New insights into ASOIAF
George has kept the full picture behind the magic of ice and fire well hidden from view. Since the background is probably the key to figuring out many of the more difficult aspects of the story, I’ve decided to give it some attention. The focus here is on the Dawn Age and the possibility that the Emperors of the Dawn made use of a life-prolonging power and that all events, including the magic of ice and fire, are linked to the quest for immortality.
I personally believe the questions below can be answered in the affirmative and put forward several arguments based on some observations in the books that deserve looking into.
- Is the background to A Song of Ice and Fire actually based on the quest for immortality?
- Did the Emperors of the Dawn tap into powers that prolonged their lives?
There are six chapters in all – Chapter 1 is for readers who have not read the World Book. Feel free to skip that if you are familiar with the history of the Great Empire of the Dawn.
- The Great Empire of the Dawn
- The Maiden-of-Light
- The Lion of Night
- The Weaver Girl and the Fisher Queens
- Planetos and the Venus Effect
- A note on dragons
Chapter 1 – The Great Empire of the Dawn
Once upon a time, in a land far away on a distant plant, a great civilization was born. Vast was its territory, fertile its lands and ingenious it people. Stygai, the capital, was indeed splendid to behold. Palaces of exceeding beauty, noble villas, fragrant gardens and pathways of sculptured stone adorned the city, a veritable jewel on the shores of the sparkling Jade Sea. Wealthy and mighty were the rulers of this marvellous kingdom, the Great Emperors of the Dawn. Of great beauty they were, men and women alike, with hair of gold, and hair of platinum and hair of silver; their eyes, a wonder to behold, a rare purple and sometimes violet, smooth of skin, like fresh cream, unmarked and unblemished. Cloth of gold they wore and magnificent jewellery of gold and prized gemstones. Indeed, the Emperors of the Dawn named themselves after these precious stones. The first god-emperor, said to be the son of the heavenly Maiden-of-Light and Lion of Night boasted a hundred wives who carried him in a palanquin carved from a single pearl. Ten thousand years he lived, a time of peace, plenty and freedom for all. His name is lost to memory but the annals of history recall that the Pearl, Jade, Tourmaline, Onyx and Opal Emperors followed him in turn.
The Decline of the Great Empire of the Dawn
Troubling things gradually transpired during the reigns of these emperors; enemies pressed at their borders, strife developed amongst the formerly peaceful subjects, and the Emperors lost their claim to longevity, with each reign shorter than the last.
All great kingdoms fall one day and so it was with the Great Empire of the Dawn. Prideful and greedy lesser kings ruled the land, the common folk indulged in lust, murder, incest and gluttony. Slothfulness, avarice and envy overcame the people and decadence governed all. Even the royal family was not exempt from this black tide. And so it came to pass that the son of the Opal Emperor committed one of the greatest sins of all. He murdered his sister, the reigning Amethyst Princess and usurped her throne, naming himself the Bloodstone Emperor. Nothing was ever the same after the Blood Betrayal; legend and history remember this era as one of infinite horror, sorcery, necromancy and evil. The wicked emperor forsook the true gods, worshipping instead a black stone, which had fallen from the sky. He founded the sinister Church of Starry Wisdom, becoming its first High Priest. His enslaved people’s cries for mercy went unheard; instead, the Maiden-of-Light, despairing of what had become of the world, averted her eyes and turned her back on it, leaving humankind to face the wroth of the Lion of Night alone. How terrible it was!
The Long Night
A long night descended on the planet and darkness reigned for a whole generation. From north to south, a freezing winter engulfed the continents, from Westeros to Essos, and from east to west. How many died of starvation and exposure we will never know, but those trials of body and mind were a mere discomfort against the Others, mysterious and deadly entities with ice for flesh and a lust for blood. No one knows from whence they came but they brought the cold, or the cold brought them; with cold they and raised the dead, leading great armies of the slain against humanity.
Numerous legends persist amongst the folk of the planet about a warrior who finally ended the Long Night. Each culture has its own name for this hero, naming him as Azor Ahai, Hykroon the Hero, Yin Tar and Edric Shadowchaser. In the north of Westeros, a man whose name is lost to history, known only as the Last Hero, finally ended the Long Night with the help of the Children of the Forest (a small squirrel-like race said to have magical powers). A great Wall of Ice was built in the north of Westeros to guard the realms of men ever after.
An Astronomical Disaster
Since then, a great many historians, scholars, archaeologists and analysts have tried to determine the cause of the Long Night but to date, no theory explains the event quite so well as that of Lucifermeanslightbringer. After examining history and legend, he concludes that a celestial cataclysm, namely, the destruction of one of the planet’s moons by a wandering comet was responsible for long period of darkness, an endless freezing winter and the breaking of the Arm of Dorne. Just imagine the devastation! Shattered moon rock in pieces great and small, raining flaming from the sky, plunging into oceans, tearing apart towns and cities, the land itself, destroying plant and animal life alike, boiling away lakes and rivers – and lastly, bringing on a nuclear winter lasting a whole generation. What a nightmare for the people alive at the time! The irregular seasonal cycle of year-long summers and winters that characterize the planet may indeed date back to this event.
Chapter 2 – The Maiden-of-Light
The GEotD has a decidedly Far Eastern flair and as such, it’s possible that the author drew on mythological and philosophical concepts specific to this region. One does not have to search very long to find relevant tales about long-lived Emperors in various dynasties. Chinese mythology, for instance, tells of the Jade Emperor, the Heavenly Grandfather, a kind and benevolent ruler who cared for the poor, respected man and beast alike and lived for millions of years. He was the crown prince of the kingdom of Pure Felicity and Majestic Heavenly Lights and Ornaments. His title reminds us of the first god-emperor of the dawn, whose parents were the Maiden-of-Light and the Lion of Night, both ‘heavenly lights’. As a prince, he underwent numerous trails to achieve immortality, and battled and vanquished an evil entity that threatened to claim sovereignty over the universe. The Jade Emperor cultivated Tao and eventually ascended to heaven, becoming an assistant to the Divine Master of the Heavenly Origin.
