The Faith of the Seven in Medieval Christianity: Systems and Symbolism

In an interview with Bullseye in November of 2011 George R. R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series stated that,

“The faith of the Seven is of course based on the medieval Catholic church and their central doctrine that there is one god who has seven aspects is partly based on the Catholic belief that there is one God but he has three aspects: Father, Son, Holy Ghost. With the Seven, instead, you have The Father, The Mother, The Maiden, The Crone, The Smith, The Warrior, and The Stranger, who is the death figure.”1

While the obvious parallel between the Catholic trinity and the Seven with their seven-pointed star will be examined here, there are many more parallels to Medieval Catholicism within the Faith of the Seven. This essay attempts to pinpoint these parallels or perhaps evocations since they are by no means one-to-one parallels, between these two religions. The system of monasticism of the Catholic Church will be discussed along with imagery, hierarchy and organization, relations between Kings and Priests (or Septons), and religious military orders. In viewing these similarities it becomes clear that The Faith of the Seven is very strongly based on the Medieval Catholic Church, but it is certainly not a direct parallel. While this is not a complete list of parallels that can be drawn from the Faith of the Seven to Medieval Christianity, it is a start. As such, it gives greater insight into both religions, fictitious and historical. For further parallels between the Faith of the Seven and Christianity pertaining to conversions and negotiations of power refer to this post

For a quick overview of the following parallels click here for a brief presentation.

Organization of the Church

In A Feast for Crows Cersei explains that, “as a rule the Most Devout elevate one of their own, but there have been exceptions.”2 Before the 8th century the Bishop of Rome, or later the Pope, was chosen by bishops from other diocese as well as the clergy of the Diocese of Rome. This bishop was selected based on general consensus and the candidate would be submitted for approval from the people.3 The Synod of 769 removed the right of the laity to refuse the candidate, but this was reinstated to specifically Roman noblemen during the Synod of Rome in 862.4 In 1056, in his In Nomine Domini Pope Nicholas II stated that only cardinals could elect the candidate who was then deemed worthy or not by the laity and other clergy.5 The Second Council of the Lateran in 1139 removed the need for the candidate to be approved by the lower clergy and laity.6 Finally, the Third Council of the Lateran in 1179 gave equal rights to the entire Collage of Cardinals when electing a new pope.7  Here the “Most Devout” can be related to the College of Cardinals as they alone held the power, eventually, to raise one of their own to power as the Pope, or High Septon.

Concerning the naming of Septons the following is found in A Feast for Crows: “”Orton told me that the High Septon has no name,” Lady Taena said. “Can that be true? In Myr we all have names.” “Oh, he had a name once. They all do.” The Queen waved a hand dismissively. “Even septons born of noble blood go only by their given names once they have taken their vows. When one of them is elevated to High Septon, he puts aside that name as well. The Faith will tell you he no longer has any need of a man’s name, for he has become the avatar of the gods.””8 This was a common practice for as long as there has been a Pope, from late antiquity to the modern period. Popes would take a new name once they were consecrated leaving their earthly name behind in order to become a better servant of god. This happened as part of the consecration of the chosen Pope. In the papal consecration they were also adorned with a tiara. This is reflected in A Feast for Crows: “My lord father gave your predecessor a crown of rare beauty, wrought in crystal and spun gold.”9 The Medieval tiara is made from gold linen or cloth that has been worked into a metal crown; by ca. 1300 it became two crowns. In the 9th century the base crown became adorned with jewels to represent the crowns of princes.10 The second crown in said to have been added by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) and it signified both the spiritual and temporal power given to the Pope by God over other kings and kingdoms.11 The third crown was added by Pope Benedict XI (1303-1304) or Pope Clement V (1305-1314).12 Various forms of this crown or, triregnum, have been worn by the Pope since this middle ages into the modern period.

Pope Celment VIII and Septon

Pope Clement VIII wearing the triple crown or papal tiara and a Septon wearing the crystal crown.

