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Blinded by the Lord of Light: Magic, Religion, and “Proof” in “Game of Thrones”

By Rob Payne | Think Pieces | June 8, 2013 | Comments ()


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Some personal perspective for this piece, which may help explain my interpretation of the magic and religion in this show (and the books it’s based on): I am a devout agnostic. I wasn’t raised in a religious household and only one side of my immediate family is religious in the traditional American sense - i.e., church on Sundays, prayer before meals, participating in church-based events on Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, etc. I did attend something like Sunday School a few times, mostly on visits to my mother’s parents, and I read through most of my Children’s/Teen’s Bibles when I was younger, simply because I was curious. But from the moment I learned about the Holy Trinity, at around the age of six, and I couldn’t square how one being could be its own father and its own son - without the aid of paradox-inducing time travel - I could never be one of the faithful. But I’m not atheist, because the universe is just too damn big and too damn old to say with 100% certainty that I, or anyone, know what is truly up. Besides the sky.*

The world we live in is filled with religion, and chances are most of you reading this are religious or have a religious background. The shape and depth of your faith, or lack thereof, depends on all sorts of variables, but it’s safe to say that there likely isn’t anyone in any sort of organized society on this planet who doesn’t have some sort of relationship with a god or gods, lapsed or anti- or whatever. If you’re a believer, you believe because you have faith. Some might claim to have proof that at least convinces themselves - an indescribable, personal feeling; a revelation - but no one has any actual, physical evidence of divine reality. And, no, the mere existence of the Bible or of existence itself is not scientific proof of a divine creator. But you can’t prove a negative without a positive, either, so we’re left to spin around on this globe searching for answers that we as individuals, if not we as a species, will probably never find. Whatever your personal truth is, it’s purely internal and may not even match your external actions.

That’s also the world of Westeros at the start of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” (As much as I’d like to make this a book discussion, I’ve not read enough to do that.) There are the Old Gods and the New, the believers of which more or less happily co-exist with each other despite having fundamentally different practices and cultures. It must be the concept of polytheism that keeps the peace, then, just like in our own world histories. If there are seven “new” gods, then why couldn’t there have been older, less powerful gods before them? Or, if there are innumerable “old” gods, then why couldn’t there be newer, less powerful gods that came after them? But outside of the prayers heard in the Godswoods or the faith esteemed by septons and septas, there is no proof that any of these divine beings actually exist, or ever did. Just stories and myths passed down for hundreds of generations. Maybe magic and the power of the gods were ever present once, in the long distant past, but by today’s standard, there is no magic in the world. Just cold, hard, insufferable reality; just like us.

No wonder so many Westerosi believe but do not practice, or practice and do not really believer, save for a faint hope. Of course, there does seem to be magic and belief in Essos, beyond the Narrow Sea, but it seems to be viewed through a lens darkly, a weapon to be wielded, not as the saving grace of a divine hand. Then again, maybe Miri Maz Duur wasn’t a witch or a healer with any power; maybe she just really wanted Khal Drogo dead and had the means to ensure that happened?

But then season two begins almost immediately by introducing a new concept to Westeros, but one very familiar to our modern minds at home: monotheism. R’hllor, the Lord of Light, as worshipped by Melisandre, a Red Priestess from Essos, and practiced by the newly converted family of Stannis Baratheon, is a regular YHWH or Jehovah. Just as soon as we (and Westeros, really) are introduced to this singular deity, a kind of possible evidence that R’hllor might actually exist is presented. Melisandre is poisoned, seemingly, but does not succumb, and meanwhile her attempted murderer, a maester, dies consuming the same potion. All this after Stannis burns in effigy the Seven “new gods,” so who exactly is supposed be punished and doing the punishing here? Thus, Melisandre is powerful, or has some knowledge greater than the grand maesters and high septons. Not long after that, we are treated to the Red Priestess’s magically created shadow baby, and it seems that this Lord of Light, whom Melisandre seems to utterly believe is responsible for her powers, might very well be real after all. Stannis himself says as much in his season three conversation with Davos, the now semi-literate prisoner.