This myth sounds conceivable as a template for our emperors of the dawn, but traditional Chinese story-telling offers even more clues.
The Weaver Girl
Very relevant in the context of ASOIAF is the story of The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd, which features the Jade Emperor’s daughter Zhinü. Zhinü is the Goddess Weaver, her mother the Celestial Queen Mother. Zhinü weaves the Silver River (the Milky Way), which gives light to heaven and earth. In some versions of the story, she is a seamstress, but the principle is the same. The tale is a love story but actually refers to particular stars and constellations in the sky, that of Vega in the constellation Lyra (east) and Altair in the constellation Aquila (west). Zhinü (Vega) descends from the heavens to bathe in a stream, taking off her magical robe to do so. The cowherd Niu Lang (Aquila) hides her robe so that she cannot return to the skies. The two fall in love and Zhinü stays on earth but she becomes homesick occasionally. One day she finds her robe and returns to the heavens to visit her father. The Jade Emperor, unhappy with their relationship, banishes the lovers to opposite sides of the Silver River but he allows them to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, at which time a flock of magpies form a bridge on which the two can meet.
The Jade Emperor is a likely model for the original god-emperor of the dawn, but what does the story of the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd have to do with it? Well, for one, there are many subtle clues in ASOIAF that reference two stars, specifically a morning star (or a sun) and a night star. This body of evidence deserves a closer look. We have
- The Maiden-of-Light and the Lion of Night (obviously two heavenly bodies)
- Morne, Ser Gallandon of Morne and Lord of Tarth Lord Selwyn the Evenstar, lord of Evenfall hall, both of Tarth, the Sapphire Isle
- The Sword of the Morning (a constellation and title for a knight worthy of the sword Dawn) and the Darkstar (Gerold Dayne)
- Nymeria’s star, a bright star in the Milky Way
- Reference to a ‘fallen star’ followed by the first Dayne, who found it in Dorne, forged the sword Dawn from it and built his seat, Starfall, at the location.
- The Cult of Starry Wisdom atop their scrying tower, sing to the evening stars.
- The bleeding comet appears at dawn and at dusk, like a morning and evening star.
- The blue star in the Ice Dragon (sounds like a pole star because it’s useful for navigation and finding the way north).
- References to the Milky Way via the milky band in the sky and the Milkwater River.
All these references to two stars set me on a path of investigation.
My hypothesis is that in the early days of the GEotD, a star, similar to Vega and now no longer visible (I’ll come to the why soon), emitted a special kind of cosmic energy that was harnessed and utilized by suitably talented people to heal and to prolong life.
Vega, Zhinu’s star, serves as a basic model for this life-giving star and represents the ‘Maiden-of-Light’.
It is not the only celestial body to serve as model for the ‘Maiden’, as we shall see.
Of the many facts about Vega, one of the most relevant is its location in the constellation of Lyra. Lyra represents the harp of Orpheus, and is the instrument associated with Rhaegar in our story. Vega is a blue-white star in the Milky Way that went by different names in various cultures the world over. To the ancient Assyrians, the star was known as Dayan-Same, the “Judge of Heaven”. In Akkadian it was Tir-anna, “Life of Heaven” and in Babylonian astronomy it was the “Messenger of Light”. The name Vega itself comes from the Arabic word waqi, meaning falling. Star catalogues from that era translated into Latin from Arabic refer to Vega as Vultur Cadens, meaning “the falling eagle/vulture”. All these terms bear similarities to familiar names (Dayan/Dayne, Tiranna/Tyanna, Lightbringer) in our story.
In addition, Vega emits an excess of infrared radiation, which supports the notion that our original ‘dawn star’ may have transmitted some mysterious power to Planetos. The last of the clues relating to Vega is Visenya’s she-dragon, which went by the phonetically similar name of Vhagar, named after a god of the Valyrian Empire and we know of course that the Valyrians descended from the GEotD.
By virtue of her status as a maiden, an examination of the Maiden-of-Light must extend to the constellation Virgo as well and it is here that we find a reference to Astraea, the “star-maiden” of Greek and Roman mythology. She was the goddess of innocence and purity, associated with the goddess of justice, Dike or Justitia. She is linked to a renewal of culture, poetry and literature and presided over a Golden Age. Like the Maiden-of-Light, Astraea turned her back on earth, fleeing from the wickedness and brutality of humanity, eventually ascending to heaven to become the constellation Virgo. She is often described as a winged woman, carrying a torch and the scales of justice. In some texts, she aids Zeus in battle by carrying his lightning bolts for him. In other accounts, she holds an ear of corn. In Greece, Astraea determined the fate of departed souls, deciding which went to eternal bliss or to the Underworld for later redemption.
The Star-Maiden left the world at the dawn of the iron-age and is prophesied to return, bringing with her the Golden Age, over which she will preside.
Ser Galladon of Morne
Now that we’ve established a relationship between the Maiden-of-Light and a star in the heavens, let’s have a look at another reference on our list. Brienne, who comes from the Isle of Tarth, tells Nimble Dick this tale:
Where I come from, the singers sing of Ser Galladon of Morne, the Perfect Knight.”
“Ser Gallawho of What?” He snorted. “Never heard o’ him. Why was he so bloody perfect?”
“Ser Galladon was a champion of such valor that the Maiden herself lost her heart to him. She gave him an enchanted sword as a token of her love. The Just Maid, it was called. No common sword could check her, nor any shield withstand her kiss. Ser Galladon bore the Just Maid proudly, but only thrice did he unsheathe her. He would not use the Maid against a mortal man, for she was so potent as to make any fight unfair.”
Crabb thought that was hilarious. “The Perfect Knight? The Perfect Fool, he sounds like. What’s the point o’ having some magic sword if you don’t bloody well use it?”
“Honor,” she said. “The point is honor.”
Tarth is a small island set in sparkling blue waters not far from Storm’s End, off the east coast of Westeros. History places them as descendants of the Andals but the Serwyns themselves claim their title, ‘Evenstar’ goes back to the ‘dawn of days’ which gives us the impression that they might have First Men heritage. According to the World Book, the Selwyns were once kings in their own right and Morne served as the seat for these kings until they submitted to the Storm Kings, after which subsequent Lords of Tarth moved the seat to Evenfall.
