The Old Gods
We don’t know when the religion of the Old Gods started, but they are thousands of years old, originally being worshiped by the Children of the Forest long before the first men came to Westeros. The Old Gods offer a connection to the earth and life around you. To be close to the Old Gods, you are close to nature. This is represented best by the Weirwood trees inexorably linked with the religion, the Children even going so far as to say the trees are the gods themselves. Weirwoods are sacred to their followers and when they do pray, they do it before a heart tree.
Magic also seems to be intertwined with the religion. The Children have often been cited as having extraordinary powers. The Greenseers were said to be able to see through the eyes of any animal and even the heart trees, past or present for trees have no sense of time. The Children carved the faces we see today, although we’re not sure why. Those who follow the ways of the Old Gods have no book, script, or other kind of text to tell them the ways. The beliefs are simply passed down from generation to generation. The Old Gods were the primary religion of Westeros all the way up until the Andal invasion.
The Faith of the Seven has been the primary religion of Westeros since the Andal invasion. Only the Iron Islands and the North still primarily worship other gods. The Seven Pointed Star is to the Faith of the Seven as what the Bible is to Christianity. The Seven are just that: seven distinct gods. The Smith represents strength and work, the Crone represents wisdom, the Maiden represents innocence, the Warrior represents… well you know, the Mother represents compassion, the Father represents justice, and the Stranger represents death and the unknown. Depending on what you desire, you will pray to one of these gods, save for the Stranger. Only truly desperate or lonely souls will pray for favor from the Stranger.
The Faith grew in the Andal culture, the Seven Pointed Star even saying that the gods walked among them in their human form. They brought the religion with them to Westeros in full force. Oldtown eventually became the religious center of the Seven, and the faith was permanently cemented and mixed with politics when Aegon the Conqueror adopted the faith as his own. Although not always on good terms, the Seven and the Targaryen dynasty grew together. The High Septon is the pope like figure of the religion, leading and guiding them on the path. The number seven is considered holy and you’ll often find believers to be including it in the mundane in different ways. Anywhere from Seven Kingsguard members to seven courses for a dinner feast.
“Have you ever noticed that septas always look like prunes? That’s what a life of chastity will do to you”
The Drowned God
The Drowned God is exclusively worshipped by the Ironborn and it’s a belief for pirates. There is nothing comforting about this religion so it’s basically the exact opposite of the Old Gods. You’re expected to reave and rape and pillage and take what you want. Those who follow the religion of the Drowned God take baptism to the extreme. They hold your head under the water for much longer than usual, normally stopping right around the moment you stop moving, and then they perform the ritual of bringing you back (CPR). Maybe you’ll die, maybe you won’t. If you do, you become a Drowned Man, a priest for the Drowned God. It’s a cold, cruel, and harsh religion just like the Ironborn themselves.
When the Andals brought the Seven, the Ironborn managed to stick with the Drowned God. The Faith of the Seven just wasn’t quite them.
“God of my fathers, if you can hear me in your watery halls beneath the waves, grant me just one small throwing axe. The Drowned God did not answer. He seldom did. That was the trouble with gods.” – Asha/Yara
The Many-Faced God
Originating in the mines beneath the Fourteen Flames, this religion focuses wholly on the God of a thousand names and faces, the God of death. It’s said a slave looked around at the suffering and listened to the prayers of his fellow people as they begged their for mercy. He realized they were all praying to the same God(death), but just using different names for him. The Stranger in the Faith of the Seven, the Great Other, the Black Goat, the Lion of the Night, and student loans in our world. There, in the mines, he gave the first slave the gift of the Many-Faced God. An end to the suffering.
That is the whole premise the Faceless Men operate on, although they resemble assassins for hire more than religious zealots aiming to bring an end to suffering via death. The house of black and white in Braavos is where the truly hopeless go to receive the gift. It’s hard to see exactly where the religion starts and the business ends.
The Red God is not very popular in Westeros and is followed mostly in Essos. Perhaps that wouldn’t be the case if the red priests weren’t so known for their… ‘rituals’. The beliefs of the Red religion consist of a yin and yang type of thing. Two forces are in a constant battle for good and evil. The Lord of Light representing good and the Great Other being evil. This endless ongoing battle will end only when Jon Sno- cough cough, excuse me, when Azor Ahai comes back to the world wielding Lightbringer to beat back the dark and the Great Other.
The Red Priests have been trying to spread their religion to Westeros with little success. They sent Thoros of Myr to prove that Red Priests can be cool too by fighting in tourneys with flaming swords, and they won’t necessarily sacrifice you by burning you alive, but they won’t rule it out completely. That’s R’hllor in a nutshell. The religion kind of rides the line between good and bad and you’re never quite sure if they are helping anything or not.
“Light our fire and protect us from the dark, blah, blah, light our way and keep us toasty warm, the night is full of terrors, save us from the scary thing, and blah blah blah some more.” – Tyrion
The Ultimate Question
A certain reflection of our own world is the ultimate question of which religion is legit? Which is the right one? Certainly it must be R’hllor, you exclaim, his power has been proven time and again! The argument can (and is) made that none of the religions are the right one. Magic exists in this world, that’s a fact. Blood rituals are the result of the Red Priests’ power and nothing more.
Greenseers and the magic of the Children is just that, magic. No gods involved. The Seven seem to be the least likely to exist, that being kind of proven when the Hound won his trial and Tyrion lost his. Simply the will of the gods, or proof that there aren’t any gods overseeing things on Planetos? Perhaps the Faceless Men have it right. There’s only one god. The Seven, Old Gods, R’hllor, etc are all just one being.
Personally, I lean more towards being a Game of Thrones atheist. Some weird stuff does happen in the Red religion and others, but it’s most likely just magic at the end of the day, usually blood rituals. It’s no coincidence that every religion’s ‘magic’ has waned and now waxed with the return of dragons, leading me to believe it is just magic. The prophecies of all the religions won’t be exactly accurate, they will be fuzzy and we will put our own puzzle pieces into the frame of what we are expecting. Jon Snow/Dany will fight the Others? Must be Azor Ahai, right? Or maybe it will just be Jon/Dany fighting the Others. I think at the end of the series it will remain as it is in out world. Ambiguous. There is no right answer, just the one you believe.
As always, thanks for reading!
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