Hey there friends, patrons, and mythical astronomers, it’s your starry host, Lucifer means Lightbringer! But you can call me LmL, since that’s a little less cumbersome and we’re friends by now. I’ve been hard at work writing the past month – in fact I started out writing one episode and ended up writing three. I’ve been going deep into the woods, aided by the helpful whisperings of forest and forum friends, searching for the secrets of the heart trees, and it turns out there’s quite a bit to explore. I began to really focus in on the connections between Odin and Yggdrasil and the greenseers and weirwoods, originally thinking to cover most of it in one episode, but I ended up finding it more useful to just take one Odin idea at a time. That way, we can keep the focus on ASOIAF, spending most of our time talking about how each Odin-related idea manifests in the story, and going over the relevant sections of text with our standard level of scrutiny.
But first – before all that – I have a very special treat for you, a prelude to a kill as it were. Before we talk about gods hung on trees, we’re going to rip into some straight ASOIAF mythology, that of the first Storm King Durran Godsgrief and fair Elenei, the daughter of the gods. I’ve been mentioning Durran around the margins here and there, but it’s time to give him and Elenei their due.
Before that, a quick words of thanks. Thanks to Animals as Leaders, for providing their amazing music for our podcast. A huge thank you to Martin Lewis, of the “Echoes of Ice and Fire,” who’s been a fabulous addition to our podcast with his vocal acting. Thanks to George R. R. Martin for sharing his art with us at a very reasonable cost, and most of all, thanks to our patreon supporters, for without their support, there would be no Mythical Astronomy of Ice and Fire here in the seventeenth year of the twenty-first century. If you feel inspired to support us on Patreon, just click on the Patreon tab in the upper right corner of this page.
I: Astronomy Explains the Legends of Ice and Fire
II: The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
III: Waves of Night and Moon Blood
IV: The Mountain vs. the Viper and the Hammer of the Waters
V: Tyrion Targaryen
VI: Lucifer means Lightbringer
Sacred Order of Green Zombies
Moons of Ice and Fire
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Antler Hats and Grieving Gods
This section is brought to you by Patreon supporter Ser Dionysus of House Galladon, Earthly Avatar of Heavenly Houses Virgo and Libra, wielder of the Just Maid, a Valyrian steel sword with a milkglass pommel in the shape of a fair maiden
Alright, well, we’ve been running around ancient Westeros identifying people that might wear antler hats, and yet we really haven’t talked too much about Durran Godsgrief. We’ve made a big deal out of the horned lord attributes of Garth the Green and the sacred order of green men, and we’ve seen this horned god symbolism expressed supremely well by the brothers Baratheon… who descend from the Storm Kings of Durrandon…. so what about the mythology of the first Storm King, from whom those Baratheon Kings inherited their stag man symbolism? When we talked about the Hammer of the Waters being a moon meteor, I mentioned that the violent storms sent by angry gods against the Godsgrief might have been an account of the tsunamis which would have followed the collapse of the arm of Dorne. But now that we appreciate the significance of the antler horns as a symbol in ASOIAF – namely, that these horned folk, whoever and whatever they were, might have been the greenseers responsible for bringing down the moon – let’s take a closer look at this fable of a fellow with an antler hat who stole from heaven and caused a great storm and flood. It comes to us from Catelyn’s inner monologue in ACOK:
The songs said that Storm’s End had been raised in ancient days by Durran, the first Storm King, who had won the love of the fair Elenei, daughter of the sea god and the goddess of the wind. On the night of their wedding, Elenei had yielded her maidenhood to a mortal’s love and thus doomed herself to a mortal’s death, and her grieving parents had unleashed their wrath and sent the winds and waters to batter down Durran’s hold. His friends and brothers and wedding guests were crushed beneath collapsing walls or blown out to sea, but Elenei sheltered Durran within her arms so he took no harm, and when the dawn came at last he declared war upon the gods and vowed to rebuild.
Since we’ve talked quite a bit about horned lords, the first thing we need to do is to analyze Elenei, so let’s talk goddesses for a minute. Besides, we’ve been a little heavy on the male characters and we need to balance things out a bit. Elenei is an aquatic goddess, being born of the wind and the sea. A paragraph later in Catelyn’s recounting of the tale, we learn that when the gods continued to send storms and crush Durran’s efforts at rebuilding, Durran’s people begged him to give Elenei “back to the sea,” again implying that she is an aquatic figure. That means that she can probably be thought of as a mermaid goddess. Can an aquatic goddess be a moon goddess? Yes, absolutely; the relationship between the moon and the tides has been known for eons, and has spawned many myths, and we already know that part of the cracked open moon falls into the sea and becomes a kind of drowned goddess, that might be the kind of figure we are talking about here with Elenei. As I like to say, mermaids are just goddesses that go swimming. I mentioned that there is a Greek Okeanid water nymph named Nyssa, so the name Nissa Nissa may be in part chosen to give us the idea mermaid goddess. It seems likely, with all the emphasis on moon drownings that we have seen.
Elenei’s fall from heaven is implied by the idea that she gives up her status as an immortal god to wed the Godsgrief, dooming herself to a mortal’s death. She’s going from the realm of heaven to the realm of earth, in other words. Durran’s love for Elenei will ultimately kill her, just as Azor Ahai supposedly slew his wife, though he loved her “best of all that is in this world.” We have reason to doubt the truth of that, but the themes of the myths match – a love that kills… something I referred to a sex and swordplay way back in episode one.
Elenei sounds like a variation on Helen, and is most likely a reference to the Greek goddess Helen, a.k.a. Helen of Troy. Helen is variously thought to mean “bright,” “shining one,” “torch,” and a few other derivative ideas, which makes you think of a star or moon, and indeed Helen is usually, but not always, associated with the moon (some scholars think Helene is phonetically related to Selene, the primary Greek moon goddess). Helen is the most beautiful woman in the world, famously referred to as “the face that launched a thousand ships,” a reference to the Trojan War being fought over her abduction to Troy by Paris. Daenerys is also called the most beautiful woman in the world, and she is of course the prime example of our fallen moon maiden. The thousand Greek ships launched by the abduction of Helen the moon maiden seem to have incarnated into ASOIAF as the hundred ships of the Ironborn fleet that is sailing to Slaver’s Bay to bring Daenerys back home. In Mythical Astronomy terminology, it’s easy to see that the face that launched a thousand ships translates to the moon face that launched a thousand thousand meteor dragons. I’ll also point out that the Dornish seem to refer to the Milky Way as Nymeria’s ten thousand ships, so the idea of the stars as a fleet of ships is already alive and well in the story.
There’s a fabulous quote from AFFC which ties together these two manifestations of Helen’s moon fleet, the Iron fleet and the moon meteors. Fittingly, it comes from Victarion’s “The Iron Captain” chapter, and of course Victarion is the man who leads the Iron Fleet to bring the most beautiful moon maiden back home. Vic is walking along the strand with his niece, Asha Greyjoy:
Outside the tent the wind was rising. Clouds raced across the moon’s pale face. They looked a bit like galleys, stroking hard to ram. The stars were few and faint. All along the strand the longships rested, tall masts rising like a forest from the surf. Victarion could hear their hulls creaking as they settled on the sand. He heard the keening of their lines, the sound of banners flapping. Beyond, in the deeper waters of the bay, larger ships bobbed at anchor, grim shadows wreathed in mist.
You’ll notice that the actual ships are described like clouds – grim shadows wreathed in mist – while the clouds themselves are described as ships. This is to make it clear that the ships sailing across the moon symbolize the Iron Fleet which will be launched to ‘rescue’ Daenerys. The stars are also mentioned right after the cloud ships to help us draw that association, and of course we see the familiar “ships as trees” symbolism of the sea dragon.
Another good correlation to the ASOIAF fallen moon goddess archetype is found in Helen’s birth – the story is that Zeus, while in the form of a swan, seduced the queen of Sparta, Ledo, resulting a magical egg which gives birth Helen and various brothers and sisters, depending on the myth. According to Qarthine legend, the falling moon meteors hatched from a lunar egg, and here we find that Helen hatched from an egg… so you can see why Martin would use this myth as part of the inspiration for his own abducted moon maiden ideas. Zeus is of course a storm god, meaning that Helen and Elenei can both claim the storm god as their father. Finally, the swan heritage of Helen also adds a bit to the aquatic ideas around Elenei.
Bright, shining Helen also reminds us of the translation of lucifer as “shining one,” “light-bringer,” etc., and accordingly, Helen is actually sometimes associated with the goddess Aphrodite, the Greek forerunner to the Roman Venus, being depicted in similar fashion. Helen was not regarded as Aphrodite, but as being Aphrodite-like, like a part of Aphrodite reborn on the earth, you might say. This is important, because as we have seen, George has shifted the Lightbringer / Morningstar symbolism of Venus onto the moon meteors and the comet. Essentially, in ASOIAF, the moon transforms from a moon goddess to a falling Venus or a falling Evenstar when the moon explodes and becomes falling meteors. That’s why most of our moon maidens, such as Daenerys, draw from both moon goddess and Morningstar goddess mythology.
Aphrodite slides right into this picture, as she is already a fallen star goddess. Her name translates to “foam born,” because Aphrodite was born in the foam of the sea after the sky god Ouranos was castrated and his holy seed fell from heaven and landed in the sea. You can see the clear mythical astronomy here – Venus descends to the horizon every night when it is in the Evenstar position, seeming to sink into the sea for anyone living on a westward-facing coastline. The Greeks saw Venus sinking into the ocean and imagined her life beginning as a fallen star seed, with her subsequent birth from the foam represents Venus rising again from the horizon as the Morningstar. Thus, Aphrodite is a natural fit for George’s idea of a moon maiden that turns into a falling star and is then reborn. It’s just a more elegant version of the sea dragon myth, on other words. That’s why he hangs this excellent Aphrodite reference on beautiful Daenerys in ADWD:
“..send Irri and Jhiqui, if you would be so good. And Missandei.” I need to change, to make myself beautiful.
She said as much to her handmaids when they came. “What does Your Grace wish to wear?”
Starlight and seafoam, Dany thought, and a wisp of silk that leaves my left breast bare for Daario’s delight. Oh, and flowers for my hair.
I’m not the first one to catch this – the phrase “sea foam” jumps out to anyone familiar with the Aphrodite myth, and calling Dany beautiful in the same passage reinforces the idea. And remember, its when Euron is sending Victarion and the Iron Fleet to go ‘rescue’ Daenerys that he calls Dany “the most beautiful woman in the world,” just to make sure we get the idea. And when I talk about beautiful Venus falling as the Evenstar, some of you may think of Brienne “the beauty,” who comes from Evenfall Hall and whose father is called the Evenstar. That’s another Venus / Aphrodite reference for a moon maiden who, like Dany, turns into a falling star / Evenstar character. Or perhaps you might be thinking of the fabled beauty of Ashara Dayne, who leapt from a tower into the sea at a place called Starfall. If she survived with a secret identity, then she would have been reborn by falling in to the sea. I wouldn’t wager on this being the case, but cross your fingers because it would be great symbolism, and just plain old fun to have a Dayne around to talk to.
This, then, is how we should view Elenei, I believe – the moon goddess, plucked from the heavens and fallen into the sea, where she becomes Durran’s aquatic goddess. The picture snaps into place when you consider Durran Godsgrief again – he stole Elenei from the gods, from the heavens, and brought her down to earth and to mortal existence. Again we are reminded of Helen of Troy, the beautiful daughter of the Storm God whose abduction at the hands of a hubristic mortal man provoked a devastating war and the fall of Troy. Even though both Elenei and Helen came willingly – though I cry foul on Paris using an all powerful love goddess to help him seduce a woman, which is what he did – it still serves the same function as stealing the fire of the gods or pulling the moon down. Grey King stole the fire of the Storm God, Durran stole the daughter of the Storm God – but they’re really the same thing. Don’t forget that one of the meanings of Helen is “torch,” aligning her with the burning brand symbol which has been used to describe the fire that falls from heaven, and sometimes lands in the sea.
