A Song of Ice & Fire is creepy. Very creepy.
George R.R. Martin is a master horror writer. Part of what makes good horror fiction (or horror non-fiction, I guess) is the ability to tap deep down through to our most elemental drives, and well our unconscious fears up to the surface. While everyone loves a good jump scare now and then, the darkest, most profound works of horror are those which do not stray far from archetypal forms:
Our deepest convictions are so affected by these images that we are not even aware of their power in our conscious lives. About the only time we might recognize a glimpse of their true nature is when they make an appearance in our dream-world or daydream fantasies. But even then, the archetypes “comport themselves like ghosts” and fade away as quickly as they materialize, like spirits on the wind.
The purpose of this essay is to not focus on specifically horror aspects of ASOIAF. Rather, I intend to show how awareness of Jungian archetypes can help us understand the components of our being, namely our body, soul and spirit. Then, I will take a few examples of how these components of being are being explored within the ASOIAF stories within this perspective, including the wonderful horror tropes. Finally, I will offer a few comments on how we can use these stories to look upon our own lives and better understand the horrors and sufferings we all face in the real world.
Yeah, fun stuff.
The Triune Man
The idea that our physical selves contain more than our mere flesh and bone is as ancient as it is widespread across the globe. Merced Eliade introduces this in From Primitives to Zen:
To understand the popular conceptions of the human soul or spirit, it is instructive to notice the words which have been found suitable to express it. The ghost or phantasm seen by the dreamer or the visionary is in unsubstantial form, like a shadow or reflection, and thus the familiar term of the shade comes in to express the soul. Thus the Tasmanian word for the shadow is also that for the spirit, the Algonquins describe a man’s soul as otahchuk, ‘his shadow’; the Quiche language uses natub for ‘shadow, soul’; the Arawak ueja means ‘shadow, soul, image’; and Abipones made the one word loakal serve for shadow, soul, echo, image.’ The Zulus not only use the word tunzi for ‘shadow, spirit, ghost,’ but they consider that at death the shadow of a man will in some way depart from the corpse, to become an ancestral spirit. The Basutos not only call the spirit remaining after death the seriti or ‘shadow,’ but they think that if a man walks on the river bank, a crocodile may seize his shadow in the water and draw him in; while in Old Calabar there is found the same identification of the spirit with the ukpon or ‘shadow,’ for a man to lose which is fatal. There are thus found among the lower races not only the types of those familiar classic terms, the skia and umbra, but also what seems the fundamental thought of the stories of shadowless men still current in the folklore of Europe, and familiar to modern readers in Chamisso’s tale of Peter Schlemihl. Thus the dead in Purgatory knew that Dante was alive when they saw that, unlike theirs, his figure cast a shadow on the ground. Other attributes are taken into the notion of soul or spirit, with especial regard to its being the cause of life. Thus the Caribs, connecting the pulses with spiritual beings, and especially considering that in the heart dwells man’s chief soul, destined to a future heavenly life, could reasonably use the one word iouanni for ‘soul, life, heart.’
The Triune Man — one of whole body, soul and spirit — is a truly profound concept. It has it that our being is far more than our material self, and we know this intuitively even if we deny it. GRRM is obviously aware of this and employs it throughout ASOIAF:
”Do you believe in ghosts, Maester?” he asked Qyburn.
The man’s face grew strange. “Once, at the Citadel, I came into an empty room and saw an empty chair. Yet I knew a woman had been there, only a moment before. The cushion was dented where she’d sat, the cloth was still warm, and her scent lingered in the air. If we leave our smells behind us when we leave a room, surely something of our souls must remain when we leave this life?” Qyburn spread his hands. “The archmaesters did not like my thinking, though. Well, Marwyn did, but he was the only one.”
There are discrepancies found in our cultures and stories in what exactly makes up our material/spiritual being complex, but there are clues available in both real life and in the ASOIAF universe which might indicate our true nature.
The concept of separating the body from the soul and spirit was recognized by the Greeks, and later was incorporated into Christian thought through St. Paul’s work in building the Christian church.
Our “body” or soma is self-evidently our material selves, our tissue and bone and humors. It is that which we can measure, the tangible and physical portion of our being. It is animated by the spark of life — literally — as our muscles and movements are generated by electrical fields. Dead flesh can be made to jump when hooked up to batteries. Organs can be transferred to others who need them more as if they were used car parts salvaged from a junked model. Our neural network flashes and transmits information given the appropriate stimulus.
