The Faith of the Seven in George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire"

The concern of this article is an examination of one of the most prominent fictionalized religions in A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, known as the Faith of the Seven. In order to grasp the main characteristics of Martin’s invented religion in the book series, a brief history of the Faith of the Seven is elaborated through an overview of its religious beliefs, its sacred places and its similarities with medieval Catholicism. Added to that, the article sheds light on the hierarchical organization and role distribution within the religious community, regardless of the trials and accusations against a number of characters in Martin’s epic fantasy novels.


“The Andals were the first, a race of tall, fair-haired warriors who came with steel and fire and the seven-pointed star of the new gods painted on their chest. The wars lasted hundreds of years, but in the end the six southron kingdoms all fell before them. Only here, where the King in the North threw back every army that tried to cross the Neck, did the rule of the First Men endure.” – Maester Luwin (Martin, A Game of Thrones, p. 714).

In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, ‘the Faith of the Seven’ is a religion that is brought by the Andals who travelled from Essos to Westeros by crossing the Narrow sea. The Andals were forced to leave their lands in Essos and searched for new territories to inhabit due to the massive expansion of the Valyrian Freehold. Once in Westeros, the Andals were confronted with the First Men—one of the ancient inhabitants of Westeros— and in order to invade their territories, the Andals had to declare war on them and force them to retreat. After fighting for many years, the First Men failed in protecting their lands and the Andals succeeded in appropriating the southern regions of Westeros, including the Iron Islands, located in the western coast of Westeros. The North, however, was strong enough to maintain its territories and preserve its traditions and faith in the Old Gods of the Forest and thus, was not conquered by the Andals. Contrary to the northern inhabitants of the continent, the southern people were forced to replace their ancestors’ religion, that of the Old Gods of the Forest, by the eastern religion of the Andals and in this way, assimilate themselves into ‘the Faith of the Seven’; except for the people of the Iron Islands, whose faith in the Drowned God persisted in spite of the Andals’ invasion.


[The display of deities around the seven-pointed star inside the Great Sept of Baelor at King’s Landing].



The belief in and practice of the Andals’ religion in the Seven Kingdoms is approached from an anthropological perspective. When expanding on the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s definition of ‘religion’, Rieken (2019) explains that ‘religion’ is a socio-cultural construct made of “cultural patterns” manifested in a “system of symbols”. In this sense, according to Geertz, symbols are “any object, act, event, quality, or relation that serves as a vehicle for a conception.” (Rieken, 2019, p.55). The conception of a belief, in this context, a religious belief, depicted in the seven-pointed star is meant to persuade, lead, and guide people. In other words, the establishment of ‘religion’ originates in the human need for control and power as a way to seek a certain kind of order and achieve stability in a given society. Thus, it is done through religious symbols. In Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the religious belief is done through the seven-pointed star, based on the belief in a seven-faced god which is at the heart of ‘the Faith of the Seven’.


“The Father’s face is stern and strong,
he sits and judges right from wrong.
[…] the Mother gives the gift of life,
and watches over every wife.
[…] the Warrior stands before the foe,
Protecting us where e’er we go.” – Samwell Tarly. (Martin, A Storm of Swords, p. 71).

Craven (2020) qualifies the Faith of the Seven as “a human oriented religion”, influenced in the belief in one god portrayed in the shape of seven distinct forms. The deity manifestation is illustrated in the figures of the Father, the Mother, the Warrior, the Smith, the Maiden, the Crone, and the Stranger. The Father is meant to bring justice to the world; the Mother stands for mercy; the Warrior brings strength; the Smith is a symbol of labor; the Maiden signifies innocence and safety; the Crone symbolizes wisdom, and finally; the Stranger denotes death and the unknown. Each form of deity in the Faith of Seven has a specific role to play for the guidance and wellbeing of its worshippers and believers.


The Seven Aspects of god in the Faith of the Seven. [Illustration].



Moreover, George R. R. Martin’s imaginative religion is connected to medieval Catholicism and the belief in the Holy Trinity. For instance, the number three is significant in the Christian religion as it implies the unity of the Father (God), the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit (also referred to as the Holy Ghost). Even though the Faith of the Seven is not built upon the belief in the Holy Trinity, its doctrine embraces the significance of the number three and it is shown through three male and three female figures, regardless of the seventh genderless deity, that of the Stranger. The three male faces of God are illustrated in the figures of the Father, the Warrior, and the Smith; whereas the figures of the Mother, the Maiden, and the Crone embody the three female faces of God. All of the seven statues placed together in the center of a sept are represented in the shape of a seven-pointed star.


“The Crone is very wise and old,
and sees our fates as they unfold.
[…] the Smith, he labors day and night,
to put the world of men to right.
[…] the Maiden dances through the sky,
she lives in every lover’s sigh…” – Samwell Tarly. (Martin, A Storm of Swords, p. 71).