Therefore, we can say that in the Durran story, the moon is a goddess, and she is stolen and possessed by a horned lord figure – a very good match to the ‘greenseers pulling down the moon’ monomyth that we are tracing out, both in deed and in theme. Once again it would appear that pulling down the moon was an act of defiance and hubris against the gods, a theft committed by a horned lord or greenseer.
And what happens when the moon goddess falls to earth and lands in the sea?
Why, horrific storms and floods and a body count to match, and this is exactly what happens in the Durran Godsgrief story. When it says that the sea and wind gods sent winds and waters to batter Durran’s hold, that means it was more than just a storm. It was a storm and a flood, an attack by the wind and the sea. Just as the sea dragon drowns whole islands in her wroth, the descent of Elenei to the earth brings a flood and tempest. The same passage from ACOK also says that “gale winds came howling up Shipbreaker Bay, driving great walls of water before them,” and where I come from, great walls of water racing towards your home are called a tsunami. In 2004, we saw what kind of horrendous damage and loss of life that a 100 foot wall of moving water can bring when an offshore earthquake triggered a tsunami that hammered Indonesia and the rest of the Indian Ocean. Even tsunami waves of much less than 100 feet high can cause tremendous damage and death.
The flood aspect of the Durran Godsgrief story is important, because I believe this myth is actually a memory of the breaking of the arm of Dorne, or at least a memory of the fallout of the Breaking. Any kind of sizable land collapse triggered by an earthquake or meteor strike along the narrow land bridge that was the Arm of Dorne would almost certainly have sent massive tidal waves racing up the newly created Narrow Sea, and I think this is the best candidate to explain the storms and floods of Durran’s tale. There’s an additional clue about this at the end of the story, after Durran builds his seventh castle, supposedly the current keep of Storm’s End:
No matter how the tale was told, the end was the same. Though the angry gods threw storm after storm against it, the seventh castle stood defiant, and Durran Godsgrief and fair Elenei dwelt there together until the end of their days. Gods do not forget, and still the gales came raging up the Narrow Sea. Yet Storm’s End endured, through centuries and tens of centuries, a castle like no other.
In other words, the story is implying a permanent change in the weather pattern of the area. Ever since this one dramatic event, this combined flood and superstorm, ever since then, we have had gales and storms raging up the Narrow Sea. This new weather pattern is nicely explained by the hypothesis that the flood of the Durran Godsgrief story is in fact a mythicized account of the breaking of the arm of Dorne. Whenever and however it happened, the breaking of the arm and the joining of the Shivering Sea to the Summer Sea would have completely changed the ocean currents, which would in turn have had all kinds of affects on climate, both regionally and globally. The temperature of the seas themselves would change, and although I am not anything remotely close to a climatologist or meteorologist, I do know that ocean temperatures and air temperatures are primary factors in the precipitation of storms.
The breaking of the arm of Dorne, according to our research, was accomplished by greenseers pulling down the moon, and that’s essentially the story that the Durran and Elenei legend tells. Durran pulled down the moon maiden, and this pissed off the powers that be big time. This means that the Storm King who steals the moon goddess is yet another aspect of the Azor Ahai archetype, or of the Azor Ahai people as we have come to say. Once again, we find a horned lord playing the Azor Ahai role of moon-breaker and stealer of godly things. Once again, we find this overlap between Garth people – horned lords – and Azor Ahai people, who we think of as the first dragonlords. As we have seen, the Garth side of things tends to line up with the summer king / fertility god symbolism, while the Azor Ahai reborn side of things tends to line up with the winter king / death god symbolism, and it seems that this translates on the ground as horned green men undergoing some kind of fiery death transformation and emerging as Azor Ahai people. In turn, I do suspect the dragon bond and the blood of the dragon phenomena to be a mutation of greenseer abilities, but that is a subject for another day.
It should not be strange to think of Azor Ahai as a storm figure or storm king, because we’ve shown that the undead stag man figure is a very important aspect of Azor Ahai reborn, and the Storm Kings are definitely OG stag men. The Grey King possessed the Storm God’s thunderbolt, and this can be seen as endowing the Azor Ahai figure with that same power of thunder and lightning. You could also simply say that Azor Ahai called down the thunderbolt when he broke the moon, and that this makes him the master of the storm, the Storm King. His hand is the fiery hand that flings the meteors, and he’s the one that can call down the storm of swords. You may also remember all the way back to Bloodstone Compendium 2, where we talked about Bloodstone’s associations with lightning and thunder, and how Beric is an Azor Ahai character who is called “the lightning lord.” Thus, everything about the Storm King mythology fits in nicely with that of the Grey King and Azor Ahai.
Consider the two high-profile infusions of dragonblood into the line of Storm Kings: once at the inception of House Baratheon, and again two generations before the main story. We are told in AGOT that King Robert’s grandmother was a Targaryen – Rhaelle Targaryen, the daughter of Aegon the V (Egg from Dunk and Egg) and Black Betha Blackwood – making Robert a horned god with a bit of dragon blood. After Robert defeats Rhaegar, he does become more dragon-like, sitting on the throne of the dragon kings in the castle of the dragon kings and even wondering on his deathbed if he’s been as bad as Aerys. Ned puts a finger on this when he stands up to Robert’s order to kill Daenerys and asks why they deposed Aerys, if not to end the killing of children and innocents.
The line of Baratheon is actually founded by a bastard dragon, Orrys Baratheon, who was thought to be a bastard brother to Aegon the Conqueror. Orrys defeated the last Storm King Argilac the Arrogant during the Conquest, and afterward, he took Argilac’s daughter Lady Argella to wife and adopted the Storm Kings’ stag sigil and antlered crown and helm. His grandson Robar Baratheon married the dowager queen Alyssa Velaryon after Aenys Targaryen died, and their daughter married back into the Targaryen line. On a basic level, all this intermingling of stag man blood and dragon blood serves to reinforce my basic premise that Garth people and Azor Ahai people are related to one another, and more specifically, it’s showing us the cycle of one turning into the other.
Now think about the fact that wooden fish trap over a river can be called either a fishing weir or a fishgarth, and how that alludes to the weirwoods as a kind of “garth tree,” an idea reinforced by the fact that green man figures from world mythology can have either antlers or branches on their head. With that in mind, compare the Durran Durrandon myth to the scene at the Nightfort. The twisted, faceless Nightfort weirwood tree pulling down the moon seems to symbolize naughty sorcerers using greenseer magic to pull down the moon, and that is the same thing expressed by Durran the horned lord pulling down Elenei. We could say that the weirwood represents the greenseer himself, but I think it’s probably more accurate to say that the weirwood acting like a person is telling us about people using weirwoods to work sorcery.
Finally, take note of the detail in the legend of when the deadly storm and flood comes – it comes at Durran and Elenei’s wedding. This reminds us of the Alchemical Wedding of Daenerys Targaryen which symbolizes the birth of the dragons in a firestorm of destruction, and of the greater concept of the sun and moon as a husband and wife whose copulation produces the Lightbringer meteors. This is the crux of the Godsgrief myth – horned lords stole the moon. Greenseers brought down the hammer of the Waters on the Arm of Dorne, but they did so by pulling the moon down to earth.
And they may not have been children of the forest greenseers.
A Memory of Merlings
This section brought to you by the support of our new Zodiac patron, The Mystery Knight known only as Rusted Revolver, the Lilith-Walker, Great Dayne-friend and earthly avatar of Heavenly House Pisces
Now as it happens, there are a lot of direct comparisons to be drawn between the Grey King and Durran Godsgrief, and between the Ironborn and people of the Stormlands. Let’s compare the legendary monarchs first, and then the cultures they gave rise to.
First off, you’ll notice that like Durran Godsgrief, the Grey King is also said to have “taken” a mermaid to wife… ah ha. I didn’t dwell on the mermaid part of the Grey King story previously because I wanted to save it for when we talked about Elenei, and here we are. The Ironborn folklore seems to recall a moon meteor impact, imagined as a mighty thunderbolt or an island-drowning sea dragon or a Drowned God – and I somewhat jokingly said that we ought to consider the Drowned God a drowned goddess, because they are really just talking about the fallen moon goddess. The Grey King’s ‘taking a mermaid to wife’ communicates the same idea – an aquatic moon goddess wife, risen from the depths. Aeron calls the Drowned God “Lord God who drowned for us,” thus equating the drowned moon deity as a sacrifice, just as Nissa Nissa can be viewed as a sacrifice. The slain sea dragon Nagga – a female dragon, you’ll note – passed on her living fire to the Grey King, and this also implies a moon sacrifice to transmit the fire of the gods into the hands of the moon breaker.
That means that there are actually three Grey King myths which could refer to him pulling down the moon: slaying the sea dragon and stealing her fire, calling down the thunderbolt and possessing the fire of the burning tree, and now taking a mermaid to wife.
Next up in the Grey King / Storm King comparison, the spiky wooden crowns of the Ironborn, both driftwood and weirwood, vs. the stag crowns and antlered helms of the Storm Kings. We just mentioned the interchangeability of wearing horns or branches on your head in regards to green man folklore, and that means that the Grey King and Driftwood Kings of the Ironborn AND the antler-hat wearing folk of the Stormlands are both drawing from horned nature god mythology. This raises the obvious possibility that both are “Garth people,” of the same line of horned figures that gave rise to the legend of Garth and the green men, or perhaps we might say it strengthens our existing hypothesis about that being the case. I also highly recommend reading an essay on Westeros.org by my good friend Crowfood’s Daughter regarding the Grey King and Garth being brothers who represent the winter king / summer king cycle. She has some really great insight into the story of House Goodbrother, supposedly descended from the leal elder brother of the Grey King. Consider it required reading, in fact.
We have found both summer / oak king / life-associated symbolism and the opposite death / winter / holly king symbolism with the Baratheon brothers, and the same is also true to a lesser extent with the Grey King. That is because all of these horned figures are representing different parts the cycle, and the figures themselves are not static, but depict the transitions. Although the Ironborn primarily express the death / reaping / killing side of things, the Grey King is said to have left a hundred sons behind him (who, admittedly, did promptly engage in “an orgy of kinslaying” which left only 16 survivors), and as Crowfood’s Daughter points out in her essay, House Goodbrother shows a consistent expression of summer king and fertility ideas, punctuated by the occasional opposite kind of “BadBrother” figure. We aren’t told how many offspring Durran Godsgrief left, but we are told that everyone else in the immediate vicinity was killed during the great storm and flood at their wedding, with Durran and Elenei presumably repopulating the Stormlands with their progeny and establishing a line of kings that lasted eight thousand years.
To put it simply, we might say that both the Grey King and Durran Godsgrief were remembered as the originators a new and long-lasting culture, and in doing so are giving us the fertility ideas to go along with their antler hats and wooden hats. The Storm King kind of shows us the moment of transition between green summer king to a dead winter king (think of the black stag sigil’s implication of a dark stag figure). The Grey King primarily shows us the aftermath of the transition, where he has taken possession of the fire of the gods but has turned grey and corpse-like.
Third point of comparison: we have the fact that Durran Godsgrief is the only other man in Westeros besides the Grey King who was said to live for a thousand years – Durran is called “The King of a Thousand Years,” while the Grey King was said to rule for a thousand years and seven. This long life could be exaggeration, or it could be a clue about someone who has extended their lifespan through greenseer magic and / or undeath transformation.
Fourth, we have the floods, as I mentioned a moment ago – the Grey King fought against the island-drowning sea dragon, which sure sounds like a story about a flood, and Durran provoked the flood and storm by opposing the wind and sea gods. It is also said that the Storm God drowned Nagga’s fire after the Grey King died, which is another hint about a flood associated with the Grey King, and like the Godsgrief tale, tells the story of a man who battled against storms and floods sent by an angry god he had stolen from.
Finally, we have the idea of the fallen moon providing shelter – Elenei sheltered Durran from the storm and flood which killed everyone else, and the Grey King fashioned a longhall from the bones of Nagga the sea dragon. That reminds us of the Biblical leviathan, whose skin God will use to make a covering of light over the world in the end times, something we looked at while examining sea dragon and sea serpent myths.