Not counting Dany’s dragons, since so many Westerosi don’t know of them or have witnessed them with their own eyes, Melisandre’s magic is the first time anyone on the continent has seen any magic in thousands of years. (We’re also discounting north of The Wall, where magic is accepted as fact regardless of religion.) But even despite seeing real magic right before his eyes, Davos can’t quite make that leap to faithfulness. He knows he’s seen something, but he can’t make the possibly logical, possibly not, next step to believing in the Lord of Light’s existence or divinity. Davos, who has as much of a scientific brain as anyone in the series, needs a repeat of the experiment or something equally believable. So, like before, with Stannis’ seed helping to birth the smoke monster, Melisandre uses “king’s blood” to work her mojo. Leeches suck out the blood of poor Gendry, the Baratheon bastard, which are then thrown into a burning brazier as Stannis recites the names of the remaining usurper kings: Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy, and Joffrey Baratheon (nay, Lannister). Now, according to Melisandre’s belief in R’hllor, it’s only a matter of time before they are as dead as Renly.

From there, very little time passes before (spoiler alert?) Robb Stark does indeed die. But is this really the work of the Lord of Light? Are cock leeches really more powerful than shadow assassins? After all, with betraying Walder Frey, not taking Roose Bolton’s counsel, and (justifiably) beheading Lord Karstark, Robb was slowly marching toward his demise anyway, regardless of the supposed sacrifices Stannis made. Had there not been the previous scene with Melisandre’s “experiment,” there would be absolutely zero reason to believe Robb’s death had any mystical origins. Having seen it played out in “Rains of Castamere,” a plan that was clearly in the works behind the scenes for a while, there’s no legitimate reason to believe Robb’s death did have any mystical origins, despite what we definitely did see on Dragonstone. In essence, it’s going to take more than the Red Wedding to convince me, and I think Davos, to believe in the Lord of Light.

After all, it is one thing to see Stannis and Melisandre copulate, then to see Melisandre give shadowy birth, then to see that shadow kill Renly - that’s a logical progression of cause and effect. If the death of Robb was actually orchestrated by R’hllor instead of Tywin Lannister, it means that god has far more power than previously imagined. A wise galaxy once said: “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” Then again, both Keyser Soze and Baudelaire knew that, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Which brings us to Thoros of Myr, his flaming sword, and the undead Beric Dondarrion.

Thoros, like Melisandre, is originally from Essos, where magic and its apparent connection to the divine has not been discarded. She’s a Red Priestess, he’s a Red Priest. Both are serving the Lord of Light as missionaries sent to convert Westeros, if they themselves are to be believed. Yet, they do not seem to share the same faith. They share the same religion, perhaps, but not the same faith. Melisandre is a strong believer and she has no doubts, or very little time for them. Thoros, on the other hand, is only recently a strong believer and he is practically overloaded with doubt. Melisandre worships R’hllor and sees the power she wields as obviously his, and therefore obviously good. But she’s working backward from a result to match her thesis because she was always a believer in both R’hllor’s divinity and his (His?) inherent goodness. Thoros worships because he witnessed an inhuman power wielded through him before he fully believed, in a crisis of faith. So he is coming from a place of deductive reasoning based on the evidence at his disposal, and neither he nor Beric proclaim a divinely restored life as unassailable good.

Another distinction between the powers of the Priestess and those of the Priest is that Melisandre’s magic brings only death, whereas Thoros’ brings life, admittedly lesser than before. The former was shocked to learn of this, as shocked as Thoros likely was when Beric first returned from the brink of oblivion. They may think they’re serving the same god, but the proof at hand indicates that one of them, Melisandre, is misguided or being mislead. Of course, both of them lie about their flaming swords, neither of which is powered by magic but by the medieval science of wildfire. Yet while Melisandre is manipulative and a raving R’hllor thumper — perhaps protesting too much — Thoros merely lets his actions and his powers speak for themselves, allowing Arya and the audience to come to their own conclusions. Perhaps they are simply engaging their religion in different styles, but it seems beyond coincidental when Arya concludes that Melisandre is definitely a force for darkness, not light. If there are indeed gods or deities in Westeros, the Lord of Light must not be alone but have a cracked mirror opposition. This is not uncommon in our own monotheistic religions. God and Satan, Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, the Lord of Light and…?