As for the monks of the Medieval period themselves, they are clearly represented in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Again, A Feast for Crows gives the best indication of this: ““I have heard they abhor soap and water too, Your Grace.” ‘Perhaps too much prayer robs a man of his sense of smell.'”13 While the character is making a joke about the cleanliness of the septons and sparrows, this was the way of the Medieval monastic order. The Benedictine Rule stated that bathing was a practice to be held by the sick and avoided by all others. The custumals commonly ordained baths three times a year, before the festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. However, those who did not want to participate were not forced.14


Asceticism

A Storm of Swords gives us a look into the legendary King Baelor who was considered holiest of the kings: ““Baelor starved himself to death, fasting,” said Tyrion. “His uncle served him loyally as Hand, as he had served the Young Dragon before him. Viserys might only have reigned a year, but he ruled for fifteen, while Daeron warred and Baelor prayed.” He made a sour face. “And if he did remove his nephew, can you blame him? Someone had to save the realm from Baelor’s follies.” Sansa was shocked. “But Baelor the Blessed was a great king. He walked the Boneway barefoot to make peace with Dorne, and rescued the Dragonknight from the snakepit. The vipers refused to strike him because he was so pure and holy.””15 The idea of a king walking barefoot to make peace is surely a parallel of the Walk to Canossa in which the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV walked from Speyer to Canossa Castle in Emilia Romagna to obtain the revocation of the excommunication imposed on him by Pope Gregory VII. Once he had crossed the Alps Henry became penitential wearing a hair-shirt, traditional monks clothing and allegedly walked barefoot, even in the harsh winter of January 1077.16 Besides this parallel, it was common for monks to take pilgrimage barefoot. It is even written in the bible that one should be barefoot when on holy ground: “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standeth is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5).

Baelor I vs. Henry IV

A comparison of the kings Baelor I and Henry IV


Anathema and Almsgiving

The act of anathema is practiced both in the faith of the Seven and in Christianity. It is mentioned in both the old and new testaments, and was enacted in the Middle Ages. To anathematize someone is to tear them away from the church. This is different than excommunication or other forms of penance as it is more severe.17 In A Feast for Crows Cersei expresses that, “whoever dons the crystal crown must pronounce an anathema on the Imp.”18 This shows that the practice is familiar to both the characters of Westeros who adhere to the Faith of the Seven, as well as the Medieval Christians.

In A Feast for Crows  the High Septon explains to Cersei that the crystal crown has been sold along with other valuables like the gold and silver robes and rings in order to feed and shelter the needy.19 This equates with the Christian church’s idea of almsgiving. Almsgiving was an exchange of material for spiritual gifts whereby the food or money given by the rich were reciprocated by the prayers of the poor.20 As with anathema, the idea of almsgiving is prevalent in the society of Westeros, as well as Medieval Christianity. This is not simply a one-to-one superficial parallel but rather a device used by Martin to give his characters and their religion depth.

Catherine of Cleves Alms

Catherine of Cleves distributing alms


The Faith Militant

In A Feast for Crows Cersei explains to Lady Merryweather that, “The Warrior’s Sons were an order of knights who gave up their lands and gold and swore their swords to His High Holiness. The Poor Fellows… they were humbler. Though far more numerous. Begging brothers of a sort, though they carried axes instead of bowls. They wandered the roads, escorting travelers from sept to sept and town to town. Their badge was the seven-pointed star, red on white, so the smallfolk named them Stars. The Warrior’s Sons wore rainbow cloaks and inlaid silver armor over hair shirts, and bore star-shaped crystals in the pommels of their longswords. They were the Swords. Holy men, ascetics, fanatics, sorcerers, dragon-slayers, demonhunters…”21 Similar military orders can

Poor Fellows and People's Crusade

The end of the People’s Crusade and the suppression of the Poor Fellows

be seen in the Medieval period. While it is outside of the scope of this paper to discuss the Medieval military orders at length there is a parallel between The Warrior’s Sons and organized and approved of military orders such as the Knights Templar, as well as a parallel between The Poor Fellows and The People’s Crusade. The Knights Templar were the first purely military order dedicated to

protecting pilgrims. As such, they were seen as the best fighters. Along with defending pilgrims they took the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.22 The Warrior’s Sons were also the best fighters and protectors of the faith. The People’s crusade was far less official; it was started by a man named Peter the Hermit who convinced thousands of people to take up arms in defense of the Holy Land.23 They were not trained fighters but they wanted to serve the same purpose as the Knights Templar (although they came before), which was to protect their faith and Holy Land.


