- "Since the Dawn Age, the ironborn have followed the Drowned God, who plucked fire from the sea, and made us to reave and sack, and carve our names in blood and song."
- ―Yara Greyjoy
The Drowned God is the deity worshiped on the Iron Islands. Together with the North, where the worship of the Old Gods of the Forest remains strong, the Iron Islands is one of the few regions in Westeros not abiding by the main religion of the Seven Kingdoms, the Faith of the Seven.
Depictions of the Drowned God, such as statues, are sometimes made by assembling pieces of driftwood into a vaguely humanoid shape with upraised arms - or by finding a single piece of driftwood which somewhat resembles a humanoid shape.
The belief system of the Drowned God justifies the ironborn way of life of piracy and raiding. Followers of the Drowned God believe he brought flame from the sea and that he created the ironborn to reave, raid, and pillage. Much of the religion centers around maritime skills and seafaring ability. It is not simply praiseworthy to kill enemies in battle, it is considered a pious act. A youth in the Iron Islands is not considered a man until he has killed his first enemy. The religion also encourages paying the "iron price" instead of the "gold price" -- that is, it is better not to pay or trade for possessions, but to take them by force from the hands of dead enemies.
While to outsiders the Drowned God religion seems like a thinly veiled justification for pillaging and plundering, the ironborn themselves take their religion very seriously, and actually have a fairly well developed cosmology and belief system surrounding it.
Within this belief system, the Drowned God is locked in an age-old struggle against the Storm God. The Drowned God's halls are located beneath the ocean, while the Storm God lives in a castle in the sky with his thunderclouds. The Storm God is constantly trying to send storms to dash ironborn ships against rocks to their ruin.
Resurrection figures prominently in the religion, in the form of being revived from drowning. The Drowned God itself is said to have drowned in the sea, for the sake of the ironborn, but returned to life "harder and stronger". However, drowning is also employed as a method of sacrificing enemies to the Drowned God.
Due to their belief, the ironborn do not fear drowning in the sea. "Godly" ironborn, that is fearless raiders, who drown are believed to be taken to the Drowned God's watery halls to feast on fish and be tended by mermaids for eternity. Thus, whenever a man dies, ironborn say that the Drowned God is in need of a strong oarsman.
The common prayer exchanged by followers of the Drowned God is "What is dead may never die", with the responding line, "But rises again, harder and stronger". If one person begins this prayer, others are usually expected to join in. The prayer involves clutching the right hand in a fist over the heart.
Priests of the Drowned God are called Drowned Men. They anoint devotees using sea water, which is considered to be holy water in the religion. Infants are ceremonially "drowned" during a baptism rite by being briefly submerged in sea water, or by a priest pouring sea water over their head. Adults may also be anointed with sea water in this fashion, when receiving a blessing from one of the Drowned Men. During the blessing ceremony, the following exchange occurs as the priest pours holy sea water over the adherent's head:
- Drowned Priest: "Let [name] your servant be born again from the sea, as you were. Bless him with salt, bless him with stone, bless him with steel."
- Response: "What is dead may never die."
- Drowned Priest: "What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger."
Unlike the Faith of the Seven or the worship of the Lord of Light, the Drowned God religion is sexist: Ironborn men are expected to raid, plunder, kill, and command ships, but it is frowned upon for ironborn women to do any of these things. While the Faith of the Seven and R'hllor have priestesses, and the Old Gods of the Forest simply have no priests or priestesses, the Drowned God's priesthood is all-male.
It is thus considered quite unusual that Yara Greyjoy, as a young woman, has risen to command her own ship and led men on raids. Further, it is a testament to her popularity with the ironborn men she commands that they would willingly follow her, as she would have to work even harder and be a very capable commander indeed to earn the respect of such men. Despite being a very devout and pious follower of the Drowned God, even Balon Greyjoy himself is proud of and accepts Yara's activities, which are decidedly unorthodox for a woman in his culture.
In the Iron Islands, it is common to execute criminals by laying them on their back on the beach at low tide, with their arms and legs chained to four stakes, so they can see their death slowly creeping toward them a few inches at a time as the tide comes in - an offering to the Drowned God.
As with other major religions in Westeros, the Drowned God religion has several basic social rules against incest, kinslaying, and bastardy. It also upholds the laws of hospitality, which hold sacred the good behavior of a guest and host towards each other.
In the booksEdit
In the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels, author George R.R. Martin has said that the ironborn are loosely inspired by Vikings, and thus their Drowned God religion is inspired by Norse myths. For example, "Godly" ironborn who die are said to feast in the Drowned God's halls under the ocean, which is analogous to Viking belief that they will feast in Valhalla when they die. In Norse mythology, those who drown are said to be taken to the bed of Rán. A stark contrast with Viking belief is that the ironborn consider the Storm God the ultimate evil, the Vikings considered the storm god, Thor, the champion of mankind (Thor was a dually a fertility god/ warrior god and most Norsemen were farmers). Like in Norse Mythology, sacred hospitality is practiced.
Season 5 of the TV series introduced idols of the Drowned God, particularly for use in the House of Black and White set in Braavos. The World of Ice and Fire sourcebook (2014) actually states that the Drowned God has no idols in his likeness - apparently the ocean itself is all that the ironborn venerate. Then again, several millennia ago King Harmund II Hoare converted to the Seven (after marrying a Lannister daughter), or rather his own bizarre interpretation of it, in which he held that there were actually eight gods, the Seven and the Drowned God - and Harmund II is said to have decreed that "a statue of the Drowned God should be raised at the door of every sept" in the Iron Islands. Therefore it seems that there are at least some informal statues or artistic depictions of the Drowned God - but given that they have no "temples" to formally keep them in (simply worshiping at the waves wherever the land meets the sea) they don't have "religious icons" used as the specific object of veneration, the way the Faith of the Seven uses religious icons. At any rate, Harmund II's bizarre edicts were a major blunder because they offended both the Drowned Priests and the septons who had moved to the islands, so he had to rescind his order. His son Harmund III was later overthrown in a rebellion led by the Drowned Men (specifically one known as "the Shrike"), in which every sept in the Iron Islands was also burned down.