If you’ve found your way here straight from the internet or by researching Lucifer or morningstar-related ideas and you’re wondering what you’re reading, this a blog about A Song of Ice and Fire, a.k.a. “Game of Thrones the books.” Feel free to read this one as a stand-alone, but it will make more sense if you start at the beginning.
Cheers & thanks for reading! – LmL
Now we come to the subject which actually started this process of exploration into the mythology and folklore of ASOIAF. Researching the legend of Lucifer and several related Morningstar deities was in fact the light-bringer which showed the way for this entire work. In my very first draft of what would become the mythical Astronomy of Ice an Fire, way back in February of 2015, I included a section about Lucifer and Lightbringer, but decided to separate it out into its own topic when I set about rewriting my material for podcasting. I thought it would be better to begin with more strictly A Song of Ice and Fire-related material for the first few podcasts… but now that I’ve lured you in– I mean earned your trust, it’s time to go back to the underlying fundamentals of what I am calling mythical astronomy. The ideas in this podcast will build on what we discussed in the last episode about George R. R. Martin writing modern mythology, so the timing seems right to explain why I chose the handle “Lucifer means Lightbringer,” which really means that we are going to discuss the tremendous influence that Venus-related mythology has had on A Song of Ice and Fire.
Morningstar, Evenstar, Lightbringer, Nightbringer
The second planet from the sun, known to us as Venus, is truly the mother of some of the best examples of mythical astronomy in the real world. The planets visible to the naked eye from earth appear to us as stars, and Venus, being the closest to earth, is the brightest of them all. Now of course the planets orbit the sun and do not move with rest of the stars in the sky; hence they have been called ‘wandering stars’ for thousands of years. Mercury and Venus, having orbits closer to the sun than earth’s, exhibit very unique behavior, even more so than the other ‘wandering stars.’ But tiny and more distant Mercury is greatly overshadowed by beautiful Venus, for not only is Venus the brightest of the wandering stars, it’s actually the brightest star in the sky. Because of this fact, and because of its remarkable behavior (which we are about to discuss), Venus has inspired myth-makers all around the world to spin epic yarns of gods and goddesses which have shaped and defined culture of thousands of years.
I: Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
II: The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
III: Waves of Night & Moon Blood
IV: The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
V: Tyrion Targaryen
VI: Lucifer means Lightbringer
All of these myths have common elements which are based on the observable qualities and characteristics of the planet Venus, and the different mythological interpretations of Venus’s behavior are quite fascinating to study. The list of deities which are based on the second planet includes such notable personages as Quetzalcoatl, Osiris, Mithras, Prometheus, Jesus of Nazareth, and some fellow with a bad reputation named Lucifer. Female deities aren’t left out either – the name Venus is of course taken from the Roman Goddess of love and beauty, whose Greek counterpart is called Aphrodite; and one of the oldest of most fearsome goddesses who has countless incarnations across Europe and the Middle East is the goddess Ishtar, whose symbol is the eight-pointed star of Venus.
Because of the detailed myths its unique character and behavior inspired, Venus is a terrific example of mythical astronomy to use as a device to explain exactly how mythical astronomy works (hint hint, that’s what we are about to do). It’s also a good choice to use for this purpose because George has woven the real-world mythology of Venus into some of the most central aspects of his story: the Night’s Watch, the ancestral sword of House Dayne know as Dawn, and the legend of Lightbringer itself. Throw in the Titan of Bravos, the red comet, and House Tarth for good measure, and I think it’s safe to say this is one of the most important pieces of real world mythology to understand in order to see what George is doing behind the scenes of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Most of you are familiar with the idea that Venus is sometimes called the Morningstar. This is because it appears low in the horizon in the hours just before sunrise, like a kind of herald for the dawn. Indeed, the Latin word for the ‘Morningstar’ is ‘Lucifer,’ and it also translates to “dawn-bringer,” “son of the morning,” and… “light-bringer.” That’s the reason why I took the name “Lucifer means Lightbringer,” because this fact is the tip of an iceberg of important and inflammatory mythology (multiple puns intended). Because Venus is the brightest star in the sky, its rise just before the sun was something that all cultures took note of, and as a result it features prominently in most world mythology.
The thing is, Venus doesn’t always rise in the morning. Venus also can appear as the Evenstar, the first star which rises at sunset and heralds the coming of nightfall. How can this be? Well, the reason is that Venus’s orbit is smaller than Earth’s, and therefore closer to the sun. Because of this, Venus will never appear too far from the sun when viewed from earth, meaning that it will always appear near sunrise or sunset, and always in the approximate part of the sky the sun is entering or leaving. The Earth rotates counter-clockwise, so we’ll either see Venus right before we see the sun, to the cosmic right of the sun in other words, and in this case we call it the Morningstar. When it’s to the cosmic left of the sun, we see it right after the sun passes out of view at sunset, in the same general direction as the sunset, and we call it the Evenstar.
Let’s do a fun little experiment in your house right now. It you’re driving, don’t worry about it, come back to it later, but for everyone else, here’s what I want you to do. Pick an object on the far side of the room . You are the Earth, and that object is the sun. Then pick an object a couple of feet to the right of your sun object, and that will be Venus. Now, face away from the ‘sun’ (it’s nighttime on your personal earth), close your left eye, and then slowly turn to your left, like the earth turning counter-clockwise on its axis. The bridge of your nose will act as earth’s horizon line. As you turn, you will see your Venus object come into view first out of the left side of your field of vision, rising from your nasal horizon before your sun object is visible. This is Venus appearing as the Morningstar, rising into view in the east just before the sun does. You can see why it is called the dawn-bringer, right? It comes just before the sunrise and lets us know the sun is on its way, like an usher or herald of daybreak. As you continue to turn, you will see your sun object rise into view, and in real life, its brightness causes the stars to no longer be visible, including Venus.
From earth, what you will see is Venus literally rising up from the eastern horizon like a spirit rising to heaven, at which point, Venus gradually fades into the daytime sky. It really does look like a star that ascends to heaven! To make it really come together for you at home, you’d have to do this experiment with your head tiled to the right side, but that would make you look ridiculous and I wouldn’t ask that of you.
Now just to finish off the experiment, let’s illustrate how Venus appears as the Evenstar. This time I want you to pick an object a couple of feet to the left of your ‘sun,’ and make that Venus. Start by facing the sun object, but this time close your right eye, and then continue to turn to your left. As long as the sun is in your field of view, it’s ‘daytime,’ meaning that you wouldn’t be able to see lovely Venus, but just as the sun begins to slip out of your field of view on the right side at what would be sunset, Venus will still be visible for a few moments longer in the western sky. With that big, rude sun exited stage right, Venus has a couple of hours to reign supreme as the brightest star in the sky, the Evenstar, before it too passes from view, falling back towards the western horizon (your nose) as Earth turns its face further from the sun.
What we see from earth is a bright star gradually becoming visible in the west as the sun sets and before the other stars appear. This bright star pops into view about a third of the way up into the sky, and then over the course of the next few hours, it falls toward the horizon and disappears, just like a being falling from heaven to earth. The fire of the gods comes down to man, everyone. Blow your trumpets of doom.
Venus alternates between these two positions on a regular cycle based on the speed of orbits of the Earth and Venus. For 263 days, Venus appears to the cosmic left of the sun from the perspective of earth, ushering in the night as the Evenstar. It begins this part of its cycle at its maximum distance from Earth and gradually gets closer, and therefore brighter, over the course of those 263 days. Every night, the Evenstar falls to earth, and every night, its peak altitude also decreases, adding to the impression of a star gradually falling from heaven as it approaches its transformation point. Eventually Venus begins to cross over the face of the sun – to move in between the earth and sun – on its way to its Morningstar position on the sun’s right. For those eight days of solar transit, Venus is not visible from Earth with the naked eye. Then it emerges on the right side of the sun, reborn as the Morningstar where it shines the brightest of any point in its orbit. Over the next 263 days of nightly ascension into the heavens, it gradually gets farther away from Earth, and therefore dimmer, until it passes ‘behind the sun’ from the perspective of earth. Being farther away, it takes Venus 50 days to emerge again on the left, reborn as the Evenstar. And on and on it goes, 263 days as the Evenstar, 8 days of invisibility and transformation, 263 days as the Morningstar, then 50 say of invisibility and transformation.