The Great Sept of Baelor was built during the reign of King Baelor Targaryen in King’s Landing. Soon after its construction, the sept was named after the ninth king in the dynasty of the Targaryen known for his piety and devotion to ‘the Faith of the Seven’. The architectural description of the Great Sept of Baelor in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is inspired by the structure of the Gothic cathedrals in Europe. The Gothic style highlights representations of the divine through the use of materials, such as wood, stone, and glass, to make the connection between the material world with the heavenly world “transportive and ethereal”, argues Smith (2020). For example, the focus on lux, lumen, and splendor not only facilitates the penetration of light inside of the cathedrals, but also reinforces the spiritual connection between the worshipper and the deity inside of the sacred place. Therefore, their interconnectedness is explained by the reference of lux: “To the natural light emitted from the sun, lumen is light as it interacts with the material world, and splendor is reflected light.” (Smith, 2020). These materials are used to draw the attention of the viewer to the importance of light inside Gothic cathedrals. Light is endowed with the power of uplifting the human soul and consciousness to experience transcendence and worship the divine.


[An Illustration of the Great Sept of Baelor by Marc Simonetti].



“Medieval theologians regarded light as the medium par excellence through which physical objects became capable of revealing their divine properties to humans” - Robert Scott. (Craven, 2020, p. 31).

Like in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the display of light through the stained glass windows, featuring each of the seven faces of God in accordance with the religious system of the Faith of the Seven, is a medieval product, reflecting the geometrical construction of cathedrals. Accordingly, the exterior façade of the Great Sept of Baelor is described by Craven (2020) as having, “seven towers, seven paths leading to the middle within, and actual representations of the Seven inside through statues.” Furthermore, the Gothic aspect of Medieval cathedrals illustrated in the Great Sept of Baelor is shown through the use of rose windows or colored glass windows, marbled floors, gilded and crystalline ceilings, and finally seven walk ways leading to each of the seven statues of God—the Father, the Mother, the Maiden, the Warrior, the Smith, the Crone, and the Stranger. Gothic symbolism and imagery used in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a fictional representation of an imaginative religion called the Faith of the Seven and fully inspired by medieval Catholicism.


“High on Visenya’s Hill, sunlight blazed off the seven crystal towers of the Great Sept of Baelor.” - Davos Seaworth. (Martin, A Clash of Kings, p. 749).

[In the HBO series Game of Thrones, Jonathan Pryce (on the left) portraying The High Sparrow (the leader of the religious sect known as the Sparrows) and the newly appointed High Septon of the Faith of the Seven. In the centre, Natalie Dormer portraying Queen Margaery Tyrell prisoner. On the right, Hannah Waddingham portraying Septa Unella].



Turning to the internal and hierarchical organization of the Faith of the Seven, Rieken (2019) points out several similarities between the former and the Catholic church during the Middle Ages. First, the reference to monasteries is found in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, yet named differently as ‘septries’ and ‘motherhouses’. Second, the distribution of roles inside the Catholic church is attributed first to bishops, priests, and deacons; Today, the Catholic church has been headquartered in the Vatican City under the supervision of the Pope and monitored by the same hierarchical organization, including the Pope, bishops, and priests. Similarly, this model is applied by the Faith of the Seven, whereby “the High Septon—the head of the Faith, whom they believed spoke with the voice of the Seven” is given the title of higher authority, explains Martin (2020). Added to that, the Starry Sept, located in the city of Oldtown, is governed by the High Septon. Below the High Septon, there is a group of septons and septas, known as the Most Devout, in charge of the council of the Faith of the Seven and election of the High Septon. The last group in the organization of the Faith of the Seven are regular septons and septas, who are entitled to live among noble families of Westeros in order to ensure a good education to their children.


All things considered, in his series of A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin invented the Faith of the Seven as a reaction to medieval Catholicism, by criticizing its religious system of beliefs, principles, and dynamics. Hence, the creation of one fictionalized religion among many others, is depicted in the American writer’s desire to explore the world of a fanatical community of preachers and question the legitimacy of their acts vis-à-vis the ones who sinned.



Image Sources

Ahmed, T. (2016). [In the HBO series Game of Thrones, Jonathan Pryce (on the left) starring The High Sparrow (the leader of the religious sect known as the Sparrows) and the newly appointed High Septon of the Faith of the Seven. In the centre, Natalie Dormer starring Queen Margaery Tyrell prisoner. On the right, Hannah Waddingham starring Septa Unella.]. Newsweek.com. https://www.newsweek.com/game-thrones-season-6-episode-6-blood-my-blood-spoilers-and-theories-return-464185


Akash Of the Andals. (2017, August 25). [The display of deities around the seven-pointed star inside the Great Sept of Baelor at King’s Landing]. Watchersonthewall.com. https://watchersonthewall.com/writing-wall-fires-faith/


The “Complete Guide to Westeros” featurette, featured on the Game of Thrones. (2012, April 30). The Seven Aspects of god in the Faith of the Seven. [Illustration]. Awoiaf.Westeros.org. https://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/File:Faith_seven_aspects.jpg


Simonetti, M. (2011, September 30). [An Illustration of the Great Sept of Baelor by Marc Simonetti]. Awoiaf.Westeros.org. https://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/File:Great_septon_of_Baelor_by_MarcSimonetti.jpg


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Martin, L. C. (2020). The Fall of Chivalry: An Analysis of the Representation of Knighthood in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Universidad del Pais Vasco. https://addi.ehu.es/bitstream/handle/10810/48589/TFG_Ciriza.pdf?sequence=2


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