water in their veins,” another hint. There is a surprising amount of talk about rain and water in Daenerys’ conversations with Xaro:
Talking about slavery and the Unsullied:
Xaro: “Things are not always as they seem. Much that may seem evil can be good.
Daenerys: “Rain?” Does he take me for a fool, or just a child?
Xaro: “We curse the rain when it falls upon our heads, yet without it we should starve. The world needs rain … and slaves.
ADWD, Daenerys III
Xaro: If you would savor the sweet taste of the fruit, you must water the tree.
Daenerys: This tree (the Unsullied) has been watered with blood. ADWD, Daenerys III
Now, it’s interesting that the Unsullied are compared to a tree that has been watered with blood. It immediately evokes the weirwoods of Westeros to which blood is sacrificed. But that would take us in another direction. Daenerys goes on to say slavery and rain are not the same thing but then Xaro remarks on a former merchant he saw digging ditches in the heat:
Daenerys: “Not a hole. A ditch, to bring water from the river to the fields. We mean to plant beans. The beanfields must have water.”
ADWD, Daenerys III
The Meereenese burnt their own fields prior to the arrival of Daenerys and her army. Food is scarce in the city and Daenerys has set people to digging canals to provide water for irrigating new fields. Nothing magical here, but it reinforces the need for water to get agriculture going again.
Significant too is the fashion of leaving the left breast bare, a trademark of the women of Qarth. I’ve long felt that this alludes to Nissa Nissa baring her breast to receive Azor Ahai’s sword – an act that contributed to bringing back the sun which together with rainwater, is vital to all life.
As a descendant of Old Valyria, Daenerys herself is linked to fertility and to the Lands of the Long Summer, a named region which was part of the Freehold.
The proudest city in all the world was gone in an instant, the fabled empire vanished in a day. The Lands of the Long Summer— once the most fertile in all the world— were scorched and drowned and blighted, and the toll in blood would not be fully realized for a century to come.
TWOIAF, The Doom of Valyria
So, Valyria was once the most fertile place in the world and though this aspect of the Freehold is never discussed, one cannot help wondering if their magical repertoire also included rain-making and enhancing agriculture. This brings me to dragons, who also dance, in the metaphorical sense. Though we experience the dragons of Essos as fire-breathing monsters, Chinese culture revers the dragon as a dispenser of rain, a ruler of the weather and flowing water bodies. In times of drought or flooding, rituals to ask for or to stop the rain were conducted at local dragon-king temples. In other Chinese traditions dating back 3000 years, Wu Shamans acted as spirit mediums in their practice of sacrifice, healing, divination and rainmaking. Central to the rainmaking ritual was an exhausting dance carried out within a ring of fire. The purpose of this strenuous activity was to sweat profusely, the falling drops of perspiration symbolizing the desired rain.
Perhaps then it is no accident that Daenerys, as blood of the dragon and mother of dragons, is Stormborn, a title she carries because she was born during a storm so massive, it thrashed her father’s fleet. Like the Chinese dragons, storms bring rain and the Undying address her as such – child of storm. If their interest in her is based on the notion that she is a Dragon Queen in the traditional Chinese sense, we can imagine that possessing her life essence will reinstate not only their lives, but also their capacity to produce rain.
Pyat Pree’s Rain Ritual
Perhaps you’re not convinced, and I was not too sure myself until I remembered that rain rituals often involve dancing and that Arya, while learning the water dance from Syrio, had to practice standing on one leg. So, beginning with Arya, let’s have a look at evidence for a possible rain ritual.
Ned is not too sure of Syrio Forel’s suitability as a sword-master:
Any decent master-at-arms could give Arya the rudiments of slash-and-parry without this nonsense of blindfolds, cartwheels, and hopping about on one leg, but he knew his youngest daughter well enough to know there was no arguing with that stubborn jut of jaw. “As you wish,” he said. Surely she would grow tired of this soon. “Try to be careful.”
“I will,” she promised solemnly as she hopped smoothly from her right leg to her left.
So okay, Arya hops from one leg to another, what does that prove? Nothing on its own, but continuously hopping from one leg to another does evoke dancing. In reference to dancing, Sansa, who remarks on Arya being a terrible dancer on the same page, goes off to listen to singers performing the Dance of the Dragons:
Later, while Sansa was off listening to a troupe of singers perform the complex round of interwoven ballads called the “Dance of the Dragons,” …
We keep this in mind while considering the next piece of the puzzle. This time it’s Patchface hopping from one foot to another as he sings the following song:
He began to sing. “The shadows come to dance, my lord, dance my lord, dance my lord,” he sang, hopping from one foot to the other and back again.
The context in which Patchface sings this song is highly significant. It’s the prologue to Clash. Shireen has asked to see the white raven just arrived from the Citadel to announce the end of the season. As Pylos brings the bird, Patchface says: “Under the sea, the birds have scales for feathers“. Surely a reference to dragons.
Maester Cressen explains that the raven has come to herald the end of summer, the longest summer in living memory. Shireen asks if it will get cold now and Cressen replies:
“In time,” Cressen replied. “If the gods are good, they will grant us a warm autumn and bountiful harvests, so we might prepare for the winter to come.” The smallfolk said that a long summer meant an even longer winter, but the maester saw no reason to frighten the child with such tales.
Patchface then proclaims another riddle:
It’s always summer under the sea. “The merwives wear nennymoans in their hair and weave gowns of silver seaweed. I know, I know, oh, oh, oh.”
I think Patchface’s riddles are the key to many mysteries in the story and if we follow his initial proclamations from the perspective of weather and fertility magic, it just might be possible to get closer to the truth of the backstory. Another important thing about Patchface is that he is a Horned God archetype. Yes, he belongs to the Baratheon household, so his headgear of antlers might seem a natural thing for a Baratheon fool to wear. But that, I would say, is the beauty of George’s writing. His knack of incorporating seemingly unimportant things into the narrative is astounding and often, the little details are what really matter most. Here is the fool’s description again:
Behind her, shuffling and hopping in that queer sideways walk of his, came her fool. On his head was a mock helm fashioned from an old tin bucket, with a rack of deer antlers strapped to the crown and hung with cowbells. With his every lurching step, the bells rang, each with a different voice, clang-a-dang bong-dong ring-a-ling clong clong clong. ACOK, Prologue
Look closely and you’ll notice Patchface embodies the two types of horned god we have encountered so far – the Stallion and the Horned Lord. The Horned Lord is recognizable by his deer antlers, while in relation to Khal Drogo as the Stallion, Patchface wears bells on his crown. The green and red tattoos that cover his face show his link to the green man and to the fiery red stallion respectively. The different voices of the bells relate to control (think of the Bells of Norvos here). I have already examined that aspect here. Also significant is the use of a bucket as a base for the helm. What do we normally use buckets for? To fetch water of course. In relation to dancing, he has a shuffling walk, is usually hopping about and occasionally does a grotesque dance step. Patchface embodies three of the four elements of nature – earth (green patches), fire (red patches), and water (bucket). The fourth element – air or the spirit, represented by his wits, is missing from the list. Remember in this context the saying “words are wind.” Words (or speech) are considered a mark of intelligence and if words are wind, then a persons wits are linked to his intelligence. The smallfolk are wiser than we think. They believe the fool survived because he gave his seed to a mermaid in exchange for being able to breathe water. That should ring a bell in our minds shouldn’t it? Yes, both Stannis and Night’s King gave their souls along with their seed and Patchface probably did so as well. The soul corresponds to the air/wind element of nature and its absence, partial or complete makes him a lackwit.
Just to remind you, the horned god is a dying and resurrecting god, intimately associated with the seasonal cycle; if you recall, dying and resurrecting is part of Patchface’s biography. His mysterious survival of the sinking of the Windproud after three days at sea still baffles Maester Cressen. As if all this isn’t magical enough, Steffon Baratheon, who bought the slave child’s freedom in Volantis, described him as a “splendid fool,” one who could juggle, riddle, sing in four languages and perform magic. Could the “splendor of wizards” be related to the “splendid fool?” Well, the fool can still riddle, and what kind of magic did he perform, we wonder? Petty tricks perhaps, but you must admit, these are many clues.
So how do we interpret his riddles? I think the answer is right there for the taking. Patchface hears Cressen ask Pylos to bring the white raven from the rookery. This sparks his first “riddle.” He picks up on the bird, creating an association with dragons. The raven is a pure bred white bird (like the Pureborn who are pale?). If he makes an exact connection, then he is probably talking about white dragons, like Viserion. Being the first egg to crack open on the night the season-slaying comet appears, Viserion is the dragon that brings summer to a close and so mirrors the white bird that arrives to announce the end of the season.
Next, we learn that its always summer in the land where merwives weave gowns of silver seaweed. Always summer suggests good weather, weather conducive to cultivation, perhaps akin to the fertile region of the land of the long summer of Old Valyria. Now we come to the merwives: in Old English, merwife means water-witch. The Rhoynar are said to have had water-witches. They also water wizards, who worked their water spells in defense of the kingdom. So, water-witches weave gowns of silver seaweed. They also wear nennymoans in their hair. Readers have already found a connection between nennymoans, weaving merwives and Sansa. Sansa is great at sewing (related to weaving). At Joffery’s wedding, she wears a silver satin gown that evokes the merwives’ gowns; her hair is adorned with a silver net studded with black amethysts from Asshai.
Sansa wore a gown of silvery satin trimmed in vair, with dagged sleeves that almost touched the floor, lined in soft purple felt. Shae had arranged her hair artfully in a delicate silver net winking with dark purple gemstones.
A net is a woven item, comparable to a spider web.
It was a hair net of fine-spun silver, the strands so thin and delicate the net seemed to weigh no more than a breath of air when Sansa took it in her fingers. Small gems were set wherever two strands crossed, so dark they drank the moonlight. “What stones are these?”
“Black amethysts from Asshai. The rarest kind, a deep true purple by daylight.”
Sansa receives this hairnet from Dontos, a fool. Notice also that the gems drink the moonlight. Perhaps nennymoans are black amethysts capable of capturing moonlight which is further woven into a gown of “silver seaweed.” The weaving theme is one I’ve written about before. Weaving is heavily related to working magic, demonstrated by Melisandre and spoken about by the kindly man of the HoBaW. Gowns are often described as “flowing,” and the gown Daenerys’ wears to her first meeting with Drogo is made of cloth so smooth that it seemed to
run through her fingers like water. Having focused on the light aspect of the nennymoans, I had not noticed the water association previously, but it makes sense for a gown made of seaweed to be associated with water. Further, the moon influences the tides and is linked to the element of water so generally, we can assume the merwives wove “gowns” of water. A gown of water can also be viewed as a shower of rain. The fool’s riddle on merwives thus translates to water-witches working water magic involving the use of moonlight, with the ultimate purpose of producing rain.
Patchface intones his merwife riddle right after Cressen talks about the end of summer and the hope for bountiful harvests to prepare for the coming winter. The riddle therefore relates to summer and to the harvest theme and this makes sense in respect of the rain-making merwives. Elsewhere in the narrative we learn the Rhoynish water-witches knew spells to make dry streams flow and deserts bloom. This is only possible with an abundance of rain.
When Shireen says she would like a gown of silver seaweed, Patchface claims “under the sea, it snows up and the rain is dry as bone.” This sounds like dust, drought and arid conditions and just the sort of place water-witches would come in handy. Then he sings the song about shadows coming to dance, hopping from one foot to another all the while.
Now, Arya’s practice session which involves standing on one foot for as long as possible and then hopping smoothly to the other foot is part of her training to learn the “water dance.” Via her sword “Needle,” she, like Sansa is associated with sewing and by extension with weaving. Hers is a different kind of “sewing,” the link between the two types being fodder for another analysis. However, the very association of hopping with the water dance makes it a clue very relevant to the idea of rain dances and water magic.
Patchface’s song on shadows coming to dance leads us up to Pyat Pree, a warlock of Qarth and apparent keeper of the House of the Undying, also known as the Palace of Dust. Note that like the black amethysts from Asshai, the black roofing tiles of this building “drink light,” in this case, the light of the morning sun.
“Blood of my blood,” Jhogo said in Dothraki, “this is an evil place, a haunt of ghosts and maegi. See how it drinks the morning sun? Let us go before it drinks us as well.”
Jhogo must have had a premonition because Dany just barely escapes having the life sucked out of her
by the Undying. The black light-drinking tiles also suggest the Undying needed a regular supply of heat to keep them going, which makes sense in respect of the blue (cold) imagery surrounding them. Once powerful, the warlocks have long been considered ineffectual magicians and Xaro says they are bitter creatures who eat dust and drink of shadows. The palace grounds also feature a garden with a grove of black trees with blue inky leaves which serve as an ingredient in the drink known as “shade of the evening.” Armed with all these comparative references, we now examine what happens when Dany emerges from the burning chamber of the Undying.
When Dany flees the burning chamber, she leaves through the door she entered the Palace of Dust by, a door shaped like an open mouth.
When they reached the door—a tall oval mouth, set in a wall fashioned in the likeness of a human face …
The door is significant in itself. An open human mouth, ready to do what? Talk, scream or to accept food? I think it’s a marvelous metaphor, suggesting all of these at once and a warning that those who enter might end up being swallowed (as in drinking the light). It certainly relates to food.
As if this isn’t strange enough, Pyat Pree, who is outside, appears to be engrossed in a queer ritual:
She kept her feet and ran faster, and suddenly the door was there ahead of her, a door like an open mouth. When she spilled out into the sun, the bright light made her stumble. Pyat Pree was gibbering in some unknown tongue and hopping from one foot to the other.
It seems obvious he expected the Undying to succeed in reviving themselves after feeding on Dany’s life force and as a mediating warlock or rainmaker, had commenced his ritual, performing a rain dance while chanting spells in a strange language. The Undying are not corporeal. They exist as husks or reflections of their former selves. I think we can view them as manifested spirits, kept alive in the earthly plane by dark spiritual magic. Mayhaps they are water spirits. Perhaps they can be compared to Melisandre’s shadow-babies whose whereabouts are so far unknown. I speculate that the Undying normally reside within the black trees of the palace gardens. Being part of the consciousness of those trees would also explain how they knew Daenerys was coming, as well as their prophecies and visions in the House, both past and present (I’m not saying those trees are weirwoods. Other trees like the oak could serve as well). The Undying are certainly as blue and inky as the leaves of those black trees and I imagine their spirits would leave the plant for a different location if the occasion was important enough. The warlocks as spiritual mediators also make sense and in this context, recall the Chinese Wu Shamans mentioned above.
