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Iron and monsters

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

The Faith of the Seven, of all religions in the world of Ice and Fire, is the only one that doesn’t have significant demonstrations of miracles. An argument could be made for Ser Davos, although he was delirious, or for Lady Catelyn, although her mourning and desperation are more likely to justify the visions than a true miracle, but their Sacred-Scripture, the Seven-Pointed Star describes countless miracles that happened in the past. In the story, however, the Faith of the Seven left Essos and invaded Westeros with cruelty and violence.

The inspiration for the Faith of the Seven came from the Catholic faith with their violent invasions, their stories of miracles that (never) happened in the past and people claiming they saw or witnessed miracles in the present. It is from that faith and their “miraculous” tales that comes the idea that the Others can’t handle iron.

There was an English Bishop back from when the Catholic Church and the Church of England were one and the same, named Dustan. He held several titles and claimed “miracles” on his name until he died and, non-surprisingly, was canonized into a “saint”. He was in order, the Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. The tales of his life go from his pious mother having a religious experience that prophesied her son would become a “minister of eternal light to the Church of England” to his defeat of the Devil. It’s this last tale that makes for the point we are discussing today. “Saint” Dustan was a Smithy by trade and as a kid he studied under the Irish monks who occupied ruins. It is said that he had visions as a young boy of the ruins being restored, then he got very sick while still a young lad and nearly died, but then was “miraculously healed”. He was a devout little man who got the favour of the king, which made people very envious, so they beat him, bound him, and tossed him in a cesspool. He managed to free himself and crawl out, but it caused terrifying boils all over his body, which led to the belief that he had leprosy. It was at that point that he started to doubt if the celibate life was for him, but when healed, he interpreted it as a miracle. Dustin then built himself a tiny cell five feet long by two and a half feet deep (154 x 76 cm) and there he lived, studied, played his harp and worked at his art. The tale goes that while in his cell, the devil entered to tempt him, so he took his iron tongs and grabbed the devil’s face with it. Saint Dustan was the most popular English saint for over two centuries and that story developed further. It evolved to the devil telling Dustin to change his horseshoe and Dustin tricking him, fitting an iron horseshoe which caused the devil agonizing pain and that the holy man, at this point a hero, only agreed to remove if the devil then agreed to never enter a dwelling with a horseshoe nailed above the door.

After that superstition, the churches that had a cemetery behind them started to surround the cemetery grounds with an iron fence so the souls of the dead would be contained – attention to the moronic idea as the premise of “eternal life” is that those souls would ascend but the churches kept them bound – and then people were guided by the church to bury an iron knife on their plot under the door to protect the living against witches.

Further east, in Tibet, thogcha was considered to be a “meteoric iron” that fell off of the sky. On its way down, it passed through the heavens and the celestial beings made it magical. The only place where iron didn’t work to save good people, was in the Old Testament where god didn’t save the people of the valley because they had an iron carriage – or perhaps it can be correct if god is interpreted as the monster who has powers but can't get his followers to salvation because of iron … Regardless, iron and monsters don’t go together. That same premise was used in many fantastic stories: Maleficent’s wings are removed by iron, which burns her skin; the “Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft” marks iron as the element that hurts them; C.F. Tebbett wrote “Iron Thresholds as a protection”; the Wayback Machine has in its archives the Niall Finneran works of magical symbolisms of iron working; monsters are defeated by iron throughout the stories of the Witcher; Wendigos can be defeated by iron; stabbing a ghost with iron will make it go invisible for a while (I suppose if you have houseguests and you don’t want them to see your ghosts, that’s a solution?); phoenixes cannot escape if they are put in iron cages; Shtriga’s can only be killed by iron bullets; and on and on it goes.

<< "In that darkness, the Others came for the first time. They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins. They swept over holdfasts and cities and kingdoms, felled heroes and armies by the score, riding their pale dead horses and leading hosts of the slain. All the swords of men could not stay their advance, and even maidens and suckling babes found no pity in them. They hunted the maids through frozen forests, and fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children.">>

The Others cannot be defeated by iron, but it holds them at bay, so considering all the dead things in Winterfell, it’s about time the Starks change those rusting iron swords in the crypts, because when the time comes, it will be absurd to have the perfect fort and lose the battle from within.

Art by Justin Madden

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