Updated: Nov 7, 2018
The power of blood magic and its connection with religion
The conquest of Westeros - envisioned by His Royal Highness King Aegon I Targaryen, knows as Aegon the Conqueror and his two wives/sisters Queen Visenya and Queen Rhaenys - took two full years to cover 6 of the kingdoms and 160 years to add Dorne to the realm, which happened in 158 AC. Year 1 AC was marked by the coronation, two years after the conquest started.
When King Aegon landed in what would one day become King’s Landing he saw beyond a crowded, muddy and stinking place. He saw a great royal city that could surpass Lannisport and Oldtown. The city had three hills and they were named Aegon’s High Hill, where the first keep – Aegonfort, which was later replaced by the Red Keep – was built; Visenya Hill, where the Sept was raised and later was replaced by the Great Sept of Baelor; and the Hill of Rhaenys where the Sept of Remembrance was erected in her memory when she died. Later, when King Maegon the Cruel fought against the Faith Militant uprising, he destroyed the Sept with the dragonfire of Balerion and in its place, the Dragonpit was built.
For the people living in Flea Bottom, the Red Keep is an impressive castle. It looms over the city and the pale red on the walls changes shades with the light of the sun and when it rains, the walls seem to be bleeding. However, as one travels the Seven Kingdom and sees other castles, it becomes evident that there are fortresses far more impressive and far more mysterious than the Red Keep itself, but there is a magical power to that keep that can’t be denied. It is felt by the characters and explained in subtle tones throughout the story, such unquestionable a force that it allows the reader to comprehend certain details that make it all the more interesting: The power of blood magic.
Throughout the Seven Kingdoms one can witness the wonders of different places, the power of blood magic and how it plays an important role in the history of Westeros. Through the books, it does become evident that some places can only exist and stay standing with that force behind them. Blood magic is dependent on blood sacrifice and it is used for countless purposes, all of them nefarious, because preventive protection is entirely different from self-defense and except for when those sacrifices brought safety to the kingdom, the survival of entire species or the end of wars, blood sacrifice on its own isn’t easy to justify. It’s evident how the blood sacrifice for the construction of Winterfell was done to save the entire race of men. That sacrifice was not preemptive, though. It was made with the clear intention to hold the Others and offer a chance to all creatures that walked the land. The same can be said about Storm’s End and the Wall itself, where the first protected a kingdom against the wrath of a god that wasn’t afraid of using his advantage to kill countless innocent people to get his justice and the other was done to separate the realms of men. All of those done after danger and death were already in place, so it is almost justifiable, especially if the sacrificed knew what was happening. Certainly, under those circumstances, people might even have volunteered as heroes to put an end to the terror.
The origin of blood sacrifice is religion. Outside the world of Ice and Fire, examples can be found in religious books and in mythology.
The Biblical stories have several counts of blood sacrifice, all of them preemptive, going from the old to the new testament. The Quran uses similar principles. Extremist followers of all religions have killed and been killed for those beliefs and before those books were written, mythology professed the same ideas. Objectively speaking, there is no blood sacrifice outside a religious experience – ever! Judaism amply uses blood sacrifice in its stories – some of those widely spread in the western world.
In Judaism, the people of Israel used lamb’s blood on their doors and windows to protect their first-born sons, but they did not share that trick with the Egyptians, so the Egyptian children would die.
Christianism came along and joined the tradition. While trying to put itself ahead of the wacky race, they killed their god’s son who was god himself and his death was an offering he made of himself as blood sacrifice to protect all humans. The different sects of the faith maintain that sacrifice alive by symbolically giving the followers their god’s flesh and blood as food.
In Islamic culture, when a child is born they observe a tradition named ‘aqiqah where they slaughter an animal for that child and those who truly follow the faith believe that if that’s not done, then the child will be exposed to death and calamities because their god “likes giving food and slaughtering”.
Ancient religions had both animal and human sacrifice, some very difficult to comprehend, for example where when a king or a high priest died, the followers would murder a common person to accompany their leader into the next life, so before fully criticizing the folly of the different gods in the universe of Ice and Fire, it is important to understand that the writer was inspired by his own universe when he created atrocities in Westeros.
In a universe of Ice and Fire, the Children of the Forest, who were indeed trying to save their own way of life, were also very cruel and unafraid to maim or kill for their faith. The “old gods” were absolutely merciless, feasting on blood and tripe in exchange for protection.
The Faith of the Seven, by which knights have been blessed, has countless examples of blood sacrifice and the Andals, before crossing the Narrow Sea, used to carve the Seven-Pointed Star on their bodies as an offering of their own blood for protection. One famous example was a warrior named Torgold Tollett, a giant of sorts who invaded Westeros and fought on the battle for the Vale. In his case, his branding wasn’t a small mark but rather a huge star carved all over his chest.
The Dothraki sacrifice their sacred animal to give a pregnant woman its raw heart that, if she eats, will protect her unborn child against injury.
The followers of R’hllor burn people alive in exchange for favours.
The drowned god takes people in its halls as offerings, and while being the enemy of the storm god, the latter kills people but offers the body to the former- as it seems they haven’t quite figured out how sacrifices work.
The Great Others accept newborn boys as blood sacrifice for protection to the one who offers the baby.