We hold another piece of information that has some bearing on Pyat Pree’s function as a rainmaker. Euron Greyjoy has declared that he is the Storm, the first and the last, that he brings the storm. He also captured Pyat Pree and three other warlocks besides, killing one and forcing the rest to eat their dead companion. I think he means what he claims, but storms will not just materialize out of nowhere. If I’m right, then the warlocks could magically conjure up the storms he requires, and storms bring rain, lots of it. Let me remind you that magical weather control has already been demonstrated in the books so far. Melisandre burns a man to provide winds for a journey over sea and a close read of Tyrion’s adventures with the red priest Moqorro suggests that the latter too conjured up the storm that sunk the Stinky Steward (ADWD, Tyrion IX).
Researching this topic has been most rewarding so far. This section has been very long, but there are a couple more things I need to share to convince you of the validity of my analysis.
Scientist have found that rain-making ceremonies are not entirely based on superstition but that the dances involved can have the real effect of producing precipitation. Traditional rain dances of Native Americans are specially choreographed and include song, as well as a rhythmic jumping, hopping and stamping of feet. Since the rituals take place during the dry season, all this interaction with the ground throws up a great deal of dust and this is the key to rain-making because the dust promotes rain nucleation. Also termed bio-precipitation, rain nucleation occurs when bacteria are whirled into the air through vigorous activity on the ground (through dust, threshing of grain etc.). Bacteria then serve as a nucleus for moisture droplets which gather to form raindrops. Wonderful! This means that Patchface’s talk of it snowing up and rain being dry as bone could also represent the basis for the weaving of the merwives. Both interpretations work. There’s much more to this in respect of the narrative but I’ll save that for another day.
Another thing I found out in relation to promoting the growth of crops involves a priest standing on one leg, much like we see Arya do. Here, the object is to remain standing on one leg, with the other leg drawn up high for as long as possible. The drawn-up leg is believed to represent the final height of the grain and woe betide for the growing season if the priest fails to accomplish this feat.
Lastly, there is this curious gift Daenerys receives in Qarth:
A widow brought the dried corpse of her husband, covered with a crust of silvered leaves; such remnants were believed to have great power, especially if the deceased had been a sorcerer, as this one had.
The widow in question must have made a great sacrifice by offering Dany this gift. This is nothing other than a rain charm that operates through the dead. James Frazer’s Golden Bough is indeed a goldmine of information! Frazer describes various rainmaking traditions associated with digging up the remains of deceased persons upon whom rituals designed to invoke rain were performed. One involved exhuming a body and hanging the skeleton over the leaves of a taro plant. Water was then poured over the skeleton to run down the leaves. It was believed that the soul of the deceased absorbed the water, converted into rain and showered it down again. The mind boggles. But this seems to be what we have here: the dried corpse of a sorcerer, covered in silvered leaves, the silver representing water (gowns of silver seaweed) and the leaves representing vegetation. After all we’ve learned, what else could this be, other than a rain charm? And who else could the sorcerer have been, other than a rainmaker?
Fittingly, this brings us now to our next topic, the legend of Storm’s End.
The Legend of Storm’s End
Despite its focus on rebuilding the castle, the story of Durran Godsgrief and Elenei is also a tale of a sacred marriage, known to the Greeks as heiros gamos. Sacred marriages between priestly representatives of deities were performed to ensure an abundance of rain and crop growth.
On these occasions, only the best livestock were offered as accompanying sacrifices to the gods. Human sacrifices were not uncommon and sometimes, even young children were offered, their tears symbolic of rain.
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s great novel (The Mists of Avalon) on the Arthurian legends also features the sacred union of Morgaine, priestess of Avalon, with her half-brother Arthur, who is to become king of Britain, their union essential to the prosperity of the country.
Sacred prostitution, which also belongs in this group of rituals, was common in the ancient Near East. We even have an example of this practice in the narrative, where the women of the Summer Isles traditionally serve as such to honor the gods. In their world view, the gods gave humans desire, so that they might mate and worship them in that way:
“Her blood is the blood of summer, my lord, but my daughter was born here in King’s Landing.” His surprise must have shown on his face, for Chataya continued, “My people hold that there is no shame to be found in the pillow house. In the Summer Isles, those who are skilled at giving pleasure are greatly esteemed. Many highborn youths and maidens serve for a few years after their flowerings, to honor the gods.”
ACOK, Tyrion III
Priests and priestesses of traditional Wicca also celebrate the union of the Triple Goddess and Horned God, though this is not necessarily acted out in the flesh. Known here as the Great Rite, the ceremony is usually carried out symbolically. In this case, the High Priestess plunges the athame, or ritual knife (the male symbol), into a cup or chalice (the female symbol) which is filled with wine and is held by the High Priest. The Great Rite symbolizes creation in the union of the Maiden Goddess with the Lover God, and in this symbolic enactment of procreation, is a fertility rite.
For the sake of completion, I must mention Gerald Gardener, the founder of modern Gardenian Wicca. He of course ties into Garth the Green and his descendants, the Gardener Kings of the Reach and is no doubt George Martin’s nod at Wicca and its connection to the legendary fertility god and his descendants.
Catelyn shares the legend of Storm’s End with us in a Clash of Kings:
The songs said that Storm’s End had been raised in ancient days by Durran, the first Storm King, who had won the love of the fair Elenei, daughter of the sea god and the goddess of the wind. On the night of their wedding, Elenei had yielded her maidenhood to a mortal’s love and thus doomed herself to a mortal’s death, and her grieving parents had unleashed their wrath and sent the winds and waters to batter down Durran’s hold.
His friends and brothers and wedding guests were crushed beneath collapsing walls or blown out to sea, but Elenei sheltered Durran within her arms so he took no harm, and when the dawn came at last he declared war upon the gods and vowed to rebuild.
ACOK, Catelyn III
The sacred nature of the marriage is obvious – Durran weds a divine daughter of the gods.
Though Elenei appears to have consented to wedding a mortal, her godly parents are furious over the consummation of the marriage because this dooms her to a mortal’s death. What does this legend imply besides the emphasis on rebuilding the castle? In my view, this marriage of a goddess to a mortal represents a classic fertility custom aimed at bringing a downpour from the heavens. Its purpose is to invoke rain for the improvement of crops and animal husbandry, or to stave off drought and famine. Notice that in keeping with ancient beliefs, it is the consummation of the marriage that brings on her godly parent’s wrath, which takes the form of a rainstorm. The sacrificial element of the ritual is taken care of by the death of Durran’s brothers and guests.
Since the Stormlands are not famous for being conducive to agriculture, Durran’s sacred marriage may have attempted to rectify this deficiency. Perhaps Durran had underestimated the wroth of the gods because he had certainly bitten off more than he could chew. His sacred marriage brought so much wind and rain that his kingdom would remain stormy forever after. One of the few places that did benefit from his rainmaking was the Rainwood, a primal forest which also included the Kingswood, belonging to the children of the Forest. Cape Wrath and the Rainwood are fertile enough, the forest itself providing good hunting, furs and valuable timber, including sentinels, soldier pines and presumably, weirwoods. The histories state that the Godsgrief seized this region from the children, an act that every so often led to conflict between Durran’s descendants and the children. A major source of strife was of course, the cutting down of weirwoods. At one point, a woods witch known as the Green Queen managed to hold the Rainwood against Storm’s End for the best part of a generation.
While thinking of this hypothesis of a rain-making ritual gone wrong, I began to wonder how the Rainwood might relate to the rebuilding of the castle, the latter being the main focus of the story. Six times over did Durran rebuild, only to have it destroyed. The seventh castle finally withstood the gods’ anger, but only through the contributory magic of the children of the forest as one tale goes, or the aid of Bran the Builder, as another story holds. I’ve finally found the answer: it is the wind, or rather, the wind that is kept out:
Gods do not forget, and still the gales came raging up the narrow sea. Yet Storm’s End endured, through centuries and tens of centuries, a castle like no other. Its great curtain wall was a hundred feet high, unbroken by arrow slit or postern, everywhere rounded, curving, smooth, its stones fit so cunningly together that nowhere was crevice nor angle nor gap by which the wind might enter. ACOK, Catelyn II
The section on the Baratheon brothers explains their symbolic deviation from Garth Greenhand, the original horned god. I’ve also stressed the importance of wind as representative of the soul or spirit of self-same god. The implication of a castle built to keep out the wind should therefore be evident. This is the true meaning of the Legend of Storm’s End. By building a castle capable of withstanding the wind, Durran Godsgrief was responsible for banishing the spirit of the god of life, death and rebirth himself! What horror. And to make matters worse, Bran the Builder and / or the children of the Forest are implicated in this conspiracy, a conspiracy that ultimately messes up the seasons of the planet!
With the wind banished from Storm’s End, is it any wonder that the Godsgrief then seized the Rainwood Forest of the children instead? What does the forest contain, if not weirwoods filled with the spirits and consciousness of the dead? And luckily, we have a clue as to which exact spirit the Godsgrief might have been after, namely that indicated by the Green Queen who remained in conflict with the lords of Storm’s End for a generation. Does the Green Queen represent the mother goddess or an aspect of her? We need to look at the legend again to unravel this:
His friends and brothers and wedding guests were crushed beneath collapsing walls or blown out to sea, but Elenei sheltered Durran within her arms so he took no harm, and when the dawn came at last he declared war upon the gods and vowed to rebuild. ACOK, Catelyn III
The godly Elenei shelters Durran so that he comes to no harm during the storm. The Green Queen who defended the Rainwood can be viewed in this light. Like the green men who guard the trees on the Isle of Faces, the Green Queen took it upon herself to guard the trees which harbour the souls of the dead, or in this case, one particular important soul: the soul of winter.
The truth is, the gods’ anger did not cool off simply because Durran Godsgrief managed to build a fortified seventh castle. The gods still visit their wroth, not only on Westeros, but on the entire world, every 77 years. The 77-year cycle of destruction I have calculated shows this, and it includes the Doom of Valyria. I shall present that in a separate post. I will honestly say that I have no idea what causes this 77-year cycle of catastrophe, but it does truly exist, and it is related to the 77 courses served up at Joffery Baratheon’s wedding. It has to do with the abundance of the land, bought on credit so to speak, with loans that are not paid and bears direct relation to the famous saying, “a Lannister always pays his debts.” Ultimately, the 77-year cycle of destruction is the punishment meted out for corruption of the spirit of summer and the banishment of the true spirit winter.
The Three Sister Islands
Consider now the beliefs of the Sistermen:
Storms.” Lord Godric said the word as fondly as another man might say his lover’s name. “Storms were sacred on the Sisters before the Andals came. Our gods of old were the Lady of the Waves and the Lord of the Skies.
They made storms every time they mated.
ADWD, Davos I
The gods of the First Men, these gods the Sistermen remember, produced storms by their divine union in heaven. The fruit of that mating was held sacred and Lord Godric, thinking of this ancient past, utters the word “storm” as though it were his lover’s name. This places storms in the female domain and I daresay we’re meant to connect this to Daenerys. It seems very likely that the First Men engaged in fertility rituals involving sacred marriages, perhaps primarily, to evoke rain. Recall that Lord Godric’s daughter’s daughter carries the so-called mark. She has webbed hands, a trait reminiscent of amphibians and passed down within the family for 5000, years. With the link to fertility in evidence, could the ancestors of the Sistermen have hailed from the Isle of Toads, or perhaps from mainland Sothoryos?
I’m not done with investigating the Three Sister Isles, except to note that the three sisters could be the temporary three keepers of the three spirits of the maiden, mother and crone respectively, that is, the three keepers of the spirit of the mother goddess. In my current model, the island Little Sister, is analogous to Arya and to the crone, the cutter of life and end to all things. The Queen of Thorns also fits into this category. Catelyn, Sansa, Cersei and Daenerys correspond to the island of Sweet Sister, and to the Mother of the trinity. Long Sister Island is the maiden, represented by Brienne and Ygritte.
Fishing and Paying the Iron Price
The first High King of the Ironborn was a man of the sea. The Grey King taught the Ironborn to weave nets and sails and carved the first longship from the hard pale wood of Ygg (weirwood). Acquiring fire seemed to be a special concern of his, especially since he set about tricking the Storm God to strike a tree with lightning. Did the Grey King also attempt to improve the fertility of the predominantly stony Iron Islands as well as harvest the bounty of the sea? Tree ash is especially esteemed by gardeners because of its high potassium and calcium content, making such ashes an excellent natural fertilizer. By splitting atmospheric nitrogen, lightning too plays a part in fertilizing the soil. Nitrogen then becomes available as fertilizer (nitrates) to enhance plant growth.
The Grey King is also said to have slain the first sea-dragon Nagga, making her fire his thrall to warm his hall. Recall also, that this king took a mermaid to wife and that he wore robes of silver seaweed and had tapestries of silver seaweed hanging in his hall. We’ve already been through the significance of merwives and silver seaweed above. It appears that through his water-witch wife, he was as much involved in rain-making as the Undying were and considering his great age, he himself can be classified as undying, the difference being his descent to the Drowned God after one thousand years.
If the Grey King ever succeeded in establishing some semblance of agriculture on the Iron Islands, this failed to take root after his departure to the Drowned God’s watery halls. As suggested by his name, his physical appearance is anything but “sunny.” His hair, beard and eyes were as grey as a winter sea and after ruling the islands as High King for so long, his very skin had turned as grey as his hair and beard. The Grey King never improved the fertility of his isles, but he was virile in another respect. Like his counterpart Garth the Green, he sired numerous children, leaving a hundred sons to bash each other’s heads in over the succession after his death.
The Ironborn have no respect for farming, work they believe is beneath them, leaving both the cultivation of the land and mining to their captive thralls. Only reaving and fishing are regarded as honourable occupations for free ironmen, and both occupations are associated with procuring rather than with producing. Sea-food is very important, sustaining the Ironborn even in the depths of winter. They supplement their sea-food diet by raiding the coastal green lands for food and plunder, comfortably surviving the winter season, while those they rob starve. The ruling Greyjoys claim descent from this king. Emphasizing their disconnection with the bounty of the land are the Greyjoy words – We Do Not Sow.
The Lord of the Iron Islands also styles himself Lord Reaper of Pyke. Obviously, reaping does not refer to bringing in a traditional harvest here. It refers to harvesting the spoils of their reaving, otherwise known as “paying the iron price,” or acquiring necessities and valuables through combat and subsequent looting of the slain.
As Theon thinks to himself:
War was an ironman’s proper trade. The Drowned God had made them to reave and rape, to carve out kingdoms and write their names in fire and blood and song. ACOK, Theon I
The title Lord Reaper of Pyke has a further sinister connotation, reminding us of the traditional Western personification of Death, the Grim Reaper, often portrayed as a human skeleton dressed in a shroud and holding a scythe. With such a link to death, perhaps it’s unsurprising that the Iroborn believe that what is dead may never die.
What is dead can never die …
We can view the Grey King as a warped version of the Horned God. Instead of dying with the end of the harvest season, he lives through the winter, through many winters (one thousand years), his knowledge of the art of fishing allowing him to circumvent the natural cycle of nature. In fact, the Ironborn believe feasting continues even in death, when they descend to the Drowned God’s watery halls.