Tarth and Ser Galladon’s story are interesting in terms of our morning star/evening star imagery. The former seat Morne, was abandoned in favour of Evenfall (a morning star becoming an evening star). Ser Galladon himself was of Morne, so he must have lived at a time when Morne was still the ‘capital’ of Tarth. Even more compelling is that the Maiden (in this case the Maiden of the Seven), lost his heart to him, bestowing an enchanted sword upon him, the Just Maiden. It so happens that Astraea, our ‘Maiden-of-Light’ is associated with justice, and is even depicted carrying the scales of justice. What a coincidence! Further, Ser Galladon’s second title is ‘The Perfect Knight’, which is reminiscent of the qualities one would look for in a knight aspiring to the title of the Sword of the Morning (to be discussed shortly). Honour, another virtue dear to the Maiden-of-Light is paramount, so much so that the Perfect Knight only draws his sword against immortals who stand a chance against it. On a side note, it’s interesting Ser Gallandon slays a dragon with the Just Maid. Is there something immortal about dragons?
The Daynes, Sword of the Morning, Nymeria’s star.
The first Dayne came to Westeros before or around the time of First Man migration to Westeros. He followed a fallen star, found it, and forged the sword Dawn. A knight fit to wield this sword carries the title of ‘Sword of the Morning’, which also happens to be a constellation visible at dawn:
The eastern sky was pink near the horizon and pale grey higher up. The Sword of the Morning still hung in the south, the bright white star in its hilt blazing like a diamond in the dawn…
The constellation hangs in the south, suggesting the bright white star in its hilt is falling below the horizon. Its position also evokes the image of a ‘falling’ star.
Later there is a mention of Nymeria’s star, burning brightly in the Milky Way:
Do you see the white one, Quentyn? That is Nymeria’s star, burning bright, and that milky band behind her, those are ten thousand ships.
Nymeria of the Rhoyne finally settles in Dorne with what remains of her people. Did she follow the bright white star in the Sword of the Morning’s hilt to get there (in a parallel to the first Dayne)? Could the white star mentioned here be a reminder of the original ‘Maiden-of-Light’? This particular star is not our ‘star-maiden’ but I think GRRM has added these subtle hints to draw our attention to it and to help us connect the dots to the original star.
Another clue is Gerold Dayne, the Darkstar, who himself says he is of the evening, and serves as an opposite to Arthur Dayne, Sword of the Morning. Again, we have this shift of a morning star to an evening star.
The Fallen Star
The term ‘fallen star’ can be interpreted in several ways but before we get into that, I have to point out that the Daynes descend from the Great Empire of the Dawn. Please read Durran Durrandon’s essay on Daenarys is the Amethyst Empress Reborn for a better understanding of this idea. The Daynes arrived in Westeros long before the Valyrians of course but their distinct hair and eye-colouring also mark them as having descended from the former empire.
Was the ‘fallen star’ really a comet?
The first Dayne arrived in Westeros before the LN, a good ten thousand years ago. That he followed a falling star suggests he followed a comet visible in the atmosphere, rather as if one would follow a rainbow, but like a rainbow, a comet does not remain visible indefinitely. Your location on earth will also determine whether you will see it or not. There’s no guarantee where it will land. Additionally, a comet will pass the earth twice, once on its journey towards the sun and again on its return so it may be visible for a few weeks at a time for each encounter but not throughout its trip. As it progresses in orbit, it also tends to ‘climb’ higher in the sky rather than fall. Given the distance between the south-east of Essos and Westros, and the time it takes to travel, it’s unlikely that the first Dayne followed a comet. A journey by ship takes up to a whole year and an overland trip on horseback may have taken just as long, if not longer.
I also wonder why only one sword seems to have been forged from this wonderous material. Perhaps the fallen star was part of a meteor shower arising from asteroids from a nearby constellation. Most such meteors that land on earth are indeed small, but that would presumably make them difficult to track. Well, with so little information we cannot be sure if a comet or a meteor actually fell to the earth at that spot so I’ll offer another possible version of the fallen star.
Consider the following scenario:
The Dayne ‘followed’ the original Maiden-of-Light star for as long as it was visible just above the horizon before disappearing altogether from view. How is this possible?
The apparent position of the constellations and stars gradually change over time because the celestial poles exhibit a slow continuous circular drift against the fixed backdrop of stars. The main reason for this is the precession of the Earth’s rotational axis, which causes its orientation to change over time. One circuit is completed in approximately 26,000 years so that any given star will appear to have moved from its original position. A good example is the northern pole star, currently represented by Polaris and previously, about 12,000 years ago, by Vega. Our Maiden-of-Light then may have disappeared from view from the northern hemisphere of the planet and may have ‘hung in the south’ for a number of years before finally vanishing out of sight beneath the horizon (now visible only to people living in the southern hemisphere of the planet).
Getting back to the hypothesis of a life-prolonging force emanating from the Maiden-of-Light: the gradual ‘sinking and waning’ of the star and loss of its influence explains the successively decreasing life-spans of the emperors of the dawn, beginning with ten thousand years for the first god-emperor. After 10,000 years, each reign is reduced considerably (emperors and kings normally reigning until they die); the ‘star-maiden’ is beginning to ‘turn her back on humanity’ during her descent, approaching the horizon before vanishing for the next couple of ten grand years. Her lost influence is reflected by a reduction in life-span and negative behaviour in the population in general; besides prolonging life, the Maiden-of-Light is also a champion of justice, and an upholder of morality, and as we see, the people of the GEotD increasingly forsake ethical norms in favour of a multitude of vices.
There are a few more references to fallen stars that underscore the notion of a waning star:
She was shivering a little by the time she pushed through the weirwood door into the House of Black and White. Only a few candles burned this evening, flickering like fallen stars. In the darkness all the gods were strangers.
They could see the fire in the night, glimmering against the side of the mountain like a fallen star. It burned redder than the other stars, and did not twinkle, though sometimes it flared up bright and sometimes dwindled down to no more than a distant spark, dull and faint.