The idea that the legends of the Grey King and Durran Godsgrief are referring to the same person or group of moon-antagonizing people is strengthened by the extensive correlations between the Ironborn and the people of the Stormlands, which many in the fandom have picked up on. Let’s broaden the comparison to the two cultures that the Grey King and Durran Godsgrief gave rise to and you’ll see what I mean. There is dorky stuff like the reversed sigils – a black stag on gold for Baratheon and Durrandon, and a golden kraken on black for the Greyjoys. Uber-nerds have spotted the Thor’s hammer connection – Thor is the Norse storm god, whose hammer shoots thunderbolts, and on one hand we have Robert the Storm Lord with a mighty hammer, and on the other have a Storm God shooting thunderbolts at the Grey King, and the Drowned God speaking in the language of leviathan, which turns out to be the “hammering” of the waves.
The most important and obvious parallel, however, is found in the pantheons of the two cultures. They both see two gods in the world – a sea god and a storm / wind / sky god. In the Stormlands mythology, they are simply called “the sea god and the goddess of the wind,” while the Ironborn famously have the Drowned God and the Storm God. That’s pretty darn similar.
It could be a case of mutual invention of people who live by the stormy sea, but we actually see a very similar set of beliefs elsewhere – most notably with the occasionally web-fingered folks on the Three Sisters, which in case you forgot are those three small islands north of the Vale of Arryn which Davos stops at on the way to White Harbor. They speak of the the Lady of the Waves of the Lord of the Skies – and sky gods, storm gods, and wind gods are all in the same general vein, so this is really another match for this sea / wind god dichotomy of the Stormlands and Iron Islands. When the Lady of the Waves and the Lord of the Skies mate, they give birth to storms, and this suggests Elenei, the child of wind and sea gods, may be seen as the storm herself, just as Daenerys is the Stormborn and just as the moon meteor children arrive in the form of a firestorm of steel rain or a mighty thunderbolt.
To this I will also add that the Tullys, a House descended from the First Men, speak of sending their dead to “the watery halls where the Tullys held eternal court, with schools of fish their last attendants.” Compare that to the “Drowned God’s watery halls,” where the dead of the Ironborn go to feast and be attended by mermaids, and consider the Tullys’ love of dressing up in fish-people armor… and the stuff from the Three Sisters… and you can start to see the remnants of a very old aquatic-based religion stretching across the middle of Westeros from the Iron Islands in the west to the Stormlands and Three Sisters in the east.
We might also think of the Velaryons on the nearby Isle of Driftmark, because the Velaryons are said to have a driftwood throne from the Merling King. The Merling King seems to have been regarded as a god, due to the presence of a Merling King statue in the House of Black and White, which is a home of all the various death gods in the world. This implies that the Merling King is a death god or underworld deity in addition to his obvious identity as an underwater deity. Merling King definitely sounds like a Poseidon figure, and Poseidon is also seen as an underworld figure in some instances, as the sea is often regarded as a kind of underworld, for obvious reasons. The Merling King is also the name of the boat that Petyr Baelish uses to snatch Sansa the moon maiden away from King’s Landing, which fits the pattern of death figures stealing moon maidens . But setting aside the symbolism, it’s simply another sign of an aquatic religion across the middle of Westeros – one that might have connected people on both coasts of ancient, pre-Long Night Westeros.
You know how we are told that the First Men adopted the religion of the children of the forest after they signed the Pact, which followed shortly after the Hammer of the Waters? This raises the interesting question of what religion the First Men might have followed before the Hammer fell and the Pact was signed. Well, we can probably answer that now – this aquatic based, sea and sky god religion was one, and the other major one would be the worship of Garth the Green. These two may have even overlapped, given what we have seen of horned people wrapped up in legends with sea and storm gods. These two ancient religions or belief sets linger on, underneath the heavy layer of thousand of years of First Men worshipping the Old Gods and thousands more worshipping the Seven.
In fact, let’s talk timeline for a quick second, because that is a very important component of the Hammer of the Waters event. By now we have laid out enough evidence to show that the Hammer of the Waters might have been a moon meteor that it’s appropriate to consider the major adjustment to the timeline of ancient Westeros it would necessitate, if true: namely, that the Hammer of the Waters fell at the time of the Long Night, with the famous Pact between First Men and children of the forest likely being signed during or after the Long Night. If this is the case, the mystery of why the First Men signed the Pact and switched religions when they were clearly winning the greater struggle for domination of Westeros is solved – the children helped to save mankind from the Long Night and the Others, as the story of the last hero suggests. The Long Night disaster provided the cultural reset button and clean slate that would certainly have helped to facilitate a group of people taking up the religion of their former enemy en masse, and the help the children provided supplies the motivation. As I speculated in the Green Zombies series, the forming of the Night’s Watch, who originally swore their Night’s Watch vows to the greenseers, would likely have been a part of this Pact, a debt of gratitude and honor paid to the greenseers who helped the last hero win the War for the Dawn.
According to this alternate timeline, most of the legendary conflicts between children and First Men would have probably occurred before the Long Night, with a period of cooperation coming after the Long Night. I don’t want to get too dogmatic about this, because we surely had some cooperation / interbreeding before the Long Night, and eventually some conflict afterward as humans began to forget or dishonor the Pact, but we do see this idea of fighting before the Long Night and cooperation afterward in the mythical early history of Durran Godsgrief, as it happens.
We see it in the Durran tale itself, where Durran breaks the moon and causes all hell to break loose, but then gets help from the children to rebuild. We also see it in the Father to son lineage of the the first Durrandon, as Durran Godsgrief, the moon breaker and naughty greenseer, is said to have taken the Rainwood from the children of the forest, but his son Durran the Devout returned it to them. If the first Durran lines up with the moon-breaker figure, he would have been the guy who took the greenseer magic of the children and did something extremely naughty with it, causing the Long Night, so it makes sense he might be seen as hostile to the children, perhaps even sacrificing them to work blood magic as some legends of the Hammer of the Waters suggest. Durran’s ‘devout’ son, meanwhile, would be the one to live immediately after the Long Night – and after the Pact, according to my timeline, when the First Men were newly devoted to the religion of the children. Accordingly, Durran the Devout, son of the Godsgrief, was remembered as being friendly with the children, returning to them the Rainwood which his father had taken.
The Starks show us the same thing – Bran the Builder was friendly with the children and even learned their language, but his father might have been…
Brandon of the Bloody Blade, who drove the giants from the Reach and warred against the children of the forest, slaying so many at Blue Lake that it has been known as Red Lake ever since.
..according to TWOIAF. Brandon’s father was… Garth the Green, a fertility god who planted the three weirwoods at Highgarden known as the Three Singers. It’s a cycle, like I said, from summer king to winter king to summer king again. Brandon of the Bloody Blade sounds like our naughty greenseer figure, the moon breaker, and slaying all those children might have been the same slaughter that was associated with calling down the Hammer of the Waters. Bran the Builder, if that’s his son, would correlate with the last hero, potentially, which makes a great deal of sense.
This alternate timeline means that Durran Godsgrief would have lived at the time of the Long Night, and he was the first Storm King anyone remembered. This makes sense to me, because I believe the Long Night should be viewed as a cultural bottleneck through which very little in the way of established order would have survived. Right after the Long Night is when mankind would have been establishing new centers of power and new royal lineages, and that’s what we see from Durran’s children. It’s the same story on the Iron Islands, where the moon breaker figure is the father of their nation and basically the oldest legendary character in their cultural memory.
That brings us right back to Brandon of the Bloody Blade and Bran the Builder. Bran the Builder is remembered as having founded House Stark, but if Brandon of the Bloody Blade lived earlier as the legends suggest, then we could see him as the first Stark, and thus again we see the moon breaker is the oldest remembered ancestor of the great house founded in the aftermath of the Long Night. The Durran tale actually has a connection to Bran the Builder, and to strange building techniques:
A seventh castle he raised, most massive of all. Some said the children of the forest helped him build it, shaping the stones with magic; others claimed that a small boy told him what he must do, a boy who would grow to be Bran the Builder.
I’ve mentioned that shaping stone with magic is not something we’ve associated with the children, but it is the hallmark of dragonlord construction. Storm’s End isn’t made with fused stone – at least not on the outside – but it is still interesting that the folktale here mingles dragonlord building techniques with ideas about the children building with magic. Could the truth here have involved not children using dragonlord construction, but horned lords who are not quite human and not quite elf, people who have some sort of overlap with the fused stone builders? That is who I have pegged Durran Godsgrief as, and he is the one said to have built Storm’s End, so I am not proposing anything too crazy when I propose that horned lords or green men built Storm’s End. I also look at this idea of the children helping Durran (or perhaps his offspring) to rebuild after the great flood as a possible allusion to the idea of the children helping mankind after the Long Night, and that’s also the context in which I see Bran the Builder’s myth, which has the child-like Bran running around ancient Westeros helping great houses build their first castles and also learning the language of the children of the forest. The children pretty clearly helped mankind get up off their ass after the Long Night.
It’s also worth drawing a comparison between Storm’s End and Castle Pyke on the Iron Islands. As we discussed in our episodes with History of Westeros about the Great Empire of the Dawn, the maesters say that round towers were only built more recently, some time after the Andals came over to Westeros, and thus the older structures should not have round tower construction. For the most part this seems to be true, but the exceptions are notable. Storm’s End is one giant round tower, and the Towers of Castle Pyke, including the main keep, is a round tower design. Pyke is almost certain to date back to the remotest antiquity, eons before the arrival of the Andals, and Storm’s End may well be the same story, so what we have here are two round tower castles of impressive engineering existing when they shouldn’t, according to the maesters. The First Keep of Winterfell, the oldest part of the castle supposedly built by Bran the Builder, is also a round tower design, for what it’s worth.
I think it’s easy to see the hypothesis that is presenting itself: these horned Garth people seem to have been a builder culture. They are also the primary suspect for the creation of the Wall, in my opinion. Recall that the Wall is said to have been built perhaps by giants or with the help of the children of the forest – the truth may be these horned lords, who may be some sort of race of tall elvish people. Don’t forget that Bran is supposedly descended from Garth, and is said to have visited the reach to help Uthor Hightower, a man who married a daughter of Garth, with the construction of the final version of the Hightower at Oldtown. There is some sort of intersection between House Stark and Bran the Builder and the horned green men, and this surely goes right to the heart of the mystery of the origins of House Stark and the creation of the Wall.
I’ll finish this section by mentioning the symbolism of Storm’s End itself. Storm’s End is a place whose legend is all about the moon goddess falling to earth and the chaos it caused, as we have seen with the storm and flood sent by the angry gods. As a compliment to this, Storm’s End also gives us the rising fist symbolism of the smoke, ash and debris which would have risen in a huge column from the impact locations – the King’s Pyre symbol tower, if you will. We haven’t focused on the rising smoke and ash symbol as much as some others, but it is of course very important, because it is that actual thing that blotted out the sun. We saw it with the Mountain’s smoking fist, rising up to break the face of the sun figure, Oberyn Martell, and we’ve seen more straightforward columns of smoke rising from places where meteor impacts are symbolized. So here is the description of Storm’s End from the chapter where Cat inner monologues the story of Durran and Elenei:
Of towers, there was but one, a colossal drum tower, windowless where it faced the sea, so large that it was granary and barracks and feast hall and lord’s dwelling all in one, crowned by massive battlements that made it look from afar like a spiked fist atop an upthrust arm.
Later in ACOK, right before Renly is murdered, we see Renly’s soldiers described as dead trees and shadow knights, and check out the description of Storm’s End:
The long ranks of man and horse were armored in darkness, as black as if the Smith had hammered night itself into steel. There were banners to her right, banners to her left, and rank on rank of banners before her, but in the predawn gloom, neither colors nor sigils could be discerned. A grey army, Catelyn thought. Grey men on grey horses beneath grey banners. As they sat their horses waiting, Renly’s shadow knights pointed their lances upward, so she rode through a forest of tall naked trees, bereft of leaves and life. Where Storm’s End stood was only a deeper darkness, a wall of black through which no stars could shine…
These dead tree shadow knights armored in darkness used to be the knights of summer, but when their horned lord Renly dies, they transform with him it seems. After this, they are possessed by a dead horned lord figure, Stannis, as the troops go over to Stannis’s side in the aftermath of this event. Stannis’s new army is like night itself hammered into steel by a divine smith – this is Lightbringer, the black weapon of Azor Ahai that we are talking about. And right on cue, there’s Storm’s End, the rising fist of a castle now become a deeper darkness through which no stars could shine – it’s the cloud of darkness rising from the meteor impacts, the meteors which are like night itself hammered into steel. This is the place where Durran is remembered as having ‘pulled down the moon goddess,’ an event which caused not only storms and floods, but a deeper darkness through which no stars could shine, a.k.a. the Long Night.
