Hey there friends, patrons, and fellow mythical astronomers! It’s your starry host, Lucifer means Lightbringer, back with a new series – the Weirwood Goddess. I wasn’t planning on making a new series, but it sort of just grew out of the Weirwood Compendium series as I was writing and researching. I started with a small section in a wWeirwood Compendium essay about Nissa Nissa’s overlap with the weirwoods, and it grew to a large section, then it’s own essay, and now it’s a whole series. We were long overdue for some gender equality and goddess worship, and the Weirwood Compendium research based on the ash tree has taken us here, and so I present to you what I think is one of the most important writings that I have done: Weirwood Goddess One, Venus of the Woods.
I want to get right to it, so let me quickly blow the herald’s trumpet in salute of our two new Guardian of the Galaxy Patrons: Lady Diana, the ghosts huntress, pursuer of truth and guardian of the King’s Crown, which is the Cradle north of the Wall; and our former House Cancer zodiac patron, Lady Jane of House Celtigar, the Emerald of the Evening and captain of the dread ship Eclipse Wind, who is now the guardian of the Crone’s Lantern. You can still claim any of the other on-zodiac constellations such as the Galley, the Horned Lord, the Ice Dragon, the Moonmaid, and a few others by clicking the Patreon link at the top of the page, and we will be eternally grateful for your support.
Alright. In the last episode, we saw that our friendly author Mr. George R. R. Martin appears to be using the symbolism of Yggdrasil as an ash tree to great effect, mostly pertaining to the idea of the weirwoods as a symbolic burning tree which enables transcendence of death. We talked about the location of the meteor impact as a kind of ground zero for Lightbringer’s forging and Azor Ahai’s rebirth, and how the rising ash symbol found there doubles as a depiction of an ash tree rising from the impact zone. This symbolic ash tree in the ground zero pyre is reference to the ash tree Yggdrasil, and thus to the weirwoods. This line of ash tree symbolism stacks on top of a separate line of burning weirwood symbolism that also exists at these ground zero Lightbringer bonfires, such as the burning sea dragon gods, the literal burning tree that Arya sees in the holdfast near the Gods Eye, or the logs with secret hearts touched by fire at Dany’s alchemical wedding.
I: Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
II: The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
III: Waves of Night & Moon Blood
IV: The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
V: Tyrion Targaryen
VI: Lucifer means Lightbringer
Both lines of weirwood symbolism at ground zero are preceded by the Ironborn legend of the Storm God’s thunderbolt setting the tree ablaze, which seems to place a weirwood symbol – the burning tree – at the site of a meteor impact (the place where the thunderbolt landed). The sea dragon legend does the same: the part about a slain sea dragon that could drown whole islands is almost certainly referring to a dragon meteor which caused tidal waves, but the “ribcage” of the sea dragon, called “The Bones of Nagga,” seems to be made of petrified weirwood. Grey King seems to have sat in a weirwood throne of some kind amidst these weirwood “bones,” and for that reason and several others, was probably a greenseer.
Both of these Ironborn myths conflate meteor impacts and weirwood symbolism, and both specifically involve the Grey King acquiring some kind of divine fire, the fire of the gods. This is of course the primary theme which unites the flaming sword / Lightbringer ideas and the burning tree / weirwood ideas: mankind acquiring the fire of the gods.
What is all this weirwood symbolism doing at the site of the meteor impacts? Well, that’s the question we are working on answering, piece by piece. The first thing we figured out was that it has to do with Azor Ahai being some sort of greenseer who undergoes a death and rebirth transformation experience, and that this likely involves both moon meteors and weirwoods – though we haven’t figured out exactly how that works.
The next big piece of the puzzle in regard to the weirwood symbolism found at the Lightbringer bonfires was the discovery of the correlation between the weirwood trees and the moon, because of the fiery womb role they both play – they both get impregnated and wed by Azor Ahai, and both give birth to some kind of reborn Azor Ahai.
Even setting aside the issue of Azor Ahai, the greenseer / weirwood relationship functions this way: the weirwood is the host, and the greenseer the invader. The greenseer sacrifices his physical body to the tree, either by allowing it to slowly consume his or her flesh as Bloodraven is being consumed by the trees, or by our hypothesized scenario where the first seers to enter a weirwood were actually killed in order to go inside it, with the heart tree drinking and tasting the blood as Bran does in his last vision through Winterfell’s heart tree in ADWD. The greenseer allows himself to be consumed by the tree, but in doing so actually invades the tree’s consciousness and becomes reborn inside the weirwoodnet, a part of the godhood. The greenseer, in general, represents the fire animating the weirwood and the heart in the heart tree, but he essentially has to die to get in there.
The symbol that best depicts this is that of the “ember in the ashes.” Mel compares Azor Ahai’s rebirth to an ember in the ashes which can spark a great blaze, like a kind of hell phoenix. However, the idea of Azor Ahai lurking inside the ashes turned out to also be a play on the fact that Yggdrasil is an ash tree, thus implying Azor Ahai as being inside the symbolic ash tree, which are the weirwoods. He’s the ember in the ashes and the ember in the ash tree, just as the greenseer is the fire or heart in the heart tree.
Mel’s wording is also suggestive of Azor Ahai being reborn from the ash tree and emerging to start a great fire, completing the in and out again journey of Azor Ahai and the weirwoodnet. He seems to undergo death transformation to get in, as Odin did, and is born again when he reemerges, as Odin fell from the tree after hanging in a trance for nine days and finally spying and seizing up the runes. Thus, you can see that the weirwoods and Yggdrasil both play the role of a tree tomb and womb which allows sorcerers to transcend death and experience some sort of magical rebirth, and this tree womb idea will be the focus of today’s episode.
Yggdrasil isn’t only a vehicle for Odin’s rebirth – the idea of old Yggy as a more literal tree womb is actually a prominent part of its lore, as it happens. The only two people who survived Ragnarok did so by hiding inside Yggdrasil’s trunk, then reemerging after a time to restart civilization. From tree-tomb to tree-womb. This would seem to correlate well to our ideas about greenseers being reborn through the weirwoodnet, since the mythical ash tree is both eating people and acting as a womb from which people can be reborn. In a more general sense, it also seems similar to the idea of the children and their greenseer magic being needed to ensure the survival of humanity after the Long Night. The Long Night borrows a lot from Ragnarok as a catastrophic event that ends one world age and gives birth to the next, so to the extent that the greenseers preserved that flame of life to take root again in the spring, they are playing that same protective womb role for humanity. Plus, they might have literally hidden the First Men in their caves, for a more literal depiction of this theme.
Now, it turns out this tree-womb and tree-woman stuff in relation to the ash tree is not limited to Yggdrasil and Norse myth. Rather, I have found that the tree lore that has grown up about the ash tree is pretty amazing, and goes well beyond its identity as Odin’s cosmic world tree. For example, according to Celtic druid traditions, the ash tree is seen as the world-mother tree, the feminine counterpart to the masculine oak tree, the all-father tree. This has a lot to do with the bark of the two trees – oak tree bark is heavily gnarled and ridged, while ash trees are comparatively smooth. The title of this essay – Venus of the Woods – is one of the well-known names given to the ash tree. It’s hard to determine exactly why this is so, apart from its general beauty and smooth bark – the best answer I can find is that because it is last to get it’s leaves in the Spring and the first to drop them in the Fall, the tree is often naked… naked and tall and beautiful, like a Venus. I myself wonder it has something to do with one of its most distinctive features: the tips of its branches always curl upward at the end, no matter how low the rest of the branch might droop. So, like Venus, there is a distinct falling and rising action.
Whatever the reason, the ash tree as a Venus sure fits well with the idea of the weirwood as a burning tree that is created when a falling Evenstar lands on it. It sure jumped off the page at me when I read it, I can tell you that! Our theory holds that the Nissa Nissa moon turns from moon maiden to falling Evenstar after it ingests the comet, and back to morningstar again when she rises from the ashes. This rising ash creates the image of the ash tree, the Venus of the woods. And that’s just the point of this episode – the tree in the pyre is in many ways synonymous with Nissa Nissa, the fallen and reborn Venus.
One of our Guardian of the Galaxy patrons and Westeros.org chat buddies gets a large hat-tip here, and that would be the afore-mentioned Lady Jane of House Celtigar, the Emerald of the Evening and captain of the dread ship Eclipse Wind, Guardian of the Crone’s Lantern. She brought the following to my attention, and an additional hat-tip to Unchained, for reminding me about this after I had forgotten about Lady Jane’s hat tip a couple months earlier. In Greek mythology, there is a variety of tree nymph called the Meliae or Meliai who are tied to ash trees – they are essentially like dryads, like a spirit of the ash tree. They supposedly gave birth to one of the older races of man, the bronze generation, who were a warlike people that the Meliai tree nymphs armed with spears of ash wood from their ash trees. The Meliai also nurtured their bronze children with the honey from their trees, and elsewhere, it was some Meliai who nurtured Zeus on the same nectar when he was an infant.
As it happens, the origin tale of the Meliai actually overlaps with that of Aphrodite, also known as Venus – she who was born in the seafoam from the severed testicles of Ouranos, a legend we discussed at the beginning of Garth of the Gallows. It turns out that while the seed from Ouranos created Aphrodite, the blood from his castration wound created a few other beings, among them the Meliai. It’s not hard to see how this translates into ASOIAF – the falling blood of a wounded god would be our rain of ‘moon blood’ and bleeding stars which were the pieces of the slain moon goddess, and instead of that blood giving birth to tree nymphs, it created the burning tree. What we are going to see here today is that the burning tree and Nissa Nissa have an awful lot of overlap, so it’s pretty great to know there is a precedent for divine blood falling from the heavens and giving rise to magical ash tree women.
The ash tree has specific associations with burning. It’s most likely that it’s name was chosen in part because it makes for such excellent firewood – it’s able to burn as soon as it is cut down, even while still ‘green,’ and the resulting flame is bright and hot. The traditional yule log was supposed to be of ash wood, and as it happens, one of Odin’s many names is “Yule Father.” Odin was one with his ash tree Yggdrasil, so this makes sense.
We also need to consider the rowan tree, because rowan trees are also known as mountain ash (although they are actually not related to the ash tree – they just look somewhat similar and so are both called ash). Martin has made specific reference to both rowan trees and mountain ash trees in the story, and as you will see, it would appear that he is incorporating some of the folklore around these trees as well. The rowan is widely known in Europe as the “witch tree,” for several related reasons having to do with supposed magical properties and the fact that its red berries appear to have a five pointed star – like a pentacle – on their underside. Rowan trees and ash trees were both among the top choices for magic wands, were thought to convey magical protection, and that sort of thing. Ash wood in particular was the choice for making runestaffs in Norse mythology, and that is almost certainly why J. R.R. Tolkien chose to make Gandalf’s staff one of ash wood (f un fact!)
And lest I fall down on my job, I should point out that the five pointed stars on the red rowan berries also suggests red stars in the canopy of the the world ash tree. The red, five-pointed weirwood leaves serve much the same purpose.
We’re going to explore some of this tree folklore a bit further as we go along, but already you can see some of the pieces we are working with in the ash and the rowan: a Venus of the woods tree and a witch tree; runestaffs and red star fruit; ash trees that give birth to humans and ash trees that are tied to tree nymphs who dole out ash wood spears. And did I mention that the druids were said to have burned rowan branches before a battle to invoke the aid of the sidhe? That’s significant because George has referred to the Others as a kind of icy sidhe. We already suspect that the Others are tied to the weirwoods, the symbolic burning ash trees, so… we’ll have to follow up on that.
With that short introduction into the relevant tree lore out of the way, let’s dig into some ASOIAF and watch moon maidens turn into weirwoods before our very eyes.
A Treed Cat
This section is brought to you by Lord Brandon Brewer of Castle Blackrune, Sworn Ale-smith to House Stark, Grand Master of the Zythomancers’ Guild, Keeper of the Buzz, and earthly avatar of Heavenly House Sagittarius
Sooooooooo……. Is Nissa Nissa a weirwood tree?
Well… Yes!.. and… no. They do seem to correlate to each other, just as Nissa Nissa correlates to the moon. However I think Nissa Nissa does kind of have to have been a real woman in some sense, because reproduction is probably the most important manifestation of this whole business about cycles and transformations, and Azor Ahai really can’t pass on his magical genetics to anyone unless he reproduces with Nissa Nissa. So she’s definitely a woman on some level.
But like Nissa Nissa, and like the moon which gave birth to dragons, the weirwood tree also seems to play the role of a fiery womb which gives birth to Azor Ahai reborn. Before you can give birth to Azor Ahai reborn, you have to wed Azor Ahai, that is indeed the case with the moon, which was wed by the sun, and with Nissa Nissa, supposedly the wife of Azor Ahai, and it’s the case with the weirwoods, wed by Azor Ahai when he theoretically became a greenseer. That’s the kind of thing which is probably not a coincidence.
Then there is the fact that most of our prominent Nissa Nissa moon maidens in the story… well, they sort of look like weirwoods to some degree, with pale skin and red, ‘kissed-by-fire’ hair. Namely, Melisandre, Lady Catelyn, Sansa, Ygritte, Daenerys when her hair catches on fire, and a few other minor characters. A tree’s leaves are like its hair, and the red leaves of the weirwoods are described as “a blaze of flame,” so Nissa Nissa moon maidens with red, kissed by fire hair are already off to a good start to looking like a weirwood… and then Martin seems to contrive ways for them to acquire the symbolism of bloody hands, bloody or red eyes or tears, and a bloody mouth. These “weirwood makeovers” will of course always take place in the middle of a Lightbringer forging scene, as you might expect. In particular, they will happen in scenes where people are usually attacking these weirwood moon maidens with Lightbringer weapons in a recreation of the comet hitting the moon, the thunderbolt hitting the tree, and the greenseer going into the wierwood.
You remember that movie Stigmata? The movie isn’t important, it’s the concept – the stigmata is when someone, usually a Christian believer, manifests the wounds of Christ – nail marks in the hands and feet, the wound in the side, and the cuts on the brow from the crown of thorns. These weirwood makeovers are kind of like the stigmata – our Nissa Nissa moon maidens seem to manifest the signature wounds of the heart tree while being symbolically stabbed or impregnated by a comet or Lightbringer symbol. We will check out some great ones today and save a couple others for the future, after we have introduced the next concept. It’s pretty startling how consistent it is – once you notice the pattern, it really stands out.
Excepting Daenerys, who we will be setting aside until the next episode, Lady Catleyn and Melisandre seem to be the two best and most detailed examples of Nissa Nissa moon maidens manifesting this weirwood stigmata, so we will be spending the most time with them. First comes Lady Catelyn. She has two scenes that work together: the catspaw assassin’s attempted murder of Bran, and the Red Wedding, and these two scenes together layout the complete set of weirwood maiden symbols. We’ll also wave a quick hello to Lady Stoneheart, since she is so fond of hanging people, and since her character is basically a continuation or reverberation of the Red Wedding.
The catspaw scene starts with the catspaw assassin himself, who is a great symbol that we will see repeatedly in the various scenes we will examine today. The catspaw assassin was sent by Joffrey, a solar character, so his catspaw nickname is actually an identification of his symbolic role – he is acting as the paw and claw of the sun, as the sun’s weapon or executioner. That is pretty easy to identify as the comet which struck the moon, which can also be though of as the sun’s sword or the sun’s “long claw.”
Now, we’ve talked a few times about the idea of the original comet being white and silver, like normal comets, perhaps suggested by the the description of Lightbringer being “white hot” and “smoking” before stabbing Nissa Nissa and being turned red. The catspaw assassin seems to fit this description, being described as “gaunt, with limp blond hair and pale eyes deep-sunk in a bony face.” His knife, however, is dark Valyrian steel with a black dragonbone hilt. That’s very like a black comet core with a white tail, exactly how regular comets look, with the dragon associations of the hilt and steel making this an especially terrific symbol of a dragon comet. Ghost and Jon combine to form a similar image as they rush the weirwood grove – Jon is a black sword with a white shadow at his side, as Ghost is called in that scene. Jon’s spirit inside Ghost is more of the same – a black sword brother inside a streaking white shadow. Jon’s sword, Longclaw, shows us a similar pattern, with a black blade and white wolf head pommel.
Returning to the catspaw assassin, we see that he’s also remarked upon to be a “stranger” at Winterfell, and the Stranger of the Faith of the Seven is known as “the wanderer from far places,” which I’ve always thought of as a perfect description of a comet (a wandering star from far places). The assassin is a stranger with a dragon-tipped claw, sent by the sun to kill – that’s the comet. Jon too is called a stranger and has Stranger symbolism, and he is a comet person in many scenes.