The many-faced god is managed by a group of assassins that use people's faces which they keep hung on a hall and they bring people a "gift" of death.
The Targaryens "pretend to adapt" to the country’s main religion, while clearly maintaining the sign of their own belief system. They arrived in Westeros thanks to the "warnings" brought by a young girl who had seen the Doom and when it came time to do what Targaryens did best, which was to want more than what they had, they decided to agree to some sort of compromise where the Faith of the Seven was adopted, but it came with war and destruction, because they weren't really willing to let go of their own ideas and traditions, so although the Faith of the Seven prohibited incest, they did it anyway. That was the beginning of their troubles which started immediately after Aegon’s death and is the first indication that, in spite of adopting the local religion, they were not interested in following its rules. Before the Faith caught up to the fact that the Targaryen were not to be trifled with, they tried to impose their belief. The history of Westeros has always been marked by bloodshed and murder and when the Targaryen united the country they didn't disappoint, maintaining the traditions of their predecessors.
It is said that King Aegon was married his older sister Visenya out of duty, but the youngest Rhaenys out of desire. Visenya was stern, serious, unforgiving and was known for playing with poisons and dabbling in dark sorceries. Rhaenys in turn was playful, curious and a lover of music, dance and poetry. For every ten nights he spent with Rhaenys, he spent one with Visenya and not to endure her presence, Aegon lived in Dragonstone with Rhaenys while Visenya was left in charge of building the Red Keep and she was very thorough. In reality, when counting the contributions made by the two queens, the eldest was far more important to the kingdom. The use of the Faith of the Seven, however, was subject to convenience. When Visenya’s son, Maegor, who would later become King Maegor the Cruel, decided to take in two wives, as no septon would officiate the marriage, he simply had his mother do it in a Valyrian ceremony, validating that they never let go of their own roots.
The Red Keep that Queen Visenya started had its construction finished by her son, King Maegor. Maegor personally took charge of the work, focusing on secret passages and tunnels built through the depths of Aegon's High Hill. One of the things he executed was the building of what is now known as Maegor’s Holdfast, a massive square fortress inside the heart of the Red Keep. It is a castle-within-a-castle and it lies behind walls twelve-feet thick. A dry moat with iron spikes surrounds it and a drawbridge is the only known way in or out. It always has a Knight of the Kingsguard posted on its far end. He also ordered four levels of dungeons constructed and had them build specifically for torment.
In 45 AC, one year after the death of his mother, King Maegor saw the Red Keep completed. In celebration, he threw a feast for those who had taken part in the construction, engorging the workers with wines and sweetmeats as well as whores from the city’s finest brothels. But after three days of revelry, the King had them all put to death in order to protect the secrets of the castle. Their bones were interred beneath the castle they had built. That is where the traditions of the Targaryen’s religion is really shown, with the use of blood magic and blood sacrifice and exactly the example of preemptive use of religious exchanges that is both indecent and highly immoral. To protect the secret of the keep, people were murdered in blood sacrifice, so that only a Targaryen could fully see and understand the passages. The evidence that non-Targaryens don’t see or understand the tunnels is found all over the pages of the books, as character after character is shown or discovers small bits of those passages, but nobody other than the Spider knows them all. The only other characters who seem to see and sense those passages are Ser Jaime and his twin sister.
Throughout history, a few people got to know some passages, but even the rat-chaser Cheese, who was described as one who knew the secrets of the tunnels, could only get in and out of Maegor’s Holdfast through the drawbridge.
Magic, as a common element in fantasy, is consistently described by several different authors. In Lord of the Rings, several creatures are magical and mythical as well as several objects. The presence of magic leaves a consequence in that world and even the heroes of the story have to endure permanently. The ring itself caused irreparable damage, not just to Gollum, which is very evident both physically and psychologically, but inevitably to any bearer, regardless of the bearer’s initial intent. In the Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version of Merlin, he developed the story deeply into religion and Merlin, in his interpretation, was “the intended antichrist” begotten by a demon and a virgin, but the plot is thwarted when he is born and is immediately baptized, which rids him of his demonic father, though keeps him with his magic, shapeshifting and prophetic knowledge. The king’s wise men advise him that the only way to keep a tower that he’s trying to build standing, as with every attempt it collapses, is to add to the foundation of the tower the blood of a boy who was born with no father, in this case, Merlin, showing that magic always leaves a mark. The author J.K. Rowling, in writing the Harry Potter novels, used that concept and explained beautifully with Professor Dumbledore taking Harry into a cave to try and get rid of the dark wizard Voldemort. In that cave, not only does the author use the clear example of blood sacrifice, for blood is required to open the cave, but she also shows how Dumbledore could find the place where elements were hidden simply by feeling the area with his hands. Another example of the mark left by magic is the sacrifice of Jesus himself, for as he died, he saved all the people who ever would come.
George R.R. Martin is equally consistent with the idea of magic and its mark. The blood sacrifice left in the Red Keep offers the Targaryen-blooded characters access to the passages and the readers benefit from it by being given the clarity of who has access to that magic. That magic is equally offered to the Starks (there must always be a Stark in Winterfell) and, most importantly, which is likely the objective behind singling out those two houses, it brings the irrefutable evidence that, as the fruit of union between the two houses, Jon Snow is the key to the union between the kingdom and the North.