The next morning, it says that:
The nightfires had burned low, and as the east began to lighten the immense mass of Storm’s End emerged like a dream of stone.
Referring to Storm’s End as a dream of stone may be a hint about it being built by dreamers, as in greenseers. That seems to be the case, as Durran’s horns and moon-goddess-theivery already identify him as a greenseer and a horned lord.
Alright , that will do it for our introduction to the Storm Kings and their horned lord symbolism, and for our introduction to moon maidens as mermaids, a topic we will return to when we focus on moon goddesses more specifically. You can see that the Storm King archetype is a part of the “naughty greenseer” archetype, and this is a subject we will return to when we discuss Mr. “I am the storm” Euron Crow’s Eye, whom I like to call “creepy pirate Odin on bad acid.” We are going to switch over to discussing Yggdrasil and Odin and their influence on the weirwoods and greenseers, but that trail will lead us back to the idea of Azor Ahai as a storm lord in a major way, and I needed to explain the Storm God mythology first to set that up. So now, without further ado, let’s go inside the magical white tree, Weir-drasil.
Bearer of Thunder
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In Weirwood Compendium 2, A Burning Brandon, we popped the cork on the correlations between ASOIAF and Odin and his magical tree, Yggdrasil. I say pop the cork because we’ve only just begun sipping on this shamanic brew that is Mimir Brand sparkling well water. We’ll be going back to this well often throughout the weirwood compendium, because you really can’t understand the context of the weirwoods without talking about Yggdrasil and Odin.
We started with the Nightfort scene and the idea of the moon representing the eye of Odin, plucked out to gain cosmic wisdom and cast down into the well. Odin’s one-eyed status is his most recognizable trait, so it was a logical place to begin. It’s also a very easy symbol to spot, and Martin has hidden one-eyed people, horses, mules, wolves, dogs, and even a one-eyed dragon (bonus points if you know the dragon) scattered about the story. Bloodraven is of course the primary manifestation of this idea, and really, unravelling the importance of Odin to ASOIAF begins with the correlations between Bloodraven and Beric Dondarrion, which also happens to be one of the best symbolic pieces of evidence in support of my hypothesis that Azor Ahai was a greenseer, because Beric’s symbolism practically slaps us in the face with the idea of “Azor Ahai the fiery undead greenseer.”
We’ve talked about Beric a few times, so we are familiar with the basics – as an undead person resurrected through fire magic who lights a sword on fire with actual blood magic, Beric is a terrific Azor Ahai reborn echo. He’s from a black castle – Blackhaven – just as Azor Ahai was from Asshai a.k.a. the largest city in the history of the world which also happens to be built completely from light-drinking oily black stone, and just as other Azor Ahai characters like Jon and Stannis are the lords of black castles. Beric even has red, kissed-by-fire hair!
Now that we’ve put out the Great Empire of the Dawn episode, I can point to the fact that Beric set to marry a Dayne before he ‘died’ – Allyria – as another potential Azor Ahai parallel, as we have speculated that the Daynes may partially descend from the Great Empire of the Dawn people from which Azor Ahai probably comes. Allyria / Valyria? Hmm. Beric also has Edric Dayne, the young lord of Starfall, as his squire, making Beric something of a father figure for Edric, and this could be a potential echo of Azor Ahai or his son marrying a native Westerosi woman to found House Dayne. Oh and by the way “Eldric Shadowchaser” is supposedly another name for Azor Ahai, and a very Westerosi-sounding one at that, so… Eldric, Edric? I’ve always sort of thought about “Eldric Shadowchaser” as a good name for the last hero – shadowchaser and all – and I find it highly suspicious that the two houses most directly associated with the last hero, House Stark and House Dayne, have variants of the name Eldric. Yes, that’s right, there’s a “King Edric Snowbeard” Stark and an “Elric” Stark to go along with Edric Dayne, the Lord of Starfall and Ulrick Dayne, a previous Sword of the Morning. Highly suspicious, if you ask me.
George has also given the name ‘Edric’ Storm to one of Robert’s bastards, a boy who was nearly sacrificed for his ‘king’s blood’ in order to wake a dragon. In fact, all of Robert’s true children exemplify Azor Ahai reborn and horned lord ideas – Edric Storm, Mya Stone (who says her father must have been a goat, a.k.a. a horned person, and whose hair is as “black as a raven’s wing”) and most of all, Gendry. For this reason, I tend to think the names Edric Storm and Edric Dayne are clues about the offspring of Azor Ahai, and therefore when I see Edric Dayne squiring for resurrected Beric… well it looks like something of a family portrait to me.
Alright, now besides his excellent Azor Ahai impersonation, Beric also gives us a fairly strong whiff of greenseer, and of Bloodraven. The one-red-eye thing is kind of a red flag, if you know what I mean, and when we meet him, Beric is in a cavern not unlike Bloodraven’s, “seated amongst the weirwood roots halfway up the wall.” Both Beric and Bloodraven are compared to being talking corpses or corpse lords, and both are tied to the burning Night’s Watch scarecrow symbolism.
So, Beric is like Azor Ahai reborn, and Beric is like Bloodraven… and Bloodraven completes the triangle by sharing symbolism with Azor Ahai and the last hero. He’s a dragon-blooded greenseer, he commanded the Night’s Watch, he disappeared into the north to fight the Others (possibly/hopefully with a black sword, Dark Sister) and he loves to pull moon meteor symbols down into wells and privy shafts alike. We also saw all that copious sea dragon / weirwood serpent symbolism in Bloodraven’s cave, a great tie to Grey King and the idea of greenseer dragons.
Now if the Grey King overlaps with Azor Ahai in some sense as I propose, we should also see Grey King symbolism with Beric – and indeed we do, though it is not as obvious as the flaming sword-Azor Ahai thing. Beric is called the “Lightning Lord,” with the forked lightning sigil of House Dondarrion etched on his cloak. Calling an Azor Ahai reborn type the “lightning lord” makes perfect sense for all the same reasons it makes sense to call Azor Ahai reborn a Storm King: the thunderbolt was a moon meteor and Azor Ahai both called down and possessed the moon meteors.
The Grey King took possession of fire through the thunderbolt of the Storm God – in other words, the Grey King gained god-like or lord-like status through lightning, and this is paralleled again in the backstory of House Dondarrion. Their house was established when a messenger of the Storm King riding through the Dornish Marches was saved by a fortuitous forked lightning bolt that struck two Dornishman that were about to kill him, with the Storm King elevating him to a lordship for his service. A messenger of the Storm God is another way to describe lightning itself – it’s a message sent from the Storm God. Accordingly, the Dondarrion’s become the Lightning Lords, wearing the lightning on their sigil.
Even better, this first Dondarrion was in such dire straights because he fell from his horse and broke his sword, giving us the familiar broken sword motif shared by the last hero’s frozen and broken sword, Ned’s split sword, Waymar’s broken sword, Bran Stark the broken sword, and of course by Beric Dondarrion himself, whose flaming sword is sheared in half by the Hound’s “cold” one. We saw the broken sword symbolism at the Iron Islands with broken sword point of land on which Pyke sits, which was the first place we started getting clues about the sea dragon and Storm God’s thunderbolt being a meteor-sword. The symbol of the forked lighting suggests sword splitting by its very nature – if the thunderbolt is the comet or meteor, it’s branching and splitting.
The name Dondarrion suggests thunder too – some of you may know that the original name of Santa’s reindeer ‘Donner’ was ‘Dundar,’ and that both words mean ‘thunder’ (with donner being the German word and dundar being the Dutch). Blitzen is the German word for lightning, and the Dutch version is Blixem, so two of Santa’s reindeer were named ‘thunder’ and ‘lightning.’ This is a reflection of the tie between horned animals and divine thunder which we see here and there in world mythology and which Martin is drawing from. Anyway, the name ‘Dondarrion’ implies thunder, and thus the name Beric Dondarrion could be translated as “Bearer of Thunder,” which is just another way of saying “the Lightning Lord.” It’s also kind of like naming Beric after a flying reindeer, and thus a horned lord (or flying horned lord?) We’re going to talk about flying a great deal pretty soon so stick a pin in that.
Beric’s weirwood ‘throne’ is of course a parallel to the Grey King’s hypothetical weirwood throne, which was positioned inside of the petrified weirwood beams known as “Nagga’s ribs.” Recall all the weirwood cage symbolism applied to Bran – he rides in a wicker cage, ends up in a cage of weirwood roots, and his “frail cage of shattered ribs” was seemingly used to symbolize Nagga’s ribs as a ribcage a greenseer lives inside – and now check out this quote from ASOS when Beric takes off his breastplate:
Lord Beric’s ribs were outlined starkly beneath his skin. A puckered crater scarred his breast just above the left nipple, and when he turned around, Arya saw a matching scar on his back. The lance went through him.
There’s a crater in his ribs where Ser Gregor’s lance – the Giant’s Lance in other words – went through him. That’s a nice clue about a moon meteor impact taking place at the Iron Islands – where we find Nagga’s ribs and tales of fire falling from the sky. And did you catch the clue about Azor Ahai being a Stark? Beric’s ribs were outlined ‘starkly’ beneath his skin. It’s neither here nor there but we already think there is some crossover between Azor Ahai people and House Stark anyway, so there you have it. At the least, calling Beric’s ribs ‘stark’ may be serving to tie Beric’s ribcage to Bran Starks’s ribcage, with both serving as symbols for the weirwood cages they end up sitting in.
The whole point of the metaphor of the weirwoods as a wicker cage to be set on fire by the lightning bolt is that the greenseer, in one sense, is the lightning bolt. Even though the weirwoodnet transfers the fire of the gods to man when it is set on fire, the thing that sets it on fire is the thunderbolt – and that is the falling dragon meteor, the burning brand sometimes known as Azor Ahai reborn. Bran symbolizes that falling fire brand, and he enters a variety of wooden cages. I believe that the weirwoodnet is not activated, or “set on fire” until a face is carved on it and a greenseer’s consciousness enters it. One hypothesis we have put forward about the Grey King is that he was a dragon person come from Asshai by way of the sea, and that he essentially landed at Old Wyk and then became the beating, fiery heart inside the weirwood cage of Nagga’s ribs. The crater in the ribs symbolism of Beric’s chest shows us the same thing, an impact to the ribs taken from the lance of Ser Gregor the Moon Mountain that rides, who we already know can play the role of a falling moon meteor, such as sets fire to the tree. We’ll talk more about the act of entering the weirwoodnet, and for now its a good way to show that Beric is expressing the symbolism of the Grey King and the Sea Dragon with his ribcage. Plus, the word crater always makes me happy. 🙂
Finally, Beric’s semi-corpse status is another thing he may share with the Grey King and his grey flesh. That’s hardly unique, but it is a defining element of the Grey King, being a part of his name and all. Unfortunately, Beric doesn’t seem to be any good at making longships or weaving nets, and he doesn’t marry a mermaid – although we did mention that Ashara Dayne’s leap from a tower into the sea is symbolic of the moon drowning and becoming a drowned goddess or mermaid, and Ashara was the sister of Beric’ betrothed, Allyria Valyria (that’s what we are calling her now… sounds like a new hit show!) Primarily, the parallels between Beric and the Grey King really revolve around the greenseer imagery, the lightning and sea dragon symbolism, and the death / undeath symbolism…. but those are the things we are primarily concerned with for the moment.
So that’s Beric – he nicely ties together the important symbolism of Azor Ahai, Bloodraven, and the Grey King. More than anything, he is undead Azor Ahai sitting in a weirwood cave, a terrific clue that Azor Ahai was a greenseer, and a fiery undead one it would seem. But let’s go back to that whole missing eye thing which Beric and Bloodraven share, because as we’ve mentioned, magicians with missing eyes are all more or less cast in the image of Odin. If we want to understand why Martin is showing us all of these one-eyed sorcerers, we must dig further into Odin himself. I’ve been sort of leading up to what you’re about to hear for a couple episodes now, so… it’s a big moment.