The body is constantly growing and dying at once, requiring sustenance and oxygen to prevent decay. It is constantly bombarded with stress — disease and infection and injury — and has evolved mechanisms to respond to these stressors in a manner which may heal or even gain strength and resiliency against further attacks.
Our DNA has encoded all the information that has been required for our species to evolve over the past three billion years to where we are today. Our genetic material has been handed down from our mothers and fathers through countless generations, for better and for worse, giving us the raw materials through which we manifest our fates.
The result of this is that our body is our primary means to observe our immediate environment. The five senses are constantly gathering data which is transferred near the speed of electricity from our receptors to the synapses of our nervous system, where it is processed and, if necessary, responded to.
However, this is not as simple as it first seems. Scientists and engineers working in the field of artificial intelligence discovered that objects could not be merely identified on their own using sensors, as the objects themselves could not be easily delineated from the surrounding environment. Robots with AI would be overwhelmed with the amount of information they received and could not make easy distinctions. This is known as the “frame problem” and it stimulated a bevy of activity within the world of cognitive science.
What the frame problem discovered was that humans (and, really, all species) do not perceive objects first, but rather we observe the value of that which we perceive long before we process the information to describe what we see.
As the Swiss psychologist Ludwig Binswanger noted in Being in the World:
What we perceive are “first or foremost” not impressions of taste, tone, smell or touch, not even things or objects, but meanings.”
Your interaction of the world is on multiple levels. You react to pain or stimulus, for example. But meaning starts first, so you sense pain first before you understand what the object is. This has evolutionary advantages, such as giving us the ability to react to danger instead of processing it like an idiot getting eaten by a jungle cat or whatever like the monkeys we are.
Context matters too, and your brain can quickly put together the significance of the observation with what it already knows. Say you see a cliff. Except you don’t see a cliff, you observe see something that you can fall off and kill you before you actually realize that it is a cliff. But a cliff on its own doesn’t mean that much, so you don’t worry about dying or whatever in this context. Except in this case, you’re in a car on a road and the bridge is out and you are careening toward it at 80 miles per hour and you think “holy shit, this is going to hurt” and you sweat and tense up and prepare for the worse. Except, again, you are also aware that you’re in a interactive 3D ride at an amusement park sitting in a rocking theatre seat in front of a screen showing yourself in a car that’s speeding toward the edge of a cliff and you know that it’s probably best not to shit your pants in case you ever want to visit that amusement park again.
Immanuel Kant posited that an a priori structure is necessary to perceive the world. This isn’t just an abstract theory of a long-dead philosopher, but the subject of modern neuroscience:
In this paper, we would like to take a closer look at and build on one of the key features of the enactive approach, namely the natural roots of intentionality, a phenomenological notion indicating that experience is always “about something.” To this aim, we will argue that for the environment to become meaningful for an organism, the latter must be endowed with a hierarchical set of a priori (albeit malleable) structures that somehow mirror selected aspects of it—in line with Kant’s notion of transcendental. Since the transcendental is also at the very basis of phenomenology, we hope that underscoring its embodied roots can provide a useful inspiration for future interdisciplinary research into the mind-brain problem.
So, yes, our experiences are predicated on our particular frames of references, and we are unable to perceive information without our perceptions being embodied.
Therefore, our brains are maps of meaning. We perceive the patterns of the world and we evaluate their usefulness or value before we consider what the objects are. This is why we seek to recognize meaning in dreams or symbols in the world around us. It is in our nature to seek meaning.
And it is necessary that our observations are encapsulated within a body that provides these maps of meaning, because value is subjective to the observer.
Our bodies grow, suffer, weaken and die. There is a natural end to our mortal being, one which seems to defy the efforts of modern science. Even with the eradication of the majority of illnesses which had stricken us for most of our history, the threads of our life remain inextricably limited, almost as if some creator had decreed it such to ensure that the species and society continues to thrive because of (rather than in spite of) our demise. Lachesis can only measure this thread so long.
Resurrection is impossible under our physical construct. Nothing is more of a sure thing than death, and it is only through faith can one come to believe otherwise. It is this finality that gives death its significance in our life, and our awareness of our impending demise which gives our life significance.
And yet, we as humans continue to endure with the impossible belief that there is more to us than meets the eye.
Soul Meets Body
In “A Psychological Theory of Types,” Jung discourages us from delineating the body and mind (or psyche) too clearly.