For this reason, almost all Morningstar deities such as I listed above are killed and resurrected. Specifically, they come down from heaven or bring something down from heaven or both, mimicking the way that Venus seems to fall from the sky. Sometimes these figures are killed, and then descend to the underworld, eventually becoming reborn as a lord of the afterlife – the Evenstar, the Lord of Night. It’s not just reborn the same as before, but reborn and transformed as well, just as Venus transforms. Osiris becomes the lord of the afterlife and the underworld after being resurrected by Isis, and Jesus is reborn and ascends to heaven to rule the happier side of the Christian afterlife. Lucifer, who is associated by some with the Christian devil, was evicted from heaven only to become the king of Hell, the darker side of the Christian afterlife. All of these are different interpretations of Venus’s mystifying switch between Morningstar and Evenstar, and of the way it appears to ascend and descend from heaven.
I should briefly point out that most of these characters I’m referring to as “Morningstar deities” are really “Morningstar / Evenstar deities,” but that’s just a little clunky to say a bunch of times. In casual conversation, people frequently just use the word ‘Morningstar’ to refer to Venus in general, and although it’s not very polite go around to playing astronomy snob at parties and correcting people, it is important for our purposes here to keep the correct terminology in mind.
Perhaps one of the best examples of a deity who is a vivid and details personification of Venus is the famous Quetzalcoatl of Mesoamerican myth, who also has equivalent figures with different names all through the Mexican subcontinent and South America. Quetzalcoatl is a hugely important figure in the native mythology of this region, and his importance and cultural relevance persists to this day. Now it must be said, no matter which part of the Morningsta-Evenstar cycle a myth-maker chooses to start with, mythical figures based on the planet Venus tend to undergo transformation and resurrection, and Quetzalcoatl is a great example of this. They saw his life beginning as the Evenstar, when Venus was at its farthest and dimmest, like a young child being born. As Venus gets brighter, it was perceived as Quetzalcoatl growing into manhood… at which time he is, rather inevitably, sacrificed. He disappears for eight days – four where he is dead and four where he is emaciated – and then reappears, reborn as the Morningstar in all his splendor, whereupon he ascends to rule heaven. He’s prophesied to return one day, naturally, and his return will supposedly be heralded by a comet, just as Jesus’s birth was. As just as Drogon’s birth and Dany’s rebirth was! What a coincidence.
I want to draw attention to the fact that the eight day period of Quetzalcoatl’s sojourn in the underworld exactly matches the eight-day transition period between Venus’s Evenstar and Morningstar alignment, when it passes before the sun and is hidden from view. This is what detailed mythical astronomy is all about, folks. Encoded within the Quetzalcoatl myth, we find basic astronomy and science – this is Joseph Campbell’s “cosmological function” of mythology, that of a proto-science. These observations of the cycles of nature and of the heavens form the skeleton and the backbone of the myth. But also encoded into the myth are the defining virtues and spiritual beliefs of the culture, and these are the ‘meat on the bones’ of the legend. This is the societal and religious function of myth. Quetzalcoatl’s transformative journey through the underworld simultaneously expresses defining cultural ideas and detailed observation of the heavens, nicely wrapped up in the form of an esoteric fable. The fable then acts as a vehicle to transmit those ideas and observations down through time. As long as the important facts of the myth are not changed, the astronomical message remains intact, even if other details evolve over time. Numbers tend to be one of the aspects of myth which survive the longest, because they are not subjective like descriptions.
What’s cool is that hundreds of years later, disconnected in time and space from the original authors of the myth, we can nevertheless determine that Quetzalcoatl is a personification of Venus because his actions match that of Venus. We can then in turn deduce that the ancient people of the Americas observed the heavens with some level of detail (a fact also corroborated by celestial alignments in their monuments) and then passed on this information encoded in myth and fable. Along the way, the story has no doubt been carried along and retold by people who did not understand the astronomical truths behind the story, but they remained there intact nevertheless, surviving nestled amongst the folds of the myth awaiting their chance to be recognized for what they are – basic astronomy and scientific observation.
On the other side of that coin, the realization that the ancients were doing a lot more than telling goofy fables might inspire a bit more respect from modern man for our ancestors’ understanding of the human condition and our place in the universe. Hopefully, this renewed sense of awe and respect on our parts can lead to people learning more about the context and history that goes along with the myth, and to a better understanding of the cultures which wrote them. In other words, the power of myth can be transformative if we open ourselves up to it.
I mentioned a moment ago that the Romans called Venus ‘Lucifer’ when it appeared as the Morningstar, and to this I will add that when it was in the Evenstar position, they called it ‘Vesper.’ In Greek, the word for Morningstar is ‘Eosphorus’ or ‘Phosphorus,’ and the word for the Evenstar is “Hesperus.” There’s an old philosopher’s riddle about semantics and naming known as Frege’s Puzzle, which ponders the potentially confusing reality that although ‘Hesperus’ and ‘Phosphorus’ have different qualities, such as one appearing at dawn and the other at nightfall, they are in fact the same thing. Hesperus IS Phosphorus, because they are both Venus. However, you cannot always equate Hesperus and Phosphorus – for example if you are instructing someone when to look for the Morningstar, the instructions are different than one would give to find the Evenstar. In some senses, they are the same thing, and in others, not.
It’s very like the minefield comparative mythology is doomed to walk – we can compare myths which have common elements and figures and say they are in some ways telling the same story, but we must also never lose sight of the very important differences. We have to hold different ideas and contexts in mind simultaneously, thinking of both the specific, personalized details that make each myth unique and also the more universal themes and archetypes which bind us all together to a common humanity. It’s quite an engaging and enjoyable challenge which I am sure you all have a taste for, either one which you brought with you to the podcast or one which may be budding and growing as we speak. 🙂
Are you… THE DEVIL?
Most people are familiar with the concept of Lucifer as being another name for Satan, the devil of the Christian religion. However, this is a recent association and the concept of Lucifer goes much further back into history. The Hebrew word translated as Lucifer, הֵילֵל בֶּן-שָׁחַר (Helel ben Shaḥar), is simply the Hebrew word for Venus as the Morningstar – just like the Latin word ‘lucifer,’ it also translates to “light-bringer,” “shining one,” “son of the morning,” etc. Helel ben Shaḥar actually only appears once in the Old Testament of Bible (the New Testament, including Revelation, was written in Greek), and most scholars agree that it was being used metaphorically to refer to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, who conquered Jerusalem, but then suffered great setbacks – he rose and fell like Venus, in other words. The word ‘lucifer’ was only later associated with Satan as a fallen angel by Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 AD), an idea which was then popularized by John Milton in ‘Paradise Lost.’ Here’s the verse:
Isaiah 14:12: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, thou which didst weaken the nations!”
Saying that Satan’s name is “Lucifer” is no different than saying his name is “Phosphorus,” except that ‘Lucifer’ is much catchier. As I mentioned before, Lucifer is a Latin word much older than Pope Gregory or John Milton, and it simply refers to the planet Venus when it appears as the Morningstar. Pope Gregory wasn’t mad, however – in fact, he had very good reason to make the association between Satan and Venus. The fable of a high angel who challenges god and is thrown out of heaven to become the king of hell is one interpretation of the universal mythological archetype known as the Morningstar deity.
But then again, so is the story of Jesus Christ, who is named the Morningstar in the New Testament book of Revelation, chapter 22, verse 16:
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
Now at first glance, it certainly seems confusing that both Jesus and lucifer would be described as the Morningstar in the bible. I mean it doesn’t get much more opposite than Jesus and Lucifer, right? Allow me explain. Many cultures saw Venus, the brightest star in the night sky who rises just before the sun, as a kind of usurper, a kind of wanna-be sun. He rises from the horizon in the early morning, trying to get the jump on the sun, and tries to shine bright enough bring the day… but before Venus can rise very high, the real king of the sky – the sun – rises and basically erases Venus from the sky. As a result, we see some Morningstar figures try to usurp the high god, just as the Biblical Lucifer does when he challenges God and loses. Lucifer’s Morningstar status is glorious – he’s the high angel of music, the most beautiful of the angels, you get the idea. Conversely, his Evenstar version is rather un-glorious: cast out of heaven to live forever in hell until God drags his ass back up to earth for Armageddon and one final butt-kicking.
Jesus too descends from heaven – but significantly, he incarnates on earth willingly, to save mankind, a gift from the high god to man. This is the Evenstar as the son of god, the son of the sun. It’s still the same idea, however – a luminous being descending from heaven to earth, which is what Venus appears to do every night as the Evenstar. Myth makers can say it was kicked out of heaven or that it descended from heaven as a gift, as they see fit, but they are both describing the same astronomy.