A Grey Gallows Horse
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Odin is one of the most important gods of Germanic folklore, and of Norse folklore, which is something of an offshoot of Germanic folklore. He goes by many names all over Europe – in Old English it’s Wōden, in Old Saxon, Wōdan, and in Old High German he is Wuotan or Wōtan. Not Wu-Tang, Wōtan. These words translate to ‘seer’ or ‘prophet,’ and words with the same phonetic root translate to “madness, frantic, furious, possessed,” etc. Think of the madness of shamanic ecstasy and you can see how these ideas all relate. Shamans, of course, are well known for wearing animal pelts and reindeer and elk antlers on their heads, so you can see how this dovetails nicely with the horned nature figure who is often associated with magic himself. Odin is many things and has many names, but above all, Odin is the god of magic and many of his stories have him questing for increased magical knowledge. As with ASOIAF, Norse myth places a heavy emphasis on the cost of obtaining magic or power, and like some others we know, Odin always pays his debts, usually in dramatic fashion – such as cutting out your own eye.
You might remember from the Green Zombies series that Odin or Woden overlaps a bit with the family of horned nature gods. His shamanic madness is similar to the uncontrollable wild man of the woods or the wildness of Pan or Bacchus, and European versions of Woden place him as the leader of the wild hunt, the classic role of the horned nature death and resurrection god. Herne the Hunter leads a kind of wild hunt, a processions of dead and / or enthralled figures, which is sometimes even seen as flying through the sky – this is the inspiration for Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, actually. It’s a celestial wild hunt – that’s why another of the reindeer’s names is comet, to go with Donner and Blitzen. Ha! Two Santa mentions in one episode. I kid, but once again we see the confluence of horned lord and storm god mythology, as we see with Durran Godsgrief and elsewhere.
Odin is also the father of Thor, the official Norse storm god (though Odin can be stormy too) and of course Thor is a heavy influence on the Durrandon and Baratheons, Robert in particular. Robert also loves to hunt – in fact he was out hunting when Bran had his fall from the tower at Winterfell, and out hunting when he was gutted by the tusk of the black devil boar, and out hunting every time Cersei delivered one of Jaime’s children, and thus ‘giving him horns, ‘ as they say. The wild hunt gets a direct callout in Beric’s story in the form of one of the members of the Brotherhood, a fellow called the Mad Huntsman (again think of madness and shamanic ecstasy). The Mad Huntsman is sent to Oldtown with a dude named Greenbeard to buy supplies at one point, thus fulfilling the green man role of providing the bounty of the harvest, as you would expect from these two obvious green man figures.
In other words, Odin lore already comes with a side of horned lords, which is part of the reason why Martin can so easily unite one-eyed people, greenseers, and people who wear antler hats.
Recall that in order to gain the knowledge of Mimir’s well, Odin had to imbibe it’s waters (after he had thrown his eye in there, for what it’s worth). Imbibing a substance which expands your consciousness and gives you access to cosmic knowledge? The weirwood paste could easily be a stand-in for the psychedelic water of Mimir’s well. Mimir’s well is located in one of the underworld realms usually depicted as being beneath the roots of Yggdrasil, just as Bloodraven’s cave where Bran eats the weirwood paste id strewn through with weirwood roots and lies under a weirwood tree . There’s also that black river down in the abyss in the Bloodraven’s cave, adding to the Mimir’s well symbolism. As we saw last time, Bran himself went down the Nightfort well on the way to Bloodraven’s cave to eat the paste of knowledge, a fairly on the nose journey into Norse mythology. Additionally, the first time Bran “opened his third eye,” as he refers to consciously skinchanging into Summer, it took place while Bran was hiding in the crypts beneath Winterfell, so again, an underworld location.
Odin is also well known for his animals – he has two ravens on his shoulder, Huginn and Muninn (“thought” and “memory/mind”), and two wolves, Geri and Freki (both words mean “ravenous” or “the greedy one”). As you can see, Martin has adapted these ideas to northern culture, as the the two most common animals for skinchangers to use are wolves and ravens. Jon in particular is working on a nice Odin Halloween costume, as he has one wolf and Mormont’s raven and that pesky scar over one eye; and of course Bran, whose name means “raven” in Welsh, skinchanges wolves and ravens both. Odin’s ravens fly around the world to bring him information and speak in human language, so the parallels here are pretty striking. One thing Bran and Jon need for their Odin costume is a beard and a floppy hat – trademark Odin chic – but those are like the easiest things in the world to get at Party City on your way home from work, so no biggie. Kidding aside, Odin does have a long beard and a hat, and we see that Bloodraven is certainly rocking the beard. A floppy hat would really have seemed out of place, so I am glad Martin didn’t try to shoehorn that part in. Sam does have a floppy hat at one point, for what it’s worth.
Odin is closely tied to Yggdrasil, as you’ll see, and there are other notable animals living “in” Yggdrasil, such as the squirrel Ratatöskr who runs up and down the tree. That has to remind us of the children of the forest, who are called “the squirrel people” by the giants and who live both below the trees in caves and previously, in the canopies of the forest in what were called tree towns, as we hear from Old Nan in AGOT:
They lived in the depths of the wood, in caves and crannogs and secret tree towns.
The idea of the squirrel being able to transit between the realms of Yggdrasil places it in the role of a walker between worlds, a navigator who can carry communication between realms. The children play something of this role for humans, acting as a sort of usher or facilitator for Bran and presumably Bloodraven and many others to gain access to the various realms of the cosmos. We saw a humorous version of this on the Great Ranging when the Night’s Watch ranger Bedwyk, who is very short and is facetiously called ‘Giant,’ climbs up and down a weirwood tree like a squirrel to gather information.
There are also four stags – harts actually, male red deer – that hang around Yggdrasil, as it happens: Dáinn (“The Dead One”), Dvalinn (“The Unconscious One”), Duneyrr (“Thundering in the Ear”), and Duraþrór (“Thriving Slumber”, perhaps referencing snoring). There’s not a lot said about them other than that they consume the upper leaves of Yggdrasil, but the presence of stags is nonetheless pretty cool, and those names – one has a name that sounds like Dayne – the dead one, wouldn’t you know it, like a dead star – and another sounds like the Duran, as in Duran Godsgrief. A thundering stag has our attention too of course, but nobody really understands what these stags by Yggdrasil are about, so I don’t want to make too much of it.
The most important correlation between Odin and greenseers is not the ravens, wolves, squirrels, or stags, nor even the water of Mimir’s well, though that’s getting closer. The main thing is Odin’s relationship to his tree, Yggdrasil. I say “his tree,” because one translation of Yggdrasil is “Odin’s horse,” Ygg being one of the many names of Odin, and drasil means “horse,” among other things. You’ll recall the Grey King legend of carving the first longship “from the hard pale wood of Ygg, a demon tree who fed on human flesh,” and that in ADWD, one of Stannis’s soldiers calls the weirwoods “demon trees,” which, taken together, shows us that Martin wants us to associate the weirwoods with Yggdrasil. And demons!
As for the horsey end of Yggdrasil’s translation as “Odin’s Horse,” thats where we enter the realm of metaphor. Yggdrasil is a type of horse that Odin rides, but it’s not a horse horse, it’s actually a gallows tree, which is called “the horse of the hanged.” The idea is that the hanged man rides the gallows tree by being hanged upon it. That’s right, Odin rides his gallows horse Yggdrasil by being hanged upon the tree. As with the story of Odin sacrificing his eye to gain knowledge, he’s again sacrificing his physical self to gain something divine. Last time he was after sacred knowledge, this time it is the ability to ‘see the runes.’ And yes, this is the type of thing which is the topic of black metal bands from Sweden.
Odin wasn’t merely hanged with a noose on Yggdrasil – he was pierced by his own blade and thereby sort of impaled on the tree for nine days… all in order to show himself worthy of obtaining the fire of the gods by means of self-sacrifice, just as he did with his lost eye. After hanging from the tree suspended between life and death for nine days, Odin at last spies the runes, which can be seen in the depths of the bottomless well of Urd from which Yggdrasil grows. This is a different magical well that Mimir’s well, mind you, and in a different part of the underworld. The runes themselves are actually a magical system of great power, and once they reveal themselves to Odin, he becomes one of the most powerful beings in the universe, capable of altering fates and destinies. As a side note, they seem to have very good well water in Iceland.
Now Yggdrasil isn’t just Odin’s horse, it was regarded as a part of Odin – very like the way a greenseer and his tree or a skinchanger and his animal are one. Thus, Odin says that he “sacrificed himself to himself” by hanging himself on his own tree. Just as with his giving up of one physical eye to open his third eye, here he is again speaking of sacrificing his lower self to his higher self by being willing to suffer physically to gain expanded consciousness and knowledge of the cosmos. We got a healthy dose of this idea in the Bran-tastic episode that was Weirwood compendium 2, so I know you guys and gals know what I am talking about.
It’s easy to see how this mythology has influenced the greenseer wierwood relationship. Bloodraven and the others singers enthroned in the cave are pinioned through by the wierwood roots, for all intents and purposes hung on the tree – only they’re in the underworld part of the tree, instead of hanging from its branches or tied to its trunk. Odin is pinioned to the tree by a spear as well as tied, and Bloodraven is actually pierced through by the snake-like weirwood roots as well as wrapped up in them. As a matter of fact, the idea of a snake or dragon in the roots of Yggdrasil is part of the Yggdrasil mythology… I think you’re going to like this.
Underneath Yggdrasil, there is a snake / dragon called Nidhogg – at least, that’s my mispronunciation of the anglicized version of his Norse name Níðhöggr. This snake dragon gnaws at one of the roots of Yggdrasil, and rules over a place called Náströnd, where the souls of the damned who have committed the most egregious sins in Norse society – murder, adultery, and oath-breaking – go to be tortured to pay for their crimes. In some cases the dragon is perceived as being trapped by the roots, although it does of course escape at Ragnarok (the great last battle of Norse myth) to cause trouble.
A dragon caught up in the roots of Yggdrasil really, really makes us think of Bloodraven, a dragon-blooded person who is literally trapped in the roots of the weirwood. He doesn’t gnaw on the roots, presumably, but he does eat the weirwood paste. We quoted that scene last time – you’ll recall that the wierwood roots that have grown over, around, and through Bloodraven are described as coiling like “white wooden serpents,” a line which also evokes the weirwood ribcage of the ‘sea dragon.’ As Bran is first entering the caves in ADWD, we also get this paragraph:
The way the shadows shifted made it seem as if the walls were moving too. Bran saw great white snakes slithering in and out of the earth around him, and his heart thumped in fear. He wondered if they had blundered into a nest of milk snakes or giant grave worms, soft and pale and squishy. .
You can see that the idea of a biting snake living amongst the roots is strongly depicted here, following up on the idea of Bloodraven himself as a dragon living amongst the roots. Also emphasized in this last quote via the grave worms reference is the connection to a chthonic underworld realm, which is the realm of the dead, and of course Bloodraven’s cave itself is full of skulls and bones to continue this symbolism.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Snorri Sturluson, author and stenographer of the Prose Edda and most of the other main Norse sagas, uses Níðhöggr, the name of the snake, as a word for ‘sword.’ That means that this dragon of the underworld is also associated with swords, very convenient for Martin’s purposes.
We can see what Martin has done – he has taken Odin’s hanging on the world tree Yggdrasil and moved it downstairs, combining it with the idea of the dragon amongst the roots. Thus emerges the picture of a dragon-blooded greenseer hung and pinioned on the tree, but beneath it, in the snake-like roots. He’s sacrificed his physical self to look out of the eyes of a god. And though his body may be trapped beneath, the tree does allow Bloodraven to gain magical awareness of time and space, as Yggdrasil does for Odin.
