Of Knights and Knaves
Faith and Religion
Most people in Westeros believe in the gods in some form, though there are several different embraced religions. Belief and superstition color the daily lives of lords and smallfolk alike and tie heavily into their customs and traditions. Children are raised on fables and stories of snarks and grumkins and more fearsome monsters, such as the Others who’ll take them away if they are bad. While most outgrow these wet nurse stories, the histories remind us that dragons flew not that long ago—what might truly live in the wild places?
The most prevalent religion is the Andal belief in the Seven. The Seven are considered the new gods, even though the Faith was brought to Westeros 6,000 years ago. The Seven depict seven different facets of the creator, though most smallfolk think of them as seven different gods and leave theological philosophizing to the septons.
The different aspects of the Seven are the Father, the Mother, the Warrior, the Smith, the Crone, the Maid, and the Stranger. Followers of the Seven normally pray to one of the first six aspects—few pray to the Stranger, for he or she is the face of death and is, thus, feared.
- The Father, or the Father Above, is called upon for wisdom in judgment, and he is also asked to judge the dead fairly. He is depicted as a bearded man and may or not be crowned, and he often carries scales.
- The Mother, or the Mother Above, is the guardian of mothers, children, and innocents alike. She is also called upon to bless pregnant women and ensure the health of their unborn children. She is often shown to be smiling and embodies the concept of mercy.
- The Warrior carries a sword and is the god of knights and soldiers. The faithful will pray that he guides their swords and lends strength to their shields.
- The Smith normally carries a hammer and is the god of creation and healing, and he is a protector of the crippled. The faithful may ask him to help fix something that is broken, guard a ship from the storm, or even lend his strength to their arms and armor before a battle.
- The wizened Crone carries a lantern to light the dark paths, and she is the goddess of wisdom and the face of fate. The faithful say she let the first raven into the world when she peered through the door of death.
- The beautiful Maid (or Maiden) is the protector of girls, young women, and lovers. She is the goddess of innocence and chastity. Young girls may pray to her for the courage to face the hardships of life and the challenges of growing up.
- The Stranger is the face of death. This god is seen as both male and female—sometimes neither. Some idols depict the Stranger as human, while others show him or her to be half-animal. The Stranger leads the newly dead from this world to the next and acts as judge, determining whether one’s spirit will be rewarded or punished in the seven hells.
The men and women who study and preach the Faith as their calling are known as godsworn—septons, if men, and septas, if women. The godsworn give up any family names when they take their vows to prove that they are equal under the eyes of the gods. The Faith is led by the Great Septon, from the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing. He gives up both his family name and any given names when he is chosen, symbolizing his devotion to the gods. This practice does lead to confusion when trying to distinguish between Great Septons, so one might say “the fat one” or “the one before the fat one” to be clear.
Beneath the Great Septon are the Most Devoted, who are tremendously influential in the religious—and political—life of the lords and ladies of Westeros. Septons and septas take vows, tend to be literate and learned, and often teach the children of the lords of Westeros. Godsworn are typically dedicated to all seven aspects of god, and as the aspects are split evenly between male and female (with the Stranger as both, or neither), septas tend to be seen as equal to septons in the Faith.
Some orders of the Faith dedicate themselves to a particular aspect, such as the Smith or the Warrior. Additionally, begging brothers are garbed in rough brown robes and carry the word of the Faith to the smallest villages and hamlets. Though poor (they beg for alms) and rarely educated, they have often learned prayers by rote. The Silent Sisters also play a part; garbed all in grey and under a vow of silence, they dedicate themselves to the Stranger. They veil their faces save for their eyes, for it is a curse to look upon the face of the dead. Their role is to prepare men for the grave.
The faithful pray in septs or septries (monasteries), which are seven-sided and decorated with prisms—seven-faced crystals—or seven-pointed stars. Godsworn will often carry a crystal prism with them to use in ceremonies, and their religious text is called The Seven-Pointed Star.
In the time before Aegon the Conqueror, the Faith had much more power, for there were seven kings but only one Great Septon. The Targaryens did much to break the power of the Faith, though it still retains significant power (or at least the potential for power) today. Although the Faith is not a legal authority, it carries tremendous weight as a moral authority. Those who break the guest right, those who would slay their kin, and those who would commit incest are all accursed in the eyes of the Seven. The Targaryens, however, claimed they were above the gods and did as they pleased.
The Old Gods
The old gods were originally the gods of the children of the forest, though the First Men eventually adopted them when they finally made their peace with the children. The old gods are the gods of the forests, rivers, and stones and are represented by the weirwoods—trees with bark as white as bone and dark red leaves that look like a thousand bloodstained hands. The children carved faces into many of the weirwoods, and those trees are often known as heart trees. The sap of these trees is also red, and it paints the carved faces crimson.
Before the peace was made, the First Men feared the weirwoods with their faces and chopped down many of them, afraid the children’s wise men—the greenseers—could spy through them. Later, when the Andals arrived, they also chopped down or burned the weirwoods they discovered.
Today, the old gods are still worshipped in the North, as well as in other pockets where the blood of the First Men still runs strong. However, weirwoods are basically unknown outside of the North, where every castle still maintains a godswood with a weirwood as its heart tree. Although castles in the south may keep a godswood, few lords still believe in the old gods. The heart trees there are of a more common variety and uncarved.
Those who still believe in the old gods say their vows before the heart tree—sworn vows, marriages, and prayers are all made before these ancient trees.
The ironborn of the Iron Islands still believe in the Drowned God, who dwells in his watery hall, and they follow his Old Ways. They also believe in the Storm God, ancient enemy and nemesis of the Drowned God. The Drowned God is the god of the waters and the raiders who sail upon it.
When the Rhoynar came to Dorne, some did not abandon their old religion. The Orphans of the Greenblood, who sail down that river in their brightly painted barges, pray to Mother Rhoyne and the old gods of the Rhoynar, including the Old Man of the River, which is depicted as a huge turtle.
One of the most prominent religions to the east, followed by a few in Westeros, is that of R’hllor, the Lord of Light. His followers garb themselves in red and worship fire and light, invoking its protection against the terrors of the night.
There are many other exotic gods in the east, though few are known in Westeros.