From a seasonal perspective, surviving the winter months is what the Grey King’s focus on fire is all about. Fire and warmth mean life. Symbolically, he was a grey winter king who made it through winter by fishing and by acquiring fire, and the warmth of a sea-dragon-goddess whom he slew. But the Damphair also tells us that Nagga’s fire was extinguished by the Storm God after the Grey King’s death:
The Storm God drowned Nagga’s fire after the Grey King’s death, the chairs and tapestries had been stolen, the roof and walls had rotted away. Even the Grey King’s great throne of fangs had been swallowed by the sea. Only Nagga’s bones endured to remind the ironborn of all the wonder that had been. ACOK, The Drowned Man
It appears a lot of the Grey King’s legacy was lost, including Nagga’s fire, his robes and tapestries of silver seaweed. Thus, if the Grey King engaged in fertility magic, this did not survive after his death. Only fishing, and his Hall made of Nagga’s bones remain. The Grey King’s teachings on building longships (ships = wind = soul) from weirwood, as well as Nagga’s bones that are speculated to be weirwood stumps, suggest he was a keeper of souls or rather someone who trapped the souls of the dead (making Nagga’s fire his thrall). A thrall is not a slave however and has certain rights. If the Grey King’s trapped souls included the spirit of winter, then we can conclude the spirit found its freedom at some point: it was released by the Storm God who destroyed the Grey King’s hall after his death. A very appropriate thing for a Storm God to do, not so?
A burning brand
It is the Drowned God, and not the Grey King, who embodies the reaving and plundering aspect of survival (paying the iron price).
A sign it is,” the priest agreed, “but from our god, not theirs. A burning brand it is, such as our people carried of old. It is the flame the Drowned God brought from the sea, and it proclaims a rising tide. It is time to hoist our sails and go forth into the world with fire and sword, as he did.“
Here, Aeron Damphair interprets the comet in terms of the flame brought by the Drowned God from the sea. Somewhere within the mythology of the Ironborn is the notion that despite his status as a drowned deity, their god managed to bring forth fire from the ocean. The burning brand does not bring the warmth the sea-dragon symbolizes. Instead, it proclaims a rising tide, that is, it is a sign that announces the coming of the tide. A high tide is necessary for launching the ships that allow the Ironborn to set sail and reave, to assault other peoples and to make off with the spoils. The Drowned God’s burning brand thus brings life to the Ironborn, not in the traditional sense of vegetation and growth but through the action of fire and sword. This ties into the famous saying, “what is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger,” which is acted out during the baptismal drowning ritual of the Ironborn. Death is denied its rightful claim (what is dead may never die), the metaphorical fire of reaving granting an extended lease on life instead (but rises again, harder and stronger). The Ironborn myth and ritual is another version of a phoenix rising, transformed by fire and steel to live another day.
The driftwood crown worn by the Grey King and following Driftwood Kings are a variation on the horned god’s antler headdress, while the tradition of replacing the driftwood crown of a deceased king with a new one reflects the stag’s shedding and regrowth of its headgear. This is also the horned lord aspect of the Grey King, the one reflected in their doctrine of what is dead can never die.
Finally, let us look again at “paying the iron price” and see how it relates to the above.
The narrative cites two important facts about iron:
- Together with bronze, iron is a metal of winter, dark and strong to fight against the cold.
- Iron keeps the vengeful spirits of the Kings of Winter in their tombs.
Paying the iron price is another way of fighting the cold by obtaining food (and riches) through raiding; essentially this also translates to taking a victim’s life to secure one’s own.
In other words, those sacrificed by way of the iron sword pay the price
for Ironborn survival during the winter. At the same time, the vengeful revenants of those killed for this unholy purpose are kept at bay by the iron swords they are slain with. Quite monstrous, is it not? Weaving (“gowns and tapestries”) may have ended with the Grey King’s death but it was replaced by Reaving, which serves just as well.
The following passage not only relates reaving to harvesting grain, it also underpins my interpretation of paying the iron price above.
And when battle was joined upon the shores, mighty kings and famous warriors fell before the reavers like wheat before a scythe, in such numbers that the men of the green lands told each other that the ironborn were demons risen from some watery hell, protected by fell sorceries and possessed of foul black weapons that drank the very souls of those they slew. TWOIAF, The Seven Kingdoms, The Iron Islands.
Though difficult to prove, I believe the history of the Iron Kings, beginning with Urron Greyiron Redhand, is the key to the theme of paying the iron price. He brought the era of Driftwood Kings to an end by slaughtering thirteen rock and salt Driftwood Kings gathered for a kingsmoot at the Grey King’s hall. Nagga’s ribs were said to have run red with their blood. Nagga’s ribs are more likely to be the stumps of fossilized weirwood trees however, so the implication is clear – the unfortunate kings and priests slain that day must have been a sacrifice to the weirwood, their kingsblood watering the trees. In return, the Ironborn are protected from the vengeful souls of those they slay and can continue to reap their blood-soaked harvest with impunity.
Seems to me the Ironborn have accumulated a lot of debts with their very special approach to harvesting without sowing. Theon is the gift of the gods or the promised prince that gets to pay for it all.
As sea-faring reavers, the Ironborn are keepers of souls. This should be clear both from the analysis and from the passage regarding the swords that drink the souls of the slain. Unlike Stannis who lacks the fleet representative of the soul, the Ironborn are famous for their fleet, the Iron Fleet, and symbolically keep the souls of their victims locked up in their iron swords. Also, wasn’t Daenerys badly in need of ships? When the storm that raged on the night of her birth destroyed her father’s fleet, it symbolically destroyed the soul of winter she needs as well. But no worries, the Ironborn have plenty of souls in store and there’s a fleet on its way. Victarion is coming to the rescue ;-). By now it should be clear why the next book is titled “The Winds of Winter.” We’re talking about the very Soul of the one and only legitimate King of Winter here.
The Ironborn link to the Starks
There are many connections between the Ironborn and the Starks suggesting they share a common ancestral origin. Theon’s role as ward and foster child of the Starks, his ensuing identity crisis, and the fact that he shares a name with Theon the Hungry Wolf, a King of Winter who raised his own fleet
to wage war on Andalos across the Narrow Sea, are some of the signs pointing in this direction. Note also the reference to food, or the lack of it, in Hungry; in fact, King Theon was named the Hungry Wolf because he was thin and gaunt. He may mirror the Grey King who taught the Ironborn how to build ships. Recall also that while the Starks are the wolves of Winterfell, or the wolves of the North, Ironborn reavers are known as the wolves of the sea and that both folk are linked to skinchanging ability.
Could it be that the Grey King of the Ironborn was a man of ancient Stark ancestry, who having lived through the trepidations of the Long Night, decided that neither he nor the folk that followed him should ever again experience the hunger and starvation they were subjected to during the generation long winter known as the Long Night? He so named himself king and turned to the sea, which if one knows how to harness, is a more reliable means of sustenance than the land in times of drought, famine or indeed, winter. Recall the Grey King lived after the Long Night, during the Age of Heroes. By deciding to abscond and no longer perform his duty as a horned lord of winter, the Grey King essentially betrays the season itself. Being a false king of winter, he is also subject to the curse of the Barrow King, becoming grey and corpselike as a punishment for cheating death itself.
In summary, my analysis of the Grey King and Drowned God’s call to reaving proposes their tactics for surviving winter can be viewed as a means to sustaining life. As the horned lord of winter who defies death, the king cheats on the mother goddess and interferes with the seasonal cycle by extending the winter.
But Ironborn keep the land option open as well. They have two consorts: the salt wife, or symbolic goddess of the sea and the rock wife, symbolic goddess of the fields. With their rock wives, they acknowledge the rightful dominion of the mother goddess over the earth. The salt wife, taken as a thrall, represents the Maiden who is coerced into acting as the consort that ensures the bounty of the sea. When you consider all this in terms of fertility and the seasons, it becomes clear why the Grey King took a mermaid to wife. She symbolizes the sea and it is from her that the prosperity of the Grey King’s reign flowed.
The Toad of Malignant Aspect
On the Isle of Toads can be found an ancient idol, a greasy black stone crudely carved into the semblance of a gigantic toad of malignant aspect, some forty feet high. The people of this isle are believed by some to be descended from those who carved the Toad Stone, for there is an unpleasant fishlike aspect to their faces, and many have webbed hands and feet. If so, they are the sole surviving remnant of this forgotten race.
The World of Ice and Fire
The toad of malignant aspect becomes less mysterious when you consider the symbolism of frogs and toads in general. Their numerous offspring and the association of these amphibians with water make them important symbols of fertility and regeneration. In ancient Egypt, the flooding of the Nile so crucial to agriculture was accompanied by the appearance of millions of frogs that continued to thrive in the bogs after the waters had receded. It’s not difficult to see how they became symbols of abundance. In Mesoamerica, a goddess who took the form of a toad was worshipped as the patron of childbirth and fertility. The Aztecs saw the toad as the earth-mother goddess, an all-powerful deity who presided over the endless cycle of death and rebirth. She embodied both destructive and regenerative forces of nature. As if that’s not enough, frogs were thought to be rain-spirits and were used in rituals to evoke rain. In India we even find a curious ritual involving the actual marriage of two frogs. This wedding between two frogs is performed in honour of the rain god Indra in a bid to bring on the monsoon rains.
Could ancient people have raised a gigantic toad in a desperate attempt to invoke life-giving waters from the sky? And what is the toad’s connection with the Seastone Chair, carved in the shape of a kraken, also of oily black stone? I’m currently still investigating this. The toad of malignant aspect seems, well, malignant. I think this toad is synonymous with the crone, she who brings an end to the life cycle to make way for the new. Only as a malignant crone, she just might not make way for positive new beginnings, instead being perhaps a symbol of vengeance. Her presence on the Basilisk Isles from which the infamous Basilisk venom stems must be a clue to her significance. The Kraken Seastone Chair, used by the Grim Reaper of Pyke as a throne, suggests the Kraken is masculine, and I suspect the Kraken can be viewed as a consort to the Toad.
The Black Goat of Qohor
Qohor worships a black goat and he is a god of death:
Half a hundred gods came with them, but there is one god all of them shared in common.”
“Him of Many Faces.”
“And many names,” the kindly man had said. “In Qohor he is the Black Goat, in Yi Ti the Lion of Night, in Westeros the Stranger.
AFFC, Cat of the Canals
This reveals the black goat as another version of the dark aspect of the Horned God, the goat itself being a horned creature. He is a particularly bloodthirsty god, requiring daily sacrifices for appeasement. Calves, bullocks, horses, condemned criminals and even high-born children are offered up to him. Perhaps this god actually hears the prayers and accepts the offerings of his people, for Qohor boasts a vast forest that has never been fully explored. It yields rare and prized furs (hunting), as well as tin, silver and amber. There are numerous animals, elk and deer, wolves, tree cats, boars and monstrous spotted bears and even a species of Lemur, otherwise found only in Sothoryos and the Summer Isles. Because of their silver-white fur and purple eyes, these lemurs are known as Little Valyrians. The existence of this species of monkey here further emphasizes Qohor’s status as an abode of the Horned Lord of Darkness because the lemur is a nocturnal animal, the name lemur itself stemming from the Greek lemure, meaning ghost or spirit. And as a reminder, the dark horned lord is very much associated with the dark depths of the forest.
Qohor is famous for the art of weaving (recall weaving merwives) and for its exquisite tapestries, which are as fine as those from Myr. It is also the home to the secret of reworking Valyrian steel, an art lost to the world after the Doom of Valyria and one requiring human sacrifice as well.
Isn’t it strange that a death god should be so heavily associated with life? Though the people of Qohor are not reavers or plunderers, the theme of a perpetual god of death, one who never appears to experience appropriate seasonal death, is in evidence. No wonder the great forest that teems with life must be sustained with heavy sacrifice.
By now you’ve probably guessed that the goat is another symbol of fertility. Both sexes are associated with sexuality and fertility. The male is viewed as the epitome of potency and creative energy while the female embodies feminine generative power and abundance. The he-goat is associated with lewdness and thought of as lust personified. The animal is an attribute of Dionysus, Pan and the satyrs, the latter two of which are portrayed with goat’s legs. Its appearance also recalls the lustful centaurs of Greek mythology. At the Roman Lupercalia, a naked man dressed in goat-skins and carrying goat-skin thongs ritually whipped women who put themselves in his way, this being another form of fertility magic.
As a sacrificial animal, archaic peoples also used the goat to carry away the sins of the community. It was thus used as a sin-offering, in other words, as a scape-goat for the sins of mankind. In Christianity, the scapegoat is symbolic of Christ suffering for and bearing the sins of the world. Paradoxically, the goat is also a symbol of the devil and in the Bible, is an object of the worship of false gods. The image of Baphomet drawn by Eliphas Lévi’ in 1854 portrays a goat with a torch between the horns. The image has a complex history and is often used as a representation of Satan, though this was denied by Aleister Crowley, who adopted the image and asserted that, “SATAN, is not the enemy of Man, but He who made Gods of our race, knowing Good and Evil;” He bade ‘Know Thyself!’ In Crowley’s view, Satan is Life and Love. I do not really want to expand on Baphomet here, except to point out that the author has probably incorporated this into the novels, in the form of the Black Goat and of Ser Alliser Thorne (Aleister
So, what’s up with the Black Goat of Qohor? Well, we have Vargo Hoat of the Brave Companions / Bloody Mummers as a leading clue to the Black Goat of Qohor. Vargo wore a goat-headed helm, a coat of arms featuring the Black Goat of Qohor, and he hailed from Qohor. He was a pretty nasty piece of work. Hoat even rhymes with Goat. His Bloody Mummers comprised criminals and outcasts from all over the world, including a Dothraki and the chainless maester Qyburn. He played two sides of the game of thrones, working first for the Lannisters and then for Lord Bolton. One of his main tasks was foraging, a job that encompassed relieving the commoners of their harvest, amongst other diabolical things (note the similarity to Ironborn reaving here). In the context of a fertility god with multiple allegiances, we can understand how the Black Goat of Qohor is able to survive all seasons! Hoat worked for the Lannisters (summer) and for the Boltons, who as northerners, are associated with the winter. One goat serving two seasons. Recall the riddle Arya is presented with:
“A riddle!” Shagwell would shout gleefully. “If Lord Bolton’s goat eats the men who fed Lord Lannister’s goat, how many goats are there?”
“One,” Arya said when he asked her.
“Now there’s a weasel clever as a goat!” the fool tittered.
A weasel as clever as a goat, hm? This places Arya in the realm of death and that she is.
Vargo Hoat brutally slices off Jamie Lannister’s hand; indeed, he is renowned for slicing off hands and feet, left, right and center. The exact significance of this still eludes me somewhat but his enthusiasm for this practice and the frequency with which it occurs is reminiscent of the daily sacrifices required by the great Goat God himself.