Martin has also realized the dragon beneath Yggdrasil idea in the form of Azor Ahai going into the weirwoodnet, becoming a greenseer hanged on the tree roots. When I said before that the lightning setting the tree on fire represents Azor Ahai the dragon going into the weirwoodnet, this is what I mean. Bloodraven represents the dragon that landed on the tree, set it on fire, and entered it by sacrificing himself to it, thereby gaining accessing the fire of the gods. Bloodraven and Azor Ahai are also the ones who called down the moon meteor, so if one were to try to imagine it as a sequence, it could be that Azor Ahai found a way to break the moon, then was able to use the magic power of the fallen meteorite to help facilitate his entrance into the weirwoodnet. One imagines human sacrifice and blood magic might have been involved. We’re only beginning to piece this part together, so there’s no rush to form conclusions. I just don’t want to speak entirely in metaphor – there is a real thing here involving the moon meteors and the weirwoodnet, and more importantly, between Azor Ahai and the weirwoods.
Although Odin is not technically hanged on the tree with a noose, the idea of his death transformation on Yggdrasil being thought of as riding the gallows tree horse does create a potential metaphor out of a person being hanged, which can now be used to imply transcendence, magical awakening, and greenseer status through death. Spoiler alert: it has been used extensively to imply transcendence, magical awakening, and greenseer status through death in ASOIAF. This fits very well with the themes Martin is working regarding death and resurrection as a means for gaining power (“rising harder and stronger,” I believe it’s called). Again we will draw from the well of Beric’s symbolism to demonstrate: not only does he have the one eyed wound of Odin – Beric has also been hanged! And by the Gods Eye, no less. When Lem and Arya and company are seeking Thoros in ASOS, a maester in a small keep tells them them:
I fear you seek a ghost. We had a bird, ages ago. The Lannisters caught Lord Beric near the Gods Eye. He was hanged.
Beric’s weirwood throne and one-eyed status already reminded us of Bloodraven, so it seems likely his hanging wound – a black ring around his neck – is intended to play into the Odin / Yggdrasil mythology, as Bloodraven’s symbolism does. Beric’s death and resurrection transformation is very similar to Odin’s because it can be said that a part of Odin dies on the tree, while the other part of him is reborn as a more powerful being. Looking again to Dany’s rebirth in Drogo’s funeral pyre and Jon’s impending and long-awaited resurrection, we can see that the idea of a transformed and resurrected Azor Ahai who emerges more powerful is spelled out again and again. Resurrected Beric has gained the magical ability to light his sword on fire, and no longer needs to eat or sleep.
It’s also worth pointing out the obvious – Beric’s Brotherhood is known for preferring the noose as their weapon of execution. In other words, the lightning lord, wearing his flaming sword and one-eyed symbolism, wanders through the woods with folks called Greenbeard and the Mad Hunstman and One-Eyed Jack-be-Lucky hanging people. Any knight can make a knight, and any hanged man can make a hanged man, it would seem.
Finding these kinds of specific and detailed references to Odin and Yggdrasil in Beric’s story is yet another confirmation that Azor Ahai is an Odin figure and a greenseer. You have to admit, the first time you heard me say that Azor Ahai was a greenseer, it sounded wacky and you wondered if your old pal Lucifer Means Lightbringer has jumped from the wrong tall tower. Nope! Azor Ahai the greenseer is spelled out again and again, as I hope I have shown by now.
Ok, so you remember how one of the islands in the broken Arm of Dorne is called Bloodstone, which I took as a clue about the Hammer of the Waters that fell there having something to do with the Bloodstone Emperor and the bleeding stars he called down? About how Daemon Targaryen, rider of the red dragon Caraxes the Bloodwyrm, temporarily set up a royal seat on Bloodstone? How could you forget, I mention it at least once an episode. Well, at long last, I can tell you that the only other named island in that chain is called “Grey Gallows,” so named because the Grey King is an aspect of Azor Ahai who rode the gallows tree horse – a greenseer. The Grey King was the Bloodstone Emperor riding the gallows tree, you might say. We’ve ever got a Sunspear right there to pin the Bloodstone Emperor to the gallows tree.
Time-Out for Some Public Executions
This larger than average section is brought to you by our newest acolyte of the Church of Starry Wisdom, Ser Gribbons of the Godswood, the Anteater, and one of our original Priestesses of Starry Wisdom, The Duchess of Tillymage, keeper of the two-headed sphinx
We’re by no means finished with Odin and Yggdrasil, but let’s pause the Norse analysis and take a moment for a couple of hangings from ASOIAF to illustrate the points we have made so far. This will take us to the end of this podcast, and we’ll pick up right where we left off with the next one. There is so much Odin stuff that is important to ASOIAF that it became apparent the best strategy was to break off one idea at a time and then show how it correlates to the books before moving on to the next thing. If we tried to lay out all the Odin and Yggdrasil ideas at once, we’d just be talking about Norse myth for three hours and hardly mentioning ASOIAF. As always, the intent of our podcast is to explore these external myths which Martin seems to be incorporating to the extent that it furthers our understanding of ASOIAF, and we do not and cannot hope to provide a comprehensive summation of these extensively developed and complex real-world mythologies. I hope that you all will be inspired to do further reading on your own to gain a better understanding of the source mythology, and I have to believe that is part of Martin’s intent in incorporating so much classic literature and folklore into his story. I’d love to just talk mythology for hours, but I try very hard to keep everything tightly confined to the things which ASOIAF specifically makes reference to.
So with that said, let’s get a rope and string us up some greenseers.
There’s a great chapter from AFFC that seems to be largely about hanging as a metaphor. It’s a chapter we’ve quoted from before – it’s the one where Brienne, Pod, Ser Hyle Hunt, and Septon Meribald (and his dog, Dog) are making their way back to the Inn at the Crossroads after returning from Crackclaw Point, ending with Brienne having her fateful encounter with Biter and the remnants of the Brave Companions. As they make their way to the inn, they come across a number of hanged men, the nasty fellows who raided, raped, and murdered at Saltpans who have presumably been hanged by the Brotherhood without Banners. Brienne is reflecting on the fact that once a corpse is more than a few days old, it’s very hard to tell one from another or to recognize anyone’s features. She thinks:
On the gallows tree, all men are brothers.
One is reminded of a certain theory about the original Night’s Watch being undead greenseers, a brotherhood of dead men who ride the gallows tree weir-drasil. As a matter of fact, the chapter opens with what seems to be a vivid declaration of its metaphorical theme: the gallows tree. And not just any old gallows tree – one struck by lightning. This is the first paragraph of the chapter:
They came upon the first corpse a mile from the crossroads. He swung beneath the limb of a dead tree whose blackened trunk still bore the scars of the lightning that had killed it. The carrion crows had been at work on his face, and wolves had feasted on his lower legs where they dangled near the ground. Only bones and rags remained below his knees … along with one well-chewed shoe, half-covered by mud and mold.
Ok, this is quite a find – the ‘hanged man on a tree’ symbolism of Odin and Yggdrasil crossed with the lightning-blasted tree of the Grey King myth. That’s what you call a home-run for symbolism! I think it’s a clear message that the lightning-struck tree is indeed the ASOIAF version of Odin’s gallows tree. Now take a look at the hanged man riding the gallows. He is wearing rags, like the scarecrow Night’s Watch brothers, Coldhands, and Bloodraven, a reference to the burning scarecrow / King of Winter idea. The wolves have eaten his legs and the crows his face, and both of these seem like callouts to the sacrifices Bran has made to obtain the fire of the gods. Bran lost the use of his legs when he fell from the tower, and since we know the crows go for the eyes first when eating someone’s face, this seems like a reference to Bran’s dream of the crows pecking out his eyes and to the bad little boy who was struck down by lightning and had his eyes eaten by crows. Basically, this is a pretty good portrait of Bran riding the gallows tree.
The chapter continues with the party observing this first hanged man in more detail:
“What does he have in his mouth?” asked Podrick.
Brienne had to steel herself to look. His face was grey and green and ghastly, his mouth open and distended. Someone had shoved a jagged white rock between his teeth. A rock, or …
“Salt,” said Septon Meribald.
First thing to notice here is that the dead man riding the lighting blasted gallows tree has grey and green skin, giving us the grey skin of the Grey King and the green skin of green men (‘green boys and greybeards,’ remember). And by the way, I think I forgot to mention this, but what if the Sacred Order of Green Men is really called that because they are all undead greenseers or skinchangers, with their green skin being the green skin of corpses? Again, reanimated corpses are good for very long and repetitive guard duty.
But getting back to the grey and green hanged man in this scene, the salt rock in the mouth has a clear purpose in terms of the main plot – these are the men who raided Saltpans, and the salt signifies this. It surely has symbolic meaning too, although we have several choices which could work. It may be part of a smoke and salt Azor Ahai rebirth thing, because these men burned Saltpans, burning the entire town except for the stone keep which would not catch on fire. As we’ll see momentarily, Saltpans seems to be an analog for the moon which was burnt, and these men who burned it have a piece of salt in their mouth, almost as if they had all taken a bite out of the moon. Or perhaps its meant to make us think of someone eating white weirwood paste, as a greenseer must do to mount the gallows tree. It also makes for another potential reference to the Ironborn and the Grey King, because they think the salt is a rock for a moment – and the Ironborn for a long time had a salt king and a rock king on each island.
The second hanged man they come to had been torn down by predators, and the interesting thing to note is that his helmed head had rolled into the bushes, only to be recovered by Meribald’s dog, and turns out to contain a skull, along with worms and beetles. Ser Hyle offers the cracked helm to Pod, but he objects on account of it being wormy (besides being too big). Hyle says he’ll grow into it… so what we might be talking about is a hanged man who had worms growing through his skull, and who lives under the bushes, and again reminding us of Bloodraven and the ‘graveworm’ weirwood roots that grow through his skull. Even better, the helm bears a Lannister lion upon it, but the lion, like the corpse, has lost its head. A decapitated lion is a pretty good way to depict the death of the sun during the Long Night, and the death transformation of solar king Azor Ahai into a dark solar king.
After a remark about how the noose is Lord Beric’s preferred method of execution and how Lord Beric might well be near, there are some very suggestive lines from Ser Hyle Hunt regarding the hanged men they have been seeing. Take a look and see what you think we can learn about men who ride the gallows tree:
Dog barked, and Septon Meribald glanced about and frowned. “Shall we keep a brisker pace? The sun will soon be setting, and corpses make poor company by night. These were dark and dangerous men, alive. I doubt that death will have improved them.”
“There we disagree,” said Ser Hyle. “These are just the sort of fellows who are most improved by death.” All the same, he put his heels into his horse, and they moved a little faster.
We were just talking about the idea of people being reborn harder and stronger, awakening transformed with new knowledge and abilities after a death and rebirth experience. They were just talking about how Beric might be close by. Beric happens to be a hanged man who was improved by death, however, and I think the message here is that Azor Ahai was a dark and dangerous man when living, and he and his brotherhood of the gallows tree may well have been improved by death after the sun set for the Long Night.
Meribald’s line about corpses making poor company at night is also rather suggestive of the hanged men coming to life at night. When they reach the inn later in the chapter and balk at the price of rooms, the girl at the door says she’ll have silver stags “or else you can sleep in the woods with the dead men.” Those dead men were the hanged ones, and now they are sleeping and dreaming in the woods, as in ‘inside the wood.’ That is of course how you mount the gallows tree that is the weirwoodnet, by dreaming. By joining the brotherhood of the gallows tree and going into the wood.
I mentioned that the raid in Saltpans by these hanged men might be symbolizing the destruction of the second moon, which firms up their connection to Azor Ahai, and here’s what I meant. Saltpans is a white city set on fire, like a moon which starts out white but is burned by wicked folk. When Brienne and company stopped there, they “found only death and desolation,” a “corpse of a town” where “the air still smelled of smoke.” The supposed leader of the raid at Saltpans was the Hound, (although it was really Rorge wearing the Hound’s helm), and the Hound is a burned and reborn moon meteor / hellhound version of Azor Ahai reborn. The people in the Riverlands start calling him “The Mad Dog of Saltpans,” while a knight reporting to Cersei blames the sack on “Clegane and his mad dogs” and someone else says that “Saltpans was the work of some fell beast in human skin.”