But does any of this magic actually prove the existence of deities? Does any of it even prove the existence of ultra-mega-powerful supernatural creatures, which might be perceived as gods and goddesses? We know there are paranormal beasts in the form of dragons and White Walkers, and it’s easy to infer that if they exist, something greater than them could, or should, also exist. Again, though, that’s working backward from a conclusion and not proceeding forward from a result. Just like in our world: the mere fact of existence proves nothing, other than that “nothingness” is probably not the preferred state of the universe. (Even that’s too concrete for an agnostic, though.) So, the mere fact of magic does not prove R’hllor’s, or any other new or old god’s, existence either, only that the physics in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy is different from ours. So is the physics in Star Wars, and the possibility of the divine is never mentioned there beyond a non-theistic pseudo-Buddhism.

It seems likely that Westeros is ready to undergo a conversion to monotheism before the series is through, whether it sticks or the people really believe or not. The easiest, or most expedient, way for this to happen would be for Stannis to conquer and sit the Iron Throne, claiming that it was his Divine Right as bestowed upon him by the Lord of Light. Basically, he’ll have to Constantine it right into the Westeros constitution. The other path would be for the Brotherhood Without Banners, lead by the revived Beric and his Red Priest, to foment a legitimate revolution from the ground up, which is a much harder road for any message to travel. Melisandre taking the relatively easy path and Thoros the hard one seems to echo the duality of Christianity again there, making me wonder if at some point her faith will indeed prove misguided, while his will be rewarded. If so, that may prove something in the way of R’hllor’s truth, or it just may prove shit happens.

There remains the question of what happens to the remaining pretenders, Balon and Joffrey. When something inevitably does happen to both, will it be obviously mystical in nature? Or will it be more apparently caused by mortal men, like the massacre at Mr. Freys’? Bran’s visions and the three-eyed raven are another matter, though the ability to predict the future is also something found in science fiction without requiring magic or religion. His warging is just like any other magic, then, proof of neither the existence or the non-existence of divine beings. So maybe “Game of Thrones” will never, and can never, truly answer this question. If so, then that means, beyond how the characters in the story react to and interact with magic and their religions, none of it really matters. What matters is how you treat people and how you stay alive.

As Davos said in season two, “I’ve seen men pray to every god there is; pray for wind, pray for rain, pray home. None of it worked.” That’s probably the easiest, if not the wisest, thing to believe in this world depending on your point of view. Meaning Westeros, yet again, is so much like our own. Or, this could all be answered on Sunday, or when season four covers the back third of A Storm of Swords. Or at some point in later seasons. But for right now? I’m remaining agnostic.


* Hat tip to my Mema for that one.


Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. He doesn’t mean to offend anyone’s religious beliefs; so if you’re offended, it’s your own fault.



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Comments Are Welcome, Douches Are Not


  • manting

    you left out that melisandre's powers are negligible until Dany has her dragons. Melisandre carrys powders and other stuff that she needs less and less as her powers grow. As the dragons grow so does all magic in the world of GoT. The old gods also possess power. It is the religion of the 7 that possesses no powers.

  • Andrew

    Atheism isn't about 100% certainty, and it's not about claiming that no gods exist. It's simply a response to the assertion that a god or goddess of some kind exists. If you don't accept that assertion, that is you do not believe it, then you are an atheist.

    The person who is making the claim that a god exists has the burden of proof. No one should accept that claim until that burden has been met. And until it has been met, atheism, the null hypothesis, is the reasonable position to take.

  • I can agree that agnostics are essentially atheists, especially under that classical definition. But plenty of self-described atheists are frothing at the mouth about their own anti-religion dogma. I prefer "agnostic" to separate myself from that connotation.

  • gorthox

    One interesting note that's not made very clear in the television show (though I think it's explained in more detail in the DVD extras), is that the New Gods (the Seven) are considered by believers to be seven aspects of a single deity, similar to the Holy Trinity in Christianity.

  • manting

    the parallels are all there - the have a divine book - They pray in septs which = churches. They are corrupt and venal just like the catholic church.

