Spoilers for the books and the show.
Let's look at the old gods of the north. For much of the story we're told that the men of the north, including the wildlings, hold to the old gods- the spirits of tree and stream, of earth and sky. However in A Dance with Dragons we learn that the weirwood trees are inhabited by the spirits of departed greenseers- those rare skinchangers who can see through the weirwood faces and also through ravens. So are there "old gods" as we think of gods, or are the gods of the north just Children of the Forest living on in their sacred trees?
To be honest I was a little disconcerted by this. The Starks hold to the old gods, the traditions of the north, as do many other houses, and they seem to have a mystical bond with their direwolves as well. It just seems weird to think that the north worships dead, precognitive elves rather than a deity or deities- and they don't have a clue. Imagine the consternation if they find out!
"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies," said Jojen. "The man who never reads lives only one. The singers of the forest had no books. No ink, no parchment, no written language. Instead they had the trees, and the weirwoods above all. When they died, they went into the wood, into leaf and limb and root, and the trees remembered. All their songs and spells, their histories and prayers, everything they knew about this world. Maesters will tell you that the weirwoods are sacred to the old gods. The singers believe they are the old gods. When singers die they become part of that godhood."
R'hllor is a different thing entirely. The red god of the priestess Melisandre, we don't learn much about this faith other than its affinity for fire until, again, in A Dance with Dragons we see their temples and learn that Benerro, the high priest in Volantis, is opportunistically siding with Daenerys in her crusade against slavery. And we meet another priest, Moqorro, who uses sorcery or some kind of power to survive and "heal" Victarion Greyjoy. Is R'hllor a god in the usual sense, or a fire being of some sort that uses the mortals who worship it for its own purposes?
The Seven of Westeros are a little more abstract, or aloof. We don't get any sense that they are interfering in affairs- greenseers can apparently act to some extent through their trees or ravens, R'hlor's priests are causing all kinds of mischief, but septons of the Seven do not seem to be manifesting any powers. The Faith militant does take power in Kings Landing, but that's clearly ambitious people at work, not divine intervention. At least that we know of. So this does seem to be more of a case of fantasy gods being kept at arms length, not impacting the story in a serious way.
The Many Faced God in Braavos, or the Drowned God of the Greyjoys, are similar. The Faceless Men talk about serving the Many Faced God, but from all accounts they are running a well-oiled death cult - there is no indication the Many Faced God is actually doing anything. And the Drowned God certainly doesn't seem to be doing much, although one could argue the point since Aeron "Damphair" Greyjoy sometimes hears things in the waves, and the men they drown are brought back to life. But I just think Aeron's crazy and the rescuscitation is a rather unorthodox (and unrealistic) case of CPR.
One interesting wrinkle is the theory that the Drowned God is not a god at all, but a monster from the depths that will rise when Euron Greyjoy makes a blood sacrifice. This is the eldritch apocalypse theory by Poor Quentyn and it's very compelling. Aeron may indeed see his "god" arise, although it's not a god he's expecting to see!
So... what do you think? Are the "gods" real? Or are they just aloof and unknowable and maybe certain creatures are using religion for their own ends? And what do you think of the eldritch apocalypse theory?
I think the a God that feels real is R'hllor because of the visions he gives the followers and the power of resurrection that a few of them can call on. I think that's why I'm creeped out by it. I like the idea of the Old Gods being more in tune with the people, protecting the land, at one with nature and of course the kinship between the Starks and the direwolves which feels magic at time. You feel their power through those trees where Bran gets his visions and in the power of the Children and the White Walkers. I can't see why anyone prays to the New Gods as they don't seem involved at all.ReplyDelete
So true. The "new" gods don't seem to do anything, whereas R'hllor is mucking around and the old gods sure seem to be active in some ways. I like the vibe in the north with the direwolves and skinchanging and all that- it's like there are all these traditions that the south knows nothing of!Delete
The religion in game of thrones has always been so interesting to me. I love the old gods of the north! Awesome discussion!ReplyDelete
It is fascinating because Martin has talked about how he didn't want to have gods who swoop in and save the day- and yet we see R'hllor in particular (or his priests) being more and more active. I wonder if just like magic is coming back with the dragons, if some of this "religious" activity is as well?Delete
I really need to get back to this series. You reminded me how much I miss it. I just have so many books and so little time! Anyway, I think most of the gods are aloof and unknowable. Like in real life, many of the characters are using the gods to make themselves seem important. They just want power (or the attention of someone who has power). I think the most-real god is the one who puts visions in the fire. I guess that’s proof that the god exists and cares about what the characters are doing.ReplyDelete
Aj @ Read All The Things!
I know the feeling! And these are chunksters. And I think you're right- lots of manipulation going on? Although R'hllor- yeah something is making them see visions!Delete
I haven't tried any of his books, nor the TV show I confess but maybe one day!ReplyDelete
Ha well I hope you like them when you do. :)Delete
Well Greg that's a detailed review! I haven't read these books so far even if I follow the TV series (from afar when the family is watching and I am busy blogging). Sophie @bewareofthereaderReplyDelete
This is SUPER interesting! I've always found the various faiths in A Song of Ice and Fire just fascinating and your analysis is great. The revival power of R'hllor adds an interesting twist...there's clearly some sort of magic there! And I agree that the Seven seem the least powerful, and the most "tame" and familiar to the modern world. The trappings of religion, without any of the actual power. And I'd never heard that theory about the Drowned God, but now that I have, I'm super curious what the next books will bring!ReplyDelete
Thank you! Great point about R'hllor- I often wonder if it's a "god" or just magic, in the sense that magic seems to be coming back with Dany's dragons. And exactly about the Seven. They seem most like the real world, where people believe but we can't "prove" in the conventional sense. And the Drowned God theory is a trip- if you want a preview the sample chapter From The Winds of Winter- it's called The Forsaken- gives a pretty nighmarish vision of what might come!Delete
This is fascinating, Greg! I've not yet read Game of Thrones but it's in the queue. ;) And of course I haven't watched the show yet either because I'm one of those read first kind of people. I had no idea religion played such an integral role...you have me even more eager to start the series!ReplyDelete
I hope you enjoy when you get to it. And thanks! I definitely am a read first type person, and I think it makes a big difference on this show too!Delete
I've always considered the gods to be aloof and unknowable, and I definitely think there's some manipulation going on where some are using religion as a way for personal gain. I haven't read A Dance with Dragons yet, but you have me wanting to hurry up and get to it now, lol.ReplyDelete
Great post! I've never given it that much thought but seeing it all laid out together like this is really interesting. I love your theory about the Drowned God. I'd absolutely love if Greyjoy accidentally summoned a sea monster which ate him.ReplyDelete
Love this post! As I read the books, I thought the same thing, which god is real? I have thought maybe that they are all or none lol. I agree that R'hilor is looking more and more like the real god. I am so curious how it will all end!!!!!ReplyDelete
Haven't read the first book yet, so I didn't read this. I think I'm going to do the same thing for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon this month that I did in April, I'm going to read just one long-ass book and I think I'll read the first Song of Fire and Ice. And I'm definitely stealing that first gif for my post. Ha ha. 🐲ReplyDelete