The faiths and gods of Ice and Fire

The Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing is the seat of The Faith of the Seven, the largest religious group in Westeros. | Courtesy of HBO

The bestselling series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which forms the foundation for hit series “Game of Thrones,” prides itself on being brutally realistic. Author George R.R. Martin puts his characters through horrible but accurate situations during medieval wartime.

Another tool Martin uses to make his fictional world like our own is religion.

Even during a great war, societies are shaped by varying faiths. Westeros, Martin’s fictional continent and the setting for the majority series, is dominated by its religious institutions, just like our own society. Politics are shaped and lives are won and lost by the will of religious leaders.

The Old Gods of the Forest

The Old Gods are called such because they were the first idols worshiped in Westeros, first by the faerie-like Children of the Forest, the first beings to ever reside in Westeros. Next up were the First Men, the first humans to come from the neighboring continent of Essos.

Unlike other faiths, there are no priests or temples dedicated to the Old Gods. For religious ceremonies, such as marriage, or just praying, the devout go to a weirwood, a holy tree with faces carved into it.

Most followers of the Old Gods reside in The North, the northern-most kingdom of Westeros. There the Northmen were able to stop the advance of the invading Andals, another race of men from Essos. The Andals brought with them The Faith of the Seven and either killed or converted the First Men, who they saw as pagans.

The North was the only kingdom not to be conquered. So the weirwood trees still stand and the Northmen worship The Old Gods.

The Faith of the Seven

The Faith of the Seven is the dominant in religion in Westeros thanks to the Andal invasion. In the Faith, it states that there is one god who has seven faces, each face representing a different thing to pray for. The faces represent ideals and qualities such as mercy, fertility, love, wisdom, courage and death.

Martin has said the Seven are modeled off of the Holy Trinity of the Catholic church, in which the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are all one God.

Unlike the Old Gods, the Seven are worshiped in great temples called Septs. They have priests, called Septons and Septas, who lead ceremonies of great spectacle. Martin even shows the Septons become corrupt with power, mirroring shifts in the Church during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Another similarity: At one point, a zealot organization called the Sparrows went on a crusade to arrest the sinful and convert people to The Faith, a process not unlike the real-life Inquisition of the sixteenth century.

The Drowned God

The Drowned God is the deity worshiped by the people of the Iron Islands, the Ironborn. The Ironborn are a group of maritime raiders who see their plunders as a pious act towards the Drowned God. For the Ironborn, a boy is not considered a man until he has killed his first enemy.

The religion of the Ironborn has a clear connection to the Norse gods worshiped by Vikings. In addition to their raiding culture, the Ironborn believe after death they are taken by the Drowned God to an underwater hall to dine on fish served by mermaids.

Despite this viking connection, the Ironborn are baptized like Christians. But in an Ironborn baptism, their priests literally drown the men so they may be reborn by the Drowned God.

R’hllor, The Lord of Light

This deity, alternatively called the Red God, is worshiped primarily in Essos. The followers of R’hllor, the red priests and priestesses, believe the one true god is constantly involved in struggle against The Great Other, a being whose purpose is to bring death and darkness to the world. A devil, in any other word.

The connection R’hllor and his priests have with fire is symbolic as it represents light and life, the very things The Lord of Light aims to bring to the world, in opposition to The Great Other. R’hllor brings the heat to counter the cold brought on by The Great Other.

There is also a savior complex in the religion of R’hllor: Azor Ahai, the Prince who was Promised. He is said to be the one destined to defeat The Great Other and rid darkness from the world.

But R’hllor arguably is the one true god. His followers are the only people in the series who have caused miracles. None greater than a handful of characters being brought back from the dead by praying to the Lord of Light.

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