  • tune

    OK - so I have never commented, though lurked faithfully on this site for seven (?) years (I know I stumbled here before the birth of my second child...) and I have little to add to the conversation, as I have only watched and read the first installment/season of this epic... but in an interesting twist, my 'pajiba' life and my vocational life seemed to collide as I surfed the web in the last hour. In the interests of full revelation, I am ordained clergy serving in a liberal protestant church up here in Canada... and so am always interested in pajiba's take on matters spiritual and cultural. Maybe some of you may be interested in this article from David Lose as he considers the theology of GOT: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...

  • Thank you for sharing, that was an excellent read. The comments on the first page are incredibly disappointing. Liberal atheists are just as bad conservative Christians, and it's amazing they don't get along better. And, yes, welcome to the comments!

  • foolsage

    That was an interesting article; thanks for the link. I was a bit cautious at first, I admit, but I found myself agreeing in large part with David's views.

    Also, welcome to the Pajiba commentariat!

  • Fredo

    I don't know that I would describe the religion of the Lord of Light as monotheistic since they clearly indicate there's an equal and opposite dark god being present. If anything that's more dualistic a la Zoroastrianism. In fact, that's what I thought of when I read of it: the duality between R'hllor and the god of darkness being very similar to Ahura Mazda and Ahriman -- equal deities representing both light/good and darkness/evil.

    What I find intriguing about the saga and its point in religion is that the world lives in a state of disbelief about its presence even though they live with an understood awareness of its past existence. The Wall is real. Dragons (at least the ones whose skulls they have) were real. Wildfire was real. They acknowledge the works of this otherworldly power in their midst even if they think the otherworldly power is no longer present.

    And the other thing that is intriguing is how more connected the less structured Northerners are to their Old Gods as compared to the more rigidly-structured Southerners to their New. To me, that points to a big underlying point regarding religion/structured faith: it's closely tied to cultural identity. To the Northerners, the Old Gods, the Godswoods with their weirwood trees, etc are as much a point of identity as it is a point of religious understanding.

    Which also points to the more dynamic, complex and difficult to comprehend religious traditions of the East. The more connected peoples get, the more their religious identities get mixed.

  • foolsage

    I'm fairly certain that I recall Martin admitting that R'Hllor's religion was based on Zoroastrianism. There are definitely VERY strong parallels there, from fire to the Magi to the dual nature of the competing gods.

  • Yossarian

    It is monotheistic in that there is "One True God" to follow. There is still an adversary just as Judeo-Christian religions have a devil or anti-Christ.

    As for belief & doubt in Westeros, it is clear that religion and the supernatural have not played a major role in recent history. Supernatural activity has been waning for centuries and is largely dormant when the story begins. It is easy to see why someone like Tywin would be skeptical of the idea of dragons & magic. Even Ned Stark scoffs at the idea that the Night's Watch deserter was running from the Others during the execution in the pilot episode.

    Now that it is coming back people are slow to accept it, or they underestimate the implications. Especially powerful people who think they know how the world works. And it makes for pretty compelling story & character development when you consider that these characters don't have all the information we do.

  • Fredo

    But in Judeo-Christian religions, the devil/anti-Christ (while powerful) is not considered equal to God. Nothing I've read/seen from Melisandre or the other Red Priests/Priestesses indicates that the dark god is somehow less powerful than R'hllor. I know little is said because "we don't talk about him" but the implications are all the coming war is one of equal measures between good and evil.

    And I agree with the idea that the powerful people are keeping their eyes shut to the threat looming over the North. It's one of the themes that Martin has woven into the series. Whether righteous (Ned) or dastardly (Tywin) or intelligent (Tyrion) or foolish (Cersei) or power-hungry (Littlefinger), they all miss the great threat that's coming for them all. Only children and fools see it coming.

  • Yossarian

    That's a good point. The analogy is not perfect. But there is also a lot of variation within Judeo-Christian religion as to how powerful the devil is. Some faiths believe in a literal antichrist that will rise to power and spread evil throughout the word before being ultimately conquered by Christ's second coming. I think the followers of R'holler believe something similar, and that their Red God is fated to ultimately defeat the other. I still think it is accurate to refer to their beliefs as monotheistic.

  • BlackRabbit

    Of course, as far as I know we only hear "The Other" is evil 'cause the shadow-birthing, leech-burning, manipulative redhead tells us so.