Another facet of Venus which both Jesus and Lucifer share is that of light-bringing- specifically, the transmission of the power or knowledge of the gods to mankind. This is a major feature of the Morningstar / Evenstar deity archetype, whether his descent from heaven is depicted as a tumultuous fall or a divine landing. Quetzalcoatl supposedly taught the natives almost everything they know of farming, husbandry, astronomy, mathematics, etc., while Prometheus is famous for stealing the fire of the gods for mankind. Jesus descends from earth to give man a path to salvation and heavenly righteousness, literally bestowing upon man the gift of the Holy Spirit, a kind of godly presence which is thought to reside in men’s hearts.
So what about Lucifer, the supposed devil? Well, think back to the Garden of Eden. The serpent is trying to convince Eve and Adam to eat of the fruit of something called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” which the serpent says will make them like gods, having awareness of good and evil. Presumably, this implies that man was previously in some sort of more innocent, animal-like state where he was unaware of the possibility of choosing evil… although choosing to eat of this fruit was itself supposedly a sin, which is basically a paradox. But setting that aside, the serpent did in fact bring the knowledge of the gods to man as his Morningstar status requires.
Thus, you can see why Pope Gregory might have seen the Biblical tale of Lucifer the fallen angel as a villainous incarnation of the Evenstar figure, a kind of dark-lightbringer.
It’s worth noting that the serpent gave his gift of terrible knowledge to man from the branches of a mythological world tree, much like Yggdrasil, whose upper branches and their contents representing the celestial realm. I’ve said before that this is a well-worm mythological concept, and the Bible is no exception. The fruit of knowledge and the serpent itself come from the divine realm into the hands of mankind, bringing enlightenment, for better or worse.
The idea of the Morningstar deity challenging god can be found everywhere – there’s the Canaanite deity Attar, who attempted to steal the heavenly throne of Ba’al, failed, and became the ruler of the underworld. There’s an older Caananite myth of a lesser god, Helel, who tried to overthrow the high god El, who lived on top of a mountain (this is a version of the same word we encountered earlier, “Helel ben Shaḥar,” literally “day-star, son of the morning”). He failed too, and descended to the underworld. The Chaldean myth of Ishtar and Inanna is similar – deities associated with the morning star descending to the underworld. The Babylonian myth of Etana and Zu tells the same tale – you get the idea. When Venus changes from appearing before dawn to appearing after sunset, it was seen as being resurrected as the “lord of the underworld,” or “lord of night.” This resurrected deity now has power over death. For what it’s worth, even the Morningstar figures who don’t challenge God but rather have his blessing, like Jesus or Mithras, still gain power over death after their resurrection.
Speaking of having divine blessing… there’s a strong correlation between solar deities and Morningstar deities, especially when Venus is depicted as the son of the morning, the son of the sun. God almighty is almost always the sun, and this is the role which the Christian God plays. His son, Jesus, is the Morningstar, the son of god who is also a part of the Trinity which IS God. Jesus is like a smaller piece of the sun, the son’s sun, the avatar of his solar father on earth. Mithras plays this role as well – he’s the avatar of the sun on earth, just as Azor Ahai is the “champion of R’hllor.” These Morningstar figures are often “solar champions,” so while they are distinct from the almighty “father god,” they carry their essence and power. Sometimes they are even reborn as the new high god, taking their father’s place – the lines are blurry, in other words.
I often speak of Azor Ahai Reborn and Lightbringer as being both the offspring of the sun in one sense and a reborn sun in another. This is very much like Jesus being the Morningstar and the sun of God in one sense, but also a part of God who ascends to heaven in another sense. It seems that George is showing us something similar with the transformation of the sun and Azor Ahai. It can be seen in two ways: a sun figure who dies, falls to earth, and is reborn, or a sun figure who gives birth to Morningstar children which fall to earth.
So let’s review what we’ve learned so far about this nor star fellowthe Morningstar deity fellow. He’s known for bringing the fire and knowledge of the gods to mankind, sometimes by stealing from the gods and sometimes because he is a child of god himself (or herself). He falls to earth like a star, he’s resurrected, and his name means “Lightbringer” and “son of the morning.” If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the previous podcasts, you will already be seeing that all of these ideas are present in the Azor Ahai myth and the prophecy of his return. He’s originally painted as a savior of man, while our research indicates more of the opposite. Thing is, either idea can fit the Morningstar archetype.
The big question we have to ask about Azor Ahai is this: is he the devil? Or is he the savior?
Or perhaps both?
Returning to the idea of the Venus being both Hesperus and Phosphorus, both Vesper and Lucifer, Evenstar AND Morningstar, consider the implications for Azor Ahai and the flaming sword of legend which symbolizes him called Lightbringer. Could he have transformed from Evenstar, the herald of the night, to the Morningstar, the herald of dawn? A similar scenario which also matches this symbolism would be Azor Ahai the father as the herald of night and his son as the Last Hero, the herald of dawn.
This actually gets down to an even deeper question about the swords and the moons: one thing with two halves or two things which are a pair? Meaning, were there two swords, as I suggest – a black sword made from a moon meteor with blood sacrifice by Azor Ahai and the white sword know as Dawn – or was it one sword which was transformed from black to white somehow?
The same question applies to the moon – I tend to lean towards their actually having been two moons, with one being destroyed in the Dawn Age, as opposed to one moon which has transformed, but I can’t be certain. I have an essay coming which explores the moon question specifically, and what I see are moon maidens which seem to be associated either with fire or ice, suggesting we may have had an ice-associated moon and a fire-associated moon. But it’s possible that we had a fiery moon which was not destroyed, but instead took damage during the Long Night and was transformed into the current, ice-associated moon whose cold light the Others seem to like so well. The ice and fire moon maidens could be showing us a process instead of a pair, though I think the pair makes more sense.
I also think it makes sense to have two opposite “Lightbringer” swords, because you can’t have a good fight with only one magic sword, you know? Similarly, I favor the Last Hero as Azor Ahai’s son – the sword of the morning and evening as two different people. Though I do think it could be twisted and interesting if resurrected, zombie Azor Ahai turns out to be the do-gooder and his son became the Night’s King or whatever.
So are these pairs of heroes, swords, and moons two stages in a transformation, or a pair of opposites? Hesperus IS phosphorus, in a sense, because they are both Venus, but hesperus is also not phosphorus, because those two words describe different configurations of Venus which do very different things.
Sorry to leave you dangling with a riddle there, but that’s what we have. Unravelling A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t a case of putting together the clues and crying “ah ha! The butler did it!” and then we all go home. No, the mystery of Lightbringer and Azor Ahai and the Last Hero is a bit more subtle and complex than that. But now that we have a working understanding of the Morningstar / Evenstar mythology and how it can manifest as different kinds of figures, we can at least place the riddles Martin is giving us in some kind of context. We all know Martin loves grey area and tends to frown on binary, black or white thinking, and I believe that’s why he found this Morningstar / Evenstar mythology so appealing to work with – it’s full of seeming paradoxes. In order to prevents his or her story from becoming shallow, robotic, predictable, or pedantic, a writer must have the ability to create what I would call ‘meaningful ambiguity,’ and this is an area in which Martin clearly excels. A good writer doesn’t always give the reader clear answers, but invites them to ask questions and make judgement calls, so that the reader has a level of participation in the story.
At the root of all storytelling, Martin often says, is the human heart in conflict. If we apply the lessons of Venus to the heart in conflict, we see that in every man and woman there is the potential for darkness and light, evil and good, yin and yang, or whatever pair of opposites you like, and whatever qualities you ascribe to them – every person has the potential to be a Morningstar or an Evenstar.
Or as Davos would say, we’re all a buch of half-rotten onions!
A Three-Headed Morningstar
I mentioned at the top that there are three key elements of the story which are infused with Morningstar mythology: the Night’s Watch, House Dayne and Dawn, and of course Azor Ahai and Lightbringer. We’ve already pretty well covered Azor Ahai and Lightbringer, but before we move on to Dawn and the Night’s Watch, there is one more aspect of Lightbringer we need to quickly cover, and that’s the red comet.