In the first quote the candles are flickering, as if about to go out. Arya relates the candles to stars and to gods. There’s also a play on the word stranger – here, the waning star gives way to darkness and death. In the second passage, the fire flares and recedes, again evoking a receding star, growing distant until barely visible.
Cersei thinks of Tywin as a fallen star
By the time they left Maegor’s Holdfast, the sky had turned a deep cobalt blue, though the stars still shone. All but one, Cersei thought. The bright star of the west has fallen, and the nights will be darker now.
One star is now missing from the sky, fallen. Here we have a direct association with dark nights, perhaps the Long dark Night that followed after the Maiden-of-Light’s departure. The colour of the sky, a deep cobalt blue, serves to remind us of the eyes of the Others.
The Children of the Forest relate their long lives to the dawn of days, a time when their ‘sun was rising’:
Before the First Men came all this land that you call Westeros was home to us, yet even in those days we were few. The gods gave us long lives but not great numbers, lest we overrun the world as deer will overrun a wood where there are no wolves to hunt them. That was in the dawn of days, when our sun was rising. Now it sinks, and this is our long dwindling. The giants are almost gone as well, they who were our bane and our brothers.
The CotF, whom we know are capable of working magic also had long lives; like the Great Emperors, they probably used to live much longer than the 200 years Leaf claims to have seen. Leaf specifically references the dawn of days, when their sun was rising. What is a sun, if not a star? Notice we have the sinking star associated with a shortening of life, perhaps even the extinction of an entire race.
Dawn, the Sword of the Morning
Legend has it that Dawn was forged from the heart of a fallen star, so the next question is, if there was no ‘fallen star’ in terms of a meteroite, where did Dawn come from? I can offer two possible explanations. The first one is simple: the first Dayne travelled with his weapons. In Dany’s dream, she sees her ancestors holding ‘pale swords of fire’, which sound similar to Dawn, so the Dayne may have taken his original sword with him.
The alternative is that the Dayne travelled with all the materials necessary to forge the sword, which he then forged at Starfall. But why would he carry materials all the way to the ‘fallen star’? Well, perhaps the star was no longer visible in Essos, perhaps he needed to be as close to the disappearing star as possible because he required the energy of the star to give the sword its special properties:
… said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.
The sword is pale as milkglass and alive with light. Alive with light from the Maiden-of-Light, a star whose light-energy is not only life-prolonging, but is useful in enhancing all kinds of things, including weapons and … morals! The sword’s description contains all the elements of our Maiden-of-Light; it is pale (as opposed to dark grey Valyrian swords), it is milky – like the Milky Way in which the star resides, it is alive with light – like the Maiden-of-Light – infused with the star-maiden’s power. The star-maiden – Judge in Heaven – Life of Heaven – Messenger of Light – Lightbringer. Our current fake Lightbringer is also ‘alive with light’. Obviously, this refers to some kind of intrinsic mystic energy within the sword, which must somehow be infused into the weapon. According to the Lightbringer forging myth, this property is supplied by Nissa Nissa (her strength, courage etc. went into the steel) and also appears to have been forged during the Long Night itself. Though we can’t be sure of the timeline, my guess is we’re dealing with two Lightbringer swords.
In any case, forging a sword was probably the main reason for the first Dayne’s journey. The fading influence of the Maiden-of-Light would have meant that the number of light-powered Dawn-like swords was limited. In a parallel to Valyrian steel swords, they might have been quite rare. I further speculate that the BSE and his cronies confiscated all Maiden-Swords because they knew of their intrinsic power and superiority, and feared it. Aegon the Conquorer’s queer practice of collecting the swords of his enemies to from to forge the Iron Throne, could be a hint at this.
Now for a bit of fun: the first god-emperor of the dawn was carried about in a palanquin carved from a single pearl, so the legend says. My guess is this ‘pearl’ was infused with the life giving property of the Maiden-of-Light. His one hundred wives, who carried the ‘pearl’ had the ability to channel the energy into the pearl, so guaranteeing him a very long life (I’ll expand on this idea later in another chapter of this essay). The ‘pearl’ mentioned here may also be of the same material from which Dawn was forged. I imagine ‘milkglass’ to be rather like mother-of-pearl in appearance.
ETA – My investigation into the pearl has progressed since writing this essay. You’ll find more insights on the pearl in relation to the Maiden-made-of-Light in this post:
The Pearl Inheritance – The Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea
Conclusion: The Maiden-of-Light was a star, visible for thousands of years to people living in the northern hemisphere of Planetos. Over time and due to axial precession, the star gradually descended from the heavens to finally vanish from view below the horizon. The star-maiden’s light emitted a spectrum of wavelength or cosmic energy, utilized by the Great Emperors of the Dawn to prolong their lives. The power of this star was also infused into metal to create weapons of superior quality. The first Dayne probably followed this sinking star in order to create the sword Dawn.
Chapter 3 – The Lion of Night
According to legend, the Lion of Night came forth after the Maiden-of-Light left the world. This implies that the Lion of Night only moved into a position of prominence via axial precession after the departure of the Maiden. Perhaps the Lion Star moved into position as the pole star, taking the Maiden’s place just as Polaris took on the pole star’s identity over Vega thousands of years ago in our skies.
That would make the Lion of Night the Ice Dragon in the narrative.
First, we need a parallel to establish the LoN as a star. What better place to start with than the constellation Leo with its main star, Regulus? Records show that the constellation has been known to astronomers since 4000 BC. It is easily recognizable in the sky, with the lion’s mane and shoulders forming a distinct sickle or scythe shape, our first symbol of death and destruction. Leo was identified by the Greeks as the Nemean Lion, a beast killed by Heracles in one of his first labours. The story of the Nemean lion is interesting because we actually find an echo of it in the prologue chapter to ADWD. The Nemean Lion took women as hostages to its cave, thereby luring warriors from nearby towns to save the imprisoned women. Unfortunately, the lion’s golden coat was so tough that it withstood all kinds of weaponry. Heracles finally succeeds in strangling it.
