There is a book by religious naturalist Chet Raymo titled When God is Gone, Everything is Holy. The main argument of this book is that religion has a tendency to get in the way of our appreciation of the awesomeness of the natural world. That theology, in an attempt to explain life’s mysteries through strict cosmologies and dogma, impede our willingness to seek out, explore, understand, and be amazed by the true fabric of the physical and perceivable universe.
Regardless of what our personal religious beliefs may be, I’m getting a sense that the creators of Game of Thrones may be approaching the concept of magic in the World of Ice and Fire from a similar perspective. We have seen since the beginning that multiple religions, theologies, and gods are at constant odds with one another through their advocates in Westeros and beyond. Some of the many beliefs we most frequently encounter are The Old Gods through the Northerners, The Seven at King’s Landing, The Lord of Light via Melisandre, The Many-Faced God of Braavos, and the Drowned God of the Ironborn.
From time to time we encounter our protagonists struggling with their faith, attempting to understand that which they do not comprehend, and trying to make sense of the cryptic messages they receive from beyond. This has been most prominently displayed through The Red Priestess Melisandre, who had for several seasons been driven by visions from the Lord of Light of Stannis Baratheon conquering the Seven Kingdoms. These visions and Melisandre’s faith were put into question with Stannis’ defeat and the “death” of Jon Snow.
Melisandre, overwhelmed by her failures and going through a major crisis of faith, admits to Ser Davos that he was right all along, that there are no gods and that the visions she saw were mere fantasy. To this, Davos responds by stating that he doesn’t care about what the gods can or cannot do, but that he knows that she, Melisandre, can do magic.
I think this is where the crux of my argument lies. I believe that magic in the World of Ice and Fire is a natural occurrence, a part of the natural world that can be accessed by those who are willing and able to do so. Some of our protagonists may associate the presence of magic as being something divine, something that must come from deities or beings outside of the world. I think that Davos’ realization however is a very profound one: there are no gods in Westeros, but there are people who can access and manipulate this magical force which permeates the World of Ice and Fire in much the same way the Laws of Physics dictate the behavior of our own universe.
Ironically, Melisandre doesn’t make this realization upon Jon’s resurrection. She immediately jumps to the conclusion that the Lord of Light has spared Jon and allowed him to return to life. Just moments before though, Jon had stated that there was nothing after death; no heaven, no “beyond.” Just nothingness and darkness, echoing the words of Ser Berric Dondarion. Though magic in the World of Ice and Fire has nothing to do with gods or religion, believers attempt to attribute explanations to such supernatural acts to help make sense of the world around them, explanations that attribute the existence of magic to superstition, gods, religion, moral codes, and theologies. Yet in doing so they blind themselves to the simple reality that magic just exists as a part of everything, and if they just dedicated themselves to understanding it they could fully unlock its awesome power.
The White Walkers appear to be the one group in the World of Ice and Fire that seems to have the clearest understanding of magic and who don’t appear to attribute its existence to the supernatural. Recall how confident the Night’s King seemed when he resurrected the masses of Wildlings in the Battle of Hardhome. I don’t sense that the White Walkers have any type of theology or religion. They seem to understand that true magical power comes from within nature. They embody the magic of this world and they use it in awesome and powerful ways. The Night’s King use of magic was effortless. Paired with the White Walker’s relentless drive towards ultimate conquest and domination, he is truly a force to be reckoned with.
What are the people of the many faiths to do? Just like they should stop focusing on their petty political battles and instead pay attention to the threat coming from the North, should they set aside the old superstitions, religions, and myths and accept magic as a reality of their world? A magic that exists within and around them, but not beyond them? A magic that they can use with its awesome power to defeat their greatest enemy? A magic that exists in a world without gods?
I believe that only by coming to such a realization will the people have a chance of surviving the White Walker threat. In the world of Ice and Fire, when the gods are gone, everything is magical.
What do you think? Share any comments below!