In lieu of a sensible explanation for the hands and feet, I do suspect the Black Goat particularly enjoys male genitals as a form of sacrifice. Varys shared with Tyrion the chilling tale of his emasculation, where his privates were cut off by a sorcerer and sacrificed to an unknown deity. Tyrion happens to be connected to the idea of cutting off manhood, which is then
fed to the goats:
Shagga will go with the boyman, and if the boyman lies, Shagga will chop off his manhood—
“—and feed it to the goats, yes,” Tyrion said wearily. “Shagga, I give you my word as a Lannister, I will return.
This is the horse of Shagga son of Dolf,” he roared at the stableboy. “If he doesn’t give her back, chop off his manhood and feed it to the goats,” Tyrion promised. “Provided you can find some.
Shagga, cut off his manhood (Grandmaester Pycelle’s) and feed it to the goats.”
Shagga hefted the huge doublebladed axe. “There are no goats, Halfman.”
This exchange always occurs between Tyrion and Shagga, son of Dolf, of the Mountain Clans of the Moon, not to be confused with the mountain clans of the North. One cannot help noticing another implied connection here: mountain clans of both regions, Shagga, reminding us of Rickon’s direwolf Shaggydog, and Dolf, which if you exchange the D for a W, becomes Wolf. Well, Vargo did serve both the Southron Lannisters and the northern Bolton’s did he not? This string of clues suggests feeding manhood to the goats is a practice associated with northern domains, or with winter. We should therefore distinguish it from the sorcerous burning of manhood of Varys’ story, which occurred in Essos.
So, let’s look at the Unsullied, those soldiers now bound to Daenerys (from the south, Essos). They also had their manhoods removed, root and stem. We learn from Grey Worm on whose alter their precious parts were burned:
Worship,” Grey Worm said, “this one and his brothers beg your leave to bathe in the salt sea when our work here is done, that we might be purified according to the laws of our great goddess.”
The queen had not known that the eunuchs had a goddess of their own. “Who is this goddess? One of the gods of Ghis?”
Grey Worm looked troubled. “The goddess is called by many names. She is the Lady of Spears, the Bride of Battle, the Mother of Hosts, but her true name belongs only to these poor ones who have burned their manhoods upon her altar. We may not speak of her to others. This one begs your forgiveness.”
ADWD, Daenerys VI
In this case, the male parts are dedicated to a goddess, the Lady of Spears, the Bride of Battle and the Mother of Hosts. Her names suggest she is a war goddess, which would be fitting for the Unsullied, who are trained specially for this purpose. She could also be another version of the Triple Goddess, the secrecy surrounding her reminiscent of that attribute of the Déanic crone: She Whose Name has not been spoken in this world.
One can’t help associating Daenerys herself with the goddess in question. Whatever the case, if the Black Goat of Qohor indeed represents a death god who has managed to circumvent the seasons, then this god is likely androgynous. Like the goat whose fertility aspect is celebrated in both the male and the female sex, the Black Goat must be both male and female, one who can fertilize him or herself to ensure the prosperity of the land (this also relates to dragons, who can be male or female, depending). Considering Qohor’s fertile forests that abound in game; we can detect both floral and faunal aspects of fertility here. We can also infer that the goat’s female aspect is probably linked to hunting and war, (faunal – Bride of Spears and Battle = Diana, Artemis, goddesses of the hunt, the wild etc.), leaving the male aspect as that which enhances the fertility of the land. Indeed, Tyrion, who is linked to the feeding of manhood, I repeat, feeding as opposed to burning, promises the Mountain Clans the Vale of Arryn, which, next to the Reach and the Riverlands, can be regarded as one of the corn-baskets of Westeros. I shall take this one step further – Tyrion, who frequently suggests feeding manhood to the goats, can be viewed as the aspect of the Black Goat that accepts sacrifices to promote vegetation. Remember also that Vargo Hoat’s service to both the North and the South, to winter and to summer, supports this dual interpretation.
Hoat becomes Lord of Harrenhal, a position he refuses to give up even after his men flee from the wrath of Tywin Lannister. It not only reminds us of the arrogance of Ironborn Harren the Black who thought he was safe in self-same castle, it also connects the Black Goat with the Ironborn and with my analysis of the Grey King’s refusal to die as he should. In the end, Gregor the Mountain cuts off Hoat’s hands and feet, one by one, bandaging them up to prolong the goats suffering. And the goat does suffer before he dies, a scapegoat of the magical forces that manipulate the seasons. His demise is necessary because all dark magic influencing the unnatural seasons on the planet must be eliminated before the end-game begins. Notice that the possession of Harrenhal by both Lannister and Bolton suggests the castle is symbolic of both summer and winter; that it is cursed suggests the associated seasons are cursed as well, leading us to the logical conclusion that Harrenhal is probably a symbol of both a summer and a winter extreme, i.e. a Long Summer and a Long Winter.
This North/South/Bolton/Tywin polarity also explains why Tywin Lannister who is symbolic of summer, becomes the Lion of Night – his symbolic wrath is born when his summer heir (Jamie + his golden hand) is taken away from him. By the same token, Daenerys, in her aspect as the Bride of Spears, Battle and the Mother of Hosts, and moon of Drogo’s life, is really the hunting deity who gets cheesed off when winter is not given its due. Confusing? Think about it.
The practice of offering manhood to the gods as a means of enhancing fertility is recorded in our annals as well. The Dieri of Australia for instance stockpiled foreskins taken from youths at circumcision for use in ceremonial rites carried out to invoke rain. Once used, the foreskins lost their power and were buried.
Having been initiated and trained at arms in Astapor, the Unsullied served and were loyal to the Harpy, whom we can view as a goddess of sorts. They now serve another female power, Daenerys, and despite attaining freedom, continue to be bound to her. The ritual offering of burnt manhood to a goddess may therefore represent a binding covenant or “marriage” to the deity in question and reminds me of the biblical King David, who paid Saul a dowry of 200 Philistine foreskins in order to obtain Saul’s daughter Michel as his wife. The theme of eunuchs in service to a female-dominated social order is also found in the female warrior-culture of Kayakayanaya, Samyriana and Bayasabhad. Though ruled by so-called Great Fathers, the women of these cities are trained in the arts of war from childhood. 90% of boys born are gelded upon reaching manhood and as eunuchs, serve their cities as priests, scribes, servants, farmers and craftsmen. Only the most promising males are allowed to breed and become Great Fathers in turn. Gender roles are inversed these societies, the philosophy behind it grounded in the belief that only those who give birth are permitted to take life at will. Though the wildlings do not practice ritual gelding, their spearwives’ standing in the community echoes the theme and indeed, is implied by Ygritte, who assures Jon that a man can own a woman or a man can own a knife, but no man can own both.
I personally believe this practice of emasculation originated as a result of oppression and aggression against women, with the female members of a few societies striking back to reclaim their rightful role and authority as “mother goddesses” and nurtures of life. The theme is related to the union of the horned god and mother goddess, a relationship that should be balanced and lived on equal terms, or one in which the horned god’s authority derives from the sovereignty of the goddess herself. Many of the sections previously discussed show a definite disregard for the female aspect and in the narrative, the theme of male aggression or abuse towards women is readily apparent. Daenerys’ command of an army of sexually impotent obedient eunuchs, the spearwives ability to defend themselves and the warrior-women of Essos all represent groups of females who not only stand up to male aggression but even destroy the very essence of that which defines a man – the phallus, the source of strength and potency. This is the secret behind the burning of male genitals upon the alter of the goddess and it stands in contrast to the feeding of the goat with male parts. Feeding manhood to the goats implies a bodily assimilation of male attributes and is a metaphor for total identification with masculinity in its extreme form. The wild tribes of the Mountain Clans of the Moon fully embrace this principle.
To conclude, I must point out that Daenerys is the liberating factor in this quagmire of symbolism, the main point being that she grants the Unsullied the freedom to choose to follow her or not. Prior to this, they were bound in slavery to the Harpy. Their manhoods were burnt on alter of this malevolent “Harpy goddess,” whom we may even view as a consort to the Black Goat of Qohor; it was the Harpy’s Unsullied who successfully defended Qohor and the Black Goat from the Dothraki horde seeking to sack the city. Feeding manhood to the goats and burning manhood on the alter of the Bride of Battle, an interesting topic indeed!
The Old Man of the River
The Old Man of the River is a sacred turtle god of the Rhoynar. He is consort to the Mother Rhoyne, the river from which their bounty flowed. Here we have another example of the sacred fertility marriage, this time involving a turtle god and a river goddess. Note that the turtle is both horned and old – an old man of the river. The Rhoynar certainly engaged in fertility magic. In fact, the World Book tell us so:
Even more crucially, it is said the Rhoynish water witches knew secret spells that made dry streams flow again and deserts bloom.
TWOIAF, Ancient History, Ten Thousand Ships
We’ve seen that water witches are none other than Patchface’s merwives who weave gowns of silver seaweed in the place that is always summer under the sea. We know now that weaving gowns of silver seaweed alludes to women with the ability to manipulate water and light to make crops grow, a skill I believe originated with the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea.
This suggests the Rhoynar, like the Ironborn, implemented magic that influenced not only the weather, but probably had an effect on seasonal change as well. Water turtles are reptiles that generally enjoy long lives, though they do not live as long their terrestrial counterpart, the tortoise. Armoured with resilient shells (carapace), they are symbols of persistence, endurance and protection. Indeed, a turtle shield was part of a Rhoynish warrior’s attire:
The Rhoynish warrior with his silver-scaled armor, fish-head helm, tall spear, and turtle-shell shield was esteemed and feared by all those who faced him in battle. TWOIAF
The turtle is thus not only a consort to the Mother, he is also her shield and protector. Ser Barristan the Bold of the Kingsguard can be thought of as a turtle. Despite his age, he still deserves his title and he has served as a protector of royalty for his entire adult life. After his dismissal from the Kingsguard, he seeks out Daenerys Targaryen, our Mother Goddess in waiting, now to serve as a protective shield to a monarch he deems worthy. In keeping with the fertility theme, Barristan of House Selmy hails from Harvest Hall, the vicinity of which boasts more arable land than most regions of the Stormlands.
The turtle is a protector of the Mother Goddess, symbolized in this case by the Rhoyne. Though the Rhoynar are connected to the river, they are also linked to the Sun, as evidenced by the Martell sigil which combines the Rhoynish sun with the Martell spear. The Rhoynar enjoyed the benefits of both the fire element (the sun) and water (the Rhoyne), these two elements being the driving force of fertility on earth – warmth and water – and of their civilization. At the end of the day, the turtle god failed to protect his consort. The merry weather folk were destroyed by the Valyrians. It began with the Valyrians netting and eating one of the sacred turtle consorts of the Mother, an act tantamount to killing the Mother’s protector and an event which led to several Turtle Wars. Garin the Great, whose name is somehow reminiscent of Garth the Green, united the princes of the Rhoyne to wage war against the Volanteens/Valyrians but ultimately failed. Only Nymeria and the people she gathered on her 10,000 ships escaped the carnage and subsequent enslavement by the Valyrian Freehold. Her long journey finally ended in Dorne, in Westeros, where she banded with House Martell to form House Nymeros Martell. Nymeria evidently left the water-witches behind, because she certainly did not make the Dornish desert bloom. In fact, her arrival, subsequent joining with House Martell and the ensuing wars against other Houses of the region watered the Dornish desert with blood instead. With the exception of the Orphans of the Greenblood, the Rhoynar left their water heritage behind, symbolized also by Nymeria’s burning of their ships, to embrace life in a desert land. From what we’ve learned of the symbolism of ships as representing the soul, Nymeria is also guilty of destroying souls. The soul in question here is the soul of the water god or turtle and Dorne indeed remains a hot, dry and arid place.
Even though Rhoynish immigrants are numerically insignificant in comparison to the First Men and the Andals, they seem important enough to warrant a mention in the title of the King of Westeros:
King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.
That the Rhoynar had mastered agriculture is evident. Without it, they could never have established such fabulous cities as Chroyane. They were well versed in the art of working iron (important also in the context of trapping souls), obviously excelled at architecture and ship-construction and probably had extensive knowledge of other subjects as well. In this respect they may have even outdone the Valyrians of that age, but their water magic proved no match for the fire power of their aggressors. The World Book does not reveal what the Valyrians gained by destroying the Rhoynish civilization. We can guess. My bet is the magical genetic heritage of the Rhoynar, the power of their water-witches to manipulate water, which makes sense in the context of maintaining long summers. The latter is a feature of the Valyrians, you’ll recall.
That the Rhoynar heavily engaged in fertility or seasonal magic is further suggested by their End of Long Night myth which differs from the hero-based tales of other cultures – in their version, a turtle god and crab god end their bickering to sing a song that brought back the light of day. This really translates to two rival horned gods putting aside their differences to make peace. Garin the Great bit off more than he could chew. Nymeria had warned him against war but neither he nor the other warrior princes would listen. The Valyrians cracked his turtle shield, exterminating them, well, with the exception of Nymeria and the Orphans of the Greenblood, of course. Greenblood? Those who kept up the traditions of the Rhonynar and still look upon the Mother River as their mother are those with green blood, the blood that still holds the power to turn the earth green and make deserts bloom.
Note that the Rhoynish/Dornish tradition of succession to the throne allows for first born females to become rulers of the kingdom, Nymeria herself formerly the Princess of Ny Sar before her flight. The Rhoynar thus appear to have been closer to the ideal of seasonal succession. Speaking of Nymeria, Garin of the Orphans of the Greenblood sheds a tiny bit of light on the turtle and crab kings:
The Old Man of the River is a lesser god,” said Garin. “He was born from Mother River too, and fought the Crab King to win dominion over all who dwell beneath the flowing waters.
AFFC, The Queenmaker
Notice that the Old Man of the River is born from the Mother Rhoyne, a circumstance echoing the idea that the horned god is born by the Mother Goddesss. Garin’s story reveals the turtle god and crab king at war, the conflict echoing the bickering of both gods in the End of Long Night legend. The Old Man of the River was victorious, over all who dwell beneath the waters, at least. It’s obvious the Crab King is symbolic of the Valyrians, whom we think came out the victors of the documented wars. I need to digress for a moment and return to Babylonian astronomy for the symbolism of the crab. The Crab is synonymous with the constellation we know as Cancer in the heavens. It symbolizes the summer-time drought. Like the adjacent Serpent it was thought to withhold the waters of heaven thus preventing any rain from falling during the hot summer months. The story of Garin the Great’s defeat by the Valyrians is really a story of how the Valyrians augmented extended their repertoire of fire magic by usurping the water magic of the Rhoynar. It is therefore very likely that the dragon is symbolic of both fire and water, the two elements that promote life on earth.