Character is the fixed individual form of a human being. Since there is a form of body as well as of behaviour or mind, a general characterology must teach the significance of both physical and psychic features. The enigmatic oneness of the living being has as its necessary corollary the fact that bodily traits are not merely physical, nor mental traits merely psychic. The continuity of nature knows nothing of those antithetical distinctions which the human intellect is forced to set up as helps to understanding.
The distinction between mind and body is an artificial dichotomy, a discrimination which is unquestionably based far more on the peculiarity of intellectual understanding than on the nature of things. In fact, so intimate is the intermingling of bodily and psychic traits that not only can we draw far-reaching inferences as to the constitution of the psyche from the constitution of the body, be we can also infer from psychic peculiarities the corresponding bodily characteristics.
Yet this distinction persists because of utility of the perception is provides for us of our environment and of our selves.
While the relationship between the body and soul has been remarked upon from cultures around the world, this essay will pay particular attention to the Christian version for the nonce. Northrup Frye believes that the Platonic notion of the soul was adopted by St. Paul, but only partially:
The Platonic idea, of course, goes with the notion of the soul, which is thought of in terms of the metaphor of “in.” Human consciousness feels that it is inside a body that it knows next to nothing about , and so it adopts figures like those of a bird in a cage or a prisoner in a cell to express it. Then, at death, the soul separates from the body; but although the doctrine of the soul certainly influenced Christian theology to a very considerable extent, I don’t think it’s a Biblical doctrine; I think it’s a very Greek one. As far as I can read it, the centre of Christianity is not the salvation of the soul, but the Resurrection of the body.
Our soul is our “consciousness,” which developed as part of our human evolution. The soul also contains our mental acuity, our emotions and our dreams; psychologically, it is not human matter but is intrinsically linked to our body.
In this sense, our soma and psyche contain both the Freudian id and ego, which represent our base motivations and our consciousness respectively. Jung called this ego “the centre of the field of consciousness.”
It was this development of the consciousness which was represented by the story of Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, creating the downfall of Man. With consciousness comes the burden of being aware of our suffering and our impending demise. This is what separates us from the animals.
The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus says that our soul (psyche) is incredibly complex:
If you went in search of it, you would not find the boundaries of the soul, though you travelled every road — so deep is its measure.
To Heraclitus, the measure of the soul is the Logos.
In Christianity, the Logos is an incredibly sophisticated term which defies specific definition, but it seems to mean something like our ability to reason or articulate, or an expression of how we perceive or rationalize the world and act within it. From the opening line his gospel, the writer John introduces the concept:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Nietzsche follows up on this idea in his third Untimely Meditations essay:
How could the human being know itself? It is a thing dark and veiled; and if the hare has seven skins, the human can slough off seventy times seven and still not be able to say, “Now that is what you really are, that is no longer outer shell.”
To him, the psyche is constituted on impossibly complex, multidimensional layers of drives and impulses. These drives are usually in conflict with each other, which generates confusion and suffering but also generates creation and procreation. The Logos is the consciousness and articulation of these drives.
Jonathan Pageau, the Orthodox Christian icon carver, believes that the Logos is in everything, imbuing them with meaning. He says that Logos is
Truth, meaning expressed in word, the search for purpose. Logos transforms chaos and potentiality into being, and in opposition to this: lies, deceit, resentment, gradually dismantling the world, and plunge it into ever-growing chaos.
Yeah, it’s the soul and meaning and action of everything.
Though the soul is contained within the body (or a body), the former can be considered immortal. Immortal it may be, but the soul may still suffer along with or apart from the body. This corruption of the soul can be caused by external stressors, which manifest into stresses onto the psyche.
Mircea Eliade shows how this view of the corrupted soul as a manifestation of the corporeal corruption transits many cultures:
That the apparitional human soul bears the likeness of its fleshly body, is the principle implicitly accepted by all who believe it really and objectively present in dreams and visions. My own view is that nothing but dreams and visions could have ever put into men’s minds such an idea as that of souls being ethereal images of bodies. It is thus habitually taken for granted in animistic philosophy, savage or civilized, that souls set free from the earthly body are recognized by a likeness to it which they still retain, whether as ghostly wanderers on earth or inhabitants of the world beyond the grave. . . . This world-wide thought, coming into view here in a multitude of cases from all grades of culture, needs no collection of ordinary instances to illustrate it. But a quaint and special group of beliefs will serve to display the thoroughness with which the soul is thus conceived as an image of the body. As a consistent corollary to such an opinion, it is argued that the mutilation of the body will have a corresponding effect upon the soul, and very low savage races have philosophy enough to work out this idea. Thus it was recorded of the Indians of Brazil by one of the early European visitors, that they ‘believe that the dead arrive in the other world wounded or hacked to pieces, in fact just as they left this.’ Thus, too, the Australian who has slain his enemy will cut off the right thumb of the corpse, so that although the spirit will become a hostile ghost, it cannot throw with its mutilated hand the shadowy spear, and may be safely left to wander, malignant but harmless. . . .