In Weirwood Compendium 4, In a Grove of Ash, I asserted that comets and meteors that penetrate moons and trees are symbolic of skinchangers, who insert their spirits into animals and trees. The catspaw should therefore show us skinchanger symbolism as well, and here’s what we find: he slept in the stables with the horses and reeks of the stables, and we know that Yggdrasil can be a horse. His horsey smell and origin from the stables also makes him a kind of horse comet, and we know that the Dothraki interpret stars and comets as fiery horses, so that’s a good fit for both skinchanging and comet implications. The folks at Winterfell also found “ninety silver stags in a leather bag buried beneath the straw” where the assassin was hiding, which sounds like sacrificed stag-man symbolism. The stags are buried in a leather sack, meaning inside a skin, and buried like a dead body, reinforcing the sacrificed stag symbolism. One thinks of the hanged men outside the Inn at the Crossroads, a.k.a. the Gallows Inn, a.k.a. the inn that symbolizes a weirwood, and we think of the young inkeep Jeyne Heddle demanding a ‘sacrifice’ of silver stags to get in to the inn.
We’re actually going to return to that inn in a bit for a *weirwood makeover, as a matter of fact, but the point is that stags or green men must be sacrificed to enter the weirwood. It’s almost as if the buried sack of stags is like the sacrificed body of the skinchanger, and the assassin is like his spirit, going into the trees.
Cat is of course the Nissa Nissa figure and the weirwood figure. As Cat sees the assassin and turns to the window to scream for help, we see her acquire two main parts of the weirwood makeover in quick succession: the bloody hands and bloody mouth. We’re also going to see the important cannibalism symbolism, which I would say alludes to the weirwoods consuming the bodies and spirits of the greenseers strung up in their roots, and also to the general practice of human sacrifice to weirwood trees.
She reached up with both hands and grabbed the blade with all her strength, pulling it away from her throat. She heard him cursing into her ear. Her fingers were slippery with blood, but she would not let go of the dagger. The hand over her mouth clenched more tightly, shutting off her air. Catelyn twisted her head to the side and managed to get a piece of his flesh between her teeth. She bit down hard into his palm. The man grunted in pain. She ground her teeth together and tore at him, and all of a sudden he let go. The taste of his blood filled her mouth. She sucked in air and screamed, and he grabbed her hair and pulled her away from him, and she stumbled and went down, and then he was standing over her, breathing hard, shaking. The dagger was still clutched tightly in his right hand, slick with blood. “You weren’t s’posed to be here,” he repeated stupidly.
Alright, a lot just happened. Catelyn gets the bloody hands symbolism when she reaches up to pull the assassin’s knife from her throat and cuts her hand. Next she bites down hard on the flesh of the assassin’s hand and gets the taste of his blood in her mouth, giving her the bloody mouth of a heart tree with a side of flesh-eating weirwood symbolism. When a weirwood / moon figure like Cat eats a comet symbol like the assassin – his hand at least – that is a depiction of Azor Ahai going into (being eaten by) the trees, and this of course parallels the moon swallowing the sun’s comet. It’s just like when the woods swallowed the last slice of sun, all that stuff we talked about last time. Accordingly, the comet / assassin figure has the bloody hand symbol too now – he is symbolically merging with the weirwood / moon figure and so is sharing the same weirwood bloody hand symbolism. We are going to see that pattern throughout this episode.
Just to get extra tricky, consider this: the catspaw is like the solar lion’s hand – his paw – and Lady Cat is, in a manner of speaking, ‘eating’ the hand of the catspaw. That would be the paw of the paw of the king lion, eaten by another cat, like some sort of macabre Russian doll trick. In turn, the catspaw assassin also sliced up Cat’s hand – her paw – so you could say that the catspaw bit Cat’s paw and then Cat bit the catspaw’s paw right back. At least, that’s the kind of thing you’d say if you were raised on Dr. Seuss as I was. And that is what I call fractal symbolism.
Notice the line about the assassin cursing in Cat’s ear – it might be nothing, or it might imply the comet and meteors cursing the things they struck, which does make a certain amount of sense.
A moment later the assassin’s blade is clutched in his hand, now covered in Catelyn’s blood, in order to give us the idea of Lightbringer turned red by Nissa Nissa’s blood. We’ll see that type of symbol in most of the scenes we look at – either the weirwood moon maiden reddening a sword with her blood, or else a sword being taken from the weirwood moon maiden like Gram being pulled from the Brandstokr tree. We saw it at the burning of the Seven on Dragonstone when Stannis pulled Lightbringer from the burning wooden chest of the Mother’s statue. And don’t forget that the catspaw assassin’s blade is Valyrian steel, spell-forged in dragonfire, and blood-soaked Valyrian steel is about as close to actual Lightbringer as we get. Also, Catleyn has fallen to the floor, which of course depicts the fall of the moon maiden from heaven after her encounter with the comet.
Next up in terms of symbolism, we have the rising smoke. Bran’s wolf, Summer, is elsewhere described as looking like “silver smoke,” so when he rises from the ground level to the tower chamber to rip out the assassin’s throat, we can see that as the rising smoke cloud which blots out the face of the sun:
Catelyn saw the shadow slip through the open door behind him. There was a low rumble, less than a snarl, the merest whisper of a threat, but he must have heard something, because he started to turn just as the wolf made its leap. They went down together, half sprawled over Catelyn where she’d fallen. The wolf had him under the jaw. The man’s shriek lasted less than a second before the beast wrenched back its head, taking out half his throat.
Summer is a shadow made of silver smoke, which is the rising smoke and ash. It would be nice if Joffrey, the sun person who sent the comet assassin, were here in person to have Summer rip out his throat, but since that’s impossible, the assassin would seem to play the sun role too when he’s killed by the smoke and shadow wolf. Of course Joffrey’s solar face is eventually darkened at the Purple Wedding by Cat’s daughter Sansa, with her moonlight-drinking, poison black amethysts, seen by the Ghost of the High Heart as “a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs.” Not only do those dark purple gems turn Joff’s face a purple to match their own coloring, they are actually linked back to smoke and ash, because the poison at work, “The Strangler,” is from Ash-shai, and is itself made by a process which involves being thickened by ash, according to the late, great Maester Cressen. You can see how tightly the symbolism correlates here – ash and smoke are what kill the sun, whether it’s a silver smoke shadow wolf or the ashy poison from Asshai.
The idea that the smoke and ash which swallowed the sun can be associated with a wolf like Summer makes for a nice callout to the norse myth of Skoll and Hati, the wolves who swallow the sun and moon at Ragnarok and cause the lights to go out, a myth I probably should have mentioned by now (Norse mythology buffs have probably been cry out “what about Skoll and Hati?!” for at least a couple of podcasts now, so here you go). Smoke-dark Grey Wind sends the same message as a wolf made of sun-darkening smoke, and as we discussed extensively last time, Ghost is a weirwood wolf that will swallow Jon the sun king, just as the woods swallowed the sun in the weirwood grove of nine scene. There’s even a forest called the Wolfswood that does the sun-swallowing trick too, but we’ll quote that scene in a bit. You see the point though – a wood named after a wolf is getting to the same idea as a wolf the color of a weirwood tree, and everybody is hungry for a piece of the sun.
Returning to the Catleyn scene, right after the line about the wolf “taking out half his throat,” it says that “his blood felt like warm rain as it sprayed across her face.” That gives us two symbols we know well – the red rain of bleeding stars meteor shower, and the bloody face to suggest the bleeding face of the heart trees. Perhaps most importantly, it continues the symbolism of Cat as a blood-drinking, flesh-eating weirwood, as the assassin’s blood is offered to her like the captive before the heart tree. I believe this would also be a Meliai reference – weirwood Cat is created the blood that falls like rain, just as the Meliai were created by the blood of the sky god Ouranos, which fell from heaven like rain. Afterwards, Catelyn’s scalp is left raw and bleeding where the assassin ripped out a hank of hair – that’s kissed by fire hair, which is now blood and fire hair to match red blood and fire canopy of the weirwoods.
Cat’s makeover is complete – bloody hands. Bloody mouth. Blood and fire hair. It’s the portrait of the burning tree I was talking about. She doesn’t cry bloody tears – that comes at the Red Wedding – but her face is covered by the assassin’s blood, giving her the bloody face of a weirwood.
The other ‘Catleyn as a weirwood’ clues here have to do with her speech: when she first sees the assassin, her words stick in her throat, “the merest whisper,” like a whispering weirwood, and when they find her later, her laughter “dies in her throat.” Some of the faces on the wierwood heart trees appear to be laughing, as we saw in the grove of nine, but more important is the silent scream of the weirwood – the weirwood bark, if you recall. It’s the sound that Ghost makes, the one that only Jon heard when he went back and found newborn Ghost by himself in the snow. The silent scream implies someone who cannot speak, and the bloody mouth might suggest someone whose tongue has been torn out, which overlaps nicely with cutting the throat of a sacrifice.
You will recall that cutting someone’s throat is sometimes referred to as giving them a “red smile,” just like a laughing weirwood has a red smile, and just like bloody-mouthed Cat with her mad, dying laughter. Additionally, the assassin tried to cut Cat’s throat and nearly succeeded, which also works to imply the weirwood figure having their throat cut and thus being given a red smile.
It’s almost as if both the sacrifice and the weirwood itself have their throats cut, as if both are sacrificed to create the burning tree person – you’ll notice that the catspaw assassin, the comet person trying to merge with the weirwood by giving it a face, has his throat torn out by the wolf. Just as both Cat and he have the bloody hand, they both get the throat-cutting / red smile symbolism – because the are symbolizing the merging of the greenseer and weirwood. Again we might see a parallel with Ghost and Jon, as Jon had his throat cut and his spirit sent into his weirwood-colored wolf, who already has a red smile, just like a greenseer dying to go into his tree. Also, Ghost and Jon may both ultimately end up dying to create the merged wolf-man skinchanger zombie Jon. Of course, all of this draws a broader parallel to the sun and moon which destroy each other to create Azor Ahai reborn meteors.
Now, you can’t really cut a weirwood’s throat, but think about the symbol of the red smile: for a human, it means a throat cutting, but for a weirwood, a red smile is just a part of its face. Thus, cutting a weirwood figure’s throat is like to giving a weirwood a red smile, and that probably equates to giving a weirwood a face, complete with bloody red smile. We’re going to see a lot of throat cutting today, so I want to lay this out right at the beginning.
There’s another great weirwood symbol present here at Winterfell, and this great find comes to us courtesy of Ravenous Reader, the Poetess. It has to do with the library. Following the incident, the catspaw assassin is immediately believed to have set fire to the library tower as a distraction before his main attack. Whether he did or not, a library is made of paper – meaning wood – and is a repository of knowledge. Thus, it makes an outstanding symbol of the weirwoodnet, which is basically a library made of wood (and just fyi, the library / weirwood symbolism does seem to be expressed elsewhere – take a look at the scrolls or books in any scene where they are discussed prominently and see what you find). Check out this quote from Jojen to Bran in ADWD:
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one. The singers of the forest had no books. No ink, no parchment, no written language. Instead they had the trees, and the weirwoods above all. When they died, they went into the wood, into leaf and limb and root, and the trees remembered. All their songs and spells, their histories and prayers, everything they knew about this world. Maesters will tell you that the weirwoods are sacred to the old gods. The singers believe they are the old gods. When singers die they become part of that godhood.”
The weirwoodnet is directly compared to a library here, and thus the comet assassin figure setting the library tower on fire creates the burning tree symbol, and works in parallel to him wounding Cat and transforming her into a bloody weirwood. Cat sees the burning library, and it says “long tongues of flame shot from the windows,” a familiar symbol in ASOIAF which is also a symbol of the Biblical Holy Spirit, which is nothing if not a representation of the fire of the gods that can live inside the hearts of men. Then “she watched the smoke rise to the sky” – in other words, the smoke is rising from the burning tree, a parallel to the silver smoke wolf rising to Bran’s bedchamber when the fire is set.
The Red Wooding
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Next we come to the Red Wedding. We are not going to do a breakdown of the entire Red Wedding, because that’s a huge undertaking – we’re just going to address Lady Catelyn’s weirwood makeover. We’ll join the action in progress, just after the killing has started. The first thing we will make note of is that Cat takes a projectile wound:
She ran toward her son, until something punched in the small of the back and the hard stone floor came up to slap her.
That turns out to be no ordinary projectile, because a couple of sentences later, it says “Catelyn’s back was on fire.” This might seem like par for the course by now – the moon is set on fire by a projectile – but remember that Cat is also acting out the role of a transformed weirwood being struck by lighting and set afire, so the reference to fire here is doubly important. It helps make her the tree struck by lightning. The spine is also the part of a human which is analogous to a tree’s trunk, so setting Cat’s back on fire is a good depiction of the burning tree. The arrow itself was fired by the musicians in the upper gallery, which makes us think of greenseers who sing magical songs to call projectiles down from the heavens, a la the Hammer of the Waters fable.
Next, Cat gets the bloody mouth:
Her limbs were leaden, and the taste of blood was in her mouth.
Leaden limbs are stiff limbs, kind of like a tree perhaps, but more importantly, lead implies poisoning, which is an aspect of the lightbringer comet (think of the black amethysts snakes, or Oberyn’s poison-tipped sunspear). The meteors are a toxic presence on the earth, it would seem, and I think part of the pain and rage on the faces of the trees might indicate a reaction to this toxic presence. I suggested last time that the association with graveworms and maggots that the weirwood roots have might be meant to imply that weirwoods are mitigating and transmuting this toxic effect, and this also works in harmony with the notion of weirwoods as a trap that is restraining a dangerous, minotaur-like monster. I am not set on this but the idea keeps popping up so we will have to keep it in mind. In any case, Cat seems to have a case of lead poisoning and stiff limbs to go with her burning spine and bloody mouth, so let’s keep going.
Next, as Robb is shot with crossbow bolts and many Starks and friends are cut down, Catleyn takes Walder Frey’s lackwit grandson Jinglebell hostage, and there’s a direct tie made to the first scene with the catspaw assassin.
When she pressed her dagger to Jinglebell’s throat, the memory of Bran’s sickroom came back to her, with the feel of steel at her own throat.
I believe this link is created between the two scenes because the two scenes are similar, and express the same ideas involving Cat turning into a weirwood. Now when Robb is killed, Cat cuts Jinglebell’s throat, and it says that “the blood ran hot over her fingers.” That’s a case of the bloody hands to go with the bloody mouth, the makings for a solid case of weirwood stigmata. Just as when Summer tore out the Cat’s paw assassin’s throat and the blood was like warm rain on Cat’s face, this is a depiction of human sacrifice to the weirwood trees.
As for Jinglebell, he’s playing the role of sacrifice, and his real name is… Aegon, actually. You can’t say the name Aegon without thinking of Aegon the Conqueror, who rode a black dragon, Balerion, and wielded the sword Blackfyre. Aegon the Conqueror is a pretty clear dark solar Azor Ahai reborn figure, and therefore what we are seeing with Jinglebell Aegon’s sacrifice to Cat the weirwood goddess is yet another implication of Azor Ahai being sacrificed to the weirwood. Immediately following this sacrifice, Cat will be give the “bloody face” part of the wierwood makeover, which seems to be the right sequence – a greenseer is sacrificed, the tree is given a face, and the spirit of the greenseer enters the tree. We will see this depicted in a moment by Catleyn losing her wits after killing Jinglebell, as if she is absorbing his fool’s spirit.
So right after she cuts his throat is grisly fashion, cutting down to the bone, it says “finally someone took the knife away from her.” This is showing us the ‘Lightbringer being pulled from the burning tree’ symbol which we introduced a few moments ago, which I told you would appear in most of these scenes. Next, Catelyn goes mad and rakes her own face with her fingernails:
The tears burned like vinegar as they ran down her cheeks. Ten fierce ravens were raking her face with sharp talons and tearing off strips of flesh, leaving deep furrows that ran red with blood. She could taste it on her lips.
This sounds very much like a face being carved in to the weirwood tree! Her face is literally being carved here, the blood running through furrows on Cat’s face. The word “furrow” is suggestive of planting and sowing, as if the moon blood were about to grow something, and again, this is as literal a face-carving as any human undergoes in ASOIAF. The word furrow is also notable because the phrase “furrows of Odin” is a phrase which means “runes.” In Norse languages, there exists something called a kenning spelled the same way as House Kenning of the Iron Islands) which is defined as a circumlocution (an ambiguous or roundabout figure of speech) used instead of an ordinary noun. Instead of saying rune in a poem, the writer might say “furrows of Odin” and everyone would understand that he meant rune. A rune is carved in wood or stone – again, ash trees are the best choice for rune-staffs – which is why it can be a furrow.
In other words, I think Martin is drawing a link here between face carving and Odin’s runes, which of course makes a ton of sense, since the wedding of a greenseer to a weirwood is the ASOIAF equivalent to Odin’s hanging on the tree. We’ll see another kenning referenced in Cat’s death in just a moment, actually.
As for the sharp implements doing the face carving – the black ravens- they are black meteor symbols, so that’s probably why George chose to use them as a metaphor here. It’s another way to show the moon meteors setting the tree on fire, and specifically in conjunction with it receiving a face. As Ravenous Reader points out, it also makes her a better weirwood tree – she has ravens perching on her!
Our poor treed Cat has a bloody mouth again too, this time viscerally tasting it on her lips in a way that reminds us of Bran watching the human sacrifice through Winterfell’s heart tree, where it said that “Brandon Stark could taste the blood.”