Varamyr recalls how he sends his shadowcat to bring him women and that he killed the heroes who tried to save them:
Whenever he desired a woman he sent his shadowcat to stalk her, and whatever girl he’d cast his eye upon would follow meekly to his bed. Some came weeping, aye, but still they came. Varamyr gave them his seed, took a hank of their hair to remember them by, and sent them back. From time to time, some village hero would come with spear in hand to slay the beastling and save a sister or a lover or a daughter. Those he killed, but he never harmed the women.
Varamyr seems to have been as invulnerable as the Nemean Lion. The Nemean Lion is rendered almost immortal by virtue of its impenetrable golden coat, so it’s interesting that we find a parallel to the legend in the narrative. From the tale, we can infer that the mythical Lion of Night was also nigh on indestructible, perhaps even immortal.
Regulus and Leo
Regulus, a blue-white star, is the brightest star in Leo, and like Vega, went by various names in different cultures. The Babylonian name translates to ‘the king’ and in Latin, it means prince or little king. In Arabic it’s known as Qalb al-Asad, meaning ‘the heart of the lion’ (reminiscent of Lightbringer’s forging in the heart of a lion). The biggest clues however are the ancient Indian and Sogdianan (Iran) names for the star: Magha and Magh, meaning ‘the Mighty’ and ‘the Great’. At this point, I felt was on to something. Just think of Mag the Mighty, king of the giants. The giants are an enigma to readers trying to figure out the story and this find links both giants and extraordinarily tall people in the narrative with the Lion of Night. We also know that the Bloodstone Emperor’s sorcery and wickedness caused the Lion of Night and his ‘demons’ to come forth in all his wroth. Could these ‘demons’ really be the outsized men, the vicious giants of Old Nans tales? If so, there’s at least one such throwback in the story – Gregor Clegane.
In terms of this analysis, the closest match for Leo and Regulus is the constellation the Ice Dragon, with its bright blue star that points due north. An analysis of history and myth shows both lions and dragons are perceived as symbols of terrifying power.Ancient Eastern writers and artists often used composite lion-dragon/serpent imagery to convey their meaning. There is a Mesopotamian myth that tells of a lion-serpent sea-dragon that is killed by a warrior-god-king, for instance, as well as pharaohs variously depicted as lions or dragons. I think GRRM has used this concept by both combining the symbolism of the two creatures and having them progress from one to another. He provides us with actual living examples in the ‘lizard-lions’ of the Neck and swamps. The idea that the original constellation of which the ‘Lion of Night’ was a major star later received the new name of ‘Ice Dragon’ is thus plausible.
As the ruler of the Long Night, the ‘Lion of Night’ certainly was terrifying. In Dante’s Inferno, the lion symbolises sins of violence and ambition because of its aggressive and assertive nature. Being a carnivore, it asserts its position in the food chain and is biologically adapted to satisfying its needs through violence. Tywin and Cersei Lannister in particular, fit this image and have proven themselves to be unscrupulous and ruthless, prepared to wipe out entire bloodlines if need be. I need not point out that dragons enjoy an equally fearsome reputation.
An Ice Dragon?
There’s a lot of debate over the appearance of an ice dragon in the series. I personally do not think so. Together with the wight army, the Others are nigh on invincible as it is, more so if the Wall should come down. An ice dragon on top of all this seems totally out of proportion to me.
In my opinion, the former Lion of Night is the current Ice Dragon. With the bright blue star in its eye (or in the rider’s eye as a different passage has it), it is a representation of the Others.
The clouds hid most of the Ice Dragon, all but the bright blue eye that marked due north.
The major star in the Ice Dragon is as bright a blue as the eyes of the Others and it points to the location of the Others – due North. The Others are the ‘dragons’ of winter. In addition to their trademark blue eyes, they create icy mists and cold ‘breath’ that kill, while the dragons of Essos do the same with their fiery breath. And like dragons, Others have to be ‘ridden’ to control them. They are humanoid, not human and are controlled by an expert skinchanger/greenseer who can handle many creatures at once, I believe. Related to this is the idea (in Chinese tradition) that dragons can shapeshift and that they also appear in humanoid form (see chapter 6 – a note on dragons).
The Lion of Night / Ice Dragon also incorporates some aspects of Sirius (in Canis Major) as well as the constellation Orion. Both are associated with Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife, death and resurrection. Sirius is known as the dog-star or wolf-star in many cultures. The wolf is to the cold lands what the lion is to tropical regions. Wolf symbolism varies across the world but in the narrative, the author tends portrays the direwolves as dangerous, ferocious beasts that takes care of their own but show no mercy towards their victims or the enemies of their owners. This is highlighted by Nymeria’s great pack of wolves roaming the Riverlands as well as Bran, Arya and Varamyr who do not balk at eating human flesh while inhabiting their familiar animals. Indeed, like the Lannister lions of today, the Stark wolf kings of old boast a record of ruthlessness towards those they warred against.
The Lion of Night was never truly defeated. He has been lying low for thousands of years but he’s awake now, ready to turn more demons loose, this time as the ‘Ice Dragon’.
Chapter 4 – The Weaver Girl and the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea
In the tale of the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd, Zhinü weaves the Silver River (the Milky Way), which gives light to heaven and earth. She really represents the star Vega and by extension, the Maiden-of-Light, with all the virtues of the star itself. She is also a goddess and an expert weaver who visits Earth to bathe.
I propose that the Fisher Queens mentioned in TWOIAF carried out the Maiden-of-Light’s work of ‘weaving’ cosmic light energy into the destinies of mortals on the planet itself.
From such we know of the Fisher Queens, who ruled the lands adjoining the Silver Sea – the great inland sea at the heart of the grasslands – from a floating palace that made its way endlessly around its shores. The Fisher Queens were wise and benevolent and favored of the gods, we are told, and kings and lords and wise men sought the floating palace for their counsel.
The Silver Sea is our first clue to the analogy of the Silver River (Milky Way) in which the weaver girl does her work. The passage also suggests that the Fisher Queens embodied principal virtues of the Maiden-of-Light.
Regard the Fisher Queens as those of royal blood who harness the power of the Maiden-of-Light and are able to transform and channel (weaving) it for various purposes, including infusing others with longevity, healing wounds and possibly even growing an abundance of food (the goddess Astraea was also associated with agriculture, her symbol in ancient times, an ear of corn). They probably also powered their floating palace with this magical energy 🙂
So how is this cosmic power manipulated?