THE SWORD OF THE EVENING
In the main plot of A Song of Ice and Fire, the Lightbringer comet is playing the role of Morningstar and Evenstar. In other words, George has transferred the mythology of Venus on to the comet. He’s telling us as much by calling his red sword “Lightbringer” and then introducing the red comet to us as a symbol of Lightbringer. When Dany first sees the comet, on the night she burns Drogo, wakes the dragons, and generally re-enacts the destruction of the second moon, she sees the red comet as the first star of the evening – the Evenstar. This is the first in a long line of Venus associations laid on to the red comet. This is from the climax of A Game of Thrones:
“Jogo spied it first. “There,” he said in a hushed voice. Dany looked and saw it, low in the east. The first star was a comet burning red, blood red, fire red. The Dragon’s tail. She could not have asked for a stronger sign.”
It’s interesting to note that the wandering star that supposedly led the three magi to Bethlehem and Jesus’s birth was also said to have been sighted in the east. Although it is merely conjecture, one of the ideas about this star is that is was a comet. In any case, there’s another reference to Daenerys sighting the red comet as the Evenstar at the very beginning of the very first Dany chapter of A Clash of Kings:
The Dothraki named the comet shierak qiya, the Bleeding Star. The old men muttered that it omened ill, but Daenerys Targaryen had seen it first on the night she had burned Khal Drogo, the night her dragons had awakened. It is the herald of my coming, she told herself as she gazed up into the night sky with wonder in her heart. The gods have sent it to show me the way.
I sometimes talk about Azor Ahai’s theoretically black meteor sword as an opposite of Dawn, a kind of “Sword of the Evening.” I believe George is introducing it to us in just this fashion – the red comet is literally playing the role of the Evenstar and heralding the coming of Daenerys, who has become Azor Ahai reborn, as we discussed at the end of the first podcast. The Evenstar heralds the coming of night, and Azor Ahai reborn is, according to me, an inverted solar king and an Evenstar figure. A ruler of night, a night sun, a lion of night. A black dragon. And this is exactly what we see – the Evenstar in this all-important scene is the red comet, it heralds the coming of a black dragon (Drogon) and a dark solar queen – Daenerys as Azor Ahai reborn. This scene is also re-encating the events which brought us the original Long Night, so basically everything about it screams out “Herald of Nightfall” …and this is exactly what the Evenstar is, just as the Morningstar version of Venus is the dawn-bringer and light-bringer.
Consider this: the Evenstar is famous for falling from the sky every night, as I mentioned, and so aligning the comet with the Evenstar in this scene implies the idea of bleeding stars descending from heaven. That, of course, is exactly what we think the original cause of the Long Night was, so we are right back to the red comet heralding the nightfall of nightfalls.
The entire scene, in other words, is consistent – consistent with Evenstar mythology. This shows us the truth about Lightbringer and reveals the lies lurking within the myth. Daenerys is Azor Ahai reborn, and she’s re-encarting the events of Lightbringer’s forging, but nothing about this ceremony says “Morningstar” or “light-bringing,” and I think that is a clear message that the original forging of Lightbringer was the same. Azor Ahai’s “Lightbringer” was a sword of darkness, and the red comet which symbolizes Lightbringer was responsible for turning out the lights on Planetos.
Stepping away from the alchemical wedding scene and looking more broadly at the red comet, I think the clues point in the same direction. We don’t need actually pull all the quotes of the various things people associated the red comet with, as we’ve done so before, but a quick glance at them shows that they all point to our proposed scenario of the original Lightbringer comet and as being the destroyer of the moon, the bringer of dragon meteors, and the herald of the Long Night. It’s called the red messenger which portends fire and blood, and it apparently – according to Old Nan – smells like dragons. It’s called the father’s scourge, the dragons tail, a red hot sword or a bloody sword. It’s a wound across the sky, or even a scratch across the face of god one time in A Clash of Kings. It’s even called “Joffrey’s Comet” – how much more proof could you need?! 😉
It’s the Evenstar, the herald of the night. The Long Night, which was caused by bleeding stars that fell like flaming swords and landed like dragons.
One last note on comets and dragons and Venus. As I mentioned before, originally ‘lucifer’ is the Latin word for Venus as the Morningstar, and was only later associated with Satan in 600 AD. But for what it’s worth, Satan is called the “Great Dragon” in the Bible many times, and he takes the form of a talking serpent in the Garden of Eden scene. Lucifer is regarded by occultists as a primary source of magic, even THE source of magic, and in A Song of Ice and Fire… it is said by some that DRAGONS are the cause of magic’s return to the world. Or perhaps it’s the red comet, or maybe the red comet had something to do with the dragons waking so they can return magic to the world… the point is, dragons may be the source or a source of magic in A Song of Ice and Fire, and Lucifer is associated with dragons and with being the source of magic. These are all Venus-related ideas. In particular, Satan represents the Evenstar aspect of this figure, just as Azor Ahai, bringer of fire and dragons and black swords and the Long Night, seems to be an incarnation of the Evenstar, the herald of nightfall.
THE SWORD OF THE MORNING
And now on the other side, we have Dawn. The “Sword of the Morning.” I mentioned that Lucifer also means “son of the morning,” which sounds a damn lot like “sword of the morning.” The son of the morning (Venus) brings dawn as in sunrise, and the Sword of the Morning brings Dawn the sword. To top it off, Dawn is rather famous for its status as a star-sword. The sword of the morning carries star of dawn – it’s really laid on pretty thick here.
It’s important to note that we are talking about a star that fell from heaven, just as all Venus-related deities descend from heaven to bring the fire of the gods… which in this case was a meteor to make swords with. This is another confirmation of something I’ve said many times: the ‘fire of the god’s in our story is represented by the moon meteors and the swords and magic they gave birth to. The Grey King was said to have stolen the fire of the gods from the Storm God’s thunderbolt and the Sea Dragon, and I believe that the fire these stories are referring to is the moon meteors, their magic, and the swords people made from them. And by the way, yes, I believe this might indicate that the Ironborn have some connection to Azor Ahai’s contact with Westeros.
To sum up, both Lightbringer as a concept and the moon meteors and comet in particular represent the fire of the gods, and Lightbringer the sword is, according to me, made from comet-fertilized moon meteors. Lightbringer is named after the Morningstar, and Morningstar deities are notorious for bringing the fire of the gods to earth.
You can see how this all fits together, right?
I must say, many people have noticed the correlations between Dawn and the Morningstar mythology – it’s laid on pretty thick, as I said – and as a result, have come to believe that Dawn is Lightbringer. According to my thinking, Dawn is one half of a pair of “Lightbringer swords.” I would say that it is likely to be the sword which brought the dawn and ended the Long Night – I mean it’s right there in the name, right? – but I do not think that it is the sword that Azor Ahai made with blood magic in Asshai or wherever. So I would say that it’s a Lightbringer sword, but probably not the Lightbringer sword, as far as my theorizing goes.
One intriguing possibility is that Dawn and this hypothetical black sword of Azor Ahai represent the same ancient technology, but with some key difference. Perhaps Azor Ahai’s sword was made with blood magic, while Dawn was not. I think this idea makes a certain amount of sense, as I am pretty certain that Martin is showing us that blood magic is simply evil.
A variation of this idea is the possibility that the two swords were made from two different types of meteors. Dawn is a white sword supposedly made from a pale stone, and the meteor the Bloodstone Emperor worshipped was said to be black. These stories are impossibly old, so grain of salt and all that, but it would seem we have a accounts of two different kinds of meteors. If I am right that greasy black stone has something to do with the moon meteors, that would corroborate the existence of black meteors. Dawn on the other hand is the sword we actually have to examine, and it is distinctly white, which would seem to corroborate the existence of at least one white meteorite. Like I said before, either we found a way to turn black meteor swords into white meteor swords, or we had two kinds of meteors and two kinds of meteor swords.
Any of these possibilities would be a legit interpretation of the Morningstar / Evenstar dichotomy, but I really think the one that makes the most sense that somehow the same catastrophic event gave us the material to make two kinds of swords, just as one star gives us both Morningstar and Evenstar. Despite the fact that the name Lightbringer means Morningstar, all of the symbolism we’ve examined pertaining to Azor Ahai and his sword seems to shout “Evenstar,” herald of nightfall, etc., while everything about Dawn says “Morningstar,” “herald of the day,” and so on.