Then we get the bloody tears image and mercifully, Cat’s death:
The white tears and the red ones ran together until her face was torn and tattered, the face that Ned had loved. Catelyn Stark raised her hands and watched the blood run down her long fingers, over her wrists, beneath the sleeves of her gown. Slow red worms crawled along her arms and under her clothes. That made her laugh until she screamed. “Mad,” someone said, “she’s lost her wits,” and someone else said, “Make an end,” and a hand grabbed her scalp just as she’d done with Jinglebell, and she thought, No, don’t, don’t cut my hair, Ned loves my hair. Then the steel was at her throat, and its bite was red and cold.
Here we see the mutual throat cutting of greenseer and weirwood, just as we saw when both Cat and the catspaw got the throat cutting symbolism in Bran’s sickroom. Just like in the sickroom, we find Cat with the mad laughter again, as her laughter mixes with her screams, thereby also suggesting the agony and ecstasy of Nissa Nissa. This is the part I mentioned a moment ago about Cat losing her wits, signifying that she is symbolically absorbing Jinglebell’s fool spirit. We are going to see this a bunch of times today – the tree and greenseer sharing the same symbolism in the moments that they are depicted as merging. Last time it was a Cat and a catspaw, both with bloody hands and throat cutting symbolism, and this time we have two lackwits getting their throats cut in identical fashion.
Most notable are Cat’s bloody tears, which run together with her white tears, thus completing the basic part of the weirwood makeover, Twins Edition. Usually the ‘bloody tears of the weirwood’ symbolism is achieved symbolically, with eyes red from crying or some such, because Martin can’t literally carve out a moon maiden’s eyes every time he wants to symbolize the weirwood stigmata. This, however, is one of the instances of real, genuine bloody tears, so together with the real, genuinely painful sounding face-carving, this one of the very best examples of a Nissa Nissa moon maiden getting a weirwood makeover. Note also that her tears burn like vinegar, creating the burning tears / burning blood symbolism.
When Cat raises her bloody hands, she’s essentially striking a tree pose, as if she is actually turning into a tree in that moment – the moment just before she is given her red smile. Martin serves us up a juicy one next and turns the blood into worms crawling along her arms and under her clothes, which certainly reminds us of the graveworm-like weirwood roots that do the exact same thing to Bloodraven, weaving over, around and through him.
But wait! There’s more. When we talk about bloody red worms, we must mention the only red dragon in all of ASOIAF – Caraxes, the Bloodwyrm, ridden by that same Daemon Targaryen who took Bloodstone Island for his seat. A red dragon is of course primarily a symbol of Lightbringer the red sword or red comet, and that fits perfectly with what is going on here at the Red Wedding: as Cat transforms into a weirwood, we see a symbol of Lightbringer created from the blood of the dying moon maiden, just as it should. At the same time, it also depicts the weirwood moon maiden merging with Lightbringer the red dragon, which was kind of the theme of the last episode. This is just the same as cat becoming a fool to symbolize her as a weirwood absorbing Jinglebell’s spirit – he’s also an Aegon, and so she is manifesting red dragon symbolism!
The blood worm lines is actually the other kenning I mentioned – “blood worm” is a kenning which means “sword.” We already thought Caraxes the Bloodwyrm was symbolizing the red sword of heroes, so take that as confirmation. This also means Cat’s blood is in a sense turning into swords as she dies, just as the moon explodes and becomes bleeding stars which looks like flaming swords.
If I may say so, this is expert-level symbolism here – Martin has skillfully woven together the moon maiden symbols and wierwood symbols all throughout this scene, with no better example than the blood worm symbol. Dragons, swords, bloody hands, and weirwood roots are all implied by one densely-packed line. The most important take-away here is that Cat is symbolically turning into a weirwood tree, having her face carved, and manifesting Lightbringer and dragon symbolism all in the same moment.
This image is followed up on by the final bit of weirwood stigmata, as Cat is given her red smile. The knife that gives Cat her red smile has a bite that is red and cold, which is interesting. A red bite makes sense as a symbol of the comet striking or biting the moon maiden and of the moon meteor striking the tree, but isn’t Lightbringer supposed to be hot? Yes, it is, but frozen fire is both hot and cold, as is Valyrian steel, which is forged in dragonfire but is repeatedly noted to be very cold to the touch. Comets are the same, appearing to burn hot – but of course comet tails are not made of fire and comets themselves usually contain a lot of ice. Cold red blood also makes us think of the frozen weirwood sap which looks like frozen blood, and that’s a great fit with what is going on in the scene. It’s implying Cat’s red smile is red and cold, like the frozen blood of the weirwood smile, in other words.
The cold red bite of the dagger also reminds me of Mel’s repeated attempts to warn Jon about his own impending red smile (meaning his throat cutting by Wick Whittlestick): “Ice, I see, and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel. It was very cold.” It’s the cold / frozen red blood symbol again, and as I said, this alludes to Jon’s red smile. And that name, whittle-stick: it’s implying wood carving, with Jon’s neck as the wood. That fits, because Jon is simply taking on the weirwood symbolism of his wolf in the moment he’s about to merge with his wolf, being given a red smile likened to wood-carving.
Ned’s Ice is perhaps the best Lightbringer symbol in the story, and it kind of combines all of these cold red blood ideas we just mentioned – it’s directly compared to the comet, it’s Valyrian steel, it’s named Ice and is the sword most often remarked upon as being cold, and finally, it is soiled with Ned’s blood, reforged, and then appears to have the color of blood frozen in the ripples of its steel. As much as I love Oathkeeper, I don’t want to get too sidetracked here, but I did want to note that the cold red bite of the Frey knife that cuts Cat probably plays into this line of ice and fire / frozen blood symbolism. The broader point is that Cat is wounded by weapons with Lightbringer symbolism in both of the scenes of hers we’ve examined today: first by the catspaw’s Valyrian steel knife, and then by the Frey knife with a cold red bite. Taken with the idea of raven meteors carving her bloody face, and all the bloodworm stuff, I think it’s clear we are being shown that Cat is simultaneously playing the role of Nissa Nissa being stabbed by Lightbringer and the role of a weirwood being entered by Azor Ahai and having its face carved. The basic implication seems clear: the forging of Lightbringer and the carving of the faces seem to be related events.
This idea finds a companion in a description of the red comet that comes to us in Catelyn’s inner monologue. It’s from ACOK to be specific, and here she is speaking with her uncle Brynden Blackfish:
She followed him out onto the stone balcony that jutted three-sided from the solar like the prow of a ship. Her uncle glanced up, frowning. “You can see it by day now. My men call it the Red Messenger . . . but what is the message?”
Catelyn raised her eyes, to where the faint red line of the comet traced a path across the deep blue sky like a long scratch across the face of god.
When we consider that the faces in the weirwoods are the faces of the so-called “Old Gods,” the blades that carve those faces would then be scratching the face of god, as the comet is here. The comet certainly was a scratch across the face of the moon, which can be regarded as a goddess. The weirwoods seem to parallel the moon, and we keep seeing clues about Lightbringer type weapons carving the faces. I think this means the same thing as the story about the thunderbolt setting fire to the tree – something about the meteor impacts and the presence of Azor Ahai and his cronies in Westeros seem to have caused the face carving. In a perfect world, Azor Ahai or Garth the Green or someone like that used a knife made from a black meteor to carve the first face, so add that to the wishlist of things I hope to see in a Bran weirwood vision of the past. But there are actually several ways I can think of that the “Lightbringer and Azor Ahai carving the faces” idea could play out.
Setting aside that literal of an interpretation, meteors are typically used to work magic in Lovecraft stories, or else have their own inherent magical effects (usually magically toxic effects), so it’s more likely than not that the Bloodstone Emperor used his black meteor to work dark magic. Perhaps this had something to do with his ability to enter the trees and set the weirwoodnet ‘on fire.’ The other obvious possibility, which I have mentioned, is that the meteors themselves landed on Westeros and caused a magical reaction from the weirwoodnet, and something about this reaction is tied to the ability of greenseers to enter the weirwoodnet. This would also make sense as the meteor ‘setting the weirwoodnet on fire.’
I’m open to suggestions here – I feel confident that the meteors are linked to the carving of the faces and the greenseers entering the weirwoodnet, but the specifics are more murky. One of the main reasons I think this is because the legend of the Storm God’s thunderbolt setting the tree ablaze and thereby allowing man to possess the fire of the gods strongly implies that the meteors somehow enabled the first greenseers to enter the weirwoodnet. The burning tree fire of the gods is the weirwoodnet, and Grey King couldn’t possess this fire until the thunderbolt struck, so there you go. You see what I mean. He didn’t possess the living fire of the sea dragon until after he slew her, which conveys the same idea.
One final word about kennings: Odin in particular is tied to kennings. He is famous for having over 200 names in kenning form, many of which have obvious implications for ASOIAF such as the Hanged God, Lord of the Gallows, Raven God, Lord of Battles, High One, Battle-Wolf, Grey Beard or Hoary Board, Barrow Lord, Yule-Father, Mask, Hooded One, Wanderer, Father of Magical Songs, Flaming Eye, Shaggy Cloak-Wearer, Wagon God or God of Riders, God of Runes, Mover of Constellations, and many more. That last one is a reference to Yggdrasil as a cosmic axis celestial world tree, I’d like to point out.
So, I mentioned there is a House Kenning – two actually, House Kenning of Harlaw on the Iron Islands, and a splinter branch in service to House Lannister on mainland Westeros called House Kenning of Kayce. You know how the sigil clues work, so I will just give them to you. House Kenning of Harlaw’s sigil is “the storm god’s cloudy hand, pale grey, yellow lightning flashing from the fingertips, on black.” House Kenning of Kayce, meanwhile, has a sigil of “four sunbursts counterchanged on a quartered orange and black field,” meaning two black suns and two orange ones. I’m not sure about the math, but we recognize the black sun symbol as the dark solar king and the Lion of Night, so it’s nice to see a visual confirmation that Martin is indeed thinking about black suns as a general concept.
Now House Kenning of Kayce was founded by an Ironborn warrior known as Herrock Kenning, from the original Harlaw Kennings. His story involves a horn called “the horn of Herrock” which we actually see in the main story, as a Ser Kennos of Kayce accompanies Jaime in the Riverlands and blows the horn at a few crucial times. The horn, weirdly, is described an awful lot like the dragonbinder horn and the supposedly fake horn of Joramun that Melisandre burned: “black and twisted and banded in old gold.” One they blow it to enter Raventree Hall, home of the Blackwoods and their huge, dead wierwood tree.
In other words, all the symbolism attached to either House Kenning leads back to Azor Ahai the dead greenseer and the events of the Long Night. We have the Storm God’s thunderbolt-hurling hand, a horn seemingly meant to remind us of the more significant magical horns in the story, and the black sun symbol. House Kenning of Kayce on the mainland could be seen as kind of turning their cloak from the original Kennings, since they are now loyal to the Lannisters, and this is probably the meaning of their orange sun / black sun sigil – it’s showing us a bifurcation or transformation of the sun.
Anyway, let’s keep it moving.
The Silent Sister
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You know we can’t talk about Lady Cat without mentioning Lady Stoneheart, as much as she enjoys hanging people. She has some great nicknames: The Silent Sister. Mother Merciless. The Hangwoman. Lady-freaking-Stoneheart. Here is Brienne’s encounter with her in Beric’s old cave in AFFC, which serves as a chilling introduction to this character who was just a little too terrifying for HBO :
A trestle table had been set up across the cave, in a cleft in the rock. Behind it sat a woman all in grey, cloaked and hooded. In her hands was a crown, a bronze circlet ringed by iron swords. She was studying it, her fingers stroking the blades as if to test their sharpness. Her eyes glimmered under her hood.
Grey was the color of the silent sisters, the handmaidens of the Stranger. Brienne felt a shiver climb her spine. Stoneheart.
In other words, Cat has become a rather unfriendly psychopomp, who is primarily interested in “feeding the crows,” as one of the Brotherhood says. By the way, the kenning for warrior is “feeder of ravens,” something Martin may have been inspired by. Essentially, Stoneheart is handing out one-way tickets to hell. If the entrance to the weirwoodnet is the entrance to a kind of realm of the dead, then undead Cat is acting as the gatekeeper. Here is a physical description of Stoneheart, a few pages further on:
Lady Stoneheart lowered her hood and unwound the grey wool scarf from her face. Her hair was dry and brittle, white as bone. Her brow was mottled green and grey, spotted with the brown blooms of decay. The flesh of her face clung in ragged strips from her eyes down to her jaw. Some of the rips were crusted with dried blood, but others gaped open to reveal the skull beneath.
Lady Stoneheart still has weirwood symbolism, but it is kind of post-weirwood transformation – she’s no longer such a good fit for the weirwood portrait of the burning tree, having lost the red hair and white skin thing. Her red hair has turned white as bone – which does match the bone white branches and bark of the weirwood – and her pale skin has turned grey and green, a color pairing which has been used to symbolize grey king type undead greenseers. She lives underground in the cave like a greenseer – and symbolically, in the underworld, where a zombie belongs. The words mottled and ragged are used, likening her to the undead scarecrow line of symbolism which also involves fools (who wear motley), thus making a straight line of foolishness and madness symbolism that runs through the scene in Bran’s sickroom, the red wedding, and now here in the cave.
In other words, Stoneheart is more like a tree ghost within the weirwood at this point, much like the Ghost of High Heart or Bloodraven, the latter of which also has that problem with the skull showing through holes in the face-skin that Stoneheart has. Note also that the Ghost of High Heart and Bloodraven both have white hair like Stoneheart, despite having red eyes that still match a weirwood. Catleyn actually does get the red eyes of a weirwood along with her fiery resurrection, and this quote is from that same Brienne chapter:
The woman in grey hissed through her fingers. Her eyes were two red pits burning in the shadows.
Drogon’s eyes are like burning pits and red pits, while the weirwoods have “deep-carved” red eyes which are functionally red pits. This seems like the ember in the ashes / last coal in a dead fire symbolism we examined in the last episode, alluding to an internal fire within Stoneheart, and indeed, Thoros speaks of Beric passing the flame of life into Cat in order to resurrect her. Cat kinda sorta whispers here too – the word used is hissing – and she’s doing so “through her fingers,” almost like a weirwood whispering through it’s branches. Elsewhere in this chapter, her speech is called “halting, broken, tortured” and as “part croak, part wheeze, part death rattle.” That reminds us a bit of Coldhands rattling voice, and plays into the larger theme of having your throat cut and losing your voice that seems to be implied by the weirwoods’ bloody mouths and silent screams.
Then there’s this quote from Lem Lemoncloack in the epilogue of AFFC, the hanging of Petyr Pimple:
“She don’t speak,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “You bloody bastards cut her throat too deep for that. But she remembers.“
She doesn’t speak, but she remembers – isn’t that a perfect description of the weirwoods?
The other line of symbolism that plays into our line of research here is what happens with Stoneheart’s burning red eyes when she sees Oathkeeper:
He slid the sword from its scabbard and placed it in front of Lady Stoneheart. In the light from the firepit the red and black ripples in the blade almost seem to move, but the woman in grey had eyes only for the pommel: a golden lion’s head, with ruby eyes that shone like two red stars.
Cat has eyes only for the pommel – actually, she has eyes which are like the red stars eyes on the pommel, which are also a cat’s eyes, since the pommel is a lion head. It’s Dr. Seuss land again – a Cat with burning red eyes has eyes only for a cat with burning red eyes. Oathkeeper is a comet symbol, analogous to the catspaw figures and their Lightbringer-esque weapons, and Cat and the Brotherhood even name the sword and the bearer as a kind of catspaw of the Lannister King. Jack-Be-Lucky the one-eyed man says they should hang all three of them because “they’re lions,” Lem Lemoncloack says to Brienne that “there’s a stink of lion about you, lady,” and then they read the letter Brienne carries, which puts the nail in the coffin:
“There is this as well.” Thoros of Myr drew a parchment from his sleeve, and put it down next to the sword. “It bears the boy king’s seal and says the bearer is about his business.“
Lady Stoneheart set the sword aside to read the letter.
“The sword was given me for a good purpose,” said Brienne. “Ser Jaime swore an oath to Catelyn Stark . . .”
“. . . before his friends cut her throat for her, that must have been,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “We all know about the Kingslayer and his oaths.”
That’s a nice one because in addition to naming Brienne and Oathkeeper as a catspaws of the Lannisters – “the bearer is about his business,” it doesn’t get any more catspaw than that – in addition to that, it also names the Freys who killed Cat as catspaws of the Lannisters, doing Jaime’s bidding. That means that both of Cat’s weirwood transformations were triggered by catspaws, by agents of the sun, which we interpret as the comet, and that lines up perfectly with all the weapons that attack Cat having Lightbringer symbolism. As I mentioned, Oathkeeper is also a great comet and cat’s paw symbol.