To Jung, the growth of our consciousness comes from the interaction between our body and soul with the “collective unconscious,” i.e. our archetypal imprints present at birth. Therefore, the corruption of the soul could also originate from a disconnect with the soul’s collective unconscious, i.e. the spirit.
Spirit in the Sky
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come”
- Acts 1:8
Northrup Frye notes that the Christian Bible is very specific about the difference between the “soul” and the “spirit”:
All the languages relevant to the Bible distinguish between the soul and the spirit. In Hebrew, they are usually nephesh and ruach; in Greek, they are psyche and pneuma; in Latin, they are anima and spiritus; and you have similar distinctions in modern languages, as in English between soul and spirit, and German Seele and Geist, and so on.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (2:14-16) signifies that there is a distinct spirit of God:
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.
Paul discriminates between the spiritual man as body (the pneumatikos) and the soma psychikos, or “natural man.” The problem arises here because the King James version of the Bible does not translate distinctly between the “soul” and “spirit.”
In case there is any confusion on this, Paul reiterates his differentiation between soul and spirit in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because what Paul says is soma psychikos for “natural man,” the man with the soul; in other words, Paul is drawing the essential line not between the physical body and the soul, but between the soul and the spirit. And the soma psychikos, the soul-body complex, seems to be a part of what he means elsewhere by “flesh and blood” as distinct from “spirit,” which is of course a metaphor from “breath” and expresses the sense of a life which includes bodily life.
Therefore, the “spirit” is our eternal selves, which exists beyond time and place. Our spirit defines us as individuals, as it is the manifestation of the unity of the soul and body, as well as the unifying agent for all souls. It’s the guiding principle that inspires us to action and words. It is often confused with the soul yet remains a distinct concept that works in conjunction with the soul.
As mentioned above, our spirit is our pneuma, which is the Greek word for “breath” or moving air. This make perfect sense when you consider what you are doing when you breathe; you connect the outer world with your inner world, or your environment with your soul and body, by moving air in and out. When you stop breathing, you lose consciousness or even die, and your animating spirit leaves you. But when you harness your breath, you can articulate your thoughts and reasoning and connect with others, thus spreading your spirit to your surrounding environment.
For Christians, the Holy Spirit is the means through which the combination of God the Father with the Son (the Logos) inspires us into committing thoughts, words and deeds. The iconography expresses the Spirit as a dove, a creature which links the heavens with the earth. The dove rains fire onto the tongues of the disciples on Pentecost, infusing them with the fire spirit to proclaim the Logos of God.
As such, the pneuma is also associated with warmth, heat or fire. It is the Divine Spark in Gnosticism, or the fire stolen from Olympus by Prometheus. Freud would say that the pneuma is akin to the superegothough his focus on the association of guilt isn’t an exact analogy. The German equivalent to spirit or pneuma is geist , or “ghost”.
Then there is the association with the spirit in the archaic ritualistic sacrifice. Items of value are burned as an offering to the gods, and both god and man consumes the sacrifice. The key is the smoke which rises to the heavens, “pleasing” the nose of the gods, who then bestow their favour if the sacrifice is appropriately respectful. The smoke represents the mingling of the spirit of man with that of the gods. This is also the origin of incense in religious rituals, used to either drive out malevolent demons or to connect with the divine. The practice of burning incense is prevalent in cultures around the world for similar purposes, and thus the symbol of smoke is archetypal.
(There is also an association of the spirit with the shadow, but that’s a thought for another essay.)
By following the formula of the Triune Man as defined in the New Testament (and the Greeks before it), one may be able to interpret the meaning of extra-spiritual beings within the ASOIAF story.
Take my Wight, Please
”The ones the Others kill don’t stay dead … and they remember.”
Wights clearly possess material form. They are dead and decaying beings animated by some unknown and unknowable magic force. While this force can propel the wight to do tasks like walking and fighting and at least some forms of perception, it does not prevent the decomposition process, as Ser Alliser found to his embarrassment when he took Othor’s disembodied hand to King’s Landing. As cold preserves, however, the wights seem to last a long time in the North and will likely serve useful as the Others take the cold and battle south of the Wall with them.