One other thing about Dawn to consider is its symbolic link to things which relate to ice and to the moon. For example, the bones of the Others are described pale and shiny like milkglass, while Dawn is of course described as “pale as milkglass, and alive with light.” That’s a whole ‘nother tangent which I will explore fully in a future podcast, but it lends credence to the idea proposed by myself and others such as my friend Voice of the First Men, which is that the big, conspicuously white sword might have been originally called “Ice,” that it might have been the original sword of House Stark and the King of Winter. This doesn’t preclude Dawn having a meteoric origin, either – comets carry ice, and Dawn really need not be made of ice to be associated with icy magic. The fiery dragon people have black swords… might not the King of Winter look good wielding a white sword called Ice? It makes a certain amount of sense.
Whatever the case, if Dawn does have some connection to the North, then it is almost certainly not the sword that came from the east and was associated with Azor Ahai. I like the dichotomy this sets up – a white icy swords that burns, and a black fiery sword made of frozen metal and perhaps a bit of frozen fire, meaning dragon glass. North vs. South. Ice vs Fire, but burning ice and frozen fire. Call me a lover of symmetry, but it makes a lot of sense to me, and it might be what Martin is building up to by constantly describing ice as having burning properties and making such a big deal out of the idea of “frozen fire.” It’s much more interesting than portraying ice vs. fire as just hot vs. cold. I think each side of the ice and fire split has frozen and burning qualities, and each seems have have light and shadow aspects as well.
Yet another version of the idea that Dawn and the black sword which I believe Azor Ahai possessed represent the same technology with some important difference is the idea that both swords originally came from the east, and represent the same technology. This based primarily on the vision Daenerys sees in A Game of Thrones which seems to show the gemstone emperors of the Great Empire of the Dawn, the vanished high civilization of legend from the Far East whom I believe were the common ancestor of both Valyria and House Dayne, and probably a few others. Here’s the quote, and this is from her “wake the dragon” dream she has while giving birth to dead lizard baby Rhaego:
“Ghosts lined the hallway, dressed in the faded raiment of kings. In their hands were swords of pale fire. They had hair of silver and hair of gold and hair of platinum white and their eyes were Opal and Amethyst, Tourmaline and Jade. “Faster,” they cried. “Faster, faster!”
She raised her feet, melting the stone wherever she touched.
“Faster!” The ghosts cried as one, and she screamed and threw herself forward.”
A great knife of pain ripped down her back and she felt her skin tear open, and smelled the stench of burning blood, and saw the shadow of wings.
And Daenerys Targaryen flew.
“Wake the dragon.”
These kingly ghosts rooting for Daenerys to wake her inner dragon have gemstones for eyes, and those gemstones – opal, amethyst, tourmaline, and jade – just so happen to match 4 of the 8 listed “gemstone emperors” of the Great Empire of the Dawn. They all have silver-gold hair that matches the description of Valyrian hair, but most notable is the one with eyes of amethyst. This person with purple eyes and silver-gold hair would seem to be a Valyrian, but the Great Empire of the Dawn is remembered as having collapsed during the Long Night, while Valyria arose after the Long Night. There’s a lot more to theory that this vanished Great Empire was the predecessor to Valyria in terms of magical and genetic lineage, and we will be exploring that theory in detail in our upcoming collaboration with History of Westeros. But setting aside the question of whether these Valyrian looking kingly ghosts were just Dany’s ancestors from Valyria or a vanished fore-runner of Valyria, the point is – they hold swords of pale fire.
Even according the myth which paints Azor Ahai as a hero, Lightbringer burns with red fire, and we have seen ample to evidence to suggest the metal itself was black. These ancestors of Dany, whom I believe lived before the Long Night, hold swords of pale flame. The description of the flame could be nothing, but I think it might indicate a commonality with Dawn, the pale sword which glows a bit. If Dawn were to take fire, I think “pale flame” or “white fire” would make a lot of sense. Perhaps these swords of pale fire represent the original flaming sword technology, and perhaps Dawn is like the one remaining vintage model in the world. The Bloodstone Emperor, whom I believe to be Azor Ahai, seems to have completely defiled the magic and knowledge of the GEotD, so perhaps his black sword is basically the corrupted version of Lightbringer tech, while Dawn is the original version. This idea has appeal because it might give us a way to have a flaming sword without human sacrifice, and wouldn’t that be nice.
Again, we’ll go into more detail on this idea in the future, but for now I just wanted to mention it as a possibility relating to the “two lightbringer swords” theory.
Another note on Dawn and House Dayne, and this is something I mentioned our appearance on History of Westeros’s House Dayne Part 2 episode: although House Dayne is famous for producing the white knights of virtuous repute who are deemed worthy of the title “Sword of the Morning” and of carrying Dawn, it also produces the opposite sort of character. We have three known Swords of the Morning – Arthur Dayne, Davos Dayne who married Nymeria, and Ulrick Dayne, known only as a remarkable swordsman – but then we have these other rotten fellows which seem drawn up as polar opposites to the white knights. Ser Gerold Dayne, known as Darkstar, who is willing to kill little children to start wars in which thousands of people will die… quite possibly for the simple reason that he is bored and suffering from a neglected ego. We have Vorian Dayne, who was actually called “The Sword of the Evening.” He was the Lord of Starfall when Nymeria landed, and he opposed her, lost, and was sent to the Wall. Darkstar and the Sword of the Evening Dayne – these two stand in direct contrast to the Sword of the Morning archetype, and they are a good match for what we think about Azor Ahai, darkener of stars and bringer of the swords of nightfall. We’ve also got a fellow named Ser Davos Dayne who sacked and burned Oldtown. He’s not as clearly associated with darkness, but Oldtown is the city which represents the light of knowledge, and has a white lighthouse as its defining feature. Burning it is pretty metaphorically significant – snuffing out the light, if you will.
In other words… the same house gives us both Morningstars and Evenstars, both bright stars and dark ones. It’s oh so very Venus.
One final point on the Sword of the Morning: it’s also a constellation – Orion, I’m almost certain – and here I get sneak attack you with the first zodiac patron mini-essay! Haha! All thanks to Imriel of Heavenly House Orion, earthly avatar of the Sword of the Morning, whose patronage and timely choice of Orion has brought this next bit to you. For starters, there’s a notable scene in A Storm of Swords where the Sword of the Morning constellation acts kind of like the Morningstar:
Ghost was gone when the wildlings led their horses from the cave. Did he understand about Castle Black? Jon took a breath of the crisp morning air and allowed himself to hope. 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, but the blacks and greys of the darkling forest were turning once again to greens and golds, reds and russets. And above the soldier pines and oaks and ash and sentinels stood the Wall, the ice pale and glimmering beneath the dust and dirt that pocked its surface.
It seems like the Sword of the Morning is the last constellation visible in the southern sky, and this is indeed indicative of Orion, which is visible in the southern sky just before dawn when it first appears in the fall (and that’s when Orion is viewed from the northern hemisphere, because in the southern hemisphere it look upside down). Orion lies on the celestial equator, so it will always be near the horizon, much like Venus. Because of this fact, the Greek legend about Orion had him as the lover of the Goddess of the Dawn, Eos. You’ll note that “Eos” is part of third “Eosphorus,” which is the Greek word for Morningstar.
The line in this passage about ‘the bright white star in its hilt blazing like a diamond in the dawn’ reminds us quite a lot of Venus as the Morningstar, the bright white star which blazes in the dawn sky. This makes a lot of sense with all the Venus imagery that has been woven into the Sword of the Morning ideas, such as the fact that the ‘Sword of the Morning’ Dayne carries a star sword called Dawn. This passage with the constellation of the same name acting like and being described like the Morningstar simply adds to this line of symbolism.
Although I am positing that George’s Sword of the Morning constellation is Orion, it also seems that some bits of Orion mythology have been used in the fashioning of Azor Ahai, Sword of the Evening. As we just discussed, Azor Ahai as the Sword of the Evening and the Last Hero as the sword of the Morning are like two opposite sides of the same coin, and House Dayne in particular can also give us darkstar and evening sword Daynes. For example, the myth of Orion is one of a great hunter and subduer of beasts. He was a warrior who knew no fear or respect, and in this he has to remind us a bit of both the Night’s King, supposedly a “warrior who knew no fear,’ and of Azor Ahai, who challenged the gods.
The Last Hero, too, was certainly a brave warrior, setting off into the cold dead lands to try to save mankind, persevering even when his twelve companions had perished.
Orion is a legendary blacksmith… and if you think about, that’s basically what Azor Ahai is: an extremely famous blacksmith.
Sky maps of Orion usually depict him as a hunter facing off against Taurus, the bull, which certainly reminds us of the ‘Mithras slaying the bull’ ideas Martin has translated in the story as Azor Ahai slaying the moon with the Lightbringer comet.