So, who dwells beneath and rules the Rhoynish waters now? It’s the Shrouded Lord of course, the Prince of Sorrows, whom some think is the vanquished Prince, Garin the Great, risen from his watery grave. Another tale holds the Shrouded Lord was a statue, woken to life by a grey woman’s kiss. This mysterious lord is also linked to the stone men (those who have greyscale). The Shrouded Lord can only represent another keeper of the soul of the season, the soul of winter in fact. The grey woman who wakes him is akin to the goddess who rebirths the horned lord in spring. Unfortunately, the Shrouded Lord is a defaced lord of death, brought to life by a grey goddess who sounds more like the crone than the maiden. Is it any wonder that a lord of death brought to life by the death crone causes grey scale or worse still, the Grey Death? But we are also told that a person capable of making him laugh will receive a boon. The boon of life? Could the Shrouded Lord’s soul experience rebirth if certain conditions are fulfilled? Does he pass on his soul to persons who make him laugh? So that these in turn stand a chance of ushering in a new season?
As if on cue, a turtle surfaces briefly after the conversation about the Shrouded Lord. Armed with our knowledge of seasonal cycles, old horned turtles, Garin the Great and corresponding seasonal rites, its plausible the Shrouded Lord is none other than a condemned Horned Lord, one who was too proud to yield or who refused to leave his post when his time was up. Overtures to the Drowned God and to Stannis are unmistakable as well (Stannis the humorless/Patchface). Connecting the Grey King with the Shrouded Lord doesn’t require stretching one’s imagination either. Haldon Halfmaester makes an interesting contribution to this topic:
The dead do not rise,” insisted Haldon Halfmaester, “and no man lives a thousand years. Yes, there is a Shrouded Lord. There have been a score of them. When one dies another takes his place. This one is a corsair from the Basilisk Islands who believed the Rhoyne would offer richer pickings than the Summer Sea.”
ADWD, Tyrion VI
The dead do rise, we know, and if the legend can be believed, the Grey King lived for a thousand years. Most interesting is that corsairs are thought of as Shrouded Lords, and that one from the Basilisk Islands believed the Rhoyne would offer richer pickings than the Summer Sea. Recall my interpretation of the toad of malignant aspect? The toad a fertility symbol? The Toad statue sits on one of these Basilisk Isles. This is a signpost to the ancient origins of the Rhoynar (and the Ironborn) and possibly to the beginnings of corrupt magic that so impacts Martin’s fantasy world. My premise is that Nymeria’s winding journey that ended in Westeros and her attempts at settlement on various isles of the Summer Sea and in Sothroyos retraces the origins of the people with green blood. Their ancient ancestors probably hailed from the ruined city of Yeen on the banks of the River Zamoyos in Sothoryos.
Still on the subject of turtles; no, I’m not done with them yet, because there are two more tit-bits I want to share with you. We’ve been through the Baratheon link to the Horned God through Garth Greenhand. With the turtle now on board, there is another connection, sadly overlooked in the past. Lady Cassana Estermont of House Estermont is the mother of Robert, Stannis and Renly. House Estermont’s seat is Greenstone, situated on an island near Cape Wrath in the Stormlands. What do you think House Estermont’s sigil depicts? You guessed it – a dark green turtle, on a pale green field.
The corrupting influence on the Baratheon horned lords likely stems from their turtle inheritance:
The dank and dismal fortnight Cersei spent at Greenstone, the seat of House Estermont, was the longest of her young life. Jaime dubbed the castle “Greenshit” at first sight, and soon had Cersei doing it too. Elsewise she passed her days watching her royal husband hawk, hunt, and drink with his uncles, and bludgeon various male cousins senseless in Greenshit’s yard.
AFFC, Cersei V
Greenshit is a reference to the stink of corruption associated with magically induced growing seasons that last beyond the normal growth cycle and is a hallmark of both Robert, Renly and the Lannisters. Like a true horned lord, Robert spends his time proving his strength by besting his male cousins by day and demonstrating his virility by bedding his female cousin at night. Jamie confirms Cersei’s suspicions regarding his infidelity, but she does not want him dead:
When her brother returned he asked her if she wanted Robert dead. “No,” she had replied, “I want him horned.” AFFC, Cersei V
Clever choice of phrasing by George that symbolizes Robert’s horned god role and his death all in one. Greenshit ties into the notion of a Rotten Summer presided over by a whoremongering king, one who is not faithful to his wife. The latter is not faithful either, their marriage as rotten and corrupt as the unnatural summer they preside over. It also recalls the birdshit that rains down the rafters when doves are released from the pie of affluence at Joffery’ wedding.
Later in the story, Doran Martell punishes those involved in the plot to crown Myrcella queen. Arianne’s good friend, young Spotted Sylva Santagar, is married off to the aged Lord Eldon of Estermont. Doesn’t this remind us of Walder Frey’s love of honey and the extension of seasons by unnatural means? Greenshit is synonymous with a rotten summer.
Next in line is another protective turtle, the one built by Mance Rayder and his army of Free Folk for their attack on the Night’s Watch.
The wildlings had skinned one of the dead mammoths during the night, and they were lashing the raw bloody hide over the turtle’s roof, one more layer on top of the sheepskins and pelts. The turtle had a rounded top and eight huge wheels, and under the hides was a stout wooden frame. When the wildlings had begun knocking it together, Satin thought they were building a ship. Not far wrong. The turtle was a hull turned upside down and opened fore and aft; a longhall on wheels. ASOS, Jon
The turtle’s distinguishing feature is the layer of bloody skins covering the frame which prove flame- resistant to the fiery arrows raining upon the contraption. For a while, the wildlings within are safe and continue to maneuver the contraption towards the gates. Jon solves this problem by hurling down the closest thing to a boulder that he can find – barrels containing gravel and frozen water. The implication is evident. If the turtle is a representation of a rotten season of summer, then the only antidote to this is frozen water, or the Others, those champions of winter who must forcibly end prolonged summer seasons.
The front of the turtle is crushed and the wildlings flee. Mance Rayder obviously knew what he was doing, so the use of bloody skins as fire-proofing is interesting. It makes me wonder if one practical purpose of the flaying practiced by the Boltons involved using the skins of their victims as a kind of fire-resistant suit or as a protection against high temperatures. Fire-resistance is certainly relevant to the vampirish associations surrounding the Leech Lord (vampires being susceptible to sunlight, giving the notion of a fire-retardant outer skin credibility). Fire-resistance is something the Others would also appreciate. But I digress. I have some ideas on this which require a little more investigation.
Before the battle, Jon surveys Mance’s camp with the help of Maester Aemon’s myrish eye. He sees Dalla, and the turtle that is being built and thinks to himself:
Dalla looked so big it was a wonder she could move. The child must be coming very soon, Jon thought. He swiveled the eye east and searched amongst the tents and trees till he found the turtle. That will be coming very soon as well.
Notice how the turtle parallels the child in the citation – both will be coming very soon. Is the child “a turtle,” in the sense of his genetic heritage? A “turtle” like the Old Man of the River, horned god to the Mother Rhoyne? Could Mance or Dalla be “turtles?” Mance is another horned lord archetype. He may not wear an antlered helm but his tent is crowned by a massive set of antlers once belonging to an elk. Like the Horned Lord of millennia past, he is a king-beyond-the-wall, aka a king of ice and snow. It is Dalla who reminds Mance of the ancient Horned Lord’s warning about sorcery:
It was Dalla who answered him, Dalla great with child, lying on her pile of furs beside the brazier. “We free folk know things you kneelers have forgotten. Sometimes the short road is not the safest, Jon Snow. The Horned Lord once said that sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.“
The plot thickens when we consider Ramsay’s famous Pink Letter in which he claims to have captured Rayder and the spearwives accompanying him:
I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.
Does this not remind you of that other “turtle,” Garin the Great, hung by the Valyrians in a golden cage to witness the enslavement of his people? How about the warm cloak made from the skins of six whores? Well, recall the three trebuchets built to rain fire and rocks upon Stannis’ fleet at the Battle of the Blackwater? They were named the Three Whores. The Three Whores fling more than fire; Joffrey is particularly eager to take his turn at operating them:
The Whores are yours.” It was a good a time as any; flinging more firepots down onto burning ships seemed pointless. Joff had the Antler Men trussed up naked in the square below, antlers nailed to their heads. ACOK, Tyrion XIII
There’s a good mix of symbolism going on here. Joffery is just about as diabolical in nature as Ramsay. He is also a summer version of the horned lord. The firepot-flinging Three Whores
mirror the skins of six whores, sewn into a cloak that keeps Mance warm. The naked Antler Men allude to a skinning and to Mance himself, whose tent bears great antlers. They also allude to horned gods of course, and are thrown into a river on fire, the Battle itself a reminder of Garin’s war, in which hundreds of thousands drowned and burned at the Rhoyne. The Antler Men are a group of rich traders, merchants and craftsmen who armed several hundred followers with the intention of seizing the Old Gate to admit Stannis’ army into the city. They named themselves after the crowned stag. Sending them to Stannis by hurling them into the burning waters also links them to the Shrouded Lord. In fact, the Antler Men symbolically become Shrouded Lords when they drown in the waters of the Blackwater Rush.
Someone should tell them that Stannis changed his sigil. Then they can be the Hot Hearts.” Among the names on the list was the master armorer Salloreon. “I suppose this means I won’t be getting that terrifying helm with the demon horns,” Tyrion complained as he scrawled the order for the man’s arrest.
ACOK, Tyrion XI
Of interest is master armourer Salloreon’s presence on the list of Antler Men. He is in an older man who, having mastered the art of working iron, is symbolic of the Rhoynar. If we put this in the context of horned lords and seasonal cycles, then the Antler Men’s switch of allegiance from the black crowned stag of Robert Baratheon to the “hot hearted shrunken stag” of Stannis, represents a change in seasonal commitment by the ancient horned lord figure. He was formerly associated with an abundance of water and sunlight is now a symbol of all who dwell beneath the waters (Deep Ones, Drowned God) and shadow (Shrouded Lord / Blackwater / murky fog). Tyrion’s remark also underscores this imagery: he won’t be getting that terrifying helm with demon horns because along with the Antler Men, the demon horns go to Stannis. But Tyrion got something else from the master armourer and his fellow smiths – the massive chain built as a boom to trap Stannis’ fleet on the river. The chain, we know, is a symbol of slavery, practiced most avidly by the Valyrians and the Ghiscari. This chain or boom causes Stannis’ doom on the Blackwater – note the implication here. How is slavery, represented by the boom, linked to the Doom of Valyria or even to the demise of the ancient Ghiscari? Actually, the answer probably lies in the exploitation and enslavement of the Mother Goddess, a circumstance that can only lead to destruction and to doom, in the end.
The Corn-Wolf-Spirit of Winterfell
The North comprises about a third of the realm, its climate and topography making it far less fertile than the regions of southern Westeros. Winters are harsh and summer snow isn’t uncommon.
Thanks to its natural hot springs, Winterfell is an oasis of life in the cold climate of the North. The Starks have made good use of the springs, building structures to conduct the hot waters throughout the walls to heat the entire castle. The godswood and its central heart tree also benefited from the hot springs, as did the glass gardens, where trees, flowers and fruits thrived all year round. According to Sansa, it was always like the hottest day of summer inside the glass gardens. Coming to think of it, I wonder if lemon trees grew there as well? Sansa did love her lemon cakes, which she must have grown to love even before moving to King’s Landing.
Back at the Wall, Jon thinks Castle Black could use its own glass gardens to grow vegetables even in the depth of winter. Sensible thought. Indeed, because food becomes scarce come winter, many northern folk travel to the winter town outside Winterfell to secure their survival during the cold period. With its benefits of water, warmth and growth, Winterfell can certainly be regarded as a fertile spot within the North.
While a scientific mind would say the castle resides over a site of geothermal activity, the smallfolk of Winterfell believe the hot springs are heated by the breath of a dragon that sleeps beneath the castle. We find this notion of dragons beneath the castle in Mushroom’s Testimony as well. He claims the dragon Vermax left a clutch of six eggs in the depths of Winterfell’s crypts when Targaryen representatives came to treat with Cregan Stark at the start of the Dance of the Dragons. We have no proof of these tales, but the smallfolk’s notion strikes a chord because it echoes the Grey King, who slew a sea dragon, making its fire his thrall for the purpose of warming his hall.
The question arises if the Starks, who once held the title Kings of Winter, are the true kings of winter in the seasonal sense – do they represent the horned lord who does his duty, the one who is sacrificed when summer/autumn ends to be reborn in spring? And how do we figure this out?
There are no explicit signs of Starks being horned lords but their association with direwolves link them to the hunt, which is a domain of the horned lord and of the maiden of the triple goddess. Wolf-blooded Brandon and Lyanna, spoken of as centaurs because of their riding skills, draw our attention to horses and further to stallions, which via the constellations, are linked to the horned lord. Centaurs generally had an awful reputation in Greek mythology. They were wild, unpredictable and lustful, known especially for raping and violating women. I’ve already identified Khal Drogo as the Stallion (horned lord) of the South; it is also easy to see how the Dothraki horselords and their primitive culture relate to the wild centaurs of ancient Greece. Wolf-blooded Brandon and Lyanna weren’t lacking in temperament either.
Nevertheless, there was a different centaur known as Cheiron or Chiron (Greek: hand), noted for his skill in healing, astrology and teaching. He was also considered the wisest and most just amongst his brethren. Unlike his wild brothers of doubtful repute, Chiron was an intelligent civilized centaur, his origins and appearance demonstrating his superior status and heritage (Chiron’s fore-legs were human rather than equine). It’s interesting that Chiron translates to hand, the context directing us to Eddard Stark, Hand of the King, himself linked to the horned lord via his dear friend Robert. I think Chiron is a legitimate representation of Ned, who differs from his hot-headed brother and “centaur” Brandon. He is also very different from those other “centaurs,” the horselords and Stallions of the Dothraki Sea. As we know, Robert and Ned loved each other as brothers, and despite falling out over Robert’s desire to assassinate Daenerys, they reconciled on Robert’s deathbed.
Though not related by blood (not that we know of), this brotherhood between Robert and Ned leads me to propose a tetrad of horned lords
represented by Robert, Renly, Stannis and Ned Stark. In this model, Ned mirrors Chrion, the civilized centaur whose origins differ from the rest of his relations.
In this tetrad, Robert and Renly respectively symbolize faunal and vegetational aspects of life, while Stannis is linked to winter. It’s apparent that the author has split the horned lord of life into two separate entities, so perhaps he has done so with the horned lord of death (winter) as well. However, like the Grey King, Stannis is also connected to the sea and I have already shown that he lacks the wind or the soul. Meanwhile, it is the Ironborn who possess the wind or the soul through their association with the burning brand brought from the sea by the Drowned God (see the section on the Grey King). As we have seen, the burning brand is a representation of life and a symbolic extension of the summer season.
It sounds complicated but in terms of the split horned lord, we can break this down to the following:
Robert Baratheon = faunal aspect; the wild, the hunt, sexual vigor, war
Renly Baratheon = vegetational aspect, growth, water
Grey King / Drowned God / Ironborn = fire and black iron, the fleet, keepers of the soul
Stannis Baratheon = the dispossessed horned lord, associated with winter, death and the lack of a soul.