The point of the clever wordplay around Cat having eyes for and like the red stars on the lion pommel of Oathkeeper is the same as Melisandre having eyes like red stars, or Ghost having eyes like embers. It indicates a moon / weirwood symbol that has ingested the fire of the sun. Indeed, Oathkeeper’s ‘cat’ pommel and Catelyn-turned-Lady Stoneheart are parallel symbols. Oathkeeper’s lion pommel is the cat that has swallowed a red star, and the black and red blade would symbolize the comet that the lion swallowed. Longclaw, Jon’s sword, is just like Oathkeeper: the red-eyed wolf pommel is Ghost, who swallows Jon, and because Jon is a black brother and a sword in the darkness, Jon parallels to Longclaw’s black blade. It’s like the wolf pommel is swallowing the black sword and reflecting that internal fire in its eyes, just as with the red star-eyed lion pommel on Oathkeeper, and just as with Cat being attacked, throat slashed, and face-carved by Lightbringer symbols of various types, only to rise from the dead with burning red eyes.
All of this symbolism is bolstered by Cat’s new name – Stoneheart. She has a stone in her heart, like a tree person that swallowed a stone – or like Oathkeeper’s lion pommel that swallowed a bloody dragon blade. Weirwood trees get set on fire by the dragon meteors and by the greenseers who play the role of meteors (the thunderbolt meteor, to be exact). Think of Bloodraven like the dragon Nidhog, sitting beneath the magical tree and animating it with his life fire. Bloodraven is like the meteor, like the stone which becomes the heart of the tree. So, the name Stoneheart implies a tree woman with a meteor stone heart, someone who swallowed a red star or red sun.
We’ve also likened the King of Winter to a burning tree person – that’s essentially what he is, a wicker man made of dead greenery who is waiting to be burned in the spring. That obviously has overlap with the idea of Nissa Nissa becoming a burning tree, so what’s the deal with that? Well, it’s important to remember that gender doesn’t really exist with most trees and certainly not with moons and suns and comets – nor with dragons, for that matter. I talked about this last episode when I tried to explain that Nissa Nissa reborn and Azor Ahai reborn are really just gender appropriate versions of the same archetype.
For example, Cat has everything she needs to play King of Winter here except for a direwolf – she is sort of fiddling with Rob’s King of Winter crown, and now has Ned’s old sword too. And at the Red Wedding, Robb was actually acting in parallel to Cat: when he was first hit by an arrow, it says that he “staggered suddenly as a quarrel sprouted from his side,” which creates the image of a stag man growing wooden quarrels like tree limbs (hat-tip to my forum friend Unchained for that great observation). Cat thinks that if he screamed, she did not hear it because the music was too loud – making it a silent scream – and a second later, his voice is “whisper faint,” like a whispering weirwood (and remember that Robb won his most famous battle at the Whispering Wood).
Finally, we have Roose Bolton saying the infamous words “Jaime Lannister sends his regards” and then thrusting the longsword through Robb’s heart and twisting, making Robb and by extension the King of Winter some kind of Nissa Nissa moon figure. Like Nissa Nissa, and like the moon, the King of Winter parallels the tree, in other words – it’s a thing waiting to be set on fire. That’s also the case in real green man king of winter folklore: the king of winter is a green man made of dead garden shoots waiting to be set on fire at the changing of the season.
One other note on Roose stabbing Robb: by declaring himself to be a messenger of Jaime Lannister at the moment he stabs Robb, Roose is identifying himself as yet another catspaw assassin, and this creates another parallel between Robb as the King of Winter and Catelyn as a weirwood goddess, as both are killed by catspaws figures.
As kind of an adjunct to Catelyn, we’ll now return to the Inn of the Crossroads – also called the Gallows Inn – for a weirwood stigmata involving the death of the original owner, Masha Heddle. She is primarily mentioned in Catleyn’s chapters, so she fits in well here with all the Catelyn and lady Stoneheart stuff. Even though she is a minor character, her weirwood makeover scene unites much of the symbolism we’ve discussed here in the last three episodes. This from AGOT, when Tyrion meets his father there after coming down from the Mountains of the Moon:
The inn and its stables were much as he remembered, though little more than tumbled stones and blackened foundations remained where the rest of the village had stood. A gibbet had been erected in the yard, and the body that swung there was covered with ravens. At Tyrion’s approach they took to the air, squawking and flapping their black wings. He dismounted and glanced up at what remained of the corpse. The birds had eaten her lips and eyes and most of her cheeks, baring her stained red teeth in a hideous smile.
Masha Heddle is famous for her sourleaf-stained mouth, which is referred to many, many times in the first book. It’s called a “ghastly red smile,” a “hideous red smile,” and a “bloody horror,” so you get the idea. It’s a creative way of giving someone the weirwood bloody mouth symbolism, and it works quite well because of the vivid descriptions. Of course, the her red smile symbolism ties into the throat-cutting motif which is shared by the red smile of the weirwoods, and being hanged amounts to the same thing. Notice that the crows eating her face compare well to Catelyn’s fingernails being described as ten ravens when they disfigured her face, and of course to Bran’s eyes being pecked out by the Three-Eyed Crow. It’s also worth noting that she was hanged at the command of a solar king, Tywin, just as Cat was wounded and then killed by people doing the bidding of Lannisters. More catspaw symbolism, in other words.
Overall, what we can say about Masha Heddle is that she is the lady of the gallows inn, hung on the tree and given a weirwood transformation by the ravens and sourleaf: carved out bloody eyes, and a bloody smile. The blackened stone and ruined houses all around the inn and its gibbet help to lend the vibe of charred, smoking, ground-zero type wasteland. The gallows inn itself represents a weirwood as we saw in Garth of the Gallows, and the gibbet or gallows tree in the yard does the same. Of course we expect to see burning tree and weirwood symbolism at ground zero, so that all checks out and works in support of Masha’s weirwood transformation.
Now the configuration here is slightly different, because although her bloody eyes and red smile cast her in the role of the tree itself, usually it is Azor Ahai who is hung on the tree. This might suggest that perhaps Nissa Nissa was a woman who was sacrificed to open up the heart tree for Azor Ahai; perhaps she went in first and became part of the tree, only to have Azor Ahai then wed the tree and bond with it… or her, as it might be. Tywin, a solar character, hanged Masha Heddle and then takes up temporary residence in her inn, which kind of fits that pattern, so we’ll keep this possibility in mind. Tyrion is an Azor Ahai reborn figure, and he comes down the Mountains of the Moon (like a moon meteor) and also enters the weirwood symbol of the gallows inn, passing by the hanged and weirwooded Masha Heddle.
There’s one other honorable mention weirwood maiden that belongs with Cat, and that is Brienne, who I said is like a moon character that turns into an Evenstar Morningstar character. The Venus of Tarth, Brienne the Beauty. We talked about her hanging on the tree in Garth of the Gallows, and about how she is repeatedly struck by lightning, so to speak, in various scenes. After she has the horrific fight with Rorge and then Biter, she is patched up a bit by the Brotherhood without banners and taken to Lady Stoneheart, and for a time, she floats in a world of hazy half-dream. One of those dreams is worth a quick mention here. It’s the one where she dreams of the time that Red Ronnet Connington, he of the fire-red hair and beard, came to Evenfall hall to officially court her – except in the dream, Ronnet becomes Jaime part-way through.
The main noteworthy thing is that when Ronnet / Jaime gives her the rose, she opens her mouth and blood pours out – “she had bitten off her tongue while she waited.” A rose from a sun character would be a stand-in for the comet, and to confirm this, we get the following lines from Brienne on a different occasion when she recalls facing Red Ronnet on the tourney ground and exacting her revenge for his ‘courtship,’ and the cruel prank he participated in with the other knights:
In the mêlée at Bitterbridge she had sought out her suitors and battered them one by one, Farrow and Ambrose and Bushy, Mark Mullendore and Raymond Nayland and Will the Stork. She had ridden over Harry Sawyer and broken Robin Potter’s helm, giving him a nasty scar. And when the last of them had fallen, the Mother had delivered Connington to her. This time Ser Ronnet held a sword and not a rose. Every blow she dealt him was sweeter than a kiss.
It’s the kissing and killing, sex and swordplay theme between these two, and the rose is now a sword. Then during Brienne’s hazy half-conscious nightmare dream on the way to Stoneheart’s lair, we get this:
“He will bring a rose for you,” her father promised her, but a rose was no good, a rose could not keep her safe. It was a sword she wanted. Oathkeeper. I have to find the girl. I have to find his honor.
In other words, Oathkeeper is be likened to the rose – and indeed, it was Jaime who gave her Oathkeeper, just as he gave her the rose in the dream. The sun gives his fire to the moon maiden, which means that Brienne must be playing the moon maiden in this dream, at least. Brienne having revenge on Red Ronnet would equate to the moon meteors killing the sun with meteor smoke – the lunar revenge motif – and the same is true when she battles Jaime, a scene we will break down another time. Earlier in AFFC, Brienne dreams of her revenge on Red Ronnet, and we see that Jaime and Ronnet share another familiar symbol:
Ronnet had a rose between his fingers. When he held it out to her, she cut his hand off.
The last detail has to do with Brienne’s dress, made out like the sigil of House Tarth: “a quartered gown of blue and red decorated with golden suns and silver crescent moons.” It’s pretty great ice and fire unity symbolism, and more importantly, sun and moon unity symbolism. The merging of sun and moon is what converts Brienne from moon maiden to falling Evenstar, after all. And finally, and this will be a preview of the next episode, Brienne has her second-hand shield painted to look like that of her ancestor, Ser Duncan the Tall: a falling green star and an elm tree on a field of sunset. That’s basically a diagram of the thunderbolt meteor about to strike the tree, and right at sunset (when the sun is swallowed by the trees).
Alright, so that’s our first batch, with Lady Catelyn and Masha Heddle being vivid and precise depictions of women turning into weirwoods, and Brienne being a less complete echo with only the bloody mouth – although she is hanged, rhetorically struck by lightning several times, and given a sword with Lightbringer symbolism. We will also catch Brienne in another scene later on.
This section is brought to you by Ser Imriel of Heavenly House Orion, spinner of the great wheel, formerly of House Jordayne of the Tor and now the earthly avatar of the Sword of the Morning
Up next we have Melisandre of Asshai, whom we have talked about a fair amount in the last episode and in previous episodes. She’s well-established as a Nissa Nissa fiery moon maiden figure, and we will come across those familiar symbols even as we primarily focus on the way that Melisandre plays into the idea of Nissa Nissa representing a weirwood. Just as with Catleyn, the moon maiden and weirwood maiden symbolism will appear side-by-side and intertwined with one another.
Melisandre actually starts off looking the most like a weirwood of all the moon maidens – she has skin as pale as cream, while everything else is red. Of course she has that red hair that is like blood and flame, which is comparable to Cat, Sansa, Ygritte, and a few others, but she also has the red eyes to better match a weirwood. She also wears red robes that are meant to look like shifting flame, with some layers looking like blood instead, so in basically every sense, she already looks like she is perpetually bleeding and burning, like the weirwood.
Here’s a good example, from the beginning of the burning of the seven scene in ACOK:
Melisandre was robed all in scarlet satin and blood velvet, her eyes as red as the great ruby that glistened at her throat as if it too were afire.
The weirwood blood sap that crusts their eyes and mouth can look like ruby as well, as we see in a line from AGOT that takes place inside the weirwood grove of nine:
The wide smooth trunks were bone pale, and nine faces stared inward. The dried sap that crusted in the eyes was red and hard as ruby.
In ADWD, Mel’s ruby was called “a third eye glowing brighter than the others.” This is directly suggestive of third eye vision, a la Odin and the greenseers – in fact, the third eye phrase is used seven times in the series proper, and all of them refer to Bran’s greenseer abilities, except this one here with Mel’s ruby. This is why the weirwood having ruby eyes is such great symbolism – it implies a link or similarity between Mel’s ruby third eye vision and the ruby eyes through which a greenseer looks when he opens his metaphorical third eye. Please remember, I am not suggesting that Melisandre is necessarily a greenseer, though that is not impossible if she is the daughter of Bloodraven and Shiera Seastar, as Radio Westeros theorizes. The point is that Melisandre is symbolizing the archetypal burning weirwood which Azor Ahai entered.
That leads to our next point: Melisandre shows the signs of having swallowed the red fire of the sun. In the last episode, we discussed how Mel’s eyes like red stars and Ghost’s eyes like embers both allude to the concept of moons and weirwoods swallowing the fire of Azor Ahai, and today we’ve roped Lady Stoneheart and her burning eyes like red pits into this symbolism (get it… roped… it’s a hanging joke. Call it gallows humor.) Melisandre’s red eyes are also described as candles and torches, which is more of the same, as well as hot coals, which matches the description of Drogon’s eyes right after he is born in the pyre of Khal Drogo .
You’ll recall her famous lines from her fire vision in ADWD: “Blood trickled down her thigh, black and smoking. The fire was inside her, an agony, an ecstasy, filling her, searing her, transforming her.” She also weeps, and it says “her tears were flame.” This is great weirwood portrait stuff – the weirwood is a picture of a bloody and burning moon, and Melisandre is having her blood burned and seared by some kind of magical fire, which has gotten inside her. The same thing happened to Dany at the alchemical wedding when she had the fire inside her, and like Dany, Mel is clearly playing the Nissa Nissa role here, with the ‘agony and ecstasy’ being a clear callout to the original moon maiden.
She’s definitely got the fire inside her, it’s safe to say, just like Dany. We see this not only in her eyes, but in the fact that she is, well, shagging a dude with a flaming red sword whom she thinks is Azor Ahai reborn. Melisandre speaks often of having red R’hllor’s fire inside her as well, and R’hllor is a god, so that is quite specifically the fire of the gods which Mel has swallowed. She is therefore a wonderful match to the trees and wolves that swallow the dying sun fire. That’s a description of Stannis if I ever heard one – he’s a solar king, kinda, but really he’s a solar king who is being overtaken by shadow and who is turning into the dark solar king, the dying sun fire. That’s an archetype which overlaps with the Night’s King, whom Stannis shows signs of paralleling.
Consider the new sigil Stannis devises after taking up R’hllor worship: a crowned stag enclosed within a flaming red heart. When Mel carries this banner in ACOK, it’s called “the great standard of the fiery heart with the crowned stag within. As if it had been swallowed whole,” which makes the point nicely. The burning heart has swallowed the stag just like the burning heart tree – the weirwood – swallows the stag man (the garth or horned lords that went inside the trees). I mean, just listen to the similar wording – a fiery heart, or a fiery heart tree. Both swallowed a stag! At the Battle of the Blackwater, we get another depiction of this idea, as Davos muses that “the fiery heart was everywhere, though the tiny black stag imprisoned in the flames was too small to make out.”
Now we’ve pointed out the great wordplay with this banner before – a stag is also called a hart, so this banner is actually a fiery hart inside a fiery heart. Another Russian doll trick! But think about that word, ‘imprisoned’ – the idea of the stag being imprisoned in the burning heart has to remind us of the weirwood heart trees as being garth traps, as prisons for greenseers. Melisandre is playing the role of the the burning heart tree, and Stannis is the black solar stag, the dying garth, who is imprisoned in her flames. In order to make the shadow babies, Melisandre swallowed Stannis’s life fires – no dirty jokes please – and this is mirrored by the banner, with its burning heart that swallowed the Baratheon stag, imprisoning it. The burning heart – or burning heart tree – is the antler-eater.
Even better – and you know it always gets better as we follow these bread crumb trails – Melisandre is a couple of times remarked upon as having a “heart shaped face.” A heart-shaped face with eyes like rubies – that compares well to the heart trees with faces and red eyes like ruby. Heart-shaped face, face-shaped heart tree. Radio Westeros pointed out that only Melisandre and Shierra Seastar get this description, so we know that the heart face is uncommon – it’s specifically chosen as a defining element of Melisandre and her potential mother. I would say it’s also another tree-woman clue. Consider this quote from ASOS, as Davos lies delirious and stranded on one of the small rocky atolls in the Blackwater Bay known as the Spears of the Merling King, and pay attention to all the uses of the word heart in close proximity:
“It was her!” Davos cried. “Mother, don’t forsake us. It was her who burned you, the red woman, Melisandre, her!” He could see her; the heart-shaped face, the red eyes, the long coppery hair, her red gowns moving like flames as she walked, a swirl of silk and satin. She had come from Asshai in the east, she had come to Dragonstone and won Selyse and her queen’s men for her alien god, and then the king, Stannis Baratheon himself. He had gone so far as to put the fiery heart on his banners, the fiery heart of R’hllor, Lord of Light and God of Flame and Shadow. At Melisandre’s urging, he had dragged the Seven from their sept at Dragonstone and burned them before the castle gates, and later he had burned the godswood at Storm’s End as well, even the heart tree, a huge white weirwood with a solemn face.
So, to help us piece this together, in rapid succession we get Mel robed in fire with her heart-shaped face, then the fiery heart sigil and fiery heart of R’hllor as an abstract concept, and finally a reference to the burning of the heart tree with a face at Storm’s End, a literal burning heart tree. Four different takes on a burning heart, but on a deeper level, they are really all talking about the same thing. Melisandre is an embodiment of the burning tree, with her heart face, ruby eyes, her robes that swirl like living flame. When she sets weirwoods on fire, it’s like looking in a mirror for her.