WEAVING MAGICAL COSMIC POWER
Weaving and sewing is a subtle theme in aSoIaF. Right at the beginning of the story we learn that Sansa always harvests praise for her exquisite stitching while Arya has not mastered it and hates it. Arya does own a ‘Needle’ though, a cherished gift from Jon Snow. Much is made of Sansa’s ability to sew in her scene with Miranda in TV Series 5. Tapestries are also mentioned quite a bit. We know they are produced in Qohor and Myr and that they depict maps, battle and hunting scenes, Targaryen kings, family histories and so on. Some tapestries, like the hangings in the round chamber of the Kingsguard are plain white, with no scenes at all. Littlefinger was very keen to have Robert’s tapestries and we know that the Grey King had beautiful ones woven of silver seaweed hanging in his throne hall. Dany is particualry shocked by the murder of three weaver women. Even Patchface mentions weaving: “It’s always summer under the sea. The merwives wear nennymoans in their hair and weave gowns of silver seaweed”.
So what does this mean? We need a little help from mythology to figure this out.
Weaving and sewing are traditionally a woman’s domain and among the deities, only goddesses are weavers. The Fates (Moirai) of Greek Mythology provide some hints in the context of the narrative. The Fates are three ugly crones, incarnations of destiny, who control the mother thread of life of all mortals from birth to death. They spun destiny from the moment of birth and each had a role in the weaving process:
- Clotho spun the thread of life from her distaff (tool holding unspun fibres) onto her spindle.
- Lachesis – “allotter” (drawer of lots) measured the thread of life allotted to each person with her measuring rod (determined the length of life).
- Atropos – “inevitable”, literally “unturning”, was the cutter of the thread of life. She chose the manner of each person’s death; and when their time was come, she cut their life-thread with “her abhorred shears”. [Summary from Wikipedia]
The ancient Greeks believed that their share of destiny was influenced by their lineage and by the traditional rules of society. Getting more than their intended portion was possible but only at a high cost. The Greek view of destiny was rather fatalistic; lives followed a preordained order, with the only certain thing in that order being death. This view is echoed in the story, where nobles enjoy all the advantages life has to offer, while the smallfolk are condemned to abiding by rules made by their lords, with little options to improve their status. Since destiny was perceived to be woven, freeing the ‘cloth’ from knots and flaws was considered possible. Likewise, there was a fear of having one’s ‘tapestry of life’ manipulated or controlled by an evil magician or sorcerer.
In Norse mythology the three Norns assume the role of the Greek Fates. They live within the Well of Urd beneath Yggdrasil, the great cosmic tree that stands at the centre of the universe and holds the nine worlds in its branches and roots. Their task is to shape destiny by weaving it into a web or tapestry. In some stories, they shape destiny by carving runes into the trunk of the tree. The Norse model of weaving destiny is more flexible than the Greek concept of fate in that it leaves more room for changing the course of fate. Destiny woven (or carved) at birth by the Norns is not absolute or unalterable but can be rewoven or rewritten. Individuals also have more power over their own destiny as well as over the destiny of others and may influence this actively or passively. Further, all life was viewed as an interconnected web, which meant that the slightest thrumming of a strand affected the entire web, causing it to tremble or strands to break. We have a nice little quote to illustrate this straight from the narrative:
“This is so,” Illyrio agreed, “but the world is one great web, and a man dare not touch a single strand lest all the others tremble.
Applying this concept to weaving and sewing in the story actually makes sense.
As holders of the ‘Holy Grail’ of cosmic light, weaving Fisher Queens would have the ability and be responsible for altering patterns of destiny by manipulating the ‘tapestry of life’, working in the silver ‘threads’ of rejuvenation stemming from the life-prolonging energy of the star-maiden into the design.
By virtue of this symbolism, Sansa and Arya both have the potential to manipulate destiny in such a way as to change the outcome of events; Sansa in her own right as an expert seamstress and Arya by employing a tool, the Needle. Since Arya’s tool is a sword, her role most likely involves cutting off the thread of life – and indeed, that is exactly what she does. Many readers agree that Patchface’s ‘prophecy’ about merwives weaving silver seaweed references Sansa’s unwitting role in the Purple Wedding. She is a modern day Fisher Queen, used by other people to their own ends. We are left wondering how Littlefinger would like Sansa to manipulate his ‘hunting tapestries’ and why. I have a theory on this as well – a subject for another essay.
Myr, one of the ‘Quarrelsome Daughters’ of Old Valyria produces the finest laces and tapestries, worth their weight in gold and spice. They produce ‘Myrish Lace’ – another item requiring investigation. Qohor, also renowned for its tapestries, is home to the dark god, the Black Goat, and rumoured to be a place of necromancy, bloodmagic and divination. As it happens, its smiths also know the secrets of reworking Valyrian steel, a process rumoured to include human sacrifice. Qohor and Myr may be heavily involved in reweaving destinies and the intrinsic fabric of individual lives. I have no doubt that bloodmagic involves spiritual ‘genetic engineering’ in the form of ‘weaving’.
Women and Magic
In ASOIAF, there are many indications that traits specific to certain families are inherited through the female line or specifically through the X-chromosome. This includes the ‘blood of the dragon’ and the ‘wolf blood’. No doubt there are other ‘magical’ traits similarly passed down through women. Craster’s daughter wives, on whom he fathers children, offer a classic example for passing on special traits via the matrilineal line; they carry the original traits of their mothers and by engaging in inbreeding, Craster keeps the bloodline of the women intact. His wives pass on these traits to their sons, the trait itself being the key to creating Others from the boys. Similarly, we can assume that the Fisher Queens who possessed the ‘magical’ ability to alter fate also had a genetic predisposition to be able to perform magic and this trait is still present in certain individuals today. I like to call it ‘the silver gene’ and believe that Sansa, Arya and Dany were definitely born with it.