What then is Ned’s role in the tetrad brotherhood? Strict logic is required here. If Robert and Renly are two parts of the season of life, then Stannis and Ned must be the two representatives of the season of death. Ned is Stannis’ opposite number but unlike the shadow king, Ned is a keeper of souls, symbolized by the Kings of Winter whose souls are bound
by the iron swords lain across their laps in the Crypts. Notice that the souls of winter, i.e. the spirit of winter, is captured here in the hall of the dead; the vengeful spirits are not permitted to leave the tomb. So, it would seem the Starks are involved in the conspiracy to prevent the soul from rising again and indeed, this testifies to Bran the Builder’s role in fortifying Storm’s End to the extent that the wind could not penetrate the castle.
On closer examination and from a different perspective, keeping a wrathful wind out and vengeful spirits locked up suggests both Bran the Builder and the Starks took precautionary measures by keeping these spirits at bay. Since we are talking about the spirit of winter, it seems likely that these self-same spirts, if released, might serve to revive or empower the White Walkers, whose presence is accompanied by an intense and lengthy winter and by the apparent intention to destroy all life.
The true horned lord?
Upon further consideration of the tetrad Brotherhood, it becomes evident that unlike Robert and Renly, and especially Stannis, Ned and Winterfell personify all aspects that promote life. In fact, if it were not for the issue of imprisoned winter spirits, Ned (and possibly his male ancestors) probably represent the horned god as he was meant to be. The family name Stark which means strong, is a sure indicator and signpost to the traditional horned god who must embody strength in all its facets.
The parallel between Ned and Chiron, who both differ from their “brothers,” is another clue to this possibility. That Winterfell is an oasis of life is the most obvious connection to the horned god’s profile. There’s the geothermal heat that fuels the hot springs which warm the castle and the Glass Gardens. The latter, though insignificant in comparison to mass cultivation, symbolize growth and the green of the earth. In fact, all smallfolk of the North who populate the winter town benefit from Winterfell’s unique topography and life-promoting features. Winterfell’s profile thus includes both the warmth and the water required by all living things. Having brought five healthy children into the world, both Ned and Catelyn are models of fertility and unlike Robert, Ned proves his virility without fathering a string of bastards. In addition to this, there is the Wolfswood which stretches north and south from Winterfell; like other vast forests, the Wolfswood is home to a plethora of animals which are hunted as game and as such, is a domain of the horned god.
Additionally, the concept of the dying and resurrecting horned lord could be expressed by the tradition of old men of the North who claim to go hunting, never to return, and by doing so ensure their families have a little more food to survive the winter. Note here the contrast to old men like Lord Frey or the Grey King, who defy death and via their longevity, symbolize an extended season. When the old men of the North go forth into the cold to die, they promote the continuation of life. If you think about it, the Starks are pretty close to our original model, Garth the Green (on a side note, I think Garth was also flawed in one way but he’s the best example given us by the author. His flaw? Garth was not faithful to the Goddess – note here that both Ned and Jon are faithful to their respective Goddesses. So is Jamie, incidentally).
If the Starks represent the one and only horned lord who together with his consort goddess promotes life and guarantees a regular seasonal cycle, what then prevents them from carrying out their true mission? Something must have gone awry somewhere along the line. In this context, I personally believe the Red Wedding is a reenactment of a massive sacrificial ritual carried out in the past, one perpetrated by the children of the forest and certain members of the realms of men. By this act of treachery, the children not only secured peace with the First Men, they also increased the extent of available arable land to include the Riverlands, cutting off the North from the rest of the continent. Then as now, the victims of the massacre were the ancient Starks, forever banished to the North and held there on pain of death, ostensibly, to keep out winter so that down south, summer and prosperity could reign indefinitely. Look out for that essay sometime soon.
King in the North and King of the Trident: Robb Stark was not only proclaimed King in the North, he was also declared King of the Trident
by the riverlords:
The Greatjon roared out, “King in the North!” and thrust a mailed fist into the air. The river lords answered with a shout of “King of the Trident!
King of the Trident was a title used by the river kings prior to Aegon’s Conquest. Rivers include the Trident with its three forks and numerous tributaries, as well as the Blackwater Rush. The Riverlands are also home to the great God’s Eye lake with its Isle of Faces. Robb also sends Ser Cleos Frey to King’s Landing with a peace offer that includes claims to the lands watered by the Trident and its tributaries, bounded by the Golden Tooth to the west and the Mountains of the Moon to the east. Besides the link to winter, this is one of the more obvious signs connecting the Starks to growth and life. By allowing himself to be declared King of the Trident, Robb symbolically becomes a king of summer and the growing season as well.
At the same time, Robb’s march south is problematic because by doing this, he leaves his northern post vulnerable and exposed. In fact, he leaves Winterfell in the hands of his brother Bran, a crippled child who personifies weakness, certainly none of the strength attributed to the horned lord. Robb not only goes against the credo that there must always be a Stark in Winterfell (think of this also as there must always be strength in Winterfell), symbolically, his absence puts a Fisher King archetype in charge. In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King is the keeper of the Holy Grail but is wounded in the legs or groin and becomes incapable of performing his duties. He is also impotent and unable to father descendants who might take over his duties in the future. His kingdom suffers as a result, and so does the land, which becomes a barren wasteland on account of his infertility. This is essentially what happens to Winterfell under Bran’s watch. Himself a crippled child, Winterfell’s strength is further compromised its loss of fighting men, most of whom joined Robb’s war effort. The castle is first captured by Theon Greyjoy and later sacked and burned by the treacherous Bastard of Bolton. Like the Fisher King’s kingdom, Winterfell becomes a barren wasteland, the glass gardens smashed and the internal piping system conveying the hot water that was the life-blood of the castle destroyed. In this context, I like to think of the “sleeping dragon” believed by the smallfolk to reside beneath Winterfell and the great winged snake seen by Bran while warged into Summer as symbolic of the Fisher King’s Holy Grail:
The smoke and ash clouded his eyes, and in the sky he saw a great winged snake whose roar was a river of flame. He bared his teeth, but then the snake was gone. Behind the cliffs tall fires were eating up the stars.
There have been debates on whether or not this is a sighting of a real dragon leaving Winterfell. Maybe, maybe not. The sky was heavy with smoke, and with fires burning all around, it may well have been a mirage of sorts. I think this dragon alludes to the warmth leaving Winterfell, the breath of the dragon synonymous with life. It is at once a river (water) and flame. Rather than a real dragon, it is a metaphor for the departure of the castle’s life force, that is, the departure of the mother goddess and Holy Grail. The dragon as the mother goddess also fits in with the scientific version of heat generated by geothermal forces deep within the bowels of the earth. The earth goddess and Holy Grail is to be found elsewhere in Winterfell as well: in the Glass Gardens, that oasis of fertility and home to Lyanna’s very feminine blue winter roses.
One can’t get over the feeling that the author plays around with the word Robb. Note the emphasis on the double b. Indeed, Robb robbed Winterfell of it’s strength at a crucial point in time and as Osha notes even before Robb marches, to combat the real enemy, he should have been heading North, not south. As King of the Trident, he also fights on behalf of the South (of the Riverlands), or in seasonal terms, of the summer, but that is not his job.
Interestingly, Robb Stark shares his first name with only one other character in the books – Robb Reyne a knight of House Reyne who fought on the side of the Blackfyres during the First Blackfyre Rebellion. Considering the above, both Robbs can be said to have fought for the wrong side, Robb Reyne fighting on the side of the Blackfyres alluding to the role of a would-be throne-robber or usurper. Like Robb Stark, the Reyne’s were victims of Tywin Lannister’s wroth and policy of total annihilation. The entire family met their demise by drowning within their own halls, the event immortalized in the song “The Rains of Castamere.” Recall also, that it rained incessantly in the Riverlands, before and during the Red Wedding.
Remember also that Robb’s direwolf was named Grey Wind. Having already talked at length about the significance of the wind, it should be obvious that Robb and his direwolf were keepers of the spirit of winter. The Riverlands are really the last place they should have been. In fact, as his arc progresses, Robb appears to distance himself from his wolf more and more. Catelyn notices this and makes inquires time and again:
The wolf. The wolf is not here. Where is Grey Wind? She knew the direwolf had returned with Robb, she had heard the dogs, but he was not in the hall, not at her son’s side where he belonged.
ASOS, Catelyn II
As they started up the steps, Catelyn asked the question that had been troubling her since she entered the hall. “Robb, where is Grey Wind?”
“In the yard, with a haunch of mutton. I told the kennelmaster to see that he was fed.”
“You always kept him with you before.”
“A hall is no place for a wolf. He gets restless, you’ve seen. Growling and snapping. I should never have taken him into battle with me. He’s killed too many men to fear them now. Jeyne’s anxious around him, and he terrifies her mother.”
ASOS, Catelyn II
And there’s the heart of it, Catelyn thought. “He is part of you, Robb. To fear him is to fear you.”
ASOS, Catelyn II
Robb begins to banish Grey Wind from his side after his marriage to Jeyne Westerling. Despite the wolf’s obvious loyalty and worth, Robb begins to see his wolf as too aggressive and also cites Jeyne’s and her mother’s anxiety as reason enough to pen him up or relegate him to the yard. The TV-show’s portrayal of “Jeyne” as a woman of Volantis also testifies to Robb’s departure from the winter, for she stems from a region of warmth, where summer always prevails. Catelyn continues to impress the importance of the direwolves upon her son, but he won’t listen.
“Any man Grey Wind mislikes is a man I do not want close to you. These wolves are more than wolves, Robb. You must know that. I think perhaps the gods sent them to us. Your father’s gods, the old gods of the north. ASOS, Catelyn II
In the end, Grey Wolf is not at Robb’s side during the wedding feast that would culminate in the infamous Red Wedding massacre. Man and direwolf are killed, leaving the spirit of winter loose in an alien land, far away from the Crypts of Winterfell, and unbound. Where is the spirit of winter, we wonder? One theory-crafter on the asoiaf forums suggested that Robb’s spirit transferred itself to his mother Catelyn in the moment of her death and that it is this spirit that animates Lady Stoneheart and fuels her thirst for vengeance. The writer received a lot of criticism for his theory, but I think he argued his case very well and do see the idea as a real possibility.
As Catelyn poignantly points out to Robb: “He is part of you, Robb. To fear him is to fear you,” and “these wolves are more than wolves,” the horned lord of winter and the direwolf are an inseparable pair. On the surface, they make for great hunting partners, but wheras the regular hunter usually employs a whole pack of hunting dogs, the unique horned lords of winter make do with one direwolf, itself loyal and worth a dozen hounds. As Grey Wind’s name suggests, the direwolf is the symbolic receptacle of a spirit. Indeed, because the Starks are wargs, both man and wolf are vessels for the spirit of winter. As keepers of the winter spirit, the Starks have devised at least two ways to keep the spirit safe: by way of the iron swords on the tombs of the Kings of Winter in the Crypts and through the ability to warg. In the event of any danger to his soul, a warg can easily transfer it to his direwolf and should his body expire, the soul of winter will merge with that of the wolf and so be granted a second life, or another lease on life. But besides the hunting aspect, why did the author choose the wolf as an alternative vessel for the spirit of winter? Again, the answer can be found in ancient fertility customs, in this case, the belief in the wolf as a manifestation of the spirit of the grain. Symbolically, Robb never attained the Spirit of Summer and when he lost the North, the Spirit of Winter was lost as well.
The Corn-Spirit and the Wolf
First of all, what is the corn-spirit? The corn-spirit is related to the deity whose life, death and resurrection embodies the growth cycle of plants. The corn-spirit is defined by James Frazer in The Golden Bough as “conceived in human or animal form, and the last standing corn is part of its body—its neck, its head, or its tail.”
In European culture especially, the spirt of the corn (or of vegetation) was thought to have existed in the grain itself and could take the form of a human, pig, cock, dog, cow, bull, hare, cat, fox, horse or wolf. The spirit as a wolf was common in Germany, France and the Slavic regions of Europe. For instance, it was believed the wolf or dog went through the corn when the wind rippled through the fields. If a real wolf was spotted in the fields, he was observed with apprehension because the way the wolf carried its tail was thought to influence the success of the crop. A tail dragging on the ground indicated fertilization of the field, but when wolf held his tail high, crop failure was sure to follow.
During the harvest season, the person who reaped, threshed or bound the last sheaf of corn was regarded as representative of the corn-spirit. This special wolf, known as the Corn-Wolf or Rye-Wolf, depending on the grain, was also invoked as a kind of boogie-man by mothers seeking to prevent their children from playing in the fields. At harvest time, all participating did their utmost to avoid being the last in reaping, threshing or binding the corn. Nobody wanted to be the last to reap. In some communities, the last reaper, binder or thresher represented the animal itself and the people of the next farm, who were still engaged in threshing would catch him and treat him like the animal he represented. So, for example, the last reaper would be confined to a pigsty and treated as one of the pigs.
In other regions, the last person to reap the corn was thought to kill or strike down the wolf of the harvest and so the last sheaf was thoroughly beaten to drive out the wolf. Sometimes, a man dressed up in threshed straw and led by a chain was the wolf. He represented the corn-spirit that had been caught trying to escape the from the grain. Often, a wolf shape was fashioned from the last sheaf and kept for a time. In the case of human representatives of the corn-spirit, strangers who happened by a field at harvest time were caught, identified as the spirit of the corn and sacrificed accordingly on the field. In a milder form of this ritual, a mock slaying of this last reaper was carried out.
What was the purpose of treating the corn-wolf in such a derogatory manner? Mishandling the wolf-spirit representative was a means to drive him out of the grain so that he would come back in spring to renew the growth of corn with his spirit.
Perhaps you have already discovered why I have included this excerpt on the corn-spirit in relation to the Starks. Look closely and you will find a few parallels to the family that we love most and who have suffered so much in the narrative. Further, I’m certain the author has conflated all facts on corn-spirits in general to suit his narrative. Allow me to remind you that my analysis centers around fertility themes and customs as an aide to deciphering the finer points of the back story. What then can we discover from this excursion into anthropology?
Well, let’s consider the Starks as the wolf-spirit of the corn. Besides their association with direwolves, the most obvious indication that George Martin may have designated them as Corn-Wolves is the so- called wolf-blood. Not all Starks share this genetic inheritance but those who do often meet early deaths because of it.
Ah, Arya. You have a wildness in you, child. ‘The wolf blood,’ my father used to call it. Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother Brandon more than a touch. It brought them both to an early grave.