Wights somehow have a consciousness that retains some of their knowledge during their living years, though this too is corrupted. They remember, after all. In this way, wights retain their soul, but only their most essential consciousness seems to be retained for the purposes of their animating spirit.
The Others are able to infuse their malevolent spirit into the wights, and this possessive spirit animates them to play out malign behaviour.
In this sense, the wights are slaves to the Others though they are barely conscious of it. Their consciousness stems from their living selves, though it doesn’t seem that their consciousness is emergent after they died. Their psyche does not grow or mature or emerge in any fashion, as if they are emotionally and intellectually stunted.
Their souls are no longer living and they no longer perceive and know in the same manner as they did whilst among the quick. Their eyes still see but it’s as if some other entity is the one doing the perceiving. There is another consciousness at play. In the meantime, their own souls decay as their bodies disintegrate because their bodies are incapable of generating new consciousness. It’s a pretty shitty existence, so say the least.
There is’t much more we can say about the wights because we do not have the luxury of a wight POV. We have only glimpses of activity and conjecture to go on at this point. Perhaps Sam will uncover more at the Citadel in TWOW. For now, let us decide to view them as more than zombies while somewhat less than man. They are rotting body and fading soul and animating spirit. That’s all we know.
We know nothing.
The Dreaming Tree
At the center of the grove an ancient weirwood brooded over a small pool where the waters were black and cold. “The heart tree,” Ned called it. The weirwood’s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful. They were old, those eyes; older than Winterfell itself.
- Catelyn I, AGOT
Martin has gone above and beyond in showing that weirwoods are representative of our material selves. They are bone and blood, with hands and faces and eyes that watch us. They have a permanence that extends beyond time, like our own material being. The difference is that weirwoods do not decay. They can die when tampered with, via fire or poison, if the Blackwoods can be believed.
Like us humans, weirwoods have a structure designed to capture souls, also known as the old gods. As Lucifer means Lightbringer points out:
(T)he weirwood is the host, and the greenseer the invader. The greenseer sacrifices his physical body to the tree, either by allowing it to slowly consume his or her flesh as Bloodraven is being consumed by the trees, or by our hypothesized scenario where the first seers to enter a weirwood were actually killed in order to go inside it, with the heart tree drinking and tasting the blood as Bran does in his last vision through Winterfell’s heart tree in ADWD. The greenseer allows himself to be consumed by the tree, but in doing so actually invades the tree’s consciousness and becomes reborn inside the weirwoodnet, a part of the godhood. The greenseer, in general, represents the fire animating the weirwood and the heart in the heart tree, but he essentially has to die to get in there.
The symbol that best depicts this is that of the “ember in the ashes.”
My interpretation is that weirwoods themselves do not possess a singular soul in and of themselves; the tree is not an old god. Instead, weirwoods are capable of possessing other souls (consciousnesses) who become old gods. Let us go even further and suggest that any living thing on Planetos can be a host for spirits. Weirwoods are simply the best for this and absorb most of the old-god spirits simply because of their extreme longevity. Weirwoods preserve, they are frozen fire. And other trees could suffice (hence the “watcher” faces carved by the wildlings into the drunkard ash, the plank-bridge chestnut and the great oak outside of Mole’s Town in ADWD). But, as The World of Ice & Fire says, “The gods the children worshipped were the nameless ones that would one day become the gods of the First Men—the innumerable gods of the streams and forests and stones.”
“You will die a dozen deaths, boy, and every one will hurt … but when your true death comes, you will live again. The second life is simpler and sweeter, they say.”
A “second life” in an animal extends the life of the original person (a skinchanger but possibly any person with consciousness) and, because the animal has no consciousness of its own, the skinchanger’s consciousness disappears. Life becomes sweeter, simpler.
A second life in a tree preserves it longer, while a second life in a weirwood goes on forever if left alone. In this sense, the trees go on dreaming. They absorb this consciousness — thousands of consciousnesses, really — and they mingle to form a collective spirit of the old gods.
The most optimal catalyst to eject a soul into another vessel is death, which is why skinchangers, greenseers and greendreamers have all likely had near-death experiences (though not all near-death experiences provide these abilities).
Years later he had tried to find his parents, to tell them that their Lump had become the great Varamyr Sixskins, but both of them them were dead and burned. Gone into the trees and streams, gone into the rocks and earth. Gone to dirt and ashes.