Returning to Orion’s Last Hero / Sword of the Morning correlations, we find that seemingly invincible Orion was finally brought low by a scorpion’s poisonous sting in one tale. He was stung on his ankle in a somewhat Achilles-like incident, and the scorpion eventually became the zodiacal constellation Scorpio. This reminds us of the Sword of the Morning, Arthur Dayne, who perished in Dorne, a land infested with and associated with scorpions. If Howland Reed perhaps finished Arthur with a poisonous weapon of some kind, we may have a further correlation between poisoned Orion and the Sword of the Morning. There’s an additional ramification to the idea of Orion being felled by a scorpion which correlates to Arthur’s death at the Tower of Joy, but I will have to save that for the Scorpio zodiac essay lest I give away the good Scorpio stuff, which is one of the best ones. hint hint One of the reasons why the Greeks imagined Scorpio and Orion to be enemies is the fact that they appear on opposite sides of the celestial equator, and therefore never appear in the sky at the same time. The story goes that Scorpio and Orion were placed on opposite sides because they are such bitter rivals. That’s a pretty cool bit of myth based on astronomy.
Astronomers group several constellations together with Orion and call them the Orion family of constellations, and those are Lepus (the hare), monoceros (the unicorn), and more interestingly, Canis Minor and Major, the little and big dog. You’ll recall that the Last Hero set out with a dog and horse along with his twelve companions, and Orion has himself two dogs and unicorn-horse. Coincidence perhaps, but taken with everything else, we can see that Orion is a nice fit for the Sword of the Morning constellation.
So, Orion is the Sword of the Morning, and the the Sword of the Morning is probably the Last Hero, in some sense. The Last Hero had twelve valiant companions who died, likely the first rangers of the Night’s Watch, so does Orion have twelve companions, perhaps that died nobly?
Well yes, he does: as I mentioned, Orion is just below the path of the ecliptic, making it oh-so-very close to being a member of the zodiac. The thing about the constellations of the zodiac is this: with the exception of Libra, they are all people or animals who died nobly and were rewarded by being placed in the sky as one of the twelve constellations of the zodiac. They are twelve dead heroes, in other words. And that is one part of how the Sword of the Morning and Orion has been roped into the zodiac ideas in ASOIAF, with the rest of that explanation coming when I introduce the general concept behind the zodiac in A Song of Ice and Fire.
Saving the best link between Orion and Morningstar mythology for last, I’d like to tell you about something called Venus’s mirror. This is an asterism – that’s a small grouping of stars within a constellation – inside the constellation of Orion. It’s a diamond-shaped mirror with a handle made up of Orion’s belt stars as the top of the diamond and Orion’s sword as the handle of the mirror. In other words, there is already a direct correlation between Orion’s sword and Venus, one which Martin surely discovered with a cry of ‘Eureka!’ You can really see why Orion was a natural fit as the Sword of the Morning. The most important takeaway from all of this is that the Venus mythology is the cradle from which George birthed the ideas of Lightbringer, Dawn, the Sword of the Morning.
That about does it for Orion and the Sword of the Morning. Thanks again to Ser Imriel for choosing Orion, may you represent his heavenly light justly, and may you always hold divine Venus’s mirror with a steady hand.
So we’ve talked about Azor Ahai, Lightbringer, and the comet; we’ve talked about House Dayne and Dawn; now, let’s talk about the Night’s Watch. That’s a pretty easy transition to make, because the Night’s Watch leads right back to both House Dayne and Azor Ahai, wouldn’t you know it.
THE NIGHT’S WATCH
The Night’s Watch vows contain a clear reference to Venus when they say that they are “the light that brings the dawn.” As we’ve seen, words which translate to Morningstar also translate to “light-bringer” and “dawn-bringer,” and Venus is indeed the herald of the dawn, the bright star which brings the dawn. The Night’s Watch is also a sword in the darkness, and we’ve seen that in George’s world, the Morningstar ideas have been grafted on to swords in a major way. A sword in the darkness that brings the dawn – are we talking about the Night’s Watch here or Lightbringer? It could just as easily be a description of the Sword of the Morning and the Dawn. The fact that they all draw from Venus mythology is no coincidence – on the contrary, it tells us that all of these things are connected: Dawn, Lightbringer, the Night’s Watch, and the Last Hero’s blade of dragonsteel.
They kind of have to be connected, don’t they? If Dawn is the sword that brings the morning, it had to have been used by the Last Hero, right? The thing is, we are missing huge pieces of the puzzle. For example, if Dawn is Lightbringer, either THE Lightbringer or one of a pair, how did Azor Ahai and his sword from the east get wrapped up in Westeros history?
As we’ll discuss in that joint podcast with history of westeros on the great empire of the dawn, there are two important things which seem to indicate the migration of dragonlords from the far east to southern Westeros in the Dawn Age, and those would be the occasionally purple-eyed and silver-haired members of House Dayne and the fused stone fortress at Oldtown that serves as the base of the Hightower which we learn about in The World of Ice and Fire. In other words, I definitely believe that there is a connection between east and Westeros which has something to do with Azor Ahai, Lightbringer, and House Dayne. But there are a lot of gaps in the story, as I said – was this an invasion of some kind, or a migration, or both? What happened, and what does it have to do with the Long Night? The place in Oldtown where the fused stone fortress stands is called Battle Isle – was there a historic battle here, as the Wordbook suggests? Did we have some kind of epic magic-sword fight? Was the this the opening salvo of the War for the Dawn? How did the action eventually get up north?
If Dawn the sword is connected to the North, perhaps the original Ice… well what’s the deal with that? And why does George introduce us to the King of Winter archetype in the form of Ned with the noticeably smoke-dark dragon-forged sword? The Starks, whose stone kings rule the crypts with hellhound guardians at their side, seem like more of Evenstar / lord of the afterlife figures to me, so it makes sense for them to have a black sword, “Black Ice” as it were. The Starks are also somewhat sneakily associated with fire and hell, as I mentioned in the Tyrion Targaryen episode. Whatever the mysterious link is between ice and fire is involving Azor Ahai and the Last Hero, it no doubt runs through Winterfell and House Stark, and we still have some deep mysteries to uncover there.
The children of the forest, too, might be involved in all of this, as the story of the Last Hero talks about him being protected and rescued by the children of the forest, so again, there are a lot of pieces of the puzzle missing. We still don’t know who built the Wall, when it was built, or why, and surely that has something to do with all of this. We probably won’t be able to really make a good solid dedicated guess at the original events of the Long Night and the War for the Dawn until the books are finished and we can see how the conclusion parallels what we have reconstructed of the Dawn Age / Long Night events.
One caveat: I do think we can get closer to the truth than we are now, and we will definitely be working on that in future podcasts. The upcoming pod with History of Westeros will attempt to highlight the evidence for migration by sea and by dragon from the Far East to Westeros in the Dawn Age, and as we pivot to the topics of weirwoods, greenseers, and the Others, we’ll try to pin down the Last Hero / frozen North side of things.
Now, to wrap this up, let’s dig a little deeper into just exactly why Lucifer, the light-bringer of man, was remembered as a bad guy by the Christian religion.
A TALE OF TWO DEITIES
Everyone knows the Garden of Eden story: Adam and Eve are in a state of paradise, without knowledge of good or evil. They literally cannot choose evil – they don’t even realize it exists. God gives them only one commandment, saying ‘whatever you do, don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.’ Along comes the snake, our buddy Lucifer in this interpretation, and convinces them to eat of the fruit, saying they can become like gods – that is, having the knowledge of good and evil, also known as ‘free will.’ They eat and become aware of right and wrong, and are ashamed. God kicks them out of paradise, and life gets much harder for mankind thereafter. The Garden of Eden is even guarded against reentry by an angel with a flaming sword!
Flaming swords aside though, this is a pretty weird story, if you think about it . Paradise is depicted as an animal-like, automaton state. The Jehovah God of Genesis wants to keep man in this state of blissful ignorance, while Lucifer, the “light-bringer,” wants to bring us the knowledge of higher consciousness. So who’s the good guy here, exactly?
