Dreams and Dragons, Wolves, Wargs and Wights: Shamanism and Magic in A Song of Ice and Fire

So in my last post on this matter, I promised to talk about shamanism in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire: especially with regards to some particular characters. If you have not read the books yet or you have not finished reading the books in the series that exist so far, please stop reading this post now because there be spoilers here.

All right. So now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’m going to unpack some interesting characteristics that I’ve noticed in some of the Targaryens and the Starks. These two Houses are descended from the Valyrians and the First Men respectively: making them the potential heirs to various kinds of magic that manifest subtly at first and then become more overt later.

First, let’s deal with the blood of the dragon. We know from the novels and the novellas in particular that the Targaryens–a family descended from the mystically advanced and dragon-riding Valyrian Freehold–have members with Dragon dreams. These dreams are highly figurative and metaphorical but they can essentially tell the future or even I would imagine say something about the past. Aside from these dreams, however, and inbred family members that are either genii or insane with predilections towards greatness and fire, the current Targaryens do not seem to possess anything else in the way of magic.
Even with dragon eggs and some knowledge of the maegi–with that mystical group’s knowledge of blood magic–other Targaryens could not bring their dragons back from extinction.

With one very notable exception.

daenerys and dragon

While her brother Viserys seems to have inherited the insanity and pettiness of the family, and Maester Aemon has only the dreams and the genius, Daenerys Targaryen has “dragon dreams” and awoke her dragon eggs. But how? How did she, out of all her family,  properly “awaken the dragon” within her? How did she become immune to fire for just enough time to stay with her dragons on Khal Drogo’s and Mirri Maz Duur’s funeral pyre?

The thing to understand is that is how it all happened. The reader already knows that Daenerys has the dreams. But the dreams aren’t enough. They are the first step it seems. When the dragons died in Westeros, a lot of Valyrian lore and ritual about them was lost over the generations: with details such as how to hatch dragons, breed them, and tame them disappearing into the mists of time.

Now the easy answer to how Daenerys awoke her dragons is to say that she used blood sacrifice to awaken them in the flames and access the latent power inside of her. Then you also have to take into account Melisandre of Asshai’s assertion that dragons can only be awakened by royal blood and then consider that Daenerys’ unborn son Rhaego Targaryen died in Mirri Maz Duur’s ritual so that Khal Drogo could “live” again. This–combined with the maegi’s own death–could have awakened the dragons.

However, there is something else to consider. When Ser Jorah carried Daenerys into the tent where Mirri Maz Durr was performing a ritual to “save” Khal Drogo, she either almost died or something far worse threatened to swallow her spirit. She had a dream of running away from a great blackness and, as she did so, she passed several generations of Targaryens urging her onward to save herself: from the earliest to the last. If I recall properly, even her son was there. It is at that point, that I believe, after this experience that something wakes up in Daenerys: namely the power of the blood of the dragon.

I’m not sure if her immunity to fire was temporary, but it probably was as she has burned her hands after these events. But it seems, to me anyway, that Daenerys accessed the blood of her ancestors and maybe even their spirits to become whatever it is she is on the road to being in addition to the Mother of Dragons.

One important rite of the shaman is to die and be reborn. The flames from which Daenerys Targaryen came from seems to cover that in a very symbolic way. But as I said before, there are others aside from the Targaryens who follow something of a shamanic path.

The Starks are the others that I am thinking about: particularly Bran Stark.

We know now that the First Men and their descendants have the capacity to be wargs: to be able to send their spirits into animals and either control them or influence them through symbiosis. We also know that the “simple minded” can be influenced in this way as well by a warg. An interesting real-world parallel is when you look at people accused of being werewolves, it had sometimes been said that they were sorcerers that shed a wolf skin or put in on. It is metaphorically similar to how a warg works and it definitely has shamanic undertones.

Off-tangent, the mere fact that the Westerosi Houses adopt animals for their sigils and familial-identity is pretty totemic. I’d imagine their ancestors also adopted these traits as protective measures: having the belief that by linking these animals to them they would gain their abilities in some spiritual way. They may have even had shamans or wisemen among them. But some of the First Men’s descendants go further than that in taking “animal skins.” In addition, some tend to have “wolf-dreams”: not merely living through their adopted animals, but sometimes having visions as well.

Bran and most of the Stark children, including Jon Snow, have been having these to greater and lesser extents: though not Sansa because of the death of her direwolf Lady. But Bran and Jon are the most striking of the Starks to this regard. We know that wargs are born, but I strongly suspect that if what Bran’s teacher, the Three-Eyed Crow, says is true about a rarer few among the wargs being greenseers, then something must set off this trait.

Bran Stark’s powers as a warg and dreamer only truly manifest when he’s pushed out of the tower and left to die. He is physically crippled: as though he paid the price for this death which he came back from. The young Stark even has an older teacher to guide him. In some shamanic traditions, a shaman loses a physical part of them before gaining power. Usually, it is their eyes or sense of physical sight but not always. They also tend to have mentors or teachers.

While I do think Bran had the potential for being a greenseer in him, there needed to be a traumatic event or powerful catalyst to bring it out: as with some shamanic awakenings. I also imagine that if anyone else had gone through that fall, warg or no, they probably would not have woken up.

But then we have Jon Snow.