Rorge-as-the-Hound supposedly killed a dozen men at Saltpans, naturally, and the Brotherhood has put out word that it wants to make him a hanged man in return. The Elder Brother tells a particularly horrific tale of a woman at Saltpans who was raped a dozen times and whose breasts had been eaten as if by a beast. I didn’t even really want to include that, but the breast is the place where Nissa Nissa was stabbed with Lightbringer, with the ravenous beast language referring to the dragon comet that destroyed the moon, and all of this makes the raid on Saltpans a metaphor for the collision of the comet and moon and makes the perpetrators hanged on these trees symbolic of Azor Ahai’s henchman, the beasts in human skin.
Now let’s talk about the crossroads inn itself, because it’s a very important symbol. The name implies the inn as a crossing over point to the realm of the dead, and that is one of the symbolic roles that the weirwoods often play, both in the form of death-associated weirwood doors like the Black Gate below the Nightfort, the Moon Door, and the weirwood and ebony doors of the House of Black and White as well as the general concept of a greenseer transcending death through wedding the trees. There’s a reason I am comparing the inn to a weirwood, and that would be that the inn is symbolizing a gallows tree, and thus a weirwood. Septon Meribald, take it away:
“The smallfolk call it the crossroads inn. Elder Brother told me that two of Masha Heddle’s nieces have opened it to trade once again.” He raised his staff. “If the gods are good, that smoke rising beyond the hanged men will be from its chimneys.”
“They could call the place the Gallows Inn,” Ser Hyle said.
So, two clues here. One, it’s dubbed the gallows inn, because it’s the place where everyone gets hanged (it even has a gibbet right in the yard). It’s the crossing over point – it even used to be built on the river Trident before the course of the river shifted, and this conjures to mind the River Styx and the general mythological notion of crossing a river being used to symbolize death.
Second clue about the inn being a weirwood symbol is the tricky wording from Meribald: “if the gods are good, that smoke rising beyond the hanged men will be from its chimneys.” In other words, the smoke rises from behind the hanged men, as if their gallows trees were burning. The gallows tree and the lightning-blasted burning tree are both symbols of weirwoods, and since we saw those two paired together at the opening of the chapter with the lightning-blasted gallows tree, I’m inclined to see this as a reinforcement of the same idea.
I just mentioned that the girl at the door of the inn asks for silver stags to let them in – it’s almost as if she is demanding a sacrifice of stags to let them enter. This makes a ton of sense if the inn is a weirwood symbol, and if entering it is akin to dying, to being hung on the tree. The girl’s name is Willow, which makes her a tree woman, and Brienne herself will be hanged on a willow tree later in the book. It’s also worth noting that the inn is now entirely populated with children – Brienne thinks it could also be the Orphan Inn. If this inn is a weirwood symbol, then those would be a nod to the children of the forest.
Picking up where we left off with the line about the Gallows Inn, we get a good description of the inn itself. Just a boring old daube-and-wattle affair, nothing particularly remarkable about its description… oh wait, this is ASOIAF:
By any name the inn was large, rising three stories above the muddy roads, its walls and turrets and chimneys made of fine white stone that glimmered pale and ghostly against the grey sky. Its south wing had been built upon heavy wooden pilings above a cracked and sunken expanse of weeds and dead brown grass. A thatch-roofed stable and a bell tower were attached to the north side. The whole sprawl was surrounded by a low wall of broken white stones overgrown by moss.
It’s made of “ghostly white stone” – that sounds innocuous, right? Ha, not likely; rather it makes us think of ghosts trapped in pale white weirwoods and dead weirwoods turning to pale stone. It also reminds us of the moon, and if you think about it, we’ve seen weirwood and moon symbolism together a few times. More about that in the next episode.
One of my favorite discoveries about the Crossroads Inn is that George has apparently made it into a larger than life fishing weir! As the company is approaching the inn, Septon Meribald is telling stories about the inn’s origin and he mentions that it was for a time called the River Inn.
“In those days, the Trident flowed beneath its back door, and half its rooms were built out over the water. Guests could throw a line out their window and catch trout, it’s said. There was a ferry landing here as well, so travelers could cross to Lord Harroway’s Town and Whitewalls.”
I thought this was really terrific – we’ve been talking about the fishing weir / fish garth thing for a while now, and that’s not just our show – it’s an idea that has been floating around in the fandom. In any case, before the river changed its course, the part of the inn built out over the water was functioning as a fishing weir, being a wooden structure built out over a river which can be used to catch fish. I think this is simply a clever way of telling us that the inn is representing the weirwoods. The inn is a fishing weir, it’s a gallows inn with gallows trees, it demands a sacrifice of stags, it glimmers ghostly white, it sits at the crossroads used to have a ferry to bring you across the river, it’s inhabited by children…
Ok hold on, there’s another layer to the fishing weir thing. We have to put this chapter on pause for just a second to take a very short journey in distance and time over to Jaime’s chapters at Riverrun, which take place at about the same time as Brienne’s chapter. So, the Gallows Inn is a weir that catches trout… how about an actual gallows that catches a trout?
The boom across the river and the three great camps of the besieging army were just as his cousin had described. Ser Ryman Frey’s encampment north of the Tumblestone was the largest, and the most disorderly. A great grey gallows loomed above the tents, as tall as any trebuchet. On it stood a solitary figure with a rope about his neck. Edmure Tully. Jaime felt a stab of pity. To keep him standing there day after day, with that noose around his neck . . . better to have his head off and be done with it.
A great grey gallows has caught itself a fine fat trout. We don’t have time to go into all the Tully symbolism, but we have mentioned the symbolic ice and fire duality of having red, kissed-by-fire hair and deep blue eyes, and their sigil too divides red and blue as a background for their silver fish. For now, let’s just observe that Martin has drawn another link between the gallows tree symbol and the fishing weir symbol – we just saw a gallows inn that is a weir, and now we have a great grey gallows that catches fish. The “grey gallows” term is used again in the next Jaime chapter too, so it seams like an intentional reference to Grey Gallows Island, and thus to the Bloodstone Emperor and the greater concept of Azor Ahai riding the gallows and being caught in the weirwoodnet.
A couple of other clues lurk in this passage: Edmure is made to stand there with a noose around his neck, day after day, never knowing when he might die. It reminds us of Odin hanging on the gallows tree, balanced on the precipice between life and death for nine days. And finally… what was all that in the beginning of the paragraph about a boom across the river? It’s explained a bit earlier in the chapter, and this is Ser Daven Lannister speaking to Jaime:
Mine own camp is between the rivers, facing the moat and Riverrun’s main gates. We’ve thrown a boom across the Red Fork, downstream of the castle. Manfryd Yew and Raynard Ruttiger have charge of its defense, so no one can escape by boat. I gave them nets as well, to fish. It helps keep us fed.”
Alright, so not only did they build a boom across the river – a wooden structure to trap anyone trying to flee the castle – they also fish from it. Just to make it extra clear, one of the men in charge of the weir is named after a tree – the yew tree. House Yew has an interesting sigil as well – its a curved white hourglass shape on a red background, with a golden longbow in the center (yew being a popular wood for longbows). But the white hourglass shape looks a lot like a white tree on a red field – I’m not sure this is intended by any means, but take a look and see what you think. If you are going to put a tree person in charge of manning the weir, you might as well hide weirwood symbolism in his sigil. The name Manfred means “strength and peace” or “hero’s peace,” for what it’s worth.
The other fellow – Ser Raynard Ruttiger – has a name which is a variation of the German Rüdiger, the equivalent to the english name Roger, and the meaning comes from Old High German: hruod (fame) and ger (spear). We’ve seen the spear-holding seventy-nine sentinels used as symbols for undead green men who have become tree people, and indeed, in the Brienne chapter, they refer to the gallows they see as “grisly sentinels.” And perhaps it goes without saying, but Mr. Ruttiger’s name sounds like the word ‘root,’ leaving us with the idea of someone taking root in the middle of the weir. Most of all, Odin is impaled on his gallows tree with a spear – Grey Gallows Island, Bloodstone Island, and Sunspear, remember – so what we have here with Ser Raynard Ruttiger and Ser Manfred Yew is a tree person and a famous spear person manning the weir and fishing from it… just downstream of Edmure, the fish caught on the great grey gallows.
In his report, Ser Daven also informs Jaime that the men fishing from the boom will keep the army from starving, but that many of the foragers they send out to look for food are found “ripening under trees, with ropes about their necks.” Jaime’s scout, Adam Marbrand (whose sigil is a burning tree on a field of smoke grey) came across some on the way to Riverrun, “hanging black faced from beneath a crabapple tree.” They had been stripped naked – they slipped their skin, in other words – and each man had a crabapple shoved in their mouth, “like suckling pigs.” To me this seems like a nod to the Adam and Eve story, essentially combining the “taking a bite of the apple” symbolism with Odin’s hanging. And then Ser Addam Marbrand walks up, with all of his burning tree symbolism, just so he can be like “hey, what do we have here? It looks like a collection of death transcendence metaphors, mind if I join in?” ..and of course this whole story is relayed to Jaime as they discuss the weir they’ve built over the river, so the gang’s all here.
There’s a great observation about Bran to insert here as well that comes from my good friend Ravenous Reader, and that is that Bran, being a Tully who has lost the use of his legs, is symbolically a merman. Mer-MAN! Thus we can see another layer to the fishing weir metaphor and another layer to Bran’s symbolism. In fact, there is a really good reason why we see an intermingling of fishy ideas and greenseer ideas, but it’s a very big topic on its own and it will have to wait a couple of episodes. At the least, we already know that Bran is a fish in the sense that he is caught in the weir, which is a nice parallel to his uncle on the grey gallows here. His other uncle, Brynden Blackfish Tully, actually slips through the Lannister boom, which could have implications for the idea of someone escaping out of the weirwoodnet… another topic for another day.
Returning to the Gallows Inn and the Brienne chapter, we left off where Meribald was telling stories about the inn and how it used to be built over the Trident. That’s when Meribald gives us the story of the Clanking Dragon, which suddenly means a lot more than it ever did before:
Later it passed to a crippled knight named Long Jon Heddle, who took up ironworking when he grew too old to fight. He forged a new sign for the yard, a three-headed dragon of black iron that he hung from a wooden post. The beast was so big it had to be made in a dozen pieces, joined with rope and wire. When the wind blew it would clank and clatter, so the inn became known far and wide as the Clanking Dragon.”
It’s a freshly forged iron dragon, hung from a wooden post – a black dragon hung on a gallows, in other words, and it even makes noise in the wind like a weirwood tree. Long John Heddle the crippled smith is a good example how of how much symbolism martin can cram into a name and a three sentence story: ‘Long John’ obviously suggests Long John Silver, a famous pirate with a wooden leg, and the crippled smith status suggests Hephaestus, the crippled smith of the Greek gods who made basically every famous weapon of power in Greek mythology. So, interpreting the symbolism, the man who created and hung the black iron dragon was a magical pirate smith who became crippled. That sounds a lot like Azor Ahai as the Grey King, a pirate from Asshai who knows how to smith magical black swords from sea dragon meteorite ore, and who was in all like likelihood hung on the tree himself.
Now eventually the sign was cut down after the Blackfyres took the black dragon as their sigil, and then it was thrown into the river to give us the sea dragon imagery. Just as we suggest that some amount of sea dragon meteorite may have been recovered somehow – to make those black swords and the lovely oily black squid throne known as the Seastone Chair – we see that one of the heads of the clanking dragon and six pieces in total have washed up on the Quiet Isle. Also notable is the fact that the dragon is made from a dozen pieces. Is the plus one the entire dragon? This may or may not be intended as ‘last hero math’, but it is definitely a black dragon hung on a kind of gallows.
Next we need to talk about Gendry. At the end of this chapter comes the famous scene with Brienne battling Rorge, who has that Hound’s helm, and Biter, who has Biter’s big ugly face. I’ve quoted from that scene before, with the main thing I want to remind you of here being the clever wording where Gendry walks out to see why Brienne is raising the alarm, and one line ends with “..his hammer in hand” and the next begins with “lightning cracked to the south as riders swung down off their horses.” It’s a clever way to tie the hammer to the lightning, and to Gendry. It seems he’s inherited his father Robert Baratheon’s Thor symbolism, and now that we have covered the horned lord stuff, I can point out that Gendry wears a horned bull’s helm, in a kind of unintentional imitation of Robert’s stag helm. It’s also a symbolic callout to Ba’al, the bull-headed fertility god who may be the oldest corn king in collective human memory.