One last note on that fiery heart banner, with Melisandre’s burning heart swallowing Stannis’s crowned stag – it’s compared to the red comet by a fervent Queen Selise:
“There is another way.” Lady Selyse moved closer. “Look out your windows, my lord. There is the sign you have waited for, blazoned on the sky. Red, it is, the red of flame, red for the fiery heart of the true god. It is his banner—and yours! See how it unfurls across the heavens like a dragon’s hot breath, and you the Lord of Dragonstone.”
Stannis’s banner is already R’hllor’s banner, and here that fiery stag banner is being compared to the red comet. The red comet, according to our theory, would correlate to the greenseer, the stag man, who is swallowed in the fire of the burning heart tree, just as the comet is swallowed by the moon. What’s interesting is that when Selyse says “there is another way,” and points to the comet, she’s actually trying to make the case to burn Edric Storm – another stag man – in order to wake a dragon from stone. That’s more of the same symbolism – imprison the stag man inside the flames, and on other side, you get the birth of a dragon.
So, a quick word about the symbolism of the heart in general. The heart as a symbol is quite flexible. The Dawn meteor is called the heart of a fallen star, so we know a meteor can be a heart. But if that meteor came from a moon, then it’s the heart of a fallen moon, so the moon must have a heart. And R’hllor himself is the heart of fire – what does that mean?
Well, it means that he is the essence of fire itself, and that everything that is fiery is channeling his power. Melisandre, praying to R’hllor, says “you are the light in our eyes, the fire in our hearts, the heat in our loins. Yours is the sun that warms our days, yours the stars that guard us in the dark of night.” So when Mel speaks of R’hllor as the heart of fire, it means the source of fire. Whatever R’hllor touches then becomes a fiery heart, in possession of the fire of the gods and capable of touching others and spreading the fire – just as real fire spreads. Mel speaks of people having their hearts “bathed in god’s holy fire,” or hearts that burn “with the shining light of R’hllor,” and that means they’ve been touched by R’hllor and now posses the fire of the gods.
So now think about the astronomy – the sun is the source of fire in the sky, the best incarnation of the fiery heart of R’hllor. The comet itself it a slice of the sun, a bit of fire that looks like a fiery heart according to Selyse, and it sets the heart of the moon on fire. Now the moon has been touched by R’hllor and has a burning heart, and when it sheds the fiery meteor dragons, those too are like fallen star hearts that carry with them the fire of the gods and can in turn catch more things on fire, just as the thunderbolt carried the fire of the gods to earth and set the heart trees ablaze – so now the trees have fiery hearts too. In other words, the heart is not like a sword, which can only symbolize a meteor, but rather a dynamic symbol that represents the transfer of the fire of the gods from one thing to another. George does love the human heart in conflict after all, and the same holds true for heart of stars and suns, it would seem.
The important thing here is Melisandre – like the weirwood, she is a portrait of the burning moon, perpetually frozen in that moment of its incineration. She always appears in the moment of being caught on fire, the moment when the fire touched the “secret hearts” of the logs in Drogo’s pyre, the moment when the thunderbolt meteor set the tree ablaze. She never shows us the after phase of the moon, when it turns to black meteors – that role is played by her shadowbabies, or her black leeches, or even her blackened blood. Now she may well be hiding her true nature with illusion, so who knows what she really looks like, but as far as we see, Mel herself always looks to be on fire, as the weirwood does.
Alright, so Melisandre the burning heart tree woman swallows stags for breakfast – and not just Stannis either. Of course you remember Cressen’s ACOK prologue chapter, where he tries to kill Melisandre by drinking poisoned wine with her. That wine contains the strangler – the same poison from Asshai made with ash that kills Joffrey in ASOS. It’s a memorable scene, but there’s an important detail that is easy to overlook:
Patchface danced closer, his cowbells ringing, clang-a-lang, ding-ding, clink-clank-clink-clank. The maester sat silent while the fool set the antlered bucket on his brow. Cressen bowed his head beneath the weight. His bells clanged. “Perhaps he ought sing his counsel henceforth,” Lady Selyse said.
That’s right, Cressen is wearing the antlered fool’s helm when he offers himself up like a sacrifice to Melisandre the burning tree woman. Calling him a singer adds the connotation of those who sing the song of earth, the children of the forest, and of course we suspect that if the green men are some sort of elvish humanoid race, they would be something like taller children of the forest. But the antlers are the main thing – it makes him a sacrificed stag man. Here are the lines right before his death:
She met him beneath the high table with every man’s eyes upon them. But Cressen saw only her. Red silk, red eyes, the ruby red at her throat, red lips curled in a faint smile as she put her hand atop his own, around the cup. Her skin felt hot, feverish. “It is not too late to spill the wine, Maester.”
“No,” he whispered hoarsely. “No.”
Melisandre is given a hint of a red smile here to go along with her red eyes, as it says “red lips curled in a faint smile,” and of course she is drinking the blood-red wine like a weirwood drinking blood. The wine is twice noted to be sour (and reds are frequently described as sour in ASOIAF), linking it to the sourleaf which also makes people look as though they have been drinking blood.
The fact that Melisandre speaks of fire cleansing and is able to transmute the poison is yet another suggestion of the weirwoods being able to transmute the poison of the moon meteors and perhaps Azor Ahai himself. Symbolically, she’s drinking Cressen’s offered blood, as Cat tasted the blood of the catspaw assassin. Cressen and the catspaw assassin’s symbolism compares well, actually – that catspaw assassin had horse symbolism about him, if you recall, and here Cressen whispers hoarsely. The catspaw had sacrificed stag symbolism via the leather sack of silver stags he buried in the stables, and here Cressen dies with antlers on his head.
In fact, this scene with Cressen and Mel compares to the other of Catelyn’s weirwood stigmata scenes, because Cressen is wearing a fool’s stag helm when he is sacrificed to Melisandre, just as the fool Jinglebell Frey is sacrificed to Cat. Here are the last lines of Cressen’s prologue chapter:
Cressen tried to reply, but his words caught in his throat. His cough became a terrible thin whistle as he strained to suck in air. Iron fingers tightened round his neck. As he sank to his knees, still he shook his head, denying her, denying her power, denying her magic, denying her god. And the cowbells peeled in his antlers, singing fool, fool, fool while the red woman looked down on him in pity, the candle flames dancing in her red red eyes.
Notice the text just says the cowbells peeled in his antlers, omitting mention of the helm and thereby making it really sound as if Cressen has antlers growing out of his head. But the point of comparison to Jinglebell is of course the fool character and the bells, which ring and sing while Cressen dies and the signature ground zero fiery dancers appear in Melisandre’s eyes. Thus you can see that, as I said, both Cat’s weirwood scenes are paralleled in Cressen’s death scene. The catspaw assassin actually has weak fool symbolism too, because Catelyn thinks that he’s is repeating himself “stupidly” when he says “you weren’t s’posed to be here,” over and over.
There’s one other instance of a fool being slain before a heart tree – this time a real heart tree instead of a symbolic one, and it too parallels Cressen’s death. We don’t have time to cover that whole scene in depth at the moment as it’s a bit off topic, but I do have to mention that Brienne kills Shagwell the fool before the weirwood at the Whispers, and in fact, Shagwell is hiding in the weirwood canopy when they approach. He drops down from the weirwood armed with a triple morningstar. This is a great symbol of the ‘three heads of the dragon’ meteors coming from the moon tree and the celestial canopy, and identifies this fool as someone attempting to climb the tree, which means wedding the tree in order to climb the heavens.
The sum of it is that Brienne uses a Valyrian steel sword to effectively make blood offering to the weirwood, shedding the blood of the mummers with Oathkeeper, then burying Dick Crabb in a grave directly beneath the weirwood. Brienne seems to be playing a gatekeeper role here, like Stoneheart, sending people ‘to the other side’ via use of the weirwood and a black dragon sword. Brienne and Shagwell both get bloody hands here – Shagwell from digging Dick Crabb’s grave with his bare hands, and Brienne when she stabs Shagwell repeatedly in the gut. Brienne screams at Shagwell to “laugh!” as she is stabbing him with her dagger, but it says that “Shagwell never laughed. The sobs that Brienne heard were all her own. When she realized that, she threw down her knife and shuddered.” That’s interesting because it gives Brienne tears to go with bloody hands, and it creates the agony / ecstasy dichotomy with laughing and crying.
Finally, Brienne tosses two golden dragons into the grave with Nimble Dick in order to keep her promise to him, but of course that simply implies dragons in the roots of the magic tree, just like Yggdrasil and Nidhogg or like Bloodraven the dragon under his weirwood. It also implies planting the dragons like seeds, which reminds us of the idea of meteors as star seeds. On a basic level, it’s showing dragon meteors landing on the tree, as per the thunderbolt / burning tree myth.
But we still aren’t done with parallels to Cressen and Melisandre’s scene. Now because Cressen is a maester, we also find a parallel with Maester Luwin’s death before the Winterfell heart tree. This is after Bran, Rickon, Hodor, Jojen, Meera, and Osha the wildling have come out of hiding in the Winterfell crypts after Ramsay’s sack of Winterfell, and they find a nearly-dead maester Luwin in the godswood:
On the edge of the black pool, beneath the shelter of the heart tree, Maester Luwin lay on his belly in the dirt. A trail of blood twisted back through damp leaves where he had crawled.
The idea of Luwin as a sacrifice to the heart tree is clearly implied when Luwin finishes instructing the rest of the party on what to do and where to go:
“Good,” the maester said. “A good boy. Your . . . your father’s son, Bran. Now go.”
Osha gazed up at the weirwood, at the red face carved in the pale trunk. “And leave you for the gods?”
“I beg . . .” The maester swallowed. “. . . a . . . a drink of water, and . . . another boon. If you would . . .”
Luwin is also coughing up blood in this scene, with the red spittle on his lips getting a specific mention. But the best part of all of this is who finally kills him – Osha. Osha, whose name sounds a lot like ash. We’re going to talk about Osha and Asha Greyjoy in a minute because of that very fact… and because they have tree woman symbolism. And let’s not forget, Martin is already using the ash play on words to imply an ash-tree woman in the name of Melisandre of Asshai, so it shouldn’t surprise you that he might do the same with Osha and Asha. Osha does the same thing Mel does, executing a maester in front of a weirwood symbol. It’s worth noting that both times, the maester brought death upon himself, since Luwin asked the gift of mercy from Osha, and Cressen resigned himself to dying in order to kill Melisandre.
We are going to talk more about Osha and her tree symbolism in a bit when we talk about Asha, but by way of example, consider that she sometimes carries Bran around, just like Hodor does, and Hodor is playing the role of wicker basket and weirwood tree when he carries Bran around or when Bran skinchanges into his body (Hodor carrying Bran’s spirit around). Osha is twice called wiry strong, so she’s got a basket-kind of vibe going on.
So, getting back to Melisandre, you can see that Cressen’s sacrifice of himself to Melisandre is playing into a group of scenes which all seem to do with sacrificing people to weirwood trees. The dominant theme seems to be horned lord figures being sacrificed, but we need to follow up and figure out how maesters and fools play into the symbolism here. Cressen is all three – maester, fool, and stag man, and his life is given to the weirwood goddess is some sort of blood drinking ritual. This also works as a foreshadowing of Melisandre playing the role of succubus to Stannis, siphoning off his life fires for her magical procreation. More antler-eating, in other words.
Blood Shadow Sex Magic
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When Melisandre swallows Stannis’s life fires in a kind of sex-magic version of the fiery-heart-swallowing-the-stag banner, they produce one of the more twisted versions of Azor Ahai reborn – or perhaps one of the most revealing. The shadow assassins are black meteor symbols, like the dragons and like the ravens and like the Night’s Watch brothers, and carry their own dark messages. The process works like this: Melisandre peels a slice off a slice of Stannis’s fire, and with it, she makes the shadowbaby assassins… which look like Stannis. It’s a perfect depiction of Azor Ahai the dark solar king being reborn through Nissa Nissa, being reborn through the burning moon, and being reborn through the weirwood, all in one. Check out this quote from ASOS which describes the process:
“No.” Perhaps he should have lied, and told her what she wanted to hear, but Davos was too accustomed to speaking truth. “You are the mother of darkness. I saw that under Storm’s End, when you gave birth before my eyes.”
“Is the brave Ser Onions so frightened of a passing shadow? Take heart, then. Shadows only live when given birth by light, and the king’s fires burn so low I dare not draw off any more to make another son. It might well kill him.” Melisandre moved closer. “With another man, though . . . a man whose flames still burn hot and high . . . if you truly wish to serve your king’s cause, come to my chamber one night. I could give you pleasure such as you have never known, and with your life-fire I could make . . .”
“. . . a horror.” Davos retreated from her.
There you go – I just wanted you to get it straight from the books. This is the same idea we’ve been talking about, with the woods swallowing the last slice of the sun. But people and trees and moons who get this fire inside them only seem to birth shadows – Davos call Mel the mother of darkness, and that’s right on so many levels. The moon gave birth to the black meteors and the darkness, and the wierwoodnet seems to give birth to Azor Ahai reborn. If the Others came from the weirwoods in some sense, as many suspect, then the trees might have given birth to those shadows too.
The scene where Mel births the shadowbabies takes place in a dark cave beneath Storm’s End, with its very old and massive weirwood tree above. It’s actually warded by magic:
” …this Storm’s End is an old place. There are spells woven into the stones. Dark walls that no shadow can pass—ancient, forgotten, yet still in place.”
At the risk of stating the obvious, that compares pretty well to Bloodraven’s cave underneath the weirwoods, which Coldhands says is “warded” so that the wights cannot enter. This might imply a symbolic link between Mel’s birthing of the shadowbabies beneath Storm’s End and the greenseers wedding the trees in their caves beneath weirwood groves, and I believe the rest of Storm’s End’s symbolism supports this.
In Weirwood Compendium 3, Garth of the Gallows, we saw that the castle of Storm’s End is like the upthrust fist which blots out the stars, a version of the rising column of smoke and ash which caused the Long Night. Beneath this cloud of smoke symbol, we should find symbols of weirwoods and meteor impacts – and boy howdy do we ever. We already talked about the Durran and Elenei stuff last episode, and about how Storm’s End is the place where the goddess landed, if you will, where she symbolically came down to earth. We saw Renly put on his green stag man armor only to be sacrificed in that same scene where Storm’s End was a deeper darkness through which no stars could shine. We mentioned the huge old weirwood in the godswood there, and how Mel eventually has Stannis burn it, which nicely places the burning tree symbol under the smoke cloud symbolism of the castle, where it belongs. Note also that Mel doesn’t actually burn the weirwood: she has Stannis do it, and the same is true for the burning of the Seven on dragonstone. Why? Because it’s better symbolism: Azor Ahai is supposed to be the one who sets the tree on fire.
Of course the point of all this is that Melisandre’s shadow birthing will be another display of burning tree and burning moon symbolism beneath Storm’s End. So now, check out the lines from ACOK as Melisandre and Davos row towards the mouth of the cave beneath the castle:
The seaward side of Storm’s End perched upon a pale white cliff, the chalky stone sloping up steeply to half again the height of the massive curtain wall. A mouth yawned in the cliff, and it was that Davos steered for, as he had sixteen years before. The tunnel opened on a cavern under the castle, where the storm lords of old had built their landing.
It’s tempting to see the tall, pale white cliff below the castle as the weirwood trunk, seeing as how it has a “yawning mouth” which is about to eat the black ship and its fiery cargo. In fact, consider me tempted! The cave’s ‘mouth’ is remarked upon a second time as they navigate through the jagged rocks of the entrance, and the idea of a ‘yawning mouth’ implies sleeping and dreaming. The cave mouth is also eating people in this scene, which correlates to human sacrifice to weirwoods as well as greenseers’ bodies being slowly eaten by the trees. This cave mouth in the pale white cliff is also where the Storm Lords of old built their landing – much like King’s Landing, this would seem to be a clue about meteors landing and perhaps about Storm Lords going into the weirwoodnet. Into the mouth of the tree, that’s how you get there.
Once inside, Melisandre plays the role of Nissa Nissa weirwood: she shrugs out of her smothering robe and her pale-as-cream skin shines, a light in the darkness – think of the Black gate weirwood face, glowing faintly like milk and moonlight. Mel’s eyes are like hot coals, and her blood is black again, presumably from the burning effect of fire magic. We also get the line “her cry might have been agony or ecstasy or both,” one of those easy to spot Nissa Nissa symbols. Then the arrival of the dark child, who takes the form of a tower of smoke and darkness: “the whole of the shadow slid out into the world and rose taller than Davos, tall as the tunnel, towering above the boat.”
We’ve talked about these shadow babies many times – they represent the black meteor dragon children of the second moon. But now that we have identified some sort of weirwood symbolism with the Nissa Nissa characters, we should consider how the black shadow children might be related to the weirwoods. I mentioned that the black ravens that like to erupt in clouds are terrific black meteor symbols, and that’s true, but there is something more here, and I think it has to do with the Night’s Watch.