Jon has his direwolf Ghost and has been seen to go into the latter’s mind sometimes. He can’t go into multiple animals yet and he probably isn’t a greenseer. But he does have “wolf-dreams,” and one prominent dream he had at one time was being in the crypts of Winterfell where the dead of the Stark family were viewing him from oldest to the most immediate (if only in perceived disapproval because of his bastardy). Does this sound familiar at all to another person having another dream about their ancestors?

As for Jon’s future, I am just as much in the dark about it as everyone else, but I suspect that if he is as close to death as he is now and he somehow comes back he will not be the same … or maybe he will be even more of what he is supposed to be.

These speculations aside, I know there are problematic elements to consider. I mean, Theon Greyjoy has nightmares of the Winterfell crypt and he isn’t even a Stark: not remotely. And others have dreams too besides some of the Starks and the Targaryens. But there are a lot of really eerie parallels going on here that I just wanted to draw attention to and put in some kind of framework.

I guess in the end it comes down to a discussion of what magic in Westeros and Essos actually is. What is fascinating is that the children of the forest had greenseers before the First Men and we know the children taught the First Men about the land and their magic. It’s stated that children and perhaps even humans that are greenseers change eye-colour or have strange eye hue to begin with. Bran’s eyes seem normal, but there is also a rite in which he has to ingest weirwood seed paste to fully awaken his greenseeing abilities: specifically in sending his spirit in the weirwood trees all over the known world. As such, he has to be physically integrated into a tree to do so.

What is striking is Bran’s master. I suspect that the Three-Eyed Crow is the Targaryen bastard Bloodraven and if he is, and I’m sure he is, he is not only an older man than Maester Aemon was–if you can still venture to call him a man at this point–but he is of Targaryen blood and is a greenseer. We know that Bloodraven was an albino and had red eyes. Targaryens have always had different coloured eyes from everyone else. I wonder how a Targaryen can be a greenseer: if only perhaps through his mother’s First Men-descended Blackwood line?

But the Targaryens themselves, like I said, have different coloured eyes and hair from everyone else and they sometimes have strange abilities. I wonder if there is any relation somehow: at least in how some magic works.

It also makes me ponder another matter. The red priests of Rh’llor in Essos use fire to heal, look into the future and even in some cases resurrect the dead by breathing their fire into a body’s mouth. It makes me wonder if there is some relation to them and ancient Valyria: aside from the fact that the Westerosi Prince that Was Promised or the Essoi world saviour Azor Ahai reborn is supposed to come from the Targaryen line if all things are to be believed or be consistent. I also wonder if Rh’llor was one of the gods that the Valyrians worshipped as well before their Doom: though it is also likely that worship of him came from Asshai-by-the-Shadow. Then you also have to consider that Rh’llor’s great nemesis is supposed to be the Great Other and, according to Melisandre, the god or ruler of the Others beyond the Wall. Certainly, like the Others, the priests can reanimate a person yet they lose their short-term memories, they do not heal properly, and they become essentialized versions of their previous selves … or the animated echoes of their last task.

And this brings me to something else. Aside from the fact that I wonder if the order of the green men on the Isle of Faces have any relation to the greenseers, there is also the nature of a greenseer to consider. They link with the weirwood trees and they know how to presumably influence animals and simple-minded beings: even take control of them. They are apparently so potent that it is suggested that the gods of the First Men are actually greenseers: either still conscious or comatose and dreaming in their trees.

The Others apparently use necromancy to animate their wights. The wights seem to have no personality but they do have remnants of memory that allow them to serve their masters. Their eyes also change colour into an ice-blue: a hue matching that of their masters: the whitewalkers. It is also notable that when the warg Varamyr Sixskins abandons his body for his wolf after he unsuccessfully tries to transfer his spirit into a woman, that he only sees the woman later animated as a wight and not his original body with it. Perhaps the presence of warg blood keeps someone from being possessed or being reanimated in the same way: the character of Coldhands being a potential example for instance.

https://i1.wp.com/images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110411014304/gameofthrones/images/c/cb/White_Walker.jpg

We also don’t know what the Others–specifically the whitewalkers–actually are. They could be a people or maybe they are constructs? What disturbs me is that no one really knows about the lands they come from or like I said what they even are. There are hints of babies being sacrificed or being shaped into them. Certainly, the fact that they dissolve when exposed to dragonglass is a very strange phenomenon and may be indicative of the possibility that they are constructed, but a lot of that is just rumour and conjecture like a lot of this post.

But I wonder what lies beyond the Wall and the known wildling territories. I wonder if something else is lying in wait and also sleeping: but dreaming lucidly. I wonder if the whitewalkers really are the Others … or if the Others are something far more terrifying.

It’s fun to actually go through all of this. I know I don’t have thorough textual evidence or quotes to back up what I say, but I do see there being something of a pattern here. I just don’t know what it is. Ygritte once said, “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” and that makes at least two of us. I do look forward, however, as an avowed fanboy to learning more as the story continues to present itself.

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About matthewkirshenblatt

I am a writer and blogger living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario in Canada. When I'm not writing for the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization and GeekPr0n, I tend to write science-fiction, epic fantasy, horror, literary and mythological revisionisms, and generally weird fiction stories though I have been known to make poetry, television and comic book scripts. Also, when left to my own devices I tend to write weird and strange hybrid creative opinion piece articles like those you will find on this Blog. I am also very interested in comics, video games, Star Wars, table-top role-playing games, Neil Gaiman's works, H.P. Lovecraft, vampires, zombies, and budgies.
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