When they approached the inn, they heard Gendry hammering away at his forge, and we get this:
Even before they reached the gate, Brienne heard the sound: a hammering, faint but steady. It had a steely ring.
“A forge,” Ser Hyle said. “Either they have themselves a smith, or the old inkeep’s ghost is making another iron dragon.”
That ghost smith is Gendry, and there is more hammering when Brienne lays eyes on Gendry for the first time a moment later, and again he is called a ghost:
“Thieves,” said a boy’s voice from the stables, “Robbers.”
Brienne turned, and saw a ghost. Renly. No hammerblow to the heart could have felled her half so hard. “My lord?” she gasped.
“Lord?” The boy pushed back his lock of black hair that had fallen across his eyes. “I’m just a smith.”
Oh yes, he’s just a smith – a ghost smith horned lord who hammers the heart of Brienne the moon maiden and likes to make iron dragons, and who reminds Brienne of Renly, another ghostly green horned lord. He’s from a long line of Storm Kings, and in one scene at Harrenhall, it says that his “hammer was a part of his arm” (hat-tip Ravenous Reader). Interesting fellow right? That last one was great – the hammer being a part of his arm conjured the image of the hammer falling on the arm of Dorne and becoming a part of it – a hammer that was really an iron dragon made by a horned lord like Durran Godsgrief, Gendry’s ancestor. Brienne even calls Gendry “lord” to get the horned lord thing in full effect.
We mentioned Brienne’s basic symbolism earlier: she’s another moon maiden-turned-Evenstar / Morningstar character, although she’s primarily expressing icy versions of those archetypes – she is Brienne the Blue from the Sapphire Isle after all. So when she speaks of Gendry the ghostly horned lord felling her heart with a hammerblow, well… that’s how you turn a moon maiden into a falling star, and it’s also a terrific way to make iron meteor dragons. The talk of Gendry making another iron dragon kind of sounds like foreshadowing of a future meteor event, or perhaps the new rebirth of Azor Ahai reborn in the form of RLJayzor Ahai and Daenazor Ahai. One of my favorite tinfoils is that Tobho Mott taught the secret of reworking Valyrian steel to Gendry and that he is going to reforge Ned’s sword, but I’m not holding my breath. The main thing is that the last Iron Dragon was hanged and then thrown in the river, and would seem to correlate to the previous Long Night event, which inclines me think that this talk of making another iron dragon is foreshadowing of the next dragon that needs to be hanged on the tree.
This inn of many names used to be owned by the Heddles, and you may recall that Black Tom Heddle of the Mystery Knight novella has a black demon helm – so calling Gendry the ‘old inkeep’s ghost’ effectively makes him a Heddle and blends the symbolism of Black Tom’s demon mask with Gendry’s bull helm. This gives us the sort of dark, demonic horned lord symbolism we are seeing elsewhere with Azor Ahai reborn. It’s Black Goat of Qohor, Baphomet type of stuff we are talking about here – that’s whose smithing the meteor dragons. Gendry’s lightning hammer, horned helm, and Baratheon associations give us the Storm King symbolism to go along with that, and were he ever to be acknowledged as Robert’s bastard and end up as the only potential heir to House Baratheon, then he’ll be a full fledged horned lord.
The idea of Gendry as a fiery bull version of Azor Ahai was also suggested in the scene where Yoren and Arya the other Night’s Watch recruits were besieged in the abandoned holdfast near the Gods Eye. During the fight – the one where we saw the burning tree wearing the robes of living orange – it describes “the fire shining so bright on his polished helm that the horns seemed to glow orange.” In mythical astronomy terms, we see the sun turn into a pair of fiery bull’s horns during the phase of a solar eclipse when the moon is just above the center of the sun’s disc. In mythology, bulls can be both solar and lunar, and in this case, the fiery bill image is created only during an eclipse, when the sun and moon come into conjunction. Thus it makes sense to see Azor Ahai reborn as a fiery bull – he’s only created during the eclipse.
We’ll actually come back to the inn of the crossroads a bit later for more gallows humor at the end of the next episode, but we aren’t finished with Brienne.
…because at the end of her last POV chapter in AFFC, Brienne herself is actually hanged – and there’s a one-eyed man, Jack be Lucky of the Brotherhood Without Banners, on hand to help execute her. The name Jack is probably a reference to Jack in the Green, adding an extra layer of green man symbolism. Brienne thinks to herself, “If this is another dream, it is time for me to awaken. If this is real, it is time to die,” a poetic way to tie dreaming and awakening to dying on the tree.
Brienne is also struck by lightning a few times. We mentioned it a few episodes, so here’s a quick recap in lieu of the full quotes.
As the Bloody Mummers climb off their horses to attack Brienne, lightning flashes and makes their weapons gleam silvery blue, equating the weapons (which will strike Brienne) with lightning. As she battles Rorge, who’s wearing the Hound’s helm, this is reinforced as his axe was “a brutal black shadow that turned silver every time the lightning flashed.” Recall that Rorge-as-the-Hound is also called “the Mad Dog of Saltpans” and played the moon-burner role at Saltpans; so here we can see his black weapons are like lightning.
After she dispatches Rorge and is bum rushed by Biter, her head is slammed against the ground and it says “the lightning flashed again, this time inside her skull.” It also says “Brienne’s chest was burning, and the storm was behind her eyes, blinding her.”
She takes the Hammer of the Waters injuries next – a literally broken arm and Biter attempting to choke her and tear her head off her shoulders. Later, when she relives this horrific experience in a fevered nightmare, it says “the pain crackled up her arm like lightning,” a terrific reinforcement of the idea that the Storm Gods thunderbolt and the Hammer of the Waters that broke the Arm of Dorne are related to one another.
So, she’s all kinds of struck-by-lightning, in other words. Thus her hanging on the tree is only a completion of this symbolism. Just as we saw at the opening of the chapter that began with the lightning blasted gallows tree, these two symbols are both talking about the same concept – weirwoods as a vehicle for transformation through transcendence of death.
Ser Hyle Hunt and young Podric Payne are also hanged alongside Brienne, and they make a nice trifecta of symbolism. The sigil of House Hunt is a dead, trussed-up brown dear – the wiki of ice and fire page on Westeros.org shows the deer as an antlered stag, though that is not strictly canon. House Hunt are in service to House Tarly, with its Herne the Hunter symbolism, so it seems their sigil is a continuation of the stag man symbolism of House Tarly. I also can’t help but notice “Hyle Hunt” is very, very close to “wild hunt.” He’s the sort of fellow to ride the horse of the hanged, for sure.
As for Pod and House Payne, their sigil is a purple and white checkerboard with gold coins in all of the squares. In Westeros, gold coins are called dragons , while purple and white are the colors of House Dayne, and purple the color of the eyes of dragon-blooded people, and of course, some members of House Dayne. A bunch of dragon symbolism, in other words. Ilyn Payne carries on more of the same: as the King’s Justice or executioner, he is very like a weapon in the hand of the king, which is the role the Lightbringer meteors play. He is the one who kills Ned and then claims blood-soaked Ice for a short time. The executioner and the executioner’s sword are symbolically identical, meaning that Ilyn Payne is essentially a meteor sword symbol, and this of course matches well with the implied dragon symbolism of House Payne. Ilyn Payne is later given a new sword to replace Ice, and it has a grinning dragonglass skull with ruby eyes on the hilt, and needless to say, this only enhances the dragon sword symbolism of the House of Payne. (get outchya seat and jum-paround! jump!) The silvered runes on Ser Ilyn’s new blade add the suggestion of a magic sword, perhaps one tied to the First Men. Not Payne’s actual sword, which is probably just fancy looking, but rather the concept of a much older dragonsword which Ser Ilyn might be symbolizing.
In other words, Pod Payne is bringing the dragon symbolism to the hanging party, Hyle Hunt is laying on thick with stag man symbolism, and Brienne brings the Evenstar and moon maiden symbolism. It’s like one of those stupid hanging models of the universe you make in second grade with coat hangers and styrofoam balls, and we’ve got everything we need for the solar stag man to stick his dragon inside the moon maiden and make an Azor Ahai rebornling.
Ok, so one more quick hanging. It’s a Frey, so I am sure you won’t mind. We’ll make this a speed round – call it a lightning round even, heh heh (Walder Frey laugh). Ok, epilogue of ASOS, Merrett Frey is going to meet the Brotherhood Without Banners at Oldstones to pay a ransom of 100 golden dragons for Petyr Pimple, who has been captured by the Brotherhood. And to get played like a sucker, because that’s what Freys are good for. One-eyed Jack-be-Lucky is there again with the noose, and this time he claims to be Beric for a moment. He’s the one who ties the noose around Merritt at the end of the chapter.
Merritt is the one hanged, so let’s talk about him. Disguised beneath his weasel-faced Frey meat sack, he’s actually got a ton of great symbolism going on. Because he has residual headaches from a head trauma injury suffered in the past, and because he is a raging alcoholic, he suffers from frequent blinding headaches, and as he climbs the hill to Oldstones, he knows that he will soon have “a thunderstorm raging between his ears.” After a passing squirrel startles Merrett enough to make him draw his sword, he chides himself, and it says “his heart was thumping in his chest as if he were some green boy on his first campaign.” When he considers running away with the gold and abandoning Petyr Pimple to the outlaws, he thinks to himself “Let them hang him, he brought this on himself. It’s no more than he deserves, wandering off with some bloody camp follower like a stag in rut.” Since Merrit is related to Petyr, that makes Merritt a stag man too, and this idea is reinforced elsewhere in the chapter. Right before the line about his having a thunderstorm between his ears, it said that he was mostly sober, save for the two horns of ale he drank when he woke up – that’s perfect, because two horns is how many you need to make a good horned lord costume. A bit later, as the headache builds, he feels as though “an aurochs was thundering through” his head, a second instance of Petyr having a horned head, and the horned symbolism is tied to thunder.
So, Petyr Pimple, despite his fairly pathetic outward existence, has green man symbolism, horned man symbolism, and thunderstorm symbolism. He’s still a lowly, no good, weasel-faced Frey traitor, but symbolically, that’s all a good fit -a horned green man with a thunderstorm between his ears is exactly the right person to be hanged on the tree.
When he reaches the crown of the hill at Oldstones, whose ringwall is compared to the crown on a king’s head, we find Tom Sevenstrings sitting on the tomb of King Tristifer the IV, the Hammer of Justice. Just to, you know, give us yet another hammer reference here – and paired together with a singer, as in those who sing the song of earth, and elsewhere Tom is called “you old goat.” The brotherhood does actually go into the godswood to hang Merritt and Petyr before him, although they don’t hang either on a weirwood.
When he is finally hanged, it says “his feet left the ground,” and then “up into the air he jerked, kicking and twisting, up and up and up.” The language is very suggestive of flying. We’ve seen that there is something about hooking up to the weirwoodnet that is akin to flying – this is a theme of Bran’s dreams of awakening his third eye, and Bloodraven promises Bran both in dream form and in person that ‘although he will never walk again, he will fly.’ Flying is very exciting and we are going to get to that, but like young Brandon Stark, we must have patience. Before we can fly, we have to wed the tree.
…and that’s exactly what we will do next time, as we search for the entrance to the weirwoodnet. We have more hanging scenes coming up, but we need to go back Yggdrasil lore for the next concept before we exact more hangman’s justice. I hope you’ve enjoyed analysis of Durran and Elenei, which I have been meaning to get to for a while, and I hope you have gotten a taste for the Yggdrasil stuff – as you can already see, the weirwood and greenseer ideas draw a lot from Odin and his gallows horse. Being hanged on the tree and being struck by lightning are both metaphors for death transformation and acquisition of the fire of the gods, and in the next episode, we will try to drill down into just what it means for Azor Ahai to be a greenseer, and just what it means for a tree to be given a face and to have a greenseer’s consciousness slip inside.