In mythology, it is women who traditionally possess this inherent talent for working magic. By weaving and altering destiny, the Norns are actually performing the magic of seidr (meaning cord, snare or string). Seidr was exclusive to the Norns and though Odin acquired the means to practice it, Norse myths indicate that men who engaged in magic of that nature were frowned upon.
The archaeologist Neil Price provides a summary of the uses of seidr:
There were seiðr rituals for divination and clairvoyance; for seeking out the hidden, both in the secrets of the mind and in physical locations; for healing the sick; for bringing good luck; for controlling the weather; for calling game animals and fish. Importantly, it could also be used for the opposite of these things – to curse an individual or an enterprise; to blight the land and make it barren; to induce illness; to tell false futures and thus to set their recipients on a road to disaster; to injure, maim and kill, in domestic disputes and especially in battle. (Taken from this source)
I’m pretty sure that all the magic we see in the narrative is based on the principle of incorporating, channelling or weaving cosmic energy into the tapestries of individuals (and objects) towards a specific end.
Some of you may object to the idea that a source of cosmic energy changes fate, prolongs life, powers swords and other objects. Think of it as magic. Think of it as the force that makes healing and resurrection possible. It’s the secret to the cold mists accompanying the Others, the power behind spells, Mel’s glamours and the fire shooting out of Benerro’s fingers. It’s the ‘magic’ in the Wall and the stuff weirwoods tap into. The ‘bleeding comet’ is not only an omen; it brought a good dose of fiery cosmic energy to Planetos as well. The comet is the main reason for the resurgence of ‘magic’ in the world. The dragons would never have hatched without it. They are infused with this energy as well, as is Dany.
But remember we have a Song of Ice and Fire, so we are possibly dealing with two power sources, one or both of which was tainted during the breaking of the moon. I cannot get into that here but think of greasy black stone and Asshai by the Shadow as examples of this. Understanding that we are dealing with an energy source is an aid to interpreting mysteries like this one:
What does Quaithe mean by
… to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow. ?
She means that Dany will have to draw on the true source of cosmic energy from the original Maiden-of-Light. She will encounter the taint (the shadow) while doing so and will have to overcome it to get at the light. I suspect there are caches of the original energy stashed away in certain places, perhaps also in certain artefacts (the looted Dothraki gods are a good place to start with), in weirwoods and maybe even in Asshai.
THE PATTERNMAKER’S MAZE
Related to sewing and weaving are patterns. The Patternmakers Maze is another mystery, but perhaps it can be unravelled in terms of ‘weaving’.
… and there the entrance to the Patternmaker’s Maze. Only those who learn to walk it properly will ever find their way to wisdom, the priests of the Pattern say.
Weaving creates a pattern and the more complex the design, the more difficult it is to follow a single thread within the pattern; the pattern can thus be thought of in terms of a maze or better still, a code. Consider the effort to crack messages ciphered via the German military’s Enigma machine during WW II. Every code has an underlying pattern; the key to deciphering the code was to recognize the pattern and after years of working it at, British Intelligence experts eventually figured out much of it. They were helped along by a bit of luck too – by capturing a German army trawler complete with machines and codebooks, they were able to translate the code. At this point, the British achieved ‘wisdom’ or enlightenment. Being able to read any code or ‘walk the maze accurately’ means acquiring knowledge that can be acted on, or even manipulated to produce a desired outcome.
If GRRM has applied a ‘tapestry of life’ concept to the story, then perhaps there are characters who have symbolically mastered mazes about. Arya is one such candidate:
She let their footsteps be her guide, but when they made their descent she counted. She knew the counts of all the steps by heart. Under the temple was a maze of vaults and tunnels where even men with two good eyes were often lost, but the blind girl had learned every inch of it, and she had her stick to help her find her way should her memory falter.
ADWD, The Blind Girl
Arya is often confronted with tunnels and underground ‘mazes’ that she has to find her way through. Her first experience was in the dungeons of King’s Landing, when she found herself among dragon skulls and overheard IIyrio and Varys discussing their secrets. This chapter actually foreshadows her future role: she would have been instrumental in changing the course of events if she had paid more attention to the conversation and relayed it to her father more coherently. The HoBaW is the place where Arya is learning to focus her senses and increase her awareness and perception. In the HoBaW, she also masters the vaults and tunnels, even though she is blind. Later she also learns the way to the chamber containing the faces.
Honing the senses, perceiving the true nature of reality (Syrio’s instructions on seeing) and being mindful (quiet as a shadow, calm as still water, still as a stone etc.) are aides to heightened perception and to successful mastery of the pattern. Mastering a labyrinth is symbolic of achieving enlightenment.
In Buddhist teachings, The Noble Eightfold Path (Pali: ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo, Sanskrit:āryāṣṭāṅgamārga), originally taught by Buddha, is a path which leads the practitioner toward self-awakening and ultimately liberates him or her from the cycle of rebirth and death. It incorporates methods designed to develop insights into the true nature of reality and to eliminate greed, desire, hatred and delusion. The denial of self is a key component in this process. GRRM has borrowed aspects of this concept – it is the underlying principle behind Arya’s training in the House of Black and White as well as the idea of becoming ‘faceless’ or ‘no one’.
In Buddhism, the self is seen as an eternal substance that persists beyond death. Eliminating the self (or becoming No One, having no-self) is thus essential to breaking the cycle of reincarnation. The Sanskrit term ‘arya sacca’ means ‘noble truths’, the Four Nobel Truths, a doctrine on how things are seen by a Buddha, how things really are when seen correctly, the truthful way of seeing. ‘Arya’ itself means noble, valuable, not ordinary and the Aryas are the noble ones, those who have attained the fruits of the path leading to higher wisdom and enlightenment. Arya is walking the Patternmaker’s Maze.
There is an additional interpretation to ‘learning to walk the Patternmaker’s Maze’. It may include the idea of negotiating a labyrinth in order to enter a parallel world of shadow to visit departed ancestors or the world of the dead. Though not exactly a parallel world per definition, both Bloodraven’s cave and the abode of the Brotherhood without banners (the Hollow Hill) represent a microcosmos hidden from the world above. The mysterious underground labyrinth structures found in several locations on the planet also belong to this hidden subterranean world as do dungeons and crypts. Some of these are strongly reminscent of the underworld, land of the dead, in the pre-Christian sense.