    As far as not seeing the Wall or dragons as magical-to a lot of folks, dragons may have just been big, nasty animals. The Wall? A military need. Though I'm surprised book-people don't take warnings of the Others more seriously, considering that the Wall had to be made huge to stop SOMETHING nasty. And Wildfire is just a chemical in the hands of fire-obsessed alchemists.

  • luthien26

    I know that Thoros lit his sword in tourneys with wildfire (according to the book) to spook his opponents, but I thought during Beric's duel with The Hound it was actually lit with Beric's blood. At least that's the way it seemed to me.

  • foolsage

    Correct on all counts.

    Jory and Jaime reminisced wayyyy back in the fourth episode about Thoros being the first to charge through the breach at the siege of Pyke, flaming sword in hand. Later on, Jorah and Barristan have a similar conversation where they recall Thoros and his flaming sword. Thoros used wildfire.

    When Beric lit his sword, there was no indication of wildfire. He ran his hand across the blade and it ignited, so it did indeed seem to be his blood that set it aflame.

  • Yossarian

    Yes, Thoros used to be a charlatan who used wildfire to make his sword burn. He is now a mean mhm mhm servant of God. I thought the flaming sword was meant to be supernatural, not wildfire.

    When Stannis held a flaming sword earlier in the series it was deliberately (as opposed to spontaneously) set on fire. So either he doesn't have that power yet or maybe he's not the real McCoy

  • Do the books say for sure that it was Beric's blood? If so, the show made that very unclear. That cave was already lit so orange and red thanks to the big bonfire that it was impossible to tell it was blood, I just saw a quick glimpse of a liquid substance and assumed it was a small amount of wildfire. I just thought we were seeing Thoros' trick being used by Beric, mainly due to the first two books describing the various flaming swords as false.

  • Fredo

    My money's on he's not the real McCoy.

    And that's just based on a lot of what Martin has said regarding prophecy on his story. He makes it clear that just because someone is saying "This person is destined to be this!" or "That character has a destiny about him to do that" is no guarantee that they will live long enough to achieve it. In fact, believing yourself bulletproof because of prophecy will only speed your demise.

  • foolsage

    Stannis' sword gives off light but not heat. It's neither wildfire nor is it the real Lightbringer (sword of Azor Ahai).

  • manting

    the dragons are the flaming sword. Dany is Ahzor Ahzi and she created the dragons in an identical way the sword is created in the myth. Sacrificing Drogo is the same as Azhor tempering the blade in his wife's heart. Also how would one sword defeat and army of icy monsters? A dragon on the other hand seems like it is made for laying waste to demons made of ice. Remember also that "dragonglass" is also anathema to the others.

  • foolsage

    Sure, those are common and plausible theories. I don't want to get into any depth about Azor Ahai or The Prince Who Was Promised because we can't really discuss reasons for and against the theories without going into spoilers. I did allude to the dragons as the Fire in "A Song of Ice and Fire" elsewhere in this discussion.

  • manting

    Hodor? hmm Hodor indeed.

  • foolsage

    Hodor.

  • $27019454

    Yossarian writes below: " One of the central ideas behind this story is the resurgence of the
    supernatural in this world (the return of dragons, the increased
    activity of the white walkers, the actions in the name of R’hllor). The
    supernatural is reasserting itself."

    When this happened in another movie, Gozer the Gozarian was involved and Zul lived in the fridge and there were hot-dog eating ghouls in hotels and some guy saw a cockroach up on 5. We all know how THAT story ended. "I love this city!"

  • Yossarian

    Mance, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason we've been so busy lately is 'cause the dead HAVE been rising from the grave?

  • $27019454

    zactly.

  • manting

    tell him about the twinkie

  • Sara_Tonin00

    This is interesting, but there are something I disagree with.

    First - Even that’s too concrete for an agnostic, though - beware of making blanket statements about agnostics.

    I haven't read the books, so - is it established in the books that wildfire makes the swords burn, or are you just making an educated guess? Does Melisandre consider everything she does to be good - or merely righteous in that is serves her god? Do the believers of the R'hllor believe there is only one god - or just that their god is the best/strongest/worthiest?