Nunneries

Nuns and Silent Sisters

Top: Two Silent Sisters prepare the body of Ser Hugh for burial; Bottom: A benediction of an Abbess by a Bishop

The only form of female participation within the Faith of the Seven seems to be mentioned in A Clash of Kings: “The silent sisters do not speak to the living, Catelyn remembered dully, but some say they can talk to the dead. And how she envied that…” They had seen to the preparation of the body of Ned Stark for his burial.24 While it is unclear what role religious women or nuns would have played in preparations for death, it is clear that nunneries offered women a chance to join the faith.25 In this way Martin displays women as prevalent in the Faith of the Seven instead of focussing just on the males at the head of the religion. This, in turn, reflects the gender dynamic within the Medieval Christian church. On top of this, the silence, which could otherwise be seen as oppressive, was actually a release from the lack of privacy that one experienced in either a monastery or a nunnery.26  


Creation Story

Tyrion, in A Dance with Dragons, explains that “The Faith taught that the Seven themselves had once walked the hills of Andalos in human form. “The Father reached his hand into the heavens and pulled down seven stars…”27 This has parallels in the Christian doctrine about the life of Jesus and the creation story. Just like the Seven walking the land, Jesus was sent from heaven as a representative of his father, who he is also one with. “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 6:38) Similarly, God made the earth, sky, heavens, and all of creation, (Genesis 1:1-2:3) just like The Father reaching his hand into the heavens and pulling down seven stars.

Trinity

The Faith of the Seven’s symbol is a seven pointed star, as is explained in A Feast for Crows, “in The Seven-Pointed Star it is written that as men bow their heads to their lords, and lords to their kings, so kings and queens must bow before the Seven Who Are One.” 28 Here it explains the seven as one, seven facets of the same god. Unlike other scholarship that suggests that the Seven are more closely related to the Roman Pantheon of gods,29 it is clear that they are more closely related to the trinity of Christianity. In an interview with Google, George R. R. Martin even explains that the Father, the Smith, and the Warrior are based on the Catholic trinity as facets of masculinity in the religion.30 However, it is here that Martin goes beyond a one to one parallel. In that same interview with Google, Martin explains that he not only took inspiration from Catholicism, but also Paganism with the Mother, the Maiden, and the Crone. However, the study of Pagan parallels within A Song of Ice and Fire is outside the scope of this essay. Besides this interconnecting of religions into one, the idea that the Seven are seven facets of one being is strongly paralleled in Christianity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being one in the same; this is something that is struggled with even today. It is also important to point out that the numbers 3 as well as 7 are very holy in the Christian faith. There may not be seven facets of god, but there are Mary’s Seven Dolors (the sorrows of Mary), Seven Holy Sacraments (the opposite of the Seven Deadly Sins), and Seven Archangels. This shows how important the number seven was within church doctrine.

Trinity and the Seven

The seven facets of one god in the Faith of the Seven and the three facets of one God in Christianity

The Number Seven

Top Left: The Incarnation of Christianity
Top Right: The Seven Dolours (Sorrows of Mary)
Bottom: The Seven

In A Feast for Crows Brienne meets Septon Meribald. It is explained that,“The Septon could neither read nor write, as he cheerfully confessed along the road, be he knew a hundred different prayers and could recite long passages from The Seven-Pointed Star from memory…”31 From this it is clear that the Seven-Pointed Star is not only the symbol of The Faith but also the main holy text, much like the bible is for Christians.

Holy Bible and the Seven-Pointed Star

Left: Naerys Targaryen holding the Seven-Pointed Star
Right: Woman holding the Bible


Conclusion

Through this examination of parallels between the Faith of the Seven in A Song of Ice and Fire and Medieval Christianity it is clear that George R. R. Martin draws heavily on this source for inspiration in this one fictitious religion. As stated above, these cannot and should not be seen as one-to-one parallels as they are not. Martin is not basing the Faith of the Seven on Medieval Christianity but instead he is using the nuances and ideas to give the religion and his story depth and intrigue. While there are other parallels that could have been examined here, they have been left out for the sake of brevity. However, perhaps this essay will spark the interest of other scholars who may take a look farther into the parallels between the religions of Westeros and our own history. This would be fruitful not just to study Martin’s genre-breaking series but also to study our own history and gain a deeper understanding of the past.