Likewise, the best medium for soul transference is either fire, which releases the spirit to the air, or blood, which releases spirits to the earth. Hence the ability of the followers of the Red God to see visions of spirits in flames (generated by burning wood harboring the spirits), whereas greenseers and greendreamers may interact with the old-god spirits in the weirwoods via blood-sap and the tree’s vascular network.
This is the basis of my speculative hypothesis on why the war between the First Men and the children of the forest occurred. The First Men were not only cutting down weirwoods, which was bad enough, but they were burning the weirwoods because weirwood fire provided the best opportunity to see old-god visions. Doing this literally destroyed or emancipated those spirits within the weirwoods, and the emancipated old god out of a sufficient body cannot project its spirit.
The Pact, then, included the bargain that children of the forest would teach or bequeath the ability for men to use the weirwood-net without burning and destroying the trees, thus preserving the spirits in the wood. It’s why the Green Men still protect the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces; they were the first to inherit this ability and pass it on to others through bloodlines.
Using fire as a catalyst to release the soul also works with wights, who cannot be reanimated. Sure, their bodies are rendered to ash, but it is just as important that their souls will not live in eternal torment or, worse, infest the bodies of the living.
Or maybe this is all bullshit.
Regardless, weirwoods can be viewed as a body possessing other souls with the same spirit. So kind of like the wights, except they aren’t as dead and are slightly more creepy.
Warg that Lonesome Thistle
Martin dedicates an entire prologue on the process of skinchanging in ADWD, which means we should pay close attention.
Dogs were the easiest beasts to bond with; they lived so close to men that they were almost human. Slipping into a dog’s skin was like putting on an old boot, its leather softened by wear. As a boot was shaped to accept a foot, a dog was shaped to accept a collar, even a collar no human eye could see. Wolves were harder. A man might befriend a wolf, even break a wolf, but no man could truly tamea wolf. “Wolves and women wed for life,” Haggon often said. “You take one, that’s a marriage. The wolf is part of you from that day on, and you’re part of him. Both of you will change.”
Other beasts were best left alone, the hunter had declared. Cats were vain and cruel, always ready to turn on you. Elk and deer were prey; wear their skins too long, and even the bravest man became a coward. Bears, boars, badgers, weasels … Haggon did not hold with such.
Birds were the worst, to hear him tell it. “Men were not meant to leave the earth. Spend too much time in the clouds and you never want to come back down again. I know skinchangers who’ve tried hawks, owls, ravens. Even in their own skins, they sit moony, staring up at the bloody blue.”
Given that the body and soul are intrinsically linked, this concept makes a lot of sense. When your soul is embodied in another vessel, it begins to take on the characteristics of that vessel. This is especially so when dealing with mortal animals rather than the immortal weirwoods, whose primary characteristic is that they do not die nor decay.
The human partner of this relationship is the one which possesses the consciousness, and so it can direct the actions and words of the body of the animal, to a degree. However, because the animal partner is incapable of consciousness, the human soul begins to lose its own ability to be aware and act with deliberation.
At this point, the merged body and soul begin to adopt the spirit of the vessel. If these spirits are not aligned, both beings become capricious, resentful or worse. Varamyr knew his snow bear was less than pleased in being enslaved and would destroy him if she could, and a bear isn’t even conscious.
He summoned all the strength still in him, leapt out of his own skin, and forced himself inside her.
Thistle arched her back and screamed.
Abomination. Was that her, or him, or Haggon? He never knew. His old flesh fell back into the snowdrift as her fingers loosened. The spear wife twisted violently, shrieking. His shadowcat used to fight him wildly, snapping at trees and rocks and empty air, but this was worse. “Get out, get out!” he heard her own mouth shouting. Her body staggered, fell, and rose again, her hands flailed, her legs jerked this way and that in some grotesque dance as his spirit and her own fought for the flesh. She sucked down a mouthful of frigid air, and Varamyr had half a heartbeat to glory in the taste of it and the strength of this young body before her teeth snapped together and filled his mouth with blood. She raised her hands to his face. He tried to push them down again, but the hands would not obey, and she was clawing at his eyes. Abomination, he remembered, drowning in blood and pain and madness. When he tried to scream, she spat their tongue out.
Varamyr’s attempted takeover of Thistle’s person, which already possessed her own consciousness and spirit, went as well as could be expected. Given her mad, violent response, even such a vile act as rape would have been more humane than his abominable atrocity. Enslaving a person’s body and soul is about as awful as anything we can imagine.
Imagine how Hodor felt.
In truth, the legends of the skinchangers are many, but the most common—brought from beyond the Wall by men of the Night’s Watch, and recorded at the Wall by leptons and maesters of centuries past—hold that the skinchangers not only communicated with beasts, but could control them by having their spirits mingle.
