The history and myths behind Game of Thrones: The Children of the Forest

Due to the non profit educational value of the material presented in this post all images and sources are used under Fair Use of the Copyright Act of 1976.  All images and sources used belong to their respective owners.  This blog post is presented without spoilers to the television show or the books.  Please read at your leisure.

Welcome to our first post about the history and mythology behind Game of Thrones.  In honor of beginning this epic odyssey we are going to start from the group of people who occupy the continent of Westeros at the very beginning: the Children of the Forest.

 400px-Bran_Stark_and_the_Children_of_the_Forest

In the books George Martin describes the Children as the original residents of Westeros before the continent was settled by mankind and roughly 12,000 years before the events of the show (don’t worry we’re only going to discuss things that have no relation to the plot, I said this is spoiler free and I meant it).  Not a lot is known about the Children because they left no ruins and had no written language to leave records behind.   They preferred to live off the land, foraging for berries and roots, and wearing clothing made from bark and leaves.  There are two more details about the Children that will be important for our discussion.  First, they worshiped the Old Gods of Westeros (we’ll get to them later) by carving faces into trees and second, they had very powerful magicians called Greenseers that used magic that drew its power from nature to create spells that could allow its user to talk to animals or control the elements.

Children_of_the_Forest_greenseers

The three known facts about the Children of the Forest: their lack of evidence about their existence, their worship of trees and naturalistic spirits, and the fact they utilized powerful magic rooted in nature would lead us to believe that the Children of the Forest were heavily rooted in Celtic mythology.

celts-new_2_1

Now the Celts are a group of people we will be talking about later but for now all we need to know is that they were one of the first people to inhabit Britain and it is widely believed they were animists and spiritualists.  They believed that the world around them was part of the divine, that their gods and goddesses lived in and influenced the world around them.  One of the most important aspects of Celtic religion was the worship of trees (again, we’ll get to that later) but another important aspect of their culture was the belief in fairy folk.

celtic-fairies-08358

Now, there is more to the Fairy folk then wings and pointy ears, a lot of tropes we associate with elves in modern fantasy comes from fairy lore and there are so many different types and so many different interpretations between different cultures that could fill several books, but almost every interpretation can agree on a couple of things that solidify the similarities between faeries and the Children of the Forest.  First, the Fairy Folk were smaller than humans.  Second, they used powerful magic that was tied to nature and the world around them (woe betide a farmer who angered even the smallest fairy, for his milk would go bad and his crops would fail) and it is widely believed that they once shared the world with mankind but were slowly driven extinct or forced into hiding, a topic that leads nicely into our next article: the arrival of the First Men and their war with the Children of the Forest.

Further reading:

If you would like to learn more about the Children of the Forest and how they relate to the Game of Thrones books and show there is a very good wiki about the novels which you can find here

If you would like to know more about Celtic mythology and the Fairy Folk there are countless books on the subject.  Here are a few to get you started.

If you’re looking for a more academic view on Celtic mythology then Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis is pretty good and so is Celtic Gods and Heroes by Marie-Louise Sjoestedt.

If you want more of an entertaining fictionalized look at Celtic mythology then I suggest the works of Stephen Grundy, Juliet Marillier, and Morgan Llywelyn.

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5 thoughts on “The history and myths behind Game of Thrones: The Children of the Forest

    • Fair point, but it’s worth mentioning that Ireland and Britain were both Celtic and shared Celtic culture. It wasn’t until the Roman invasion of Britain, followed by the invasion of Germanic tribes such as the Angles and Jutes, that British culture branched off from Irish culture.

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      • some of that is true but not entirely. the difference existed before even the romans as the two land masses although close are still separated .the two had been divergent for along time , even the tribes that were mapped showed clear gaulish tribes in Eire not present in britain and vise versa the celts never viewed themselves as one people or even celts really , of course your argument cannot be proven or disproven it’s like saying the culture of gaul and britain was the same . it’s untenable. as for the history of westeros is mostly based on the Lebor Gabála Érenn -the taking of ireland , these myths are not that old and probably are christian in origin around 400 AD a creation by irish scribes with a wild imagination looking to give ireland a deeper christian history . the people said to inhabit Eire/invade is as follows .
        Cessair
        Partholón
        Nemed
        Fir Bolg
        Tuatha Dé Danann
        Milesians

        of course these people are mostly fictional but the irish monks had based this stuff on early irish mythology it was just a reworked for christian propaganda . if it is based on truth it could be based on the tribes that invaded ireland/settled in ireland .
        Erainn
        Cruithne
        Gauls
        Belgae

        Erainn are obviously the irish .

        the Cruithne are the britons or british ,Cruithne is the Irish equivalent of Priteni an ancient name for the Celtic Britons. although after the roman invasion of britian it was more used for the picts which is futher evidence the picts were the original britons .

        the belgae were your germanic type of “”celt””

        The Eirainn were the aborigines of ireland who had been pushed to edges of ireland by the invaders .The Iverni =
        Eirainn , first mentioned in Ptolemy’s 2nd century Geography as living in the extreme south-west of the island. He also locates a “city” called Ivernis (Ἰουερνίς, Iouernis) in their territory, and observes that this settlement has the same name as the island as a whole, Ivernia (Ἰουερνία, Iouernia).The name Iverni has been derived from Proto-Indo-European *PiHwerjoHn, “the fertile land”. It was probably once the name given to all the peoples of Ireland, but by Ptolemy’s time had a more restricted usage applicable to the inhabitants of the south-westThese Iverni can be identified linguistically with the Érainn (Éraind, Érnai, Érna). a people attested in Munster and elsewhere in the early Middle Ages.

        The Erainns became the gaels and became the dominate culture on the island though its uncertain when this happened .

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      • Basically the british meaning the welsh and cornish lost their celtic culture when they were conquered by the romans and the picts fizzled out of existence helped in no part by the irish or scoti raiding and taking parts of britian .theres pretty much no such thing as british celtic culture ,and no king author is not brythonic celtic lol .

        language wise Old Irish or gaelic didnt separate drastically from british celtic to much until all the various archaic endings were dropped some time in 1BC -0AD, The only real difference arguably  between Irish celtic and brythonic celtic before this era was the lack of a Q to P shift which had effected all of Britain and Gaul. but not Ireland due to isolation after 650BC ,during this period no shift occured which is clear from the lack of Hallstatt D and early La Tene phases in ireland , Ireland was in a dark age archaeological lock down of sorts ,Iberia was also isolated and as such did not experience the shift either . all of Britian was p celtic dominated and Ireland was q celtic dominated . though the difference between Q Celtic lreland and p celtic britian is rather insignificant compared to the Irish & British isles differences with the mainland continent .

        that said the cultures would have been radically different and so was the mythology . lve heard George R. R. Martin talk about his influences for his books and most of it is based on irish mythology & ireland very little of it outside of the wall in the north which is scotland is based on britian .

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  1. or l should say Theres no such thing as British celtic mythology its long lost, attempts to grafted irish mytholgy even outside the ulster cycle onto British to give the British a mythology of their own is to be considered fraudulent .such as trying to connect the irish goddess the morrigan to Morgan le Fay is now considered false etymology and nonsense ,most if not all british mythology only dates to the late middle ages and norman conquests .but l will stop here because we are getting into real history with my replys and blurring the lines abit .

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