When the Ghost of High Heart speaks of the shadowbaby, she describes it as “a shadow with a burning heart.” That reminds me of the scene with Stannis, Melisandre, and the leeches, when Mel speaks of needing “men whose hearts are fire” to fight the Others and the Long Night. The Night’s Watch, those shining, fiery swords in the darkness, fit this description: Jon is with the line “all in black, he was a shadow among shadows” in ACOK, and you will recall the rangers in the grove of nine scene being “carved from shadow.” They’re black shadows, but they fight the Others and the wights with fire and frozen fire.
We also saw the embers in the ashes of Mel’s fire vision turn into the Night’s Watch brothers at the Fist of the First Men, one of many instances of the Night’s Watch being associated with symbolism that relates to Azor Ahai (the embers in the ashes symbol in this case, as well as things like the symbolism of the burning scarecrow Night’s Watch brothers that relates to Beric, Bloodraven, and the King of Winter that we’ve examined in the past). So if anyone fits Mel’s description of men whose hearts are fire to fight the Others, it’s the Night’s Watch, the fire that burns against the cold.
Consider the Black Gate once again – I just compared shining Melisandre in the cave beneath Storm’s End to the Black Gate weirwood face beneath the Nightfort (‘shining cream’ vs ‘glowing milk,’ if you will). The comparison is more than that though, and speaks to functionality. Melisandre acts as a gateway for black shadows to enter the world, and so does the Black Gate, because it only lets Black Brothers pass through. That’s probably the reason it’s called the Black Gate, despite being white, incidentally, because it only opens for men in black who recite their vows.
The shadowbabies are assassins, murderers – and a gathering of crows is of course called a murder of crows. Additionally, many refer to the Night’s Watch as a group of thieves, rapists, and murderers, and more than a few them are in fact murderers. Finally, the mythical astronomy also lines up here, as I mentioned: the shadowbabies and black brothers are both black meteor symbols, and they both issue forth from moon symbols: the Black Gate, and Melisandre’s dark womb.
In other words, the shadowbabies with burning hearts seem to parallel the Night’s Watch in many ways. This is where the green zombie idea fit in: if the original Night’s Watch, likely the last hero’s twelve, were resurrected skinchangers and greenseers as I propose, then they would have been reborn through the fiery womb of the weirwoodnet. I keep saying how the Night’s Watch swearing their vows to the heart trees might be a reenactment of greenseers being resurrected as the first black brothers, the first crows. They would have been black shadows with burning hearts, reborn from the weirwood goddess.
That is what I think happened, and I think that is the basic message of all of these scenes with Melisandre playing the role of weirwood goddess: she swallows the life fires of stag men, just as I believe the original twelve Night’s Watch gave their lifeblood to the heart trees. Then she gives birth to black shadows with burning hearts, deathly versions of the living stag man she swallowed, and this correlates to the the weirwood heart trees giving birth to reborn, undead stag men who were Night’s Watch brothers, carved from shadow. Here I will remind you that when we saw the shadowbaby murder Renly, it was twice remarked upon to be wielding a shadowsword – a black sword, in other words, just as the black brothers are swords and wield black knives of obsidian (or ideally, smoke-dark Valyrian steel swords).
Essentially, I have already suggested the last hero’s twelve were undead greenseers or skinchangers, so the likeness between Mel’s shadow killers and the black brothers carved from shadow seems like a further corroboration of this. And because we all like corroboration – the more, the merrier – I will unleash a juicy bit of symbolism I have been squirreling away for a special occasion which again seems to reinforce the idea of the last hero and his twelve being sacrificed to heart trees in order to be resurrected as green zombie Night’s Watch brothers. The weirwood goddess in this scene will be not a woman, but Nagga herself, the mighty sea dragon. I am just going to let Mr. Martin Lewis read it for you and see what you can make of it. This is from TWOIAF, concerning the end of the tradition of Kingsmoots and driftwood crowns:
The final, fatal blow against the power of the captains and the kings assembled was dealt when Urragon IV himself died, after a long but undistinguished reign. It had been the dying king’s wish that the high kingship pass to his great-nephew Urron Greyiron, salt king of Orkmont, known as Urron Redhand. The priests of the Drowned God were determined not to allow the power of kingmaking to be taken from them for a third time, so word went forth that the captains and kings should assemble on Old Wyk for a kingsmoot.
Hundreds came, amongst them the salt kings and rock kings of the seven major isles, and even the Lonely Light. Yet scarcely had they gathered when Urron Redhand loosed his axemen on them, and Nagga’s ribs ran red with blood. Thirteen kings died that day, and half a hundred priests and prophets. It was the end of the kingsmoots, and the Redhand ruled as high king for twenty-two years thereafter, and his descendants after him. The wandering holy men never again made and unmade kings as they once had.
Thirteen kings, sacrificed to the weirwood ribs of the sea dragon, making the white wood run red with blood. The killer? A man named red-hand, like the bloody red hand-shaped weirwood leaves. His other name, Urron, naturally makes us think of Euron Crow’s Eye – ‘pirate Odin on bad acid,’ as I call him – a man who bears similarities to Bloodraven and the Bloodstone Emperor, with all kinds of twisted, corrupt greenseer symbolism. Elsewhere in TWOIAF, speaking of the demise of the driftwood crown tradition, it says:
That era ended with Urron Redhand and the slaughter on Old Wyk. Henceforth the crown of the Iron Islands would be made of black iron and would pass from father to son by right of primogeniture.
This black iron crown is far more appropriate for an undead, Lord of Death figure like Urron Red hand, Euron Crow’s Eye, whose TWOW spoiler chapter reveals a similar crown, or to the King of Winter and his black iron crown of swords. This sounds like the transformation of a greenseer, who would wear a weirwood ‘crown’ so to speak, into the undead, corrupted greenseer figure reborn through the weirwoodnet we’ve been catching signs of.
The thirteen he sacrificed to Nagga’s ribs would be the last hero and his twelve, and there is a hint of green men rising to take revenge on Urron Redhand. TWOIAF notes that Urron Redhand faced half a dozen rebellions, two thrall uprisings, and this:
The most telling blow was struck by King Garth VII, the Goldenhand, King of the Reach, when he drove the ironmen from the Misty Islands, renamed them the Shield Islands, and resettled them with his own fiercest warriors and finest seamen to defend the mouth of the Mander.
Make what you will of that last bit; the main part is the sacrifice of thirteen kings that made Nagga’s ribs run red, slaughtered by Urron Redhand. Nagga’s ribs as introduced thusly in AFFC: “four-and-forty monstrous stone ribs rose from the earth like the trunks of great pale trees,” and since they are almost surely petrified weirwood as the line implies, they function like a weirwood circle (recall also the weirwood circles on Sea Dragon Point which work as a complimentary clue). So in terms of symbolism, this sacrifice is being done inside the ‘sacred grove,’ if you will, and thus I think it’s pretty good evidence supporting the idea of the last hero and his companions as intentionally sacrificed skinchangers and greenseers. The driftwood kings and Drowned Priests the Redhand killed weren’t resurrected, however the drowned priests are basically famous for their drowning-and-cpr resurrection ritual, something Patchface the stag-man fool experiences the real version of. Thus, the implication of resurrection is there, and this is a pretty good potential echo for the hypothesized ritual killing of the last hero’s companions.
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So far, our study of the Nissa Nissa moon maiden archetype as a burning tree woman has centered around the weirwood stigmata symbolism that literally makes some of our moon maidens look like weirwood trees. We have more stigmata to come, including one which is as good or maybe even better than Cat’s transformation at the Red Wedding, but now I want to bring in a separate but related layer of the Nissa Nissa archetype which also depicts a burning tree woman: that of the shy maiden. Don’t be fooled, this monicker is not what it seems. It has every thing to with woman who have burning ash tree symbolism and nothing to do with women who are shy, who are ‘shrinking violets,’ if you will. Melisandre is the first example of an Asshai maiden, and she’s obviously neither shy nor a maiden. It’s wordplay!
Think of the shy maiden character as a sub-archetype of Nissa Nissa, in the way that the ‘black dragon’ is a sub-archetype of Azor Ahai reborn. What we are about to see is that the shy maiden is associated with three of our favorite things: trees, fire, and the moon. More specifically, it will be ash trees, burning trees, and shy flames that are like women, with moon references worked in. As you might guess, we will also see signs of weirwood stigmata present at the same time, which is why I decided to bring up the shy maiden at this point – so we can get a more complete picture of Nissa Nissa as a burning tree moon maiden.
The shy maiden archetype seems to be heavily based on those Greek ash tree nymphs I mentioned at the beginning, the Meliai, born from the shed blood of the sky god, Ouranos. The basic connection is apparent – the Meliai are female spirits of the ash tree, and the weirwoods which our moon maiden keep turning into are based on the ash tree Yggdrasil, making them ash tree maidens of a sort already. Recall also that the Meliai ash tree nymphs or dryads are associated with spears, arming their human offspring with spears made from their ash trees – and in turn we find that many of our shy maidens will be Wildling spearwives: Osha, Rowan, and Ygritte. These spearwives all worship the old gods – the weirwood trees and the greenseer spirits inside them, in other words, making them excellent devotees of the burning ash tree that the weirwoods symbolize.
Melisandre the Asshai not-quite-a-maiden, meanwhile, dreams repeatedly of the eyeless, severed heads of Garth Greyfeather, BlackJack Bulwer, and Hairy Hall which Jon and Mel find mounted atop the infamous ash wood spears to make that clever weirwood diagram. So while Mel isn’t a spearwife, the spears and the black and bloody heads are very important to Melisandre’s personal symbolism and character arc, something we took a close look at in Bloodstone Compendium 3, Waves of Night and Moon Blood. It may or may not be coincidence, but “Meliai” does sound a bit like “Mel from Asshai” or “Melony,” Melisandre’s original name. Mel obviously does not worship the weirwoods – the demon trees as the R’hllorists call them – instead she sets them on fire. This is antagonistic in terms of the main plot, but in terms of symbolism, setting the weirwoods on fire simply makes them a more literal symbol of the burning tree which they are meant to represent.
We will pick up the trail of the shy maiden with a really cool scene involving Osha, and then we will quickly incorporate Asha Greyjoy and Rowan the spearwife, with Theon running in and out of all of their scenes. Most of this will take place at Winterfell, although we will pay a quick visit to a riverboat on the Rhoyne and a lonely campfire in the Frostfangs.
Earlier, we saw Osha mercy kill Maester Luwin beneath the heart tree, and she kills another person in an interesting way when she helps Bran, Rickon, Hodor, and the Reeds escape Winterfell. It’s one of Theon’s Ironborn guards, Drennan. He has a lot in common with all the other people we have seen sacrificed to weirwood tree figures and weirwood trees here. For starters, Drennan and the other guard were previously whipped by Theon, which Theon referred to as “having a little skin off their back,” which sounds like a potential allusion to skinchanging; Theon calls Drennan a fool, like Jinglebell and Cressen with Patches’ fool’s helm; “his throat had been opened ear to ear,” meaning that he got a red smile like so many others; and he wears a ragged tunic, tying him into the straw man / scarecrow symbolism like the catspaw assassin and the Night’s Watch brothers.
Because of all these matches, Osha is again placed in the role of the tree woman receiving a sacrifice, with the sacrifice here being a ragged fool with a red smile and a slipped skin. Osha kills him after seducing him – he’s caught dead with his pants around his ankles, actually – so it’s also a great example of sex and swordplay. Theon summarizes:
“I’d say Drennan was pulling down his breeches to stick it in the woman when she stuck it in him.”
It speaks of mutual destruction, and of the moon revenging herself by killing the sun. A moment later, Theon hears that Osha is among the missing, and we get this bit of his inner monologue:
Osha. He had suspected her from the moment he saw that second cup. I should have known better than to trust that one. She’s as unnatural as Asha. Even their names sound alike.
That makes for a good excuse to bring Asha into the mix, whose name does indeed sound like Osha and like Asshai. That bit about Theon thinking Osha and Asha are unnatural is actually referring to an earlier scene from ACOK when Theon first returns to the Iron Islands and failed to recognize Asha, leading up to her punking him big time at the dinner feast:
He could feel the flush creeping up his cheeks. “I’m a man with a man’s hungers. What sort of unnatural creature are you?”
“Only a shy maid.” Asha’s hand darted out under the table to give his cock a squeeze. Theon nearly jumped from his chair. “What, don’t you want me to steer you into port, brother?”
“Marriage is not for you,” Theon decided. “When I rule, I believe I will pack you off to the silent sisters.” He lurched to his feet and strode off unsteadily to find his father.
This seems like a foreshadowing of Theon’s castration, but setting that aside (poor choice of words perhaps), there are three lines of symbolism I want to focus on here: the unnatural woman, the silent sisters, and of course the shy maid.
The “unnatural” descriptor is not only applied to Osha and Asha, but also to Sansa in a scene we will quote next episode, and also to Cat, who thinks to herself during her downward spiral that “Bran and Rickon must surely think me a cold and unnatural mother.” This too would seem to refer to the transformed, undead moon maiden figure, the Nissa Nissa reborn archetype, or simply to the idea of moons and trees undergoing alchemical weddings and magical childbirths as being freaky, unnatural mothers. It’s not a big thing but since its applied to Sansa, Cat, Asha, and Osha, I though I’d mention it.
Next, the silent sister remark. We know “the silent sister” is a component of the Nissa Nissa tree-woman archetype, because Lady Stoneheart is called “The Silent Sister.” The silent sisters are called the handmaidens of the Stranger – in other words, they are psychopomp figures, or at least, they play a role in that process, helping the living transition into the realm of the dead. They are, of course, silent, like the weirwoods – you can see how all of that fits Stoneheart as well as the general notion of a weirwood death goddess. Thus, even though Asha is obviously quite outspoken, this comment by Theon serves as a clever way to show that Asha is playing into the silent sister line of symbolism.
As for the shy maid remark, obviously it’s sarcastic – Asha is no more shy than she is silent. I made the joke earlier about Melisandre being an ‘Asshai maiden’ or being ‘made in Asshai,’ but it’s actually not my joke. This is from ADWD:
Snow wrenched his arm away. “I think not. You do not know this creature. Rattleshirt could wash his hands a hundred times a day and he’d still have blood beneath his nails. He’d be more like to rape and murder Arya than to save her. No. If this was what you have seen in your fires, my lady, you must have ashes in your eyes. If he tries to leave Castle Black without my leave, I’ll take his head off myself.”
Melisandre from Asshai has ashes in her eyes. It’s a bit of wordplay to prompt us to think about the face that Asshai sounds like ashes. And what’s great about this quote is that Jon says “if this is what you have seen in your fires,” Mel must have ashes in her eye – but the “this” Jon is referring to is Mance Raydar’s plan to use the wildling spearwives, including Rowan, to rescue who they think is Arya from Winterfell. In fact, the paragraph preceding this one mentions Melisandre, Ygritte, Arya, and the spearwives which will include Rowan. Those are all Nissa Nissa moon maidens, leading up the “ashes in your eyes” wordplay. Ygritte, by the way, is a shy maiden too – after Jon gives Ygritte his “Lord’s Kiss” down in the cave near the Wall, it says “afterward, she was almost shy, or as shy as Ygritte ever got.”
Again, the point of labelling the Nissa Nissa figures as shy maidens is to imply them as ash tree maidens, as weirwood women. It’s also done to imply the the Nissa Nissa figure as a burning tree woman, because as I am about to show you, Martin appears to have a habit of describing flames as shy maids. A woman made of fire, in other words – that’s the shy maiden archetype. Melisandre is a living incarnation of this idea, and all the shy maiden symbolism will come back to her. Many of the weirwood goddess figures manifest the shy maiden symbolism or bear witness to the phenomena, but it will kind of all being bouncing off of Melisandre’s symbols. Check out this quote from Asha’s ADWD chapter titled “The Sacrifice,” and this comes right as the R’hllorists in Stannis’s army are set to burn a few people they caught eating human flesh… and yes, I do think Martin is making an ‘eating steak’ / burning at the stake / canninalism joke here:
“Lord of Light, accept this sacrifice,” a hundred voices echoed. Ser Corliss lit the first pyre with the torch, then thrust it into the wood at the base of the second. A few wisps of smoke began to rise. The captives began to cough. The first flames appeared, shy as maidens, darting and dancing from log to leg. In moments both the stakes were engulfed in fire.
The shy fire maidens sound a lot like the trademark fiery dancers here, and that makes sense, because the fiery dancers seem to overlap or be the same as the fiery sorcerers that often appear in the flames of Lightbringer bonfires, and Melisandre the Asshai maiden is a fiery sorcerer. She doesn’t dance herself, but you’ll recall the candle flames dancing in her eyes as Cressen took his final breath, so she has that symbolism too. I probably don’t need to point this out, but obviously there is human sacrifice via fire going on here in this scene with the R’hllorists burning people at the stake, and that compares well with Dany’s alchemical bonfire which also had human sacrifice and fiery dancers and sorcerers. Finally, Asha herself is threatened several times as being the next one they will burn at the stake, further implying a symbolic correlation between Asha the shy maid who may be burned and the shy maiden flames in the R’hllorist pyre.