Foot Notes

1Bullseye with Jesse Thorn, “George R. R. Martin, Author of “A Song of Ice and Fire” Series: Interview on The Sound of Young America,” accessed March 22, 2015. http://www.maximumfun.org/sound-young-america/george-r-r-martin-author-song-ice-and-fire-series-interview-sound-young-america
2George R. R. Martin, A Feast for Crows, (United States: Bantam Books, 2005), 587.
3Frederic J. Baumgartner, Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections, (Basingstroke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 4.
4W. H. W. Fanning, “Papal Elections,” in Catholic Encyclopedia, (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1913).
5G. H. Joyce, “Election of the Popes,” in Catholic Encyclopedia, (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1913).
6Fanning, “Papal Elections.”
7Anura Guruge, The Next Pope After Pope Benedict XVI, (New Hampshire: WOWNH LLC, 2010), 49.
8Martin, A Feast for Crows, 586-587.
9Martin, A Feast for Crows, 597.
10James-Charles Noonan, The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church, (New York: Viking Penguin, 1996), 5-6.
11Herbert Norris, Church Vestments: Their Origin and Development, (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1950), 108-115.
12Walter Cahn and Jane Hayward, Radiance and Reflection, (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012), 206.
13Martin, A Feast for Crows, 586.
14C. H. Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, (London: Longman Group Ltd., 1984), 104.
15George R. R. Martin, A Storm of Swords, (United States: Bantam Books, 2000), 806.
16George Henry Miles, The Truce of God: A Tale of the Eleventh Century, (New York: John Murphy Co. 2005), 171.
17John Maximovitch, “The Word ‘Anathema’ and its Meaning,” Orthodox Life 27 (Mar-April 1977): 19.
18Martin, A Feast for Crows, 345-346.
19Martin, A Feast for Crows, 345-346.
20Richard Finn, Almsgiving in the Later Roman Empire: Christian Promotion and Practice, Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online (2007): 313, accessed April 1, 2015. http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199283606.001.0001/acprof-9780199283606
21Martin, A Feast for Crows, 603.
22Constance B. Bouchard, Knights: In History and Legend, (New York: Firefly Books Ltd., 2009), 135.
23Colin Morris, “Peter the Hermit and the chroniclers,” in The First Crusade: Origins and Impact, ed. Jonathan P. Philips, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 23.
24George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings, (United States: Bantam Books, 1999), 573.
25Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism, 176.
26Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism, 104.
27George R. R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons, (United States: Bantam Books, 2011), 87.
28Martin, A Feast for Crows, 596.
29Bvlsingler, March 28, 2014, “’All Men Must Die, But We Are Not Men’ – Daenerys Targaryen: Thoughts On A Game of Thrones and Religion,” Bvlsigler WordPress, https://bvlsingler.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/all-men-must-die-but-we-are-not-men-daenerys-targeryen-thoughts-on-a-game-of-thrones-and-religion/
30Youtube, “George R. R. Martin Talks at Google,” accessed March 25, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTTW8M_etko
31Martin, A Feast for Crows, 526.


 Works Cited 

Baumgartner, Frederic J. Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections.  Basingstroke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Bouchard, Constance B. Knights: In History and Legend. New York: Firefly Books Ltd., 2009.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn. “George R. R. Martin, Author of “A Song of Ice and Fire” Series: Interview on The Sound of Young America.” Accessed March 22, 2015. http://www.maximumfun.org/sound-young-america/george-r-r-martin-author-song-ice-and-fire-series-interview-sound-young-america

Bvlsingler WordPress. https://bvlsingler.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/all-men-must-die-but-we-are-not-men-daenerys-targeryen-thoughts-on-a-game-of-thrones-and-religion/ (biblio entry)

Cahn, Walter, and Jane Hayward. Radiance and Reflection. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012.

Fanning, W. H. W. “Papal Elections.” In Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1913.

Finn, Richard. Almsgiving in the Later Roman Empire: Christian Promotion and Practice 313 – 450. Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online, 2007. Accessed April 1, 2015.

http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199283606.001.0001/acprof-9780199283606

Guruge, Anura . The Next Pope After Pope Benedict XVI. New Hampshire: WOWNH LLC, 2010.

Joyce, G. H. “Election of the Popes.” In Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1913.

Lawrence, C. H. Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. London: Longman Group Ltd., 1984.

Maximovitch, John. “The Word ‘Anathema’ and its Meaning.” Orthodox Life  27 (Mar-April 1977): 18-19.

Martin, George R. R. A Clash of Kings. United States: Bantam Books, 1999.

—. A Feast for Crows. United States: Bantam Books, 2005.

—. A Storm of Swords. United States: Bantam Books, 2000.

—. A Dance with Dragons. United States: Bantam Books, 2011.

Miles, George Henry. The Truce of God: A Tale of the Eleventh Century, New York: John Murphy Co. 2005.

Morris, Colin. “Peter the Hermit and The Chroniclers.” In The First Crusade: Origins and Impact, edited by Jonathan P. Philips, 21-34. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997.

Noonan, James-Charles. The Church Visible: The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church. New York: Viking Penguin, 1996.

Norris, Herbert Norris. Church Vestments: Their Origin and Development. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1950.

Youtube. “George R. R. Martin Talks at Google.” Accessed March 25, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTTW8M_etko

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