- The World of Ice and Fire
The prime example where the spirits of two beings are near-perfectly aligned are the direwolf pups and the Stark children. Despite what the Freys or other slanderers might say about the Starks, they aren’t werewolves. At least, not per se. But they aren’t far off either. After all, what would a warg that stayed too long in the second skin be other than a bloodthirsty beast with the awareness of man?
Oh sure, every reader loves the Starks. Try viewing them from the perspective of a westerlands crofter when the northern army marches past on a goat trail and tell me that there isn’t a little more of a monster in them.
Why were the Stark children able to warg with their direwolves? Perhaps the Starks had an innate, inherent ability to bond with direwolves, as their sigil suggest; however, we may want to consider that the near-death experience of the wolf pups after the death of the shewolf allowed their spirits to merge with the children, rather than the other way around. It’s almost as if the pups originally did the warging.
Regardless, the wolf pairs never seemed to cause any strife in the ensuing months at Winterfell. The children apparently kept their vow to tend to the beasts themselves and there seemed no violent outbursts against any others within the castle or without. That’s not to say all others were not nervous being around the freakishly sized predators. Horses in particular were agitated by them. But their spirits were certainly aligned with the nature of the children.
Ghost ran with them for a time and then vanished among the trees. Without the direwolf, Jon felt almost naked.
Ghost and Jon in particular share the same animated spirit, and from time to time they can share the same consciousness. But not all the time. Because of this, Ghost seems to tack toward a particularly consistent spirit far more than the prevaricating Jon. Ghost senses when it is appropriate to act and when to allow events to occur that will influence Jon toward his appropriate path.
Jon kicked his mare, spinning her in a circle. The boys were all around him now, closing from every side.
”For this night…,” Halder trotted in from the left.
”… and all the nights to come,” finished Pyp. He reached over for Jon’s reins. “So here are your choices. Kill me, or come back with me.”
Jon lifted his sword … and lowered it, helpless. “Damn you,” he said. “Damn you all.”
”Do we have to bind your hands, or will you give us your word you’ll ride back peaceful?” asked Halder.
”I won’t run, if that’s what you mean.” Ghost moved out from under the trees and Jon glared at him. “Small help you were,” he said. The deep red eyes looked at him knowingly.
Ghost is the one who acted with the proper purpose. He knew when to disappear during Jon’s desertion, at the moment when his presence might have compelled Jon to fight back against his brothers, returning only after Jon submitted to them and his possible execution as a deserter.
Ghost is white and as quiet as … well, as a ghost. That’s Jon’s excuse for the name, but there is a strong theory that the recently murdered Lord Commander Snow will have a second life and merge his soul with Ghost, who’s nearby at the Wall but once again conveniently absent from Jon’s conflict with his Night’s Watch brothers. The theory on the Jon’s possible resurrection will involve the sacrifice of Ghost at the grove of weirwoods north of the Wall. Given the amount of time Jon’s soul will be merged with Ghost, it is possible from the Pageauean perspective that a piece of the wild wolf’s soul will also return to Jon’s corrupted body. This would likely change Jon’s persona in a not-unsignificant way, though one cannot help but wonder if this might also provide a more singular direction for the transformed Snow.
However, viewing as Jung, animals (including direwolves) are not conscious; Ghost does not have a soul and thus cannot what he does not have. Only Jon’s soul exists and is retained in such a resurrection scenario. In the Jungian perspective, through his descent to and ascent from death, Jon may undergo the process of individuation, the “wholeness of the personality.” We’ll get to this a bit further down.
Whatever the case may be, the perspective of viewing Ghost as representing Jon’s animating spirit in distinction of Ghost’s own Logos seems to make sense. When merged, the beings share both a body and soul and thus the same spirit, and while Jon’s separates from Ghost’s body, their spirit remains more or less true.
It’s likely that the souls of all the Stark children merged with their wolves. The books confirm this with the Summer and Bran pairing. Robb and Grey Wind (a ghost of a name if there ever was one) share a strong, regal spirit, while Arya and Nymeria shared a feisty, intrepid one. Rickon certainly takes after his Uncle Brandon with his wild and ferocious spirit as manifested in Shaggydog (Shagga?). And while it does not seem apparent, Sansa and Lady are both trusting to the point of naiveté, and they both pay the price for this, as does their spirit.
And theirs aren’t the only spirits in Winterfell.