Speaking of Lightbringer bonfires and fiery dancers, do you recall that Lightbringer bonfire Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand whip up the night before they are captured by wildlings? That was the one where the tree that “had been dead a long time,” but “seemed to live again in the fire, as fiery dancers woke within each stick of wood to whirl and spin in their glowing gowns of yellow, red, and orange.” Very poetic, I know, but the point is that at the very beginning of the chapter, earlier that night, we saw the flames appearing as shy maidens, and take note of the fact that it is the first flames which are shy maidens, just as it was in the last scene with the R’hllorists:
When Qhorin Halfhand told him to find some brush for a fire, Jon knew their end was near.
It will be good to feel warm again, if only for a little while, he told himself while he hacked bare branches from the trunk of a dead tree. Ghost sat on his haunches watching, silent as ever. Will he howl for me when I’m dead, as Bran’s wolf howled when he fell? Jon wondered. Will Shaggydog howl, far off in Winterfell, and Grey Wind and Nymeria, wherever they might be?
The moon was rising behind one mountain and the sun sinking behind another as Jon struck sparks from flint and dagger, until finally a wisp of smoke appeared. Qhorin came and stood over him as the first flame rose up flickering from the shavings of bark and dead dry pine needles. “As shy as a maid on her wedding night,” the big ranger said in a soft voice, “and near as fair. Sometimes a man forgets how pretty a fire can be.”
What we are really talking about is an ashy tree maiden on her alchemical wedding night, when she will swallow the fire of the solar king from Asshai and become a burning tree. You will notice that Ghost the is prominently featured as John hacks at the dead tree, preparing it to be burned and to “live again in the flames.” Ghost is a silent watcher, just like the weirwood he resembles. Then Jon thinks about his death in the next line, even as the sun sets in the back ground. The moon is rising though, just as the shy maiden flame is, and indeed, the moon is kind of the original shy fire maiden, and of course all of weirwood women here are also moon maidens. The whole scene is good nature mythology – solar Jon thinks about his death and hacks apart dead trees for firewood as the sun sets, and the moon rises, so too does our fiery dancing shy moon maiden.
There’s a great quote from a Jaime chapter of ASOS which equates the constellation called the Moonmaid with our shy maiden archetype while also casting her as a tree nymph associated with stars:
Jaime lay on his back afterward, staring at the night sky, trying not to feel the pain that snaked up his right arm every time he moved it. The night was strangely beautiful. The moon was a graceful crescent, and it seemed as though he had never seen so many stars. The King’s Crown was at the zenith, and he could see the Stallion rearing, and there the Swan. The Moonmaid, shy as ever, was half-hidden behind a pine tree. How can such a night be beautiful? he asked himself. Why would the stars want to look down on such as me?
“Jaime,” Brienne whispered, so faintly he thought he was dreaming it. “Jaime, what are you doing?”
“Dying,” he whispered back.
Jaime is a fallen solar character, beaten up by the Bloody Mummers in this scene and forcibly amputated in a previous one. Even without the bonfire, this scene still correlates to the ground zero Lightbringer bonfire in the sense that we have a dying sun figure laid out on the ground, while the crescent moon adds to the sacrifice symbolism and may be meant as a callout to Bran’s vision of human sacrifice through the eyes of the heart tree, which featured the crescent moon being like the blade of a knife and a curved sacrificial sickle. But ‘as the sun sets, the moon maid rises,’ and so we get the appearance of the Moonmaid constellation. She’s posing as the shy maiden, peeking out from behind a tree, like a tree nymph. That’s a pretty nice one; yet another connection between the moon maiden and the idea of a tree woman. A starry tree woman, to boot.
Brienne is a moon maid of course, and here she’s whispering to Jaime to live – whispering so faintly he thought he was dreaming the voice. A moment later, a Bloody Mummer comes over to tell Brienne to “shut her bloody mouth,” giving her a bit of weirwood stigmata symbolism as she dream whispers to the dying solar figure, trying to will him to life. Finally, Brienne herself happens to be a moon maiden who is actually both shy and a maiden – in AFFC, she reflects that “Even as a girl she had been shy. Long years of scorn had only made her shyer.”
This scene finds a companion with one involving Jamie’s brother Tyrion, while he is on the Rhoynish riverboat called… the Shy Maid. That would be Yandy and Yasilla’s riverboat that Young Griff a.k.a. fAegon Blackfyre was hiding out on, the one they sailed down the Rhoyne with Tyrion on board in ADWD. That’s already a great moon parallel for the Shy Maid – she’s hiding black dragon cargo, and that’s referring to both fAegon Blackfyre and theoretical secret Targaryen, Tyrion Rivers. In any case, it’s just one line, but Tyrion is dozing off while sleeping on the roof of the Shy Maid and we get this:
A full moon floated above the mast. It is following me downriver, watching me like some great eye.
Hey, the moon is an eye – that reminds us of all the stuff with Bloodraven and the Nightfort moon. But the moon can of course also be seen as a face, and often is, and here the moon floats above the mast of the Shy Maid – the mast of the ship is the tree part of the boat, and the moon is acting like the head, like a stick figure. It’s very like the Moonmaid constellation being half-hidden behind a tree – the shy maid archetype seems to involve both tree and moon. And since the moon is called an eye here, you could also interpret the mast of the shy maid and the moon eye to imply trees with eyes, which is of course a thing in ASOIAF.
And now back to Osha – she has a scene that matches the last three we just looked at, and that comes in ACOK as she hides in the Winterfell crypts with Bran, Rickon, Hodor, Jojen, and Meera.
Bran heard fingers fumbling at leather, followed by the sound of steel on flint. Then again. A spark flew, caught. Osha blew softly. A long pale flame awoke, stretching upward like a girl on her toes. Osha’s face floated above it. She touched the flame with the head of a torch. Bran had to squint as the pitch began to burn, filling the world with orange glare. The light woke Rickon, who sat up yawning.
When the shadows moved, it looked for an instant as if the dead were rising as well. Lyanna and Brandon, Lord Rickard Stark their father, Lord Edwyle his father, Lord Willam and his brother Artos the Implacable, Lord Donnor and Lord Beron and Lord Rodwell, one-eyed Lord Jonnel, Lord Barth and Lord Brandon and Lord Cregan who had fought the Dragonknight.
In the last scene, the mast of the shy maid was like the body, and the moon its head, and here we get something similar: Osha’s face floats above like the moon, and the long, pale flame girl on her toes acts as the fiery body under her floating head. Take a picture everyone – that’s our Asshai maiden, the lady of the burning ash tree. She is a moon figure, a living flame, and an ash tree all in one. She may be a shy maiden, but you’ll notice that she’s “filling the world with orange glare.” The fiery weirwood woman does that by lightning up in fiery dragon childbirth, and by facilitating the rebirth of Azor Ahai, the ember in the ashes waiting to spark the great conflagration. For example, the shy maid first flame in Jon and Qhorin’s pyre eventually led to the big fire where the tree that had been dead a long time seemed to live again, which we take as a symbol of Azor Ahai the reborn greenseer, the fire-starter.
Returning to the scene in the crypts, we find that the dead are rising as Osha the moon maiden kindles her light in the darkness and makes the shadows move. This quote is talking about the statues of the Kings of Winter and Kings in the North, which are shifting in the light of the torch and appearing to rise. This is the green zombie theory again – when Osha appears as the fiery moon maiden who is also a burning tree woman, she fills the world with glare and causes the dead to rise. But not just any dead – Stark dead work very well as stand-ins for the last hero and his twelve dead companions. In particular, there are thirteen Stark names listed here, as we mentioned in the green zombie series, so this is probably ‘last hero math.’
In fact, check out some of those names of the Stark dead. One-eyed Lord Jonnel Stark, very interesting. Lord Donnor, like Donnor the flying reindeer whose name means thunder, and right after him, lord Beron, perhaps to remind us of Beric Dondarrion, the bearer of thunder. Lord Barth has a nickname not mentioned here – Barth Blacksword. The fact that he is ‘Lord’ Barth and not King Barth means he lived in the last 300 years, after Aegon’s conquest when the Kings in the North became simply Lords of Winterfell, and that means that he must have wielded the same Valyrian steel Ice that Ned does, which the Starks have supposedly have for at least four hundred years. That means the “black sword” nickname is referring to Ned’s ice, and this just goes to show I am right to call the “smoke dark” Valyrian steel swords “black swords.” It’s close enough, guy that emailed be about that one time! chuckles Anyway, these are the types of guys you want to fight the Others. One-eyed thunder people with black swords. The children of the shy maiden!
In other words, think of this scene in the Stark crypts as parallel to the idea of Night’s Watch brothers being resurrected to swear their oaths inside a weirwood grove, with fiery Osha as the weirwood and the thirteen shifting Stark shadows as the last hero and his twelve. Needless to say, it’s highly suggestive that Jon once played the role of a dead spirit emerging from one of these crypts and has reoccurring dreams of the Stark dead waking from their slumber.
Now when Melisandre is like a light blooming in the darkness beneath Storm’s End and its soon-to-be-burned weirwood tree, she gives birth to the shadows with burning hearts which seem to parallel the Night’s Watch. That too is basically the same thing that happens here in the crypts – a moon maiden lights up in the darkness, “filling the world with orange glare,” and then we see symbols of the Night’s Watch being reborn as shadows. If Melisandre helps to facilitate the resurrection and rebirth of Jon, then we will have come full circle. And in fact, there’s a foreshadowing of that very thing in ADWD in the scene where Ghost comes to Mel’s beckon and won’t come back to Jon:
“I can show you.” Melisandre draped one slender arm over Ghost, and the direwolf licked her face. “The Lord of Light in his wisdom made us male and female, two parts of a greater whole. In our joining there is power. Power to make life. Power to make light. Power to cast shadows.”
“Shadows.” The world seemed darker when he said it.
“Every man who walks the earth casts a shadow on the world. Some are thin and weak, others long and dark. You should look behind you, Lord Snow. The moon has kissed you and etched your shadow upon the ice twenty feet tall.”
Jon glanced over his shoulder. The shadow was there, just as she had said, etched in moonlight against the Wall.
Mel is speaking of making a shadowbaby with Jon, but when it speaks of Jon’s shadow upon the ice and etched against the Wall, this seems more like a foreshadowing of Jon’s body being stored in the ice cells, as is foreshadowed elsewhere. Mel is talking about having sex with Jon, but the moonlight kissing Jon to cast his shadow as a giant sounds more like Melisandre the fiery moon woman giving Jon’s corpse the kiss of life, as Thoros does to Beric, and thereby raising Jon’s shadow as the new last hero. This is also the scene where Jon notices that Ghost’s eyes shine like Melisandre’s when they catch the light a certain way, and Mel even drapes her arm around Ghost as she speaks here, further emphasizing the similarity between Mel and the weirwood-colored wolf. She speaks of her and Jon joining to cast shadows, but what will happen is that Jon and Ghost will join together to make a shadow, which will be reborn Jon, or Ghost-Jon we might say. Man and wolf wed for life, as Varamyr’s teacher Haggon says. Mel however will almost certainly play a role in the process, a role we’ve been defining this whole time – the role of the shy maiden, the burning tree woman who gives birth to Azor Ahai reborn. It may be that Mel will play something of a midwife role for the rebirth of RLJazor Ahai.
There’s one other time Asha Greyjoy calls herself a shy maid, and it has more to say about Winterfell and greenseers. We’re going to talk Theon for a minute, but he’ll be interacting with weirwood maidens in every scene. This first is from ACOK when Asha visits Theon during his reign as the short-lived Lord of Winterfell:
Asha snorted back a laugh. “This Ser Rodrik may well feel the same manly need, did you think of that? You are blood of my blood, Theon, whatever else you may be. For the sake of the mother who bore us both, return to Deepwood Motte with me. Put Winterfell to the torch and fall back while you still can.”
“No.” Theon adjusted his crown. “I took this castle and I mean to hold it.”
His sister looked at him a long time. “Then hold it you shall,” she said, “for the rest of your life.” She sighed. “I say it tastes like folly, but what would a shy maid know of such things?” At the door she gave him one last mocking smile. “You ought to know, that’s the ugliest crown I’ve ever laid eyes on. Did you make it yourself?”
Winterfell is a stone tree and a labyrinth, as we know, so setting fire to it makes it a burning tree labyrinth – of course Asha the shy maid thinks that’s a great idea! Theon is choosing to be stuck in this stone tree labyrinth however – he always wanted to be a Stark, as Lady Barbrey Dustin observes. The Grey King is a man associated with living inside stone trees – stone weirwood ribs, to be exact – and as I mentioned, Theon transforms into a Grey King character after his stay at Chateau Ramsay. You can clearly see that in this description of him in ADWD at Ramsay’s wedding before the Winterfell heart tree:
Theon wore black and gold, his cloak pinned to his shoulder by a crude iron kraken that a smith in Barrowton had hammered together for him. But under the hood, his hair was white and thin, and his flesh had an old man’s greyish undertone. A Stark at last, he thought.
The Grey King had grey flesh and lived to be a thousand years and seven, and Theon his descendant has become an old man with grey flesh – like I said, that’s pretty clear. His black iron kraken was hammered together in Barrowton – home of the possible grave of Garth the Green, who may have also been known as the Barrow King. The Barrow King is a dead Garth symbol, a winter king figure, as is the Grey King and of course the King of Winter, so this is all really consistent. Grey King’s beard was “as grey as a winter sea,” just as grey old man Theon is a Stark at last, one of the ghosts in Winterfell as he says.
What we are seeing here is a clear conflation of the Grey King and the idea of being the Lord of Winterfell, with Theon becoming a Stark by virtue of his Grey King-like grey flesh, and of course earlier Theon tried to play Lord of Winterfell. There’s another description of Theon as the Grey King when Asha sees him in the snowstorm outside Winterfell, after Theon escaped with Jeyne Pool:
The old man … no one would ever think him comely. She had seen scarecrows with more flesh. His face was a skull with skin, his hair bone-white and filthy.
Theon the Grey King now has the scarecrow symbolism of the Night’s Watch and the King of Winter, so he is definitely sounding like an undead skinchanger or greenseer Night’s Watch figure. As it happens, there is also plenty of symbolism to suggest Theon being sacrificed to a heart tree. It’s suggested in ADWD, when Rowan the red-headed spearwife and her fellow spearwives catch Theon praying to the heart tree and contemplating his sins – they pull a knife on Theon, and despairingly he says to go on and kill him. Rowan herself promises Theon a nice quick death – again, this is in front of the heart tree – and Theon actually pictures “his blood soaking into the ground to feed the heart tree” in that moment. I swear I don’t make this stuff up, it’s all right there in the book. Once again, it’s the same pattern, a burning ash tree woman is set to sacrifice a certain type of figure in front of a heart tree. According to our theory, the Grey King was an undead greenseer who was indeed sacrificed to a weirwood tree in order to become and immortal greenseer zombie, and that’s what Theon is showing us. The first part at least – it’s doubtful Theon will become an immortal zombie.. but who knows.
I probably should mention that Theon contains the root word theo, which means god, such as in the words theocracy or atheist. There is something godly about Theon, so perhaps a stunted form of immortality shall be his after all. All I have to say is that if zombie Theon rules the Iron Islands for a thousand years and seven after the story’s conclusion, you heard it here first.
Rowan also later threatens to rip Theon’s tongue out, and Theon, in that same conversation, says that there is blood on his hands, giving Theon weirwood stigmata symbolism that might also foreshadow his being sacrificed to the tree. Asha dubs Theon “the Prince of Fools,” so if he’s sacrificed, he will line up with all the sacrificed fools as well.
There’s a more symbolic foreshadowing of this that takes place at Winterfell during Theon’s short reign there. Theon had a nightmare – the one about the feast of the dead, actually, with dead Robert and Ned and pale Stark wraiths in the background and finally bleeding Robb and Grey wind storming through the doors with eyes burning. He wakes in fright, a drinks some wine to steady him- meaning he has a red mouth. The wine brings no solace however, and so he goes to the inner ward and starts loosing arrows at the archery butts until his fingers bleed. Then we get this quote, and recall that the broken tower at Winterfell is broken because it was struck by lightning, and therefore it can be used to represent a burning tree:
Behind him the broken tower stood, its summit as jagged as a crown where fire had collapsed the upper stories long ago. As the sun moved, the shadow of the tower moved as well, gradually lengthening, a black arm reaching out for Theon Greyjoy. By the time the sun touched the wall, he was in its grasp. If I hang the girl, the northmen will attack at once, he thought as he loosed a shaft. If I do not hang her, they will know my threats are empty. He knocked another arrow to his bow. There is no way out, none.
I thought that was a pretty nice one – the black shadow arm of the crowned and lightning-blasted tower reaching for Theon is sweet, and of course it grasps him when the sun is about to set – because the Grey King and other winter king figures are like dead solar kings who get turned into shadows by the weirwood tree. The talk of hanging poor Beth Cassel, horrific in terms of the plot, is nevertheless a good bit of symbolism. House Cassel’s sigil has ten white wolves on a grey field, so Beth is something of a white wolf girl, a parallel to Ghost the direwolf who looks like a weirwood. If Theon were to hang such a girl, it will mean his own death as well he realizes, and that’s in keeping with all the mutual-death symbolism we have seen.
