So this is going to be a very abstract article since it is going to be talking about ideas rather than concrete facts and people, but then again one of the most important aspects of studying history is the rise and conflict of different ideas. Also, if you haven’t watched the show this article contains SPOILERS from season 1, you have been warned.
One of my favorite aspects of the books and the show is how George R.R Martin treats a topic as big and as important to human history as religion. Granted, it’s not as important as other themes like the origin of authority and power or the shifting tides of fortune (maybe we’ll save those for another day) but it’s still there in the background. You’ll recall from previous posts that the First Men originally fought with the Children of the Forest but once they made peace the First Men adopted the religion of the Children and worshiped the faces carved into trees.
After peace lasted several thousand years the Andals invaded from Essos and brought with them the Faith of the Seven.
The conflict between the First Men and the Andals was long and brutal and religion became an inevitable, and important, part of the war. Once the Andals conquered Westeros and the First Men they claimed they had “slain the old gods with the new”. It wasn’t enough that the Andals killed the First Men, they had to kill their gods as well. However, the Andals weren’t entirely successful in conquering the North and the Old Gods continued to be worshiped by the remnants of the First Men. You can see this in Season 1 of the show when John Snow is entering the Night’s Watch. Before they begin the leaders tell each of the new recruits they can swear their vows according to their religion and John swears his oath in front of a tree.
Religion may not be an important aspect in the Game of Thrones universe, but it is an integral part of each character’s identity and how they separate themselves from other cultures throughout the world.
Let’s turn away from the show and books for a second and look at the impact religion has had in real world history. To be clear, the Faith of the Seven bears several similarities to the Medieval Catholic Church in it’s organization and belief systems. For example, the Faith believes in one God divided into seven parts much like Christianity believes in one God divided into three parts or the trinity.
It is worth mentioning that George R.R Martin himself is a professed lapsed Catholic but that’s not what we’re here to discuss. The point is that the spread Christianity in Medieval England followed a similar pattern to the Faith of the Seven in Westeros.
Anglo Saxon lords and ruler who converted to Christianity gained several distinct and important advantages over the rival Celtic tribes and fellow pagan rulers. For starters, they had a means to distinguish themselves and their people from everyone else, something that would help rally people to their cause and their power base. Second and most importantly, they gained access to the resources and support of the Church everything from an educational and social network providing assistance and aid to their poorer subjects to a collection of other Christian rulers in mainland Europe ready and willing to trade on friendlier terms and provide assistance to their fellow brothers in Christ. Thanks to the support and aid the Church provided to willing rulers Christianity was able to supplant the old gods with the new and establish itself as the dominant religion and identity of Europe.