Again Arya’s role is interesting here because she overcomes her fear of dark tunnels and dungeons very early in the story. She compares these places to the Crypts of Winterfell, an abode of the dead in which she often played games with her siblings, a place that held no terrors for her. Her primary duties at the HoBaW involve washing and preparing the dead and when she finally gets her first assignment as a Faceless Woman, she even unwittingly communicates with the dead:
Hands closed around her throat, hard as stone, choking her. Her own hands shot up to claw at the arms of her attacker, but there was no one there. A terrible sense of fear filled her, and she heard a noise, a hideous crunching noise, accompanied by blinding pain. A face floated in front of her, fat, bearded, brutal, his mouth twisted with rage. She heard the priest say, “Breathe, child. Breathe out the fear. Shake off the shadows. He is dead. She is dead. Her pain is gone. Breathe.” ADWD, The Ugly Little Gril
Upon donning the face, Arya appears to take on the persona of its last owner, vividly experiencing the fear and agony of the dead girl. She clearly sees the ‘shade’ of the attacker as well. The entire journey thus becomes a real journey to the abode of the dead. She masters the maze, enters the underworld where the dead reside (the chamber of faces) and has communion with the dead. Its almost like greenseeing, only much more specific because it relates to distinct individuals. The implication here is, it may be possible to obtain knowledge from the past, directly from ‘the horses mouth’; information that might be important in the context of reweaving destiny. The Faceless Men have been collecting ‘faces’ for centuries; who knows what is hidden in the memory of those shades?
Those of you interested in finding out more about the ‘water dance’ should have a look at the summary of The Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi in the 17th century. It is a text on techniques in martial arts. The Book of Water contains strategies related to Syrio Forel’s ‘water dance’.
Chapter 5 – Planetos and the Venus Effect
There is so much morning star and evening star imagery in the narrative that it would be negligent to omit a reference to the planet Venus. Our sister planet is similar to the earth in size and mass but that’s where the similarities stop. On account of its dawn and twilight rising, the ancients initially thought they were seeing two different objects but as early as 1581 BC, the Babylonians identified both as one and the same. They named her ‘the bright queen of the sky’. That’s nice – it reminds me of Daario Nahaaris’ calling Dany his ‘Bright Queen’.
Venus is an extremely hot dry planet with a dense atmosphere composed primarily of carbon dioxide. Together with thick clouds of sulphur dioxide, we get a runaway greenhouse effect and because of this, the planet is even hotter than Mercury. It is not well lit because dense cloud cover reflects 90% of sunlight. Needless to say, Venus does not support life. It’s surface is pockmarked with craters and it has many more volcanos than earth. Way back in time, an impact event caused the Venusian moon to collide with the planet. It also reversed the planet’s spin direction. If we were living on Venus, we would wake up to the sun rising in the west and setting in the east.
Where is this lesson in astronomy heading?
Well, it may help decipher part of Miiri Maz Duur’s prophecy to Dany:
“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.”
Venus is the example of what Planetos will become if the wheel of destiny does not change gear.
Essos has been subject to ongoing desertification for centuries; Dorne is a desert. Inland lakes such as the Silver Sea that once covered thousands of square kilometres have dwindled and dried up to pitiful shadows of their former glory. Beyond the mountains in the east are another three dry hollows which once contained life-sustaining water. I personally believe that the Grey Waste was an entire ocean that boiled away on account of the cosmic disaster. It’s also possible that moon rock impacting the surface caused a change in the tilt of the globe which in turn is responsible for the asynchronous seasons. In fact, the degree of axial tilt influences the seasons and is likely a factor in long-term climate change. Venus exhibits a tilt of 177°, markedly different to the Earth’s tilt of 23.4°. The quirky seasons on Planetos, with 10-year summers and long icy winters take their toll on the planet and if this continues, or is exacerbated by another cataclysmic cosmic event, Planetos will become as dry and as uninhabitable as Venus.
Miiri Maz Duur’s prophecy is actually a warning. The events taking place in present day Westeros and Essos mirror the events that took place prior to the Long Night. The comet is making its way round the sun – it will be back soon. Expect conditions on Planetos to come close to those on Venus, should history repeat itself and the comet impact the remaining moon.
A Note on Dragons
Dragons are very important in Chinese culture and were the traditional emblem of the Emperor of China, symbolizing his imperial authority and strength. They continue to be a symbol wisdom, power, wealth and good luck for those who are worthy of it. In China today, exceptionally outstanding people are still compared to dragons, while the unworthy are likened to worms and other less desirable creatures. Chinese dragons are associated with moving water bodies. They are divine rulers over rivers, oceans and waterfalls, occasionally manifesting themselves as waterspouts to show their location.
Four Dragon Kings rule the major inland seas and oceans of China. They control all water and weather related phenomena including floods, droughts, hurricanes and rainfall. There is a Dragon King for each cardinal direction – North, South, East and West. As rulers of the seas, they preside over other marine life and hold court in an underwater crystal palace. It is believed they can shapeshift into human form and in their capacity as rulers are usually depicted as humanoid entities.
Central to the dragon are the Chinese New Year festivities, which end with elaborate Dragon Dances. The performance scares away demons, evil spirits and the bad luck they might bring. Central to the dances are various ‘movements’ choreographed in wave-like patterns. One of these is ‘Chasing the Pearl’ which represents the Dragon’s pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.
I’ve simply highlighted some of the themes which occur in the narrative and will leave you to your own thoughts on how they apply to the story. Chinese mythology is definitely one of the keys to unravelling the background story.
Thank you for reading on right up to the end. Comments and ideas are always welcome.
- The Great Empire of the Dawn
- The Maiden-of-Light
- The Lion of Night
- The Weaver Girl and the Fisher Queens
- Planetos and the Venus Effect
- A note on dragons
Original ‘maiden-of-light’ – Maiden with Rowan Leaves by WhimsicalMoon on deviantart.com
Spider Web by thargo6 on deviantart.com
Cool Dragon Wall Paper from imgarcade.com
Sword of Dawn by Plateal on deviantart.com