AGOt, Arya II
In a parallel to the peasants of old who because of its negative connotations, tried to avoid being the corn-wolf, Ned suggests that having wolf-blood is not really a good thing, in fact, it brings death. The aspect of human sacrifice in relation to corn-spirits brings Brandon Stark to mind. He had the wolf-blood and was killed by Aerys the Mad King. The manner of his demise evokes the idea of a last reaper, caught and treated like the animal he represents: Brandon was fitted with a contraption, a strangling device from Tyrosh, with a sword just out of his reach. Visualize this and you must realize that Brandon would have been on all fours to even attempt to reach the sword. The strangling device was a collar fitted around his neck, one that tightened every time he tried to reach the sword to save his dad. In short, Brandon was reduced to a dog, or rather, to a wolf, his treatment mirroring the practice of peasants who caught the last reaper, reducing his status to the corn-spirit animal he represented. Notice also the fact that Brandon the wolf-man tries to save his father, who is Lord of Winterfell and symbolic keeper of the wolf-spirit, but he cannot reach the sword, which has also been presented to us as a drinker of souls in both the Ironborn story and the legend of Nissa Nissa.
What happens to Lord Rickard’s spirit is unclear because unlike Melisandre’s victims who die in a conflagration, Rickard suffers a slow and excruciating death. Our attention is also drawn to his golden spurs which melt and drip to the ground. Spurs on the boots serve to urge a horse forward and are considered by some to be necessary to riding. Melting spurs could thus be a metaphor for no longer being able to ride in the Dothraki sense. Recall also the melted gold that kills Viserys in this context. I personally think these clues indicate that Lord Rickard’s spirit of winter is destroyed by the entire proceeding devised by Aerys. Perhaps his spirit was not the true spirit of winter?
Theon Greyjoy is similarly reduced to the status of a dog by Ramsay Bolton. He is “rewarded” with this status for betraying his own folk, the Ironmen holding Moat Cailin, and henceforth gets to live with Ramsay’s hunting dogs, his “girls,” in the kennels – to sleep with them and fight with them over food.
The saying “there must always be a Stark in Winterfell,” and the fact that most Starks who ventured south met untimely deaths is also related to the idea of a corn-wolf that must be eradicated. In analogy, the region of summer and growth (the south) would then naturally do away with the corn-spirit-wolf. And so Aerys eliminates Rickard and Brandon, while a Lannister, symbolic of summer, gets rid of Ned Stark. In the Riverlands, Lannister, Frey and Bolton do away with Robb Stark. On a side note, I believe the Boltons are in reality, the policing party, those whose duty it is to keep tabs on the wolf-spirit and eliminate it when it presents itself in the last sheaf of corn.
Another analogy to the wolf-spirit can be found in Arya’s arc when Hot Pie gives her bread in the form of a direwolf, echoing the idea of creating a wolf-shape from the last sheaf of corn. In keeping with the tradition, wolf-blooded Arya then represents the corn-wolf. But she does not keep it. She eats it instead, which is equivalent to destroying the corn spirit so that it can return to the grain in spring.
Like Theon whose disloyalty eventually leads to his being reduced to a dog, Sansa is initially of dubious loyalty, and she loses her wolf early in the game, her protector in King’s Landing now Sandor Clegane, the Hound. While Theon is later faced with the question of his identity and is torn between his Ironborn inheritance and Stark foster family, Sansa is blinded by the splendor of King’s Landing, Queen consort Cersei and her puppy love for Joffery. Like Theon’s identity crisis, this conflict between the splendor of the royal court and her own less spectacular origins in the North prompt her to be disloyal to her own family. The Hound himself forswears his oath to Joffery, leaving his position as the King’s sworn sword in favour of protecting the she-wolves, first Sansa and then Arya. What is it we learn from Haggon?
Dogs were the easiest beasts to bond with; they lived so close to men that they were almost human. Slipping into a dog’s skin was like putting on an old boot, its leather softened by wear. As a boot was shaped to accept a foot, a dog was shaped to accept a collar, even a collar no human eye could see.
Wolves were harder. A man might befriend a wolf, even break a wolf, but no man could truly tame a wolf. “Wolves and women wed for life,” Haggon often said. “You take one, that’s a marriage. The wolf is part of you from that day on, and you’re part of him. Both of you will change.” ADWD, Prologue
So, there is a positive side to the corn-wolf. Dogs might be easy to bond with and as the Hound indicates, will remain loyal to a certain extent. But if treated badly or if they experience a conflict of conscience, dogs will switch loyalty. The wolf on the other hand is bound to its human counterpart, is loyal for life. In that sense, the wolf is monogamous, and the wedding is a permanent institution that cannot be broken. In analogy, a wolf-spirit of winter is the only one that can be relied upon to remain true, to not switch allegiance. It is the only spirit that cannot be corrupted and thus represents the true spirit of the horned lord. Rather like the dragons, who are bound to their human counterparts for as long as the human survives. That direwolves are bound even in death is suggested by the direwolves that sit at the foot of the statues of the Kings of Winter in the Crypts of Winterfell.
Last but not least, the corn-wolf-spirit evokes Jon’s direwolf Ghost. He appears to be the epitome of wolf-spirits. Varamyr certainly thinks so:
He had known what Snow was the moment he saw that great white direwolf stalking silent at his side. One skinchanger can always sense another. Mance should have let me take the direwolf. There would be a second life worthy of a king.
Looking at Jon Snow in terms of the corn-wolf-spirit and the life worthy of a king suggests Lord Snow is a true King of Winter. When I say King of Winter, I mean the king, horned lord and loyal wolf-corn-spirit, in fact a loyal consort to the Goddess, associated with a true death and resurrection to renew the life cycle in spring. Jon Snow is the only true king of winter in thousands of years. Unlike his ancestors in the Crypts of Winterfell whose spirits are bound within the confines of their tombs by the iron swords laid on the laps of their effigies, Lord Snow (not Ice, but Snow), is the dying and resurrecting lord in every sense of the word. We do expect him to rise in the books as well, don’t we?
With their spirits bound, those Kings of Winter have never been reincarnated to produce a regular spring. Perhaps they are vengeful because of this, denied their right to reincarnate. This is the reason why Jon senses their disapproval in his dreams of the Crypts. They know this will change with Jon Snow and his loyal wolf-spirit when he is resurrected from death. Additionally, this corn-wolf won’t be switching allegiances or making off with the next best offer of prolonging summer or autumn. He is a corn-wolf who will see to it that spring returns. This is the significance of Jon’s death and resurrection, otherwise known as the song of Ice, though perhaps, the song that melts ice would be a more fitting name.
On a side note, Daenerys and Melisandre demonstrate the importance of releasing souls from their bodily chains so that they can be reborn another day. Melisandre does this every time she sacrifices a person to the flames. Daenerys demonstrates this in no uncertain terms by burning a king, Khal Drogo, the Stallion himself, to release his soul into the Nightlands, where he can take his place amongst the stars, to be reborn in the Moonmaid, the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess, that aspect concerned with rebirth, growth, and spring.
The Flaying Boltons
Every great lord has unruly bannermen who envy him his place. My father had the Reynes and the Tarbecks, the Tyrells have the Florents, Hoster Tully had Walder Frey. Only strength keeps such men in their place. The moment they smell weakness …. during the Age of Heroes, the Boltons used to flay the Starks and wear their skins as cloaks.
ASOS, Jamie VII
On the surface, linking the Boltons to fertility may seem odd, or taking Roose’s dead babes into account, even improbable. Yet the Bolton’s also engage in agriculture and in the North, it is known they are well provisioned.
I know the Dreadfort. It is a strong castle, all of stone, with thick walls and massive towers. With winter coming you will find it well provisioned. Centuries ago, House Bolton rose up against the King in the North, and Harlon Stark laid siege to the Dreadfort. It took him two years to starve them out.
Holding out under siege for two years is a long time. I don’t recall Stannis’ garrison at Dragonstone lasting that long before acute food shortages set in. There is also a hint that they may take advantage of other people’s food supplies, though not quite in the manner of the Ironborn: when the Boltons stop at Barrowton on the way to Winterfell, they eat their way through Lady Dustin’s stores, thus saving their own supplies. Note the contrast to the Starks, who provide for many settlers of the winter town during the cold spell.
One the most conspicuous traits of the Boltons is their tradition of flaying, something they have been doing for thousands of years. The practice seems to be confined to them alone, for no other House in Westeros engages in this barbarous custom. It’s been forbidden as well but despite this, Ramsay Bolton carries on with impunity. Unless I have missed something, the only other place where flaying is practiced is in Astapor and I’ll come back to that further down.
Flaying as a means to promote growth
Would it surprise you to learn that the flaying of human victims was practiced in connection with fertility rites by the Aztecs of Mesoamerica? In Aztec religion, Xipe Totec was a life, death and rebirth deity of the kind we have become familiar with. His name translates to Our Lord the Flayed One and his domains included agriculture, vegetation, spring, the east, disease and the seasons. He was also the god of gold- and silversmiths. His worshippers believed he invented war and he was also known as a god of liberation. His aliases include the “Red Smoking Mirror” and “The Night Drinker.” As a fertility god, Xipe Totec flayed himself to provide humanity with food, the flaying being symbolic of snakes shedding their skin and of the corn seed that loses its outer skin prior to germination. It was also thought he caused eye-infections, rashes, pimples, blisters and generally, diseases affecting the skin. Statues portrayed him painted in shades of yellow and without his skin, he was presented as a golden god.
During the annual festival of of Xipe Totec, many slaves and captives were sacrificed to the god. After cutting out their hearts, the body was carefully flayed to produce a whole skin. In an impersonation of the god, the new skin was then worn by the priests for the following twenty days of fertility rituals. Wearing the skin of a flayed captive represented the fresh green that covered the land after the rains. By the end of this period the flayed skin was rotting and the priests that now emerged from it symbolized the renewal of the seasons. Once the festival was over, the skins were placed in air-tight containers to prevent the stench of purification escaping, then stored in a chamber beneath the temple.
We are given no background to the flaying practice of the Boltons. On the surface, it appears to be an ancient tradition of preserved from the time of their First Men ancestors, wherever they came from. Numerous examples in our history also show it was a method of torture. To determine if flaying could have been related to fertility rites in ancient times in our story, we must consider mentions of the practice in the narrative.
Boltons flaying Stark princes and wearing their skin as cloaks is the first point of interest. As shown in the previous section, the corn-wolf that is symbolic of the Starks is connected to the death and the rebirth of vegetation and to seasonal change; Winterfell itself an oasis of life in the harsh climate of the North. Viewed in this light, Boltons wearing Stark skins could reflect a desire to emulate this condition and ultimately usurp that fertile oasis for themselves. I’ll get back to this theme of impersonation further down.
A change of scene to Astapor reveals flaying as a method for torturing recalcitrant slaves. As witnessed by Dany, the poor wretches are displayed in the Plaza of Punishment:
Instead they (the Unsullied) had been assembled in the Plaza of Punishment, fronting on Astapor’s main gate, so they might be marched directly from the city once Daenerys had taken them in hand. There were no bronze statues here; only a wooden platform where rebellious slaves were racked, and flayed, and hanged. ASOS, Daenerys III
ASOS, Daenerys III
Then she rode her silver nearer and saw the raw red flesh beneath the crawling black stripes. Flies. Flies and maggots. The rebellious slaves had been peeled like a man might peel an apple, in a long curling strip.
ASOS, Daenerys III
In keeping with the fertility theme, note how the flaying style is compared to the peeling of an apple, a fruit of the earth. Could the flaying of slaves be a left-over relic from a time when flaying was employed in fertility rituals?
When Daenerys meets Kraznys for the first time in the previous chapter, the first thing she notices are his breasts:
Kraznys mo Nakloz bobbed his head. He smelled as if he’d bathed in raspberries, this slaver, and his jutting red-black beard glistened with oil. He has larger breasts than I do, Dany reflected. She could see them through the thin sea-green silk of the gold-fringed tokar he wound about his body and over one shoulder.
ASOS, Daenerys II
Notice how effeminate Kranznys comes across, smelling of raspberries and possessed of breasts, larger than Dany’s. His sea-green silk and gold-fringed tokar mirror the colours associated with growth – green for vegetation and gold for sunlight. Just before meeting the man, the dragon queen enters the Plaza of Pride with its central dominating Harpy:
In the center of the Plaza of Pride stood a red brick fountain whose waters smelled of brimstone, and in the center of the fountain a monstrous harpy made of hammered bronze. Twenty feet tall she reared. She had a woman’s face, with gilded hair, ivory eyes, and pointed ivory teeth. Water gushed yellow from her heavy breasts. But in place of arms she had the wings of a bat or a dragon, her legs were the legs of an eagle, and behind she wore a scorpion’s curled and venomous tail.
ASOS, Daenerys II
The yellow water gushing from the heavy breasts of the Harpy can only be meant to represent milk, a mother’s milk; smelling of brimstone, the waters are anything but sweet. In this context, her venomous scorpion’s tail invites us to view her as a toxic entity, oozing poisonous milk, recalling also the Darkstar of Dorne’s statement: “I was weaned on venom,” and Oberyn Martell, who used to milk the local vipers. I also see a connection to Catelyn’s sister Lysa, an emotionally unstable woman who saw enemies everywhere and who suckled her child way beyond weaning age. The link becomes clearer when one considers that Lysa’s milk had a calming effect on Sweetrobin and that after her death, sweetsleep, a dangerous poison, was administered to him to induce the calming effect. Sweetrobin receives so many doses of sweetsleep that his maester worries about giving him more, but the boy appears to tolerate the poison quite well. Could it be that he was weaned on venom? Lysa herself poisoned her husband with the “tears of Lys,” which we note is a name very close to her own. In biology, the term lysis means to dissolve or loosen and generally refers to the breaking down of the membrane of a cell, often by viral, enzymic, or osmotic mechanisms, leading to cell destruction. Indeed some toxins exhibit this mode of action, with cell lysis progressing to a point where an entire organ is destroyed. A warped line of thought, I admit, but these clues do suggest an anti-fertility theme that may lead back to the Boltons.
The Harpy is anything but motherly however, every representation of her suggesting she is an emblem of vengeance (the thunderbolt, the manacles and chains, the whip in the form of a harpy). After all my research on the subject and investigation within the books, my premise is the harpy represents a mother goddess desecrated and dishonoured, one full of hate and vengeance, determined to inflict on mankind the horrors she experienced herself. Her milk no longer nourishes the earth, but gushes from her breasts, foul with brimstone. Our vengeful mother of Ghis mirrors the harpies of Greek mythology. Also known as ministers of the Thunderer (Zeus), Ovid described them as human vultures. The Harpy of Old Ghis was said to bear a thunderbolt. Half bird, half human with a woman’s head, harpies were variously depicted as ugly or beautiful maidens. Being swift flyers, they also personified destructive wind spirits and as cruel and violent agents of punishment, they were especially famed for snatching food from their victims and for torturing them on the way to Tartarus. If the Harpy is meant to represent a fertility goddess, then she is a very warped version of the original, and for all we know, like Xipe Totec, she may have required and still requires sacrifices of flayed skin to ensure her bounty.