George has said that he drew influence from (among a million other things) the Gnostic Cathars of medieval France, and the Gnostics have an interesting interpretation of the Garden of Eden story: Jehovah is an evil demon (a demiurge) who wants to keep man as unthinking worshippers of himself, and the snake is the one trying to help mankind, encouraging him to eat the fruit out of the gods and expand his consciousness – bringing the light of heavenly knowledge. This ability to conceive of abstract concepts like morality is one of the defining elements of human consciousness, one of the main things that separates us from our ancestors who were stuck on using the same stone tools for over a million years with little progress. Mankind is surely still leaning to wrestle with this great responsibility that comes with the gift of consciousness, but in order to have any hope of progressing to the next level, we must do just that – we must master ourselves. This cannot happen if we were to remain in an animal-like state of awareness. ‘Ignorance is bliss,’ perhaps, but free will is a necessary step on the road to progress, and Lucifer is remembered for bringing us the light of free will. The gnostics view Jehovah, therefore, as a demon, a ‘demiurge.’
In the couple of centuries following the emergence of Christianty, there were many different versions and sects, some differing greatly from one another. The original Gnostics were one such, and they considered themselves Christians. After 300AD, the Catholic Church began to crystallize something resembling the modern Bible and doctrine of Christianity beginning with the council of Nicaea in 325AD, and taking final shape by 397AD at the council of Carthage, and the Gnostics and other sects were deemed heretics. By 600AD, lucifer, the bringing of light and free will, was a bad guy.
If you are a group of religious leaders that wish to turn a religion towards authoritarianism, control by fear and shame, moral puritanism, and suppression of the divine feminine spirit, then this free will stuff isn’t such a good thing. This could explain why a mythological figure like that of Lucifer may have been viewed as “the bad guy” by those who wanted to take Christianity in that more authoritarian and patriarchal direction. One of the things Lucifer is typically associated with is androgyny, or at least balance between the masculine and em feminine.
In the Old Testament, we get another great example of a potential deity confusion. There are actually two very different Canaanite (Phoenician) deities who have been mixed up together and remembered as the same guy. Originally, we had El, or Elohim, who is more of a standard “Father God” deity – the “creator of creatures,” “father of the gods,” “King,” “God eternal,” “father of wisdom,” etc. El is basically the oldest Caananite deity anyone knows of, the original bull deity and father of Ba’al, who’s actually the most famous of all bull-gods.
A quick aside: Ba’al is perhaps the original resurrected deity tied to the cycle of the seasons, who are sometimes called Corn Kings because their death is associated with the harvest season, and their resurrection is associated with the return of spring. We will return to take a closer look at Ba’al and Corn Kings when we get to the section about Garth the Green, but I will mention that George makes a clear reference to Jon Snow as a Corn King in A Dance with Dragons, and this has been caught by many attentive readers familiar with the Corn King mythological archetype:
Mormont’s raven muttered across the room. “Corn, ” the bird said, and, “King, ” and, “Snow, Jon Snow, Jon Snow.” That was queer. The bird had never said his full name before, as best Jon could recall.
Many Corn King figures are also Morningstar figures, such as Tammuz and Osiris, and resurrection always features prominently in both. Fitting then, that the father of sacrificed and resurrected Ba’al is El, the high father god who is equated with the sun, just as the father of Jesus the Morningstar is a solar god.
So that’s El – he’s the sun god and the all-father.
Then we have this other fellow named Jehovah or Yaweh, who was originally the Canaanite storm god, similar to the god Yam. Typical of a storm god, Yaweh is the jealous and angry god, the guy who killed everyone on earth who wouldn’t obey him with a flood. He’s the guy that demanded Abraham be willing to sacrifice his own son to “please God,” and the guy who didn’t want us to posses the knowledge of good and evil. Storm gods are always seen as wrathful because they are really just a personification of the forces of the storm, which are turbulent, merciless, and deadly.
Worship of Jehovah / Yaweh, which had been around for a millennia or more already as part of a pantheon of Caanaanite deities, began to replace worship of El throughout Canaan between 1000BCE – 600 BCE, as his followers began to asset his primacy over El, Ba’al, Asherah, and other Caananite deities. The followers of Yaweh became increasingly intolerant of the existence of other deities, eventually asserting that no other gods existed at all, attributing all divine attributes of the other gods to Yaweh. This was a conversion from decentralized pantheism to hierarchical monotheism, which is quite significant as these are basically opposing worldview. At least, we can say that monotheism and hierarchy or authoritarianism have no tolerance for pantheism and decentralized authority. A clash was inevitable, and the results did a lot to shape the world going forward.
Now, because the Old Testament is composed of various books that were written hundreds and even thousands of years apart, Yaweh and El have been written and interpreted as being the same god, even though they were originally very different gods who had very different characteristics. Modern Christians use Yaweh and El and their variations interchangeably as simply being different names for god, but if you go through the Old Testament and separate out the references to El and Yaweh, you begin to the two personalities emerge. Sometimes the Christian God is portrayed as loving and merciful, the god who takes care even the tiniest birds and insects, as Jesus points out, and sometimes he is portrayed as a wrathful and terrible god whose judgement is awesome to behold. He’s not schizophrenic, he’s two different people zipped up into one.
This is what happens with religion and mythology over time. ‘Mythology’ is really just very old religion – there’s essentially no difference. Stories of gods and heroes are symbols crafted by man, and then later re-crafted and shaped, and sometimes twisted outright to serve an agenda of a given group of people. The same symbol can be used by people committing great acts of evil and by people committing great acts of love, even. At times, these stories are passed down by people who have forgotten the original meaning – this is actually very common, and we’ve got a lot of it going on in A Song of Ice and Fire in my moon disaster theory is at all close to the truth. As we consider the mythology of Planetos, we must consider these phenomena and how legends like that of Azor Ahai or the Night’s King may have been altered over time, either intentionally or accidentally. Intentionally is far more interesting, so we’ll keep an eye on that one. Personally, I think the Church of Starry Wisdom created R’hllorism as a PR campaign for their lord of darkness, Azor Ahai a.k.a. the Bloodstone Emperor, but I’ll save that bit of Ice and Fire conspiracy theory for another time.
Kidding aside, history is written by the victors, and so is theology. If the gnostic view of the Bible has won out… well, the world would be a different place. All of this is interesting to ponder on its own, but what I am really trying to do here with his little foray into the history of the Bible and Canaanite deities is to provide a bit of context in which to view the Azor Ahai myth and the other myths of heroes and villains in A Song of Ice and Fire. The question of who is the hero and who is the villain is a question people have been asking about gods and heroes for eons, and it’s a damn good question to ask. Under no circumstances should we simply accept that Night’s King was a villain and Azor Ahai a hero without question.
The Morality of A Song of Ice and Fire
I’d also like to say something about the idea of evil and good in A Song of Ice and Fire, lest I give the wrong impression here. It’s well known that Martin has a fondness and a skill for creating morally grey characters who, like real people, have the capacity to do right or wrong, and who find themselves in situations where right and wrong become very difficult to see clearly. This is good storytelling, and George talks about this idea openly, as well as his tendency to eschew the Sauron-esque “dark lords” which are typical of fantasy. However, some people have gone too far with this and come away with he impression that there is no right and wrong in A Song of Ice and Fire. I would strongly disagree with that sentiment. People themselves are usually a shade of grey, but right and wrong definitely do exist as abstract concepts. The reason people are thought of as “grey” is because they are a mix of black and white, of good and evil. No good and evil, and everybody is like fuchsia or turquoise or something. You get the idea.
When we consider whether someone like Azor Ahai is a “villain” or a “hero,” we speak not of their entire personality and character, but of their defining actions. The heroes of legend are created around important deeds which echo out into history. Someone who builds something great, wins a great war, negotiates a great treaty, or establishes a House, tribe, or nation. Over time, many details of the story turn from truth to fiction, but at the center of it will be that one, momentous deed. When we ask whether or not Azor Ahai was a villain, we are asking what he defining action was. Whoever it was that brought down the moon is a “villain” as much anyone can be. We can talk about whether the dedd was done intentionally, through hubris, or accidentally through playing around with the wrong magic, but bottom line, they fucked up. As we’ve discussed, we remain open to a redemption arc, carried out by Azor Ahai the villain himself or perhaps his son who may be the Last Hero, and in this case we’d have a figure who was first villain and then hero.
The point I am making is this: the first deed was in fact evil and villainous, and whatever was done to restore the sun to the sky must be regarded as heroic.
