i know this is late, but maybe it will help someone for next year. if you have red hair and work retail.... dye it or wear a wig on st. patrick's day. omg men are so fucking creepy about redheads and ask such inappropriate questions (especially about the downstairs hair color) and make such lewd suggestions (because fiery redhead).
It’s truly sad that you have to alter who you are because people can’t keep their damn hands to themselves.
Weirwoods and Oaktrees: Affinities Between the Old Faith of Westeros and the Celtic Religion
The celtics of old used to worship the oaks, for it was always the biggest and oldest tree in a wood, and so it was considered the wisest. Does this sound similar to something you have heard before?
Celts dominated a huge amount of lands in Europe. But eventually they fell to the Roman Empire and the christians. Celtic mythologist T. W. Rolleston claims that their culture had two main characteristics that led to their domination: their theocratic state that lacked the political organization and unification of their enemies, and their naïve curiosity for other cultures.
The fact is that christians or destroyed or modified a lot of their historical remains. Today, we have mostly three kinds of documents available to tell of celtic religious history, and each has its flaws:
- Archaeology. To our discussion, their most relevant discovery is that of hundreds of dolmens, cromlechs and tumulis (funerary chambers) thorough Europe and all kinds of funerary objects that come with them.
- Classical sources. Texts of greek and roman historians, politicians and travellers, such as Hellanicus of Lesbos and Caesar.
- Irish texts. Ireland was the last celtic domain to fall, only in 500 D.C. with the coming of St. Patrick and his men. There, differently than in other territories such as Britain and Gaul, the christianization was kinder and slower. The Irish priests transcribed old poems and myths, and through them we can learn about heroes such as Cuchulain or Finn mac Cumhail. Unfortunately, though, they tried to erase all signs of the celtic religion. They called celtic deities “fairies”, excluded most traces of religions doctrines and inserted christian figures in the texts.
Our knowledge of the celtic religion is limited, and maybe that is the first and most unfortunate coincidence between it and the religion of the Children of the Forest.
The affinities don’t stop there, though. They are very often present in the texts:
“A wide plain spread out beneath them, bare and brown, its flatness here and there relieved by long, low hummocks. Ned pointed them out to his king. ‘The barrows of the First Men.’
Robert frowned. 'Have we ridden onto a graveyard?’
'There are barrows everywhere in the north, Your Grace’, Ned told him. 'This land is old.’“
Eddard II, AGoT
The Old Celts and their ancestors used to construct dolmens of raw stone (or cromlechs, or tumulis, as time goes by) to guard their dead. This simple chambers were closed with another raw stone as a ceiling, and then buried in a ritual. Many of those dolmens were discovered throughout all Europe.
The description of the First Men barrows seem to match those of the Celts.
To both real and fictional religions, nature is at the center of their faith. The forests, the rivers, the lands and even the living creatures are sacred and are made of god. Each particle is god, and the whole is god.
It makes sense then that all rituals are performed in natura, not in buildings.
The Celts worshipped the Oak because it is the biggest and oldest tree in a forest. It is a symbol of wisdom and longevity. Rare moss that grow on the oaks were cut in a special manner and were said to have healing capacities.
In a similar way, the First Men worship the weirwood because it is "eternal”, or, at least, has an incredible longevity. When weirwoods die, they become stone. Lord Blackwood tells Jaime in ADwD about Raventree Hall’s massive weirwood:
“For a thousand years it has not shown a leaf. In another thousand it will have turned to stone, the maesters say. Weirwoods never rot”
Of course, as we learn in ADwD Bran chapters, there is other reason the Children/Singers worship the weirwoods, but that was long forgotten by the First Men. Even so, the general idea is the same, but much stronger. In weirwoods live the knowledge of dead Singers and through them greenseers can watch future and past.
It is, in any ways, a symbol of wisdom and longevity.
We don’t know much about the Singer’s songs and their meanings, but they aren’t called Singers for no reason. They say they sing the “song of the forest”. It is possibly a religious ritual.
The druids are sometimes confused with bards because often they were both. Their doctrine could not be heard by uninitiated, nor could it be written down (that tradition, combined with christianization, did not help at all our understanding of them). Instead, they were transmitted through music. Musical poetry was sacred, and in stories even had magical powers. The older druids transmitted the lyrics to the younger ones, when the time was right.
Likewise, the Singers don’t have, as far as we know, any written documents.
This side of the celtic religion the christians made no trouble to hide, much the opposite. Archaeology findings are also available. The Celts used to practice blood sacrifice often, and with humans eventually. It’s possible that voluntaries’ blood was more valuable, and that those humans sacrificed were prepared to it since very early in their lives, and they were highly regarded in the community and had a lot of privileges. There are other findings, though, that point to more violent sacrifices, with the blood of subjugated peoples.
In Bran POVs, we learn that human sacrifices before a weirwood were a common practice in older times. With Davos in White Harbor, we get a glimpse of the way the victim’s organs were hanged in the weirwoods branches. With that knowledge, we can even trace back to Ned’s habit of cleaning the blood of his sword in the godswood after an execution. The weirwoods seem to, somehow, like blood.
Lack of personified gods
Unlike all the other religions in ASoIaF, the god of the Old Faith don’t have names.
In celtic religion, there is a controversy about this, due to our lack of knowledge as explained above. But, to certain authors, it can be understood that the celts did not have personified gods as well. Instead, they had magical creatures that were more divine then humans, but were not gods. They are what was called by christian “fairies”. According to this view, though, the real god was in nature.
(It is important to note that this is not a certainty. To some interpretations, those fairies were deities).
And those called Aos Sí are that “faeries” mentioned before. Aos Sí means “people of the mounds”, referring to the belief that this folk lived in mounds. Here, we come back to our first topic, about funerary rituals. The way that the dead were buried left mounds on the ground… But it is not related, in any text, the dead to the Aos Sí. It’s just that the repetition of the mound theme may or may not be relevant.
The Aos Sí were amazingly beautiful creatures, human-looking but not human at all. They were immortal, powerful, magical, and their weapons were the best ever seen. Their kingdoms (in the mounds) were splendorous, but invisible to mortal unless they wanted to be seen. They could see the mortals, though, and if there was interest they could interfere in their world. So the mortal would say only good things of them and worship them, as not to be punished. Sometimes they procreated with humans, and those children usually grow up to be heroes or very important to humanity.
I have seen theories relating the Aos Sí with the Others (!!!!), and I have to say that, tinfoil or no, they are very interesting. That is not the focus of this text, though.
Colonisation and near disappearence
The Irish myth tells that once the Aos Sí ruled all Ireland, but were pushed back to their hidden kingdoms by the milesians, that were considered to be the ancestors to Irish celtic royalty. In actual history, the celts were or killed (Gaul, Brittain) or colonized (Ireland), and a lot of their amazing culture got lost.
In the same way, that happened with the Singers by the First Men (almost total annihilation, pushing them to their “hidden kingdoms”, but maintaining the religion). After, the First Men were pushed back and colonized by the Andals (they survived, but a good portion of their culture and history, besides their lands, were lost).
The coincidences are many, and it is interesting to see how GRRM’s references built this fictional world. In my opinion, the understanding of the references expands the levels of understanding of the novels.
As usual, please feel free to continue the conversation, add info, agree and/or disagree!