Parallels between Xipe Totec, the cities of Slaver’s Bay and the Boltons
- Just for the record, all of the above are linked to flaying.
- Pyramids: like the Aztecs, the Ghiscari are known for their pyramidal structures. The god Xipe Totec had a temple called Yopico within the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan, a pyramid complex situated in Mexico City.
- Astapor is the Red City, made of bricks and blood. Could be a nod at the Boltons, who were known as Red Kings in their bloody past. Ramsay’s red stallion is named Blood. With its Harpy gushing milk, Astapor might also be linked to the female equivalent of Xipe-Totec. She was the agricultural goddess Chicomecoatl, her effigy painted in red.
- Yunkai is the Yellow City, possibly referencing Xipe Totec, whose body was painted yellow and tan; the flayed skin covering him was coloured yellowish grey and he carried a yellow shield. Astapori guards wear cloaks of yellow silk, while the Yunkai wear deep yellow linen.
- The bronze harpy could be a variation on the Aztec god whose flayed image was depicted as golden. In the show, the Harpy of Ghis is golden.
- The Dreadfort’s triangular merlons that look like sharp stone teeth could be a signpost to the Harpy’s pointed ivory teeth.
- Xipe causes eye-diseases: Both Roose and Ramsay have distinctive eyes which seem somehow unnatural. Ramsay has eyes like chips of dirty ice. Roose accepted Ramsay as his son because of those eyes. Roose’s eyes are paler than stone and darker than milk, strange, like two white moons. There’s also a link to skin disease via Chett of the Night Watch (the guy who plotted LC Mormont’s assassination). I’ll leave you to read up on Chett in the prologue to a Storm of Swords. There you will find distinct parallels between Chett and the Boltons. Chett’s face is a mass of boils.
- The Hounds of Zeus: Harpies went by another name as well, “the hounds of Zeus,” the hounds a possible link to Ramsay’s hounds, who like the harpies, are female. Readers will know that Ramsay reincarnates the unfortunate women he hunts in his bitches, naming his “girls” after victims who give him “good sport” during the hunt. Imagining the spirits of women thus desecrated becoming vengeful and turning on their master isn’t difficult. There could be a parallel between Ramsay’s victims and the harpy, who I am certain is a vengeful woman. Significant of course, is that Ramsay becomes the “girls'” dinner in the TV-series.
- Ramsay’s lips are described by Theon as “two worms fucking,” which may seem trivial, but maybe not, because Astapor is located at the mouth of a stream called the Worm.
- In the fighting pits of Astapor, children are pitched against animals, including bulls and bears, which reminds me of Ramsay’s sport, where young women are essentially pitted against his hounds.
The last noteworthy point concerns the hair styles of the Ghiscari. They are famous for fashioning their red and black hair into horns, wings, blades, grasping hands and other fantastic shapes.
When Dany turned to look, a third of Astapor’s proud demon-horned warriors were fighting to stay atop their terrified mounts, and another third were fleeing in a bright blaze of shiny copper.
I’ve talked about the Black Goat of Qohor and its connection to the Horned God above and believe that the horned hair styles of the Ghiscari symbolize no less. Recall the historic event that links Astapor to Qohor: the stoic defense of Qohor by the Unsullied who successfully stood against a Dothraki horde. One realm of demonic horned lords defending another? Then there is the emasculation of the Unsullied of Astapor and the link between this practice and the offering of manhood to the Black Goat as discussed previously. The Black Goat leads us to that other goat, Vargo Hoat who of course served Lord Bolton. As you may have noticed, it’s only possible to approach this subject through intermediaries.
So, are the Boltons linked to the horned lord in any way? Well, Ramsay certainly is. He becomes the horned god of the North when he forcibly weds the widowed Lady Donella Hornwood and acquires the title “Lord of the Hornwood.” The Hornwood sigil portrays a moose, an antlered animal of the deer family, not to be confused with the elk, which is smaller. Like the Baratheon stag, the moose can be considered a symbol of the horned god. The Hornwood words are “Righteous in Wrath,” this alone harking back to my proposed theme of violated women and suggesting also future consequences of Ramsay’s treatment of Lady Hornwood, whom he left to starve to death. Significant is that Lady Hornwood considered herself well past child-bearing age. She was a widowed older woman with a grown son. Lady Hornwood can thus be classified as a crone, the aspect of the goddess concerned with endings, with death and the underworld. Marrying a crone therefore translates to courting death. Ramsay appears to be a particularly counterproductive horned lord because he delights in hunting and killing youthful girls, the very maidens associated with the awakening of spring. Further, his association with hunting reinforces his image as a horned lord, the latter being associated with the wild and the hunt in general. He displays only one aspect of the god however, the aspect of the Lord of Darkness and Death. Killing young maidens as well as wedding a crone and leaving her to starve translates to destroying all life, a feature which we attribute to the Others and their army of the dead.
With his Bloody Mummers, Vargo Hoat the Goat evokes play acting or that which is the very essence of the theater: impersonation. In fact, by serving both Roose Bolton and the Lannisters, the Bloody Mummers join the ranks of characters who pose as someone else. I’m talking about Lan the Clever posing as a son of Garth, Cersei’s illegitimate children passing for Baratheon heirs, Ramsay impersonating Reek and the Boltons “impersonating” the Starks by wearing their skins. Perhaps even Tyrion’s alias, the IMP, is a bit of wordplay that reflects his image as a fool, the fool strongly linked to mummery. I would conclude that Ramsay is a false horned lord of winter strongly associated with the darkest aspect of the god. He is a Lord of Darkness whose mission is death. As an impersonator, he replaces the true lord of winter by taking not only his castle, but his place in the life cycle as well. As a false Lord of Winterfell, he usurps the rightful winter king’s role, but he cannot achieve this without the appropriate maid of winter at his side because it is the Maid that determines the season. Hence the marriage to an “heir to Winterfell,” an equally false maiden, through no fault of her own. Eyes of dirty ice. Indeed.
The Lord’s Right to the First Night
Tied to the above is the Lord’s Right to the First Night. This wasn’t invented by the author:
Under a law known as the droit du seigneur (“right of the lord”), medieval noblemen had the right to spend the first night with newly-wedded brides in their fiefdoms. The use of political power (or any exalted position in society) as a means of gaining entry into women’s beds has been with us for thousands of years.
The name of this phenomenon has changed over the years (from ius primae noctus to droit de seigneur to “the master’s obligation” to sexual harrassment), but the concept has remained the same. (Source)
The Bastard of Bolton was conceived when Roose exercised his “right to the first night,” a custom abolished and no longer practiced in the Seven Kingdoms.
In our history, this tradition goes back thousands of years and is tied to the concept that god is the source of all life and that his representatives on earth, the king or the priest, are guarantors of abundant harvests and fertility. Deflowering the bride on the night of her wedding was believed to demonstrate the couple’s fertility and by extension, ensured the prosperity of the land.
This places Roose Bolton in the role of god’s earthly representative and bridegroom to the Goddess. But wait, we have already seen he is a mere imposter, one whose ancestors bore the flayed skin of Starks, of those true Princes of the Green and of Winter. Roose’s link to fertility is personified by the woman he raped: she is the miller’s wife, the wife of a grinder of corn and thus a symbolical corn-mother. She is probably also a symbol of death because the act of grinding corn renders the grain incapable of issuing forth new life.
Roose Bolton’s assertion of his right to the first night with a miller’s wife thus identifies him as a warped green man aspect of the horned lord, while Ramsay, with his marriage to the crone (Lady Hornwood) and his focus on the hunt, embodies the faunal aspect of the dark horned god.
To answer the question in respect of the Bolton’s link to fertility, I conclude they can only be its antithesis, their very actions playing a major contributory role in the advent of the long winter otherwise known as the Long Night.
Under the Sea, Men Marry Fishes
Perhaps you’ve been wondering why I used this as a title for this essay. We’ve been through a whole list of characters as well as symbols and signs linked to the corrupting influence of fertility magic on the seasonal cycle in the narrative. Central to the theme are ancient beliefs in sacred marriages and the powers of divine earthly representatives of deities, both male and female. Horned Gods and Mother Goddesses appearing in various forms sometimes makes determining their exact roles challenging. Though I’ve concentrated on the male role in this analysis, it should be clear that the “goddesses,” play an equally important part in the seasonal theme.
With the exception of a giantess, Garth Greenhand’s female consorts are not mentioned, but it is only through his union with these unnamed females that Garth was able to share the gift of fertility with humans. It is the magic of the weaving mermaids that provides good weather for cultivation, and from the Mother Rhoyne that the prosperity of the Rhoynar flowed. Maids of field and sea ensure abundance in Pentos and we can be certain the first god-emperor of the Dawn’s one hundred wives were largely responsible for the peace and plenty of his ten-thousand-year reign. Surly, these magical women are divine earthly representatives of the Great Goddess, just as their male counterparts are the earthly incarnations of the Horned God. I believe Patchface refers to these divine representatives of the gods as “fishes.”
Gerrick has graciously agreed to give the hand of his eldest daughter to my beloved Axell, to be united by the Lord of Light in holy wedlock,” Queen Selyse said. “His other girls shall wed at the same time—the second daughter with Ser Brus Buckler and the youngest with Ser Malegorn of Redpool.”
“Sers.” Jon inclined his head to the knights in question. “May you find happiness with your betrothed.”
“Under the sea, men marry fishes.” Patchface did a little dance step, jingling his bells. “They do, they do, they do.” ADWD, Jon
Under the sea, men marry fishes. Patchface utters these words after Queen Selyse announces the betrothal of Gerrick Kingsblood’s three daughters to three of her knights. Selyse believes Gerrick is of royal blood, descended from Raymund Redbeard, a one-time king-beyond-the-wall. The blood of kings has power, in fact as god’s representative on earth, a king is divine and so are his offspring, in this case Gerrick’s daughters. Men marrying fishes thus refers to mere mortals wedding women of divine origin.
Viserys expresses this in a different way, but the essence is the same:
The line must be kept pure, Viserys had told her a thousand times; theirs was the kingsblood, the golden blood of old Valyria, the blood of the dragon. Dragons did not mate with the beasts of the field, and Targaryens did not mingle their blood with that of lesser men. Yet now Viserys schemed to sell her to a stranger, a barbarian. AGOT, Daenerys I
Valyrians of divine origin kept their blood pure and Targaryens of golden divine blood did not mate with mere mortals. Cersei has comparable thoughts when she thinks of Rhaegar:
Had any man ever been so beautiful? He was more than a man, though. His blood was the blood of old Valyria, the blood of dragons and gods.
Rhaegar was no mere mortal in Cersei’s eyes; he was more than a man, one who possessed the blood of gods. He was of divine origin.
Durran Godsgrief, hero of the legend of Storm’s End was certainly a mortal who married a divine woman. Elenei was a daughter of the gods and with a sea-god for a father, comes close to Patchface’s “fish.”
Why would George choose the fish as a representation of the divine?
Well, the fish or ichthys, is a symbol of the Christian faith. It held sacred significance for early Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire and was originally a secret symbol used by them to recognize Christian churches and fellow believers. The fish is also a symbol of the Holy Eucharist and a reference to the biblical account of the feeding of the multitude, also known as the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish. After a long day of preaching to five-thousand people, Jesus asks his disciples to feed the crowd but only five loaves of bread and two fish are available. This is no problem for the Son of God, for through his divine intervention, this food is multiplied a thousand-fold, enough to satisfy all present and more:
16 Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.
17 And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.
Luke 9:16-17 King James Version
This parable of the loaves and fishes is particularly relevant to our story because the prosperity of the land and feeding the multitude is what the union between two divine beings, the horned god and mother goddess, is all about.
In pagan traditions, the fish was also recognized as a feminine emblem of fertility and attribute of the Great Goddess. Because water embodies the flow of the Divine Mother principle, all aquatic creatures are considered aspects of the fertility and power of the female deity. Mother Rhoyne is an excellent example of a water goddess and the fish-headed helms worn by her warriors are an indication of the divine.
Other references to the divine aspect of the fish include the strange fish-headed gods worshipped by the even stranger green-skinned folk of the Thousand Islands north of Essos:
… though few in number, are a queer folk, inimical to strangers, a hairless people with green-tinged skin who file the teeth of their females into sharp points and slice the foreskins from the members of their males. TWOIAF, Beyond the Free Cities, East of Ib
Green-tinged skin, filed teeth, sliced foreskins, fish-headed gods … that should set a few bells ringing…
There’s also Nagga, a female sea-dragon, slain by the Grey King, already discussed above. She can be thought of as an epithet of the symbolic divine fish as well. Dany, mother of dragons, has little fish nibbling at her feet, loves the sea, dolphins, flying fish and even sailors, thinking how fine it would be to be a sailor. Viserys screamed at her when she told him:
You are blood of the dragon,” he had screamed at her. “A dragon, not some smelly fish.”
She isn’t a smelly fish, he was right about that. She’s a divine fish and I still believe her maternal descent can be traced back to the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea, who incidentally, were said to have been favoured by the gods.
The Tullys of Riverrun and Silver Trout heraldry belong in this group as do all the Stark children.
Oh, and Jon Snow gets a special mention regarding his status as a divine fish:
“We need a loan as well. Gold enough to keep us fed till spring. To buy food and hire ships to bring it to us.” “Spring?” Tycho sighed. “It is not possible, my lord.”
What was it Stannis had said to him? You haggle like a crone with a codfish, Lord Snow. Did Lord Eddard father you on a fishwife? Perhaps he had at that.
Over the millennia, a lust for power, greed, corruption and the desecration of the Goddess have led to disastrous seasonal patterns that threaten the existence of all life on the planet. In the quest for supremacy, men and women, mortal and divine, have been guilty of perusing their own selfish goals, to the detriment of the environment and all life within. Only the union of a divine king and queen who have proven themselves worthy can put matters right and restore the seasons to their normal cycles, but before that, the Prince that was Promised must pay back the debt of suffering caused by his forbears.
As usual, this has turned out to be much more extensive than originally intended but investigating Martin’s work tends to have that effect. Thanks for sticking it out until the finishing line and don’t forget to comment J
- Miscellaneous fertility-related mentions
- The Prince of Pentos
- Garth the Green and the Horned God
- The Triple Goddess
- The Stallion that Mounts the World
- Notes on the Faith of the Seven
- The Brothers Baratheon
- The Late Walder Frey
- The Undying of Qarth
- The Legend of Storm’s End
- The Three Sister Islands
- Fishing and Paying the Iron Price
- The Toad of Malignant Aspect
- The Black Goat of Qohor
- The Old Man of the River
- The Corn-Wolf-Spirit of Winterfell
- The Flaying Boltons
- Under the Sea, Men Marry Fishes
Featured image: Mermaid by anotherwanderer on deviantart.com
The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer (available on the web in pdf form)
Lord’s Right to the First Night (also wordplay, First Knight)
Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion