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Seven Pointed Star

The symbol for the Faith of the Seven, the most prominent Westerosi religion.

"I've been all over the world, my boy, and everywhere I go people tell me about "the true God". They all think they've found the right one!"
Salladhor Saan[src]

A multitude of religions are followed by different cultures and peoples throughout the Known World. These can range from widespread belief systems followed by great numbers of people, to more localized faiths followed only by a select group.

Individual religious devotion in all societies is, of course, on a spectrum, from devout adherents to those that just go through some of the motions by rote as a cultural norm. Some people are also irreligious and privately don't believe in any gods or religious systems.

Westeros

There are only three religions with significant numbers in Westeros:

  • The Old Gods of the Forest - innumerable and nameless spirits of each tree, rock, and stream worshipped by the Children of the Forest and later by the First Men. The original religion of the continent, it was later pushed back by the Faith of the Seven. In the present day, it is the majority religion only in the North and Beyond the Wall, though certain nobles houses in the south of the continent still follow it.[1]
  • The Faith of the Seven - introduced to Westeros during the Andal Invasion six thousand years ago, it has for millennia been the majority religion on the continent. In terms of number of followers, geographic spread, and influence on politics, the Faith of the Seven is the overwhelmingly dominant religion in Westeros. It is based on the worship of "The Seven" or the "Seven-faced God", a single deity with seven "aspects" or "faces".[1]
  • The Drowned God - the local religion of the the Iron Islands. Worshipers of the Drowned God value maritime skill, as well as prowess in combat and in piratical raids. It has the fewest followers of the three major religions in Westeros and is the least widespread, being restricted to the lightly populated Iron Islands. Nonetheless, as there are so few major religions on the continent, it is still the third largest religion, and is certainly dominant within the Iron Islands themselves.[1]

Essos

In contrast to Westeros, the eastern continent of Essos (across the Narrow Sea) is home to a large number of religions. Unlike the Faith of the Seven, however, few of these religions are widespread across large geographical areas: The Free City of Braavos does have a very diverse, cosmopolitan religious makeup, but each of the Free Cities, as well as the cities of Slaver's Bay, may contain worshipers of numerous local religions not found anywhere else in the world. The one major exception is the faith of the Lord of Light, which is very widespread, from the Free Cities in the west to Asshai in the distant east. Indeed, in the southern Free Cities such as Volantis, Lys, and Myr, the Lord of Light is the majority religion, and it has at least a plurality in many other major cities across the continent. Still, unlike in Westeros where the Faith of the Seven is often the exclusive religion, in many cities in Essos where the Lord of Light is the majority religion, there are still substantial minorities that follow other religions.

  • The Lord of Light - focuses on worship of the "one true god", a fire-god known as the Lord of Light, or "R'hllor". Espouses strong dualistic beliefs, as the Lord of Light constantly struggles against darkness. Loosely speaking it is the majority religion in many parts of Essos, particularly the major trading hubs such as the Free Cities.[1]
  • The Bearded Priests of Norvos - an order of warrior-priests who rule the Free City of Norvos as a theocracy.
  • The Black Goat of Qohor - a grim god who requires daily blood sacrifices; the primary religion in the Free City of Qohor.
  • The Many-Faced God of Death - a minor religion in Braavos followed by the mysterious cult of assassins known as the Faceless Men.
  • Moonsingers - one of the more prominent religions in Braavos. Originating among the Jogos Nhai of far eastern Essos, it centers around priestesses known as "Moonsingers".
  • The Valyrian religion - the religion of the old Valyrian Freehold, little-practiced after the Doom of Valyria destroyed their civilization four hundred years ago. The Targaryens named several of their dragons after gods of old Valyria.
  • The Ghiscari religion - the major religion followed in Slaver's Bay, run by priestesses known as Graces.
  • Great Stallion - the nomadic Dothraki horselords from the central plains - known as the Dothraki Sea - possess their own religious beliefs and customs, and worship a deity known as the Great Stallion.
  • Great Shepherd - a local deity of the Lhazareen, a peaceful people that inhabit the region of Lhazar, northeast of Slaver's Bay and south of the Dothraki Sea. This religion holds that all men are part of one flock.
  • The Lion of Night and Maiden-Made-of-Light - chief deities in the religion of Yi Ti, in the far east of Essos.

A number of lesser cults are spread throughout the Free Cities and the rest of Essos, which worship other deities such as:

Other regions

  • Summer Islands religion - Summer Islanders consider sex to be a holy and life-affirming act that honors their gods.

Quotes

Tyrion Lannister: "The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where is the god of tits and wine?"
Varys: "In the Summer Isles, they worship a fertility goddess with sixteen teats."
Tyrion Lannister: "We should sail there immediately."
— Tyrion and Varys[src]

Themes

George R.R. Martin explained his views on religion in the storyverse of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels: there is no one "true" religion, and as in real life, it is unconfirmed if any of the deities in these religions really exist. This is closely tied to depictions of magic in the storyverse: In Martin's view, something qualifies as "magic" when it is a mysterious and not fully understood force: if it was fully understood and could be reliably/consistently practiced - like spells cast in a Dungeons & Dragons game - it would really just be "technology" called by another name. Magic is indeed real in Martin's world, but in recent millennia, few people have experienced it or still believe in it, and none can truly be said to totally understand it. Some groups interpret these magical forces through the framework of the religious beliefs they have constructed, but it is unclear if they are correct.

For example, Melisandre is a follower of the Lord of Light, and she wields some magical powers - namely prophecies viewed through flames (though she doesn't always interpret them correctly) - and her fellow Red Priest Thoros of Myr was even able to resurrect the dead. This does not, however, prove with certainty that the Lord of Light Melisandre believes in actually exists - not as she chooses to understand Him, at least. For all she really knows, it is the Stranger aspect of the Seven that is answering her prayers, or the Drowned God, or some other completely unknown force that no religion has ever accurately described. She and other magic users are dabbling in forces beyond human comprehension, and religions like the Lord of Light are a mental framework developed to attempt to explain them. It is possible that whatever "magical" forces exist in the world might not even be accurately described as "religious" in nature, save that people apply these meanings to them. Or that the Seven-faced God worshiped in Westeros might literally exist as an actual deity - the point is that really knows for sure.

As Martin said:

Question: "There are several competing religions in this series now. Should we be wondering if some are more true than others? In a world with magic, is religion just magic with an extra layer of mythos?"
Martin: "Well, the readers are certainly free to wonder about the validity of these religions, the truth of these religions, and the teachings of these religions. I'm a little leery of the word "true" — whether any of these religions are more true than others. I mean, look at the analogue of our real world. We have many religions too. Are some of them more true than others? I don't think any gods are likely to be showing up in Westeros, any more than they already do. We're not going to have one appearing, deus ex machina, to affect the outcomes of things, no matter how hard anyone prays. So the relation between the religions and the various magics that some people have here is something that the reader can try to puzzle out."[2]

In the books

There are a few other religions of note from the A Song of Ice and Fire novels which have not yet appeared in the TV series.

There is actually a fourth religion present in Westeros; the worship of Mother Rhoyne, but its numbers are very small, and its practice is restricted to minority group in eastern Dorne. A thousand years ago, the Rhoynar people fled Valyria's western expansion and eventually settled in Dorne, where they intermingled with the local populations of Andals and First Men to form their own unique culture. Most of the Rhoynar abandoned their old religion and adopted the Faith of the Seven, but a small handful clung to their previous river-based culture and religion. Living on boats moving up and down the Greenblood River in Dorne, this small minority became known as the "Orphans of the Greenblood", "orphans" because they were separated from their homeland in Essos. Originally, the Rhoynar lived in city-states located on the great Rhoyne River and its network of tributaries, in the area of the modern Free Cities. The spirit of the Rhoyne River itself is worshiped in the religion as "Mother Rhoyne", though there are several other river-themed deities in the religion, such as the Old Man of the River, a turtle-god, and his enemy the King Crab.

There are a few other religions or cults that get namedropped as existing in the Free Cities, but they aren't followed in large numbers and don't play a major role in the storyline. Many are mentioned only once, and are often inside jokes by author George R.R. Martin, or references to other science fiction stories he has written. While the Lord of Light is the majority religion in the southern Free Cities of Volantis, Lys, Myr, and Tyrosh, other religions are practiced alongside it: A handful of artistocratic families in Volantis still follow the old Valyrian religion (though they are a minority); coins in Lys are adroned with the image of a native love goddess, which may or may not be the same figure as the Weeping Lady; and in Tyrosh, the Fountain of the Drunken God is dedicated to the eponymous deity, and the Temple of Trios honors the three-headed god of the same name.

The Lord of Light doesn't seem to be the majority religion in the northern Free Cities, though their exact beliefs have not been given in detail. The Lord of Light is worshiped in Pentos and Qohor and even has a notable presence in Braavos, but the exact extent of the religion in these places is uncertain. In Braavos especially, many religions are particed, because of the city's magpie origins. Even the Faith of the Seven has a temple - known as the Sept-Beyond-the-Sea - with its own community of septons and septas, to service merchants and travellers from the Seven Kingdoms.

Little is known of Sothoryos, or the religious practices of its peoples. The inhabitants of the Summer Isles consider sexuality to be a holy and life-affirming act. The people of the island of Naath, off the north coast of Sothoryos, worship a monotheistic deity known as the Lord of Harmony. The Lord of Harmony religion forbids harming any living thing, even animals, thus the Naathi people are vegetarians, refusing to eat the flesh of any animal, and are famous for their adherence to pacifism.

References

See also