Now, I cannot avoid a very small Winds of Winter spoiler here. I’m not going to quote anything or give away anything major, so I really don’t think this is the type of thing where you need stick your fingers in your ears – it’s a ridiculously small spoiler, and it’s from the very first spoiler chapter he released, several years ago at this point… but fair warning. Basically, the foreshadowing of Theon being sacrificed to a heart tree continues, and there is some hinting that it could be at the heart tree growing on a wooded island a few miles from Winterfell, at frozen lake where Stannis’s army is camped.
Ok, wave goodbye to Theon – what’s he doing in our weirwood goddess essay anyway, right? Let’s finish this section with Asha Greyjoy, who has a bit of symbolism in the well-travelled Wayward Bride chapter that applies here. Our beloved author pretty much dedicated this entire chapter to finding different ways to personify trees as human. We had Northmen dressed as trees, trees that hated the Ironborn in the wooden hearts, trees whispering to one another in some secret language, Asha’s recollection stories about that time “when the greenseers turned the trees to warriors,” which is one of the better clues in favor of my theory about resurrected skinchanger Night’s Watch brothers. But perhaps best of all is this bit:
The trees were huge and dark, somehow threatening. Their limbs wove through one another and creaked with every breath of wind, and the higher branches scratched at the face of the moon.
There’s another great line about the trees that’s a lot like this, which, upon further review, has a new tidbit for us:
“West first,” Asha insisted. “West until the sun comes up. Then north.” She turned to Rolfe the Dwarf and Roggon Rustbeard, her best riders. “Scout ahead and make sure our way is clear. I want no surprises when we reach the shore. If you come on wolves, ride back to me with word.”
“If we must,” promised Roggon through his huge red beard.
After the scouts had vanished into the trees, the rest of the ironborn resumed their march, but the going was slow. The trees hid the moon and stars from them, and the forest floor beneath their feet was black and treacherous.
A dwarf and a guy with red hair and beard “vanish into the trees,” upon which time the trees hide the moon and stars. That sounds like Azor Ahai as the fiery bearded guy, and the dwarf as a children of the forest also involved in the sacrifice somehow – both went into the trees.
There’s also a line to match Jon’s scene in the weirwood grove of nine:
The sun was sinking behind the tall pines of the wolfswood as Asha climbed the wooden steps to the bedchamber that had once been Galbart Glover’s. She had drunk too much wine and her head was pounding.
The sun sank behind the wolfswood – again we are given an echo of Skol and Hati, the wolves that ate the sun and moon. The Wolfswood is a place that still has weirwoods growing wild, it should be noted, so it’s definitely a good union of Ghost swallowing sun king Jon and the idea of the trees swallowing the sun. At the moment the sun sinks, Asha the shy moon maiden’s head is pounding – she drank too much wine. But what she actually had is too much sun king blood – this is simply another instance of the weirwood moon maiden drinking the blood of a sacrificed solar person, as we have seen many times today.
Now most of the trees in this chapter are out to get Asha – she’s not on team tree, in other words. She represents the moon pulled down by the greenseers – that’s why the trees are out to get her and why she has all the drowning / sacrificed moon symbolism. But at the end of the chapter, she nearly gets sacrificed to a tree and is treated like a tree in the process, which seems like a depiction of Asha as a moon maiden-turned falling moon meteor who strikes the tree, sets it on fire, and merges with it. She’s fighting her last foe of the battle, a bald and bearded Northman, and…
His axe was shivering her shield, cracking the wood on the downswing, tearing off long pale splinters when he wrenched it back. Soon she would have only a tangle of kindling on her arm. She backed away and shook free of the ruined shield, then backed away some more and danced left and right and left again to avoid the downrushing axe.
Alright, so her shield is being chopped like a tree, pale splinters flying, and then it’s described as kindling to make us think of burning wood, and tangled to make us think of tree roots. She’s dancing like our fiery dancers, and then..
And then her back came up hard against a tree, and she could dance no more. The wolf raised the axe above his head to split her head in two. Asha tried to slip to her right, but her feet were tangled in some roots, trapping her. She twisted, lost her footing, and the axehead crunched against her temple with a scream of steel on steel. The world went red and black and red again. Pain crackled up her leg like lightning, and far away she heard her northman say, “You bloody cunt,” as he lifted up his axe for the blow that would finish her.
This one is pretty vivid – she’s back hard against the tree, her feet are tangled in the roots, trapping her, and then she’s struck by an axe which makes pain crackle up her leg likelightning as the world goes red and black and red again. The bloody cunt language, as we have noted before, is a call-out to the bloody birthing bed and the symbolic moon blood that came with the moon meteors. Asha is kindling, being axe-chopped like a tree, and struck by lighting, all of which makes her the tree, but she is also sacrificed to a tree and trapped in the roots like a greenseer would be.
Like I said, she seems to playing the role of tree and sacrifice, like Cat or Masha Heddle, and the meaning of this could be that Nissa Nissa was at first a woman who sacrificed to the trees as part of the ceremony to give it a face. This would allow Azor Ahai to then wed the tree and enter it. I really try not to get too specific with these kinds of details, at the risk of over-interpreting… I prefer to focus on getting the main idea and presenting a range of options, leaving the rest for everyone to interpret as they will. You can see what is going on here – the moon maiden sacrifice and tree struck by lightning ideas are happening at the same time.
As Asha loses consciousness, we get the last line of the chapter, which now hits like a ton of bricks: “She dreamt of red hearts burning, and a black stag in a golden wood with flame streaming from his antlers.”
Struck by lightning, the Ash-a moon maiden dreams of burning hearts and a flaming black stag in a golden wood. The fiery black stag is inside the wood, giving it a burning red heart and setting it on fire, and this happens only as the ash tree / moon maiden is sacrificed and struck with lightning. Of course, this is not just a burning stag symbol that appears, it’s Stannis, second-rate Azor Ahai reborn impersonator, complete with flaming sword. That’s pretty much the whole sequence right there!
Before we leave this scene, there’s a little bonus weirwood maiden, a fearsome young Ironborn woman known only as Hagen’s daughter:
Behind her Grimtongue shouted, “Nine, and damn you all.” Hagen’s daughter burst naked from beneath the trees with two wolves at her heels. Asha wrenched loose a throwing axe and sent it flying end over end to take one of them in the back. When he fell, Hagen’s daughter stumbled to her knees, snatched up his sword, stabbed the second man, then rose again, smeared with blood and mud, her long red hair unbound, and plunged into the fight.
Naked and bloody, much like Melisandre giving birth, kissed by fire hair like so many others, and wielding a sword like Nissa Nissa reborn the vengeful tree spirit. She bursts from “beneath the trees,” and you know that means. You do, right? Ok. Sweet.
Alright, we’re all done with shy maidens for now, and for those of you who have stuck with us this far, we have a special treat for you. There is one final, spectacular weirwood stigmata, just for you.
Very Near a Seventh Skin
This final section is brought to you by the generous support of Sir Cozmo of House Astor, High Priest of the Church of Starry Wisdom, whose House Words are ‘We Walk at Dawn.’
A little book we call A Dance with Dragons begins with a prologue from the perspective of one Varamyr Sixskins, a naughty skinchanger if there ever was one. And by the way, we want you as our Patreon patron, but it’s also a good idea to throw Radio Westeros a couple of bucks, because then you will get access to their patron-only episode all about the Varamyr prologue, and it’s one of the best ones they’ve ever done, actually.
In any case, as you might guess, this is going to come down to the end of the prologue when Varamyr attempts to leap into the skin of Thistle the Spearwife. The body-snatching. Obviously, since Varamyr is the skinchanger attempting to invade someone else, he’ll be playing the role of the comet (or more precisely, we can say that his invading spirit is like the comet), and Thistle is set up to be the tree woman. But there’s one passage from the beginning that we can’t skip, because we have some symbols that we recognize well: a dead or dying fire, and an ember in the ashes:
That was when he noticed that his fire had gone out.
Only a grey-and-black tangle of charred wood remained, with a few embers glowing in the ashes. There’s still smoke, it just needs wood. Gritting his teeth against the pain, Varamyr crept to the pile of broken branches Thistle had gathered before she went off hunting, and tossed a few sticks onto the ashes. “Catch,” he croaked. “Burn.” He blew upon the embers and said a wordless prayer to the nameless gods of wood and hill and field.
Consider what Varamyr is doing here: he’s praying to the Old Gods.. to help him start a fire.. with the ember in the ashes. “Even an ember in the ashes can still ignite a great blaze,” as the saying goes. So check out the clever wordplay in the very next paragraph:
The gods gave no answer. After a while, the smoke ceased to rise as well. Already the little hut was growing colder. Varamyr had no flint, no tinder, no dry kindling. He would never get the fire burning again, not by himself. “Thistle,” he called out, his voice hoarse and edged with pain. “Thistle!”
He would never get the fire burning, by himself – he needs dry kindling, and Thistle! But Thistle’s name is practically synonymous with dry kindling already, and indeed, she is about to play the role of the ash tree woman. Varamyr will be trying to become the ember in her ashes, and together, they will make a fairly horrific version of the burning tree. Near the beginning of this prologue, she’s described as “a spearwife tough as an old root, warty, windburnt, and wrinkled.” The things that jump out to us here, of course, are the ideas of her being burnt, or being like an old root.
Varamyr’s voice yields up a couple of clues here – its hoarse, and this gives him a bit of horse symbolism, like many of the people playing the skinchanger comet role (Martin used the ‘hoarse voice’ description on Cressen in his final moment as well). His voice is also ‘edged with pain,’ making it sword-like. Here I simply have to recommend an outstanding essay on Westeros.org called “The Killing Word: A Reexamination of the Prologue.” I keep mentioning this person called Ravenous Reader who has been serving up some great observations and catches to the podcast lately, and this essay is one of hers, so check it out. It has to do with the link between songs and spells and magic words and implements of killing like knives and swords. It goes well with the end of this essay, because the AGOT prologue that she is looking at and the ADWD prologue with Varamyr are linked in many ways.
Back at the scene with Varamyr, he leaves the hut and, seeing a weirwood tree, walks over to it and finds himself a weirwood crutch. I would take as a symbol of a greenseer using a weirwood to spirit walk, or perhaps more simply a sign to indicate that Varamyr is playing the symbolic role of a greenseer when he invades Thistle, who is acting like the tree.
The snow had stopped falling, but the wind was rising, filling the air with crystal, slashing at his face as he struggled through the drifts, the wound in his side opening and closing again. His breath made a ragged white cloud. When he reached the weirwood tree, he found a fallen branch just long enough to use as a crutch. Leaning heavily upon it, he staggered toward the nearest hut. Perhaps the villagers had forgotten something when they fled … a sack of apples, some dried meat, anything to keep him alive until Thistle returned.
He was almost there when his crutch snapped beneath his weight, and his legs went out from under him. How long he sprawled there with his blood reddening the snow Varamyr could not have said.
Wouldn’t ya know it, his crutch breaks – giving him a weirwood version of the broken branch symbolism of a dead greenseer or a corrupted greenseer. He falls to the snow, with his legs being mentioned as having went out from under him, reminding us of another crippled skinchanger we know well. Then we see Varamyr’s blood reddening the snow, the familiar solar blood sacrifice on the snow symbol we examined last time at the grove of nine and elsewhere, and this helps to confirm Varamyr as a solar character or comet character. Varamyr also has a “wound in his side,” perhaps a callout to Christ’s spear-wound in the side and Odin’s very similar impalement on Yggdrasil. A couple of lines later, as Varamyr thinks about dying, he recalls Haggon’s words, which serve to reinforce the sacrificed skinchanger theme: “South of the Wall, the kneelers hunt us down and butcher us like pigs.”
Varamyr sees the weirwood watching him and weighing him, as if he has been sacrificed in front of the tree and is now standing in final judgement. He briefly loses consciousness and dreams of one of his deaths inside his animals, and then, as he is on the brink of death – and symbolically, he is dead, having been sacrificed in front of the tree – we get a depiction of his spirit leaving his body and going in to the tree, which means into Thistle:
Varamyr woke suddenly, violently, his whole body shaking. “Get up,” a voice was screaming, “get up, we have to go. There are hundreds of them.” The snow had covered him with a stiff white blanket. So cold. When he tried to move, he found that his hand was frozen to the ground. He left some skin behind when he tore it loose. “Get up,” she screamed again, “they’re coming.”
Thistle had returned to him. She had him by the shoulders and was shaking him, shouting in his face. Varamyr could smell her breath and feel the warmth of it upon cheeks gone numb with cold. Now, he thought, do it now, or die.
He summoned all the strength still in him, leapt out of his own skin, and forced himself inside her.
Thistle arched her back and screamed.
I’ll just cut in here to point out that Thistle is arching like a crescent moon, or like the arch of a doorway. She’s also emitting what would seem to be the Nissa Nissa cry as the invading spirit enters her like Lightbringer entering Nissa Nissa. Next we will get a vivid depiction of the merging and the weirwood transformation:
Abomination. Was that her, or him, or Haggon? He never knew. His old flesh fell back into the snowdrift as her fingers loosened. The spearwife twisted violently, shrieking. His shadowcat used to fight him wildly, and the snow bear had gone half-mad for a time, snapping at trees and rocks and empty air, but this was worse. “Get out, get out!” he heard her own mouth shouting. Her body staggered, fell, and rose again, her hands flailed, her legs jerked this way and that in some grotesque dance as his spirit and her own fought for the flesh. She sucked down a mouthful of the frigid air, and Varamyr had half a heartbeat to glory in the taste of it and the strength of this young body before her teeth snapped together and filled his mouth with blood. She raised her hands to his face. He tried to push them down again, but the hands would not obey, and she was clawing at his eyes. Abomination, he remembered, drowning in blood and pain and madness. When he tried to scream, she spat their tongue out.
Alright, a lot just happened – she’s staggering and going mad and doing a grotesque dance. Varamyr was “staggering” too with the weirwood crutch, and all this mad dancing is Odin’s shamanic dancing and also a nod to all the fiery dancers we keep seeing at Lightbringer forging parties, which notoriously go on and on till the break of dawn. The line about her twisting violently is notable, as it’s a match for the twisted weirwood at the Nightfort. Then she bites “their” tongue, filling their mouth with blood and eventually spitting it out after clawing out their eyes. I’m sorry to keep quoting all these super violent scenes, but Odin symbolism (and much of mythology in general) is very violent. In any case, the symbolism is the thing here, and we cannot ask for a more vivid example of a woman being invaded by a dying skinchanger’s spirit and turning into a freaking wierwood death goddess of some kind.
Just to make things even more clear, behold the very next paragraph:
The white world turned and fell away. For a moment it was as if he were inside the weirwood, gazing out through carved red eyes as a dying man twitched feebly on the ground and a madwoman danced blind and bloody underneath the moon, weeping red tears and ripping at her clothes.
First Varamyr goes inside a woman and turns her into a weirwood, then he goes into the weirwood and regards himself. The dancing and madness are re-emphasized, and the red, bloody tears are mentioned specifically. Thistle dances underneath the moon, which reminds me of the scene where the moon is the head of the Shy Maid’s mast body and Osha’s head floats above the flame that is like a girl on her toes. Beyond that, the moon simply adds the extra witchy vibe to this haunting scene. I’m not going to pull the quote, but Varamyr’s spirit ends its trip on the cold wind in the body of one of his wolves… One-Eye. That’s right… he becomes a one-eyed man-wolf. Just to make sure you know we are talking about Odin stuff when we see greenseers and skinchangers merging with trees and undergoing death transformations.
Did you notice how it said “the white world fell away”? In the Asha scene where she is quasi-sacrificed before the tree and struck with a lightning-like blow, it said “the world went red and black and red again” – I mean maybe it’s a coincidence, but it seems like something traumatic is happening to the world in these moments. And when Varamyr finally finds himself inside of One-Eye, it says “half the world was dark,” and when they watch the advance of the army of the dead a moment later, it says “Below, the world had turned to ice.” Osha’s torch like a lady on her toes fills the world with orange glare. Something along the same lines happens twice when Bran skinchanges Hodor climbing the hill to Bloodraven’s cave: it says “Bran felt the world slide sideways as the big stableboy spun violently around,” and a moment later “The world moved dizzily around him.” I mean it’s not breaking news that I something bad happened to pretty much the whole world, but the point is that it happens when the sacrificed greenseer enters the tree. I would say that this is a corroboration of my hypothesis that Azor Ahai entering the weirwoodnet was an important part of the Long Night chain of events.
There is a lot more going on in this prologue, specifically having to do with the Others all things related to ice magic. Thistle ends her life as a blue eyed corpse, with her frozen blood like ten pink knives hanging from her fingers, and the weirwood itself in this scene is “a pale shadow armored in ice,” which is language that evokes the Others and Jon Snow both. Varamyr has a death transformation experience inside a weirwood maiden, and then experiences something like plunging through the surface of an icy lake, which could be symbolic of crossing the Wall and battling the Others, or even turning into an Other, armored in ice. We really can’t go there right now, because we haven’t even begun to talk about the Others yet. But we shall return to solve the mysteries of ice, have no fear. First we need to finish with this weirwood compendium, and we have a couple more episodes planned in this series.
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