The story of or Ahai presents us with a moral conundrum: in order to save the world, Azor Ahai had to do something horrible. It’s the height of Machiavellian logic – it’s the same logic which seeks to justify the red wedding because it ended the war, and thus ultimately may have saved lives in sum total. The same logic which says Daenerys was justified in sacrificing Mirri Maz Dur to work blood magic. Martin is asking us to choose what to believe. Are we machiavellians? Can the abomination of blood magic and human sacrifice be justified it is used to “save the world?”
I’ve always been one to reject Machiavellian logic, and in general, I tend to believe in process-oriented thinking over results-oriented thinking. The right process will tend to yield the right results – that’s the idea. It’s always been very hard for me to accept that Martin is telling a story about how sometimes you just have to use a bit of human sacrifice to save the day. I could be wrong about this, admittedly, but that’s always been my take.
But guess what! I think the mythical astronomy has something to say on the matter. We see that at the moment Azor Ahai stabs Nissa Nissa, the moon cracks. The mythical astronomy shows us that the cracking moon is what lead to the Long Night – yet in the Azor Ahai tale, the Long Night has already fallen, which is why he has to sacrifice Nissa Nissa to make Lightbringer in the first place. In other words, the mythical astronomy indicates that this deed which caused the moon to crack was in fact the deed that caused the Long Night. That scenario makes Azor’s Ahai’s act of human sacrifice and blood magic an evil deed of great magnitude, and doesn’t that make more sense? The story of the Bloodstone Emperor lines up with this – he kills his sister, the Amethyst Empress, in what was surely an act of dark magic – a deed was so foul that it was called “the Blood Betrayal” and was remembered as having caused the Long Night.
There’s an oft-quoted passage from A Game of Thrones where Syria Forel is telling Arya the story of how he became the first sword of Bravos. The Sealord, who kept a menagerie of exotic animals, is interviewing swordsman for the newly vacated post of First Sword. In his lap is an ordinary tomcat, but the sealed has apparently been telling all the potential First Swords that the cat was a rare beast “from an island beyond the sunrise.” Syria was the only one to say “that’s just an ordinary tomcat,” and was thus named the first sword. Syria punctuates the lesson to Arya by explaining that the others saw what they expected, and not what was actually there.
What I think we have with the Azor Ahai fable, on a surface level at least, is a story of a horrific act of human sacrifice and blood magic being sold to us as an act of heroism and valor. It’s a test, basically, to see if we are suckers for extreme machiavellian thinking. I’d go out on a limb for the rejection of machiavellian thinking anyway, but I am glad that the mythical astronomy supports this conclusion as well.
As for the idea of Nissa Nissa as a heroic but tragic figure, it is still there, but we have to look to a deeper layer of meaning – that’s the interpretation of the Lightbringer story as an act of procreation which we’ve talked about many times. When a woman goes through pregnancy and risks her own life to bring another human being into the world, it is one of the greatest acts of love and sacrifice in all of human existence. This was even more true before the advent of modern medicine, and George draws attention to this fact with many examples of women who die in childbirth in the story.
To me, it makes a lot more sense to match the concept of a brave woman’s sacrifice with the act of procreation, of creating life, than to making swords with blood magic. This is another reason why I favor the scenario where the Last Hero is the son of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa. Azor Ahai may have killed her to work blood magic and make his evil sword, but she must have given birth at some point before she died, and this son, also representative of the concept of “Lightbringer,” would be the one to actually bring the dawn as the Sword of the Morning and the Last Hero.
If you think about it, our probable three heads of the dragon all have terrible fathers: Daenerys has mad King Aerys, Tyrion probably has Mad King Aerys as a biological father and Tywin as his father in a functional sense, and Jon has Rhaegar, who pretty much started a war by running off with Lyanna. Brandon gets blame to, as does Aerys; and there are redeeming qualities to Rhaegar… but bottom line, he started a war with politically reckless behavior. Not only that, he was well aware of his father’s madness and cruelty, and was basically dragging his heels on doing something about it… until it was too late. Rhaegar, as the abductor of moon maidens and the black dragon, is an strong Azor Ahai / Bloodstone Emperor figure, and was indeed a major part of starting the war. Jon’s real father was of course Ned, because Ned raised him, but the point here is that the terrible fathers of these three heads of the dragon may parallel the idea that the Last Hero had a terrible father known as Azor Ahai, bringer of the Long Night.
I think one of the other lessons here concerns the fire or knowledge of the gods, so to speak, and the knowledge of the gods in this case really means any kind of power. The knowledge of the gods can be obtained by man, but it has to be earned, slowly, and treated with respect. It is a dual edged sword which can also be quite deadly when in the hands those who do not treat it with respect, who have not slowly built up knowledge and ability. Stealing it, as the Bloodstone Emperor did – that’s definitely a recipe for disaster.
Even those who have “earned it,” so to speak,” must always be held account able by themselves and others, and must maintain the high level of respect and mindfulness at all times, or else it can be disaster. Think of technology in this sense – bioengineering can produce super-viruses. Nuclear power can be nuclear meltdowns or even nuclear weapons. I mean, take one of the first human inventions, actual fire – a fairly good stand in for the fire of the gods if there ever was one. Fire can cook and keep warm and bring life, and it can also burn and kill on a tremendous scale if vigilance slips even a little bit. That’s really what I think George is telling us about power, and that’s more or less what I take from the Garden of Eden story. The awareness of god and evil may be a burden of consciousness, but it’s one we have to accept and master in order to keep evolving.
This line from A Dance with Dragons seems relevant:
He turned back to the red priestess. Jon could feel her warmth. She has power . The thought came unbidden, seizing him with iron teeth, but this was not a woman he cared to be indebted to, not even for his little sister. “Dalla told me something once. Val’s sister, Mance Rayder’s wife. She said that sorcery was a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.”
“A wise woman.” Melisandre rose, her red robes stirring in the wind. “A sword without a hilt is still a sword, though, and a sword is a fine thing to have when foes are all about.
Astronomy as Mythology – the Book of Revelation
Before we get out of here, I’d like to quote a couple of verses from the Biblical book of Revelation. I’m grabbing verses from several chapters somewhat out of context; the point is not to follow the narrative of the apostle John’s vision, but rather to look at some of these verses as metaphors for astronomy-related disasters and to illustrate the myth-makers have been working with these elements in conjunction for quite some time now. I definitely, definitely think George was drawing on some of the ideas in these verses, as they intersect with his “comet, dragons, and flamings swords” motifs that he already had going. Take a look and see how these verses read, with what we have learned about mythology and astronomy in mind… (A huge hat-tip and thank you to pal Westeros.org forum user and Equilibrium.)
The Biblical Book of Revelation
Ch. 1 14The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
Ch. 2 26The one who is victorious and keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations– 27and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter; he will shatter them like pottery — just as I have received this from My Father. 28I will also give him the morning star.
Ch. 6 12Then I saw Him open the sixth seal. A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair; the entire moon became like blood; 13the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind; 14the sky separated like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place.
Ch. 8 5The angel took the incense burner, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it to the earth; there were rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. 6And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. 7The first angel blew his trumpet, and hail and fire, mixed with blood, were hurled to the earth. So a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. 9a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. 10The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water. 11The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter. 12The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day was without light, and the night as well.
Ch. 9 1The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him. 2He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft.
As you can see, much of Revelation could serve as Long Night meteor-impact mythology. Now I am not claiming that Revelations is actually referring to a specific disaster in Earth’s history, particularly because Revelations is supposedly a vision of the future. Let us draw this conclusion instead: when ancient peoples imagined and wrote about the most terrible divine apocalypse event that might ever befall the earth, they could only describe it terms of celestial catastrophe and astronomical calamity.
Whether you go forwards or backwards in time, the idea of things called “gods” which live in the heavens or the celestial realm has always been based on the luminous bodies which streak across the sky in a cosmic dance of interlocking orbits and cycles. When something appears to fall from heaven, as Venus does, or actually falls from heaven, as meteors do, you better believe that ancient man interpreted it as an act of the gods. When ancient man spoke of fearing the gods, they spoke of the same fear that one has for floods, fires, earthquakes, or god forbid, meteor strikes. There’s not much you can do with earthquakes, but the rest – fire, flood tides, and meteorites – contain power that can be harnessed by man, but this power must always be feared, lest it turn to destruction. Thus we can see that the personalities of many or even most ancient gods and goddesses are actually artistic and mystical personifications of thee forces of nature and the universe, and that is what Mythical Astronomy is all about.
If you’re a fan of the HBO show, be sure to check out History of Westeros end of season book-to-show Q&A episode, where I was grateful to appear as guest.