  • manting

    they believe that the other gods are false, as in they do not exist - like the seven, or that they are false in that they serve the will of the other - like the old gods of the north

  • foolsage

    Thoros' sword was coated in wildfire; we know this for certain. There are even comments in the books about how the wildfire would destroy the swords so he went through a lot of them.

    Stannis' sword burned with light but no heat. It's bespelled by Melisandre.

    Beric's sword had both light and heat, and was lit using his blood (thus was magical or enchanted). Given Thoros didn't know how to make a sword do this with magic, we simply don't know what the hells was going on with Beric's blade. It really burned though, because it set the Hound's shield on fire.

    Melisandre seems to think that anything and everything done in the name of R'Hllor is Good (with a capital G). Followers of R'Hllor believe that there are two gods: one is the god of fire and life, and the other is the god of ice and death. Nobody worships the latter, nor does he even have a name.

  • manting

    Craster worshiped him

  • K

    I just put down the last book so excuse my nitpicking...technically the Other has a name, but no one will speak it. (I assume they don't know it, either. But they think he has a name.)

  • foolsage

    Sorry, I should have said, "G.R.R.M. didn't give a name to the Other, and nobody will speak the name." You're right; there has to be a name there in some sense (a title, or something).

  • Yossarian

    It is clear that some sort of supernatural power exists in the Universe of Game of Thrones. The questions we need to examine regard the sources of that power and the nature of that power.

    One interesting thing to note is that it seems that supernatural forces were dormant for some time, at least in Westeros. As Westeros grew more civilized and advanced the presence of supernatural forces diminished. But it is also important to note that this is not a linear progression. One of the central ideas behind this story is the resurgence of the supernatural in this world (the return of dragons, the increased activity of the white walkers, the actions in the name of R’hllor). The supernatural is reasserting itself.

    It also seems obvious that even though the followers or the Red God practice monotheism they exist in a polytheistic world. Other gods have power, too. It seems pretty obvious that the Old Gods are not mere empty superstition like our ancient Greek legends, and powers like warging and Jojen's green dreams seem to be tied in to the Old Gods (expanded in more detail in the books). There are other religions in Essos that seem to have power, and men like Jaqen H'ghar and Pyrat Pree that can command them to some extent (again, I'll not get too specific about future book knowledge).

    So the real question is regarding the nature of supernatural (possibly divine) power. It does not seem that any one source of power is omnipotent. Although the followers of the Red God claim his is the One True God he is certainly not the only God. And even though he has been one of the more demonstrative and effective supernatural forces the ability to predict what he will do and how he will act is not clear. He works in mysterious ways and neither Melisandre nor Thoros fully understand what he is doing with them, they can only try to interpret his will.

    This means that while characters are capable of magic and calling on divine intervention, no one has absolute power. And we never know for certain if they are going to succeed or fail. This is part of what makes the story so compelling, since we genuinely don't know which side is going to win, which cause is righteous, which gods are real.

  • PaddyDog

    Also, whatever fate Joffrey meets, please don't let it be mystical. I think we all want to see physical pain inflicted on Joffrey. We brings out a blood lust in most people that I never knew they had (mine, on the other hand is well-documented)

  • foolsage

    Your prayers are very important to us. All lines to the Old Gods and the New are currently busy. Please leave a message and your prayers will be answered in the order they were received.

  • PaddyDog

    I don't doubt that you have agnostic from an early age, thinking deeply about paradox-inducing time travel at the age of six? Not sure I buy that.

  • MauraFoley

    If he'd watched Back to the Future at or before that time, I believe it. I had some serious mental gymnastics at that age b/c of watching that movie.

  • Indeed. I was born in 1982 and Back to the Future has been one of my favorite movies for as long as I can remember. I was too young to see the first in theaters, but I saw both the second and third, after watching my parents' VHS tape on basically a constant loop. I might not have been able to phrase it as "paradox-inducing time travel" but I'm pretty sure I understood the concepts.

  • foolsage

    Or Doctor Who, for that matter.

  • SilverDeb

    Great article! I am never able to clearly state my agnostic viewpoint without muddling it up with too many words. You did it very well. Thank you!

  • foolsage

    Nice article. I think it's going to prove very difficult for book readers to respond in depth without providing some spoilers though, because frankly there is more to know about the topic than the TV show has yet shown us.

    I'd like to note a few things in the context of this discussion though:

    1) Pyat Pree demonstrated that magic exists outside of religion. That raises the question of whether the magic Melisandre and Thoros manifest is innate to them somehow, whether it's the outcome of a ritual properly performed, or whether it's due to divine intervention.

    2) R'Hllor is the god of fire and life. He has an opposite number; a god of evil who has no name that's ever spoken. He's the god of ice and death. The series is called a Song of Ice and Fire, which might refer to dragons and white walkers, or might refer to this religion, or it might refer to [SPOILERS BASED ON GUESSWORK]. We (book readers included) do not know at this point. It's something to consider anyhow.

    3) Melisandre controls her magic; it's hers in every meaningful sense. Thoros is, or claims to be, nothing but an empty vehicle for his god to act through. If this claim is true, that does support the idea that R'Hllor is real, or that something is acting through Thoros in the guise of R'Hllor. Or perhaps Thoros just has innate powers he doesn't understand, and attributes to his god. Melisandre's powers don't only deal with death though; you mentioned her poison-protection and her visions.

    4) Just because we haven't yet seen any magic from or relating to the Old Gods, that doesn't mean no such magic exists. In the books, for instance, we're told that The Wall is heavily enchanted with spells to keep the white walkers and other nasties from crossing into the realms of men. Whether that's intended to be divine or secular magic isn't made clear, though we do know that the people who built The Wall believed in the Old Gods. There are also some hints that warging is related to the Old Gods, or perhaps the bloodlines of the followers of the Old Gods (e.g. it's only ever heard about in areas inhabited by followers of the Old Gods, and only ever possessed as far as we know by people who have the blood of the First Men). It's also possible that Bran's visions about three-eyed crows have something to do with the Old Gods, or their followers, or their magic, as you noted. The books have given us some information in that regard, but I don't want to introduce spoilers.

  • manting

    magic from the old gods is in the very begining of the very first book. The dire wolf with the antler in its neck. This was an omen sent by the old gods and the direwolf puppies were sent to protect the stark children

  • foolsage

    Good point. That's VERY subtle though and is easily mistaken for a coincidence. It's not overt magic like certain children who lived in forests were said to have used in Old Nan's stories. I'm trying to avoid spoilers. ;)

  • Maguita NYC

    As Rob had made parallels of how Christianity was transformed and made dominant by Constantine, with the merging of old gods and traditions with the new one, Stannis could do the same for R'Hllor and the old seven gods by making the god of fire Westeros' theocracy.

    I also believe the third-eye on the raven points to Buddhism. What with out-of-body and cosmic travel, as the reincarnation of Buddha himself is often denoted by the bestowing of a third eye on the chosen one, we could see the birth of a third religion with Bran becoming Westeros new Dalai Lama of sorts.

    That being said, there are parallels to be made as well between today's versions and interpretations of religion and Melissandre's as well asThoros' behavior towards their same god. Interpretations vary from one practitioner to the other. Some will find an excuse to let hatred, intolerance, and thirst for power reign free, while others choose to respect the essence of the message and do good.

    Nothing really changes when interpreting religions, not even in Fantasy books.

  • foolsage

    The third eye isn't a Buddhist concept. It's a yogic concept (especially prevalent in Tantric and Kundalini yogas), originating in Hinduism.

  • Maguita NYC

    Huh, I really thought it originated from the philosophy of Buddha... Live and learn!

  • foolsage

    I should have added above; I agree that the three-eyed raven is an allusion to the yogic third eye, which is related to the ability to view a deeper reality, or to pierce the veils of illusion.

    I'm not sure that I expect Bran to become a lama-like figure, though he certainly does appear to have an interesting and unique path. As to whether Bran would form a new religion... hrm. There's no definitive answer at this point but there are hints in the books that lead me to have a view on the matter. It's however firmly in spoiler territory.

    Interesting ideas!

  • Sam Underwood

    Very nicely put. Completely agree with you on point 2. Martin seems to work at lot in the number 3 so this would be a good third when you consider this, the dragons and white walkers, and Jon's theoretical parentage.

  • foolsage

    We're on the same page. I'm studiously avoiding spoilers.

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