A Smoke in Winterfell
There are ghosts in Winterfell. And I am one of them.
Once again, I point you to JoeMagician and his piece on ASOIAF ghosts in which he shows the probability of “disembodied spirits running around Westeros.” Indeed there are, but none more so than what we see in Winterfell.
The castle is infested with spirits of the dead. It’s the realm of Hades, the King of Winter. It is home to hidden icy crypts, watched over by demonic gargoyles, surrounded by a stygian moat and warded by hellhounds. The old parts of the castle seem to pre-date the coming of the First Men, improbably; the walls themselves are old as death. At the onset of winter, it becomes a frozen labyrinth.
Jon thinks of the seat of the north as a ghost in and of itself:
Battles had been fought at Winterfell before, but never one without a Stark on one side or the other. “The castle is a shell,” he said, “not Winterfell, but the ghost of Winterfell.”
(Wait, what? A Stark “on one side or the other”? What the hell does that mean?)
Outsiders are well-aware of these ghosts:
Catelyn had never liked this godswood.
She had been born a Tully, a Riverrun far to the south, on the Red Fork of the Trident. The godswood there was a garden, bright and airy, where tall redwoods spread dappled shadows across tinkling streams, birds sang from hidden nests, and the air was spicy with the scent of flowers.
The gods of Winterfell kept a different sort of wood. It was a dark, primal place, three acres of old forest untouched for ten thousand years as the gloomy castle rose around it. It smelled of moist earth and decay. No redwoods grew here. This was a wood of stubborn sentinel trees armored in grey-green needles, of mighty oaks, of ironwoods as old as the realm itself. Here thick black trunks crowded close together while twisted branches wove a dense canopy overhead and misshapen roots wrestled beneath the soil. This was a place of deep silence and brooding shadows, and the gods who lived here had no names.
Cat’s not the only one creeped out by this.
Winterfell was full of ghosts for Theon Greyjoy.
Perhaps the most evocative chapters in ADWD are Theon’s POVs, wherein he takes on several different personas. Earlier in ASOIAF, after being symbolically struck down in Winterfell and then sacrificed on a tree in the Dreadfort (as the Bolton sigil in HBO’s Game of Thrones suggests), he becomes Reek. He’s Reek for a few chapters, then once he arrives at the Stark’s seat in ADWD he undergoes a transformation (an apotheosis?). He becomes, in turn, a “prince of Winterfell,” a “turncloak,” a “ghost in Winterfell,” until he finally comes back round as “Theon” in the chapter which sees his emancipation.
“His lordship likes him stinky,” said Big Walder. “That’s why he named him Reek”
The etymology of Theon is pretty clear. It reads “θεόν” in Greek and means “belonging to the gods.” Despite Big Walder’s claim, however, the origin of Reek’s name is a little more interesting. Today, it means “horrifically pungent like stained old underwear found in an abandoned dorm room,” but the root of the word comes from ye Olde English rēc, meaning “smoke.”
That’s right — Theon Reek is the “smoke of the gods.”
Theon wondered if he would ever see the Drowned God’s watery halls, or if his ghost would linger here at Winterfell. Dead is dead. Better dead than Reek.
As mentioned a few chapters above, sacrificial smoke is an archetypal element representing the spirit that connects man to the divine. Theon as Reek is literally the ghost in Winterfell. Theon initially died in that castle when Ramsey betrayed him before he flayed him. It is at that point that Theon as a body and soul no longer exists or, rather, that his person is possessed by a malevolent captor. Theon has no name, just like the old gods. But though Ramsey can dominate and enslave Theon’s body and soul, his spirit is another matter.
It is Reek who haunts the grounds and keeps, this prince of Winterfell, this prince of death, Greyjoy as grey as ash, his cloak of skin turned inside out, his body but a shell for a ghost. Yet his spirit endures.
He is accused — weakly, it should be noted — of the murders in the castle while the Boltons and Freys and Manderlys and whoever else is trapped inside this death of winter. Why him? Why not? Some spirit is haunting them. One cannot hope to reside in the icy cold hell that is Winterfell and think it possible forgo the Erinyesian wrath of the vengeful spirits within those walls. Death was inevitable with these ghosts.
Of course, the ghost of Wintefell is physically incapable of murdering anyone, even if his shattered psyche possessed the strength of will to do so, which it doesn’t. But why does he act as though he is to blame? It seems that way, doesn’t it? That he has a guilty conscious in his point of view? There is a malevolent spirit wandering throughout after all. Why not Reek?
And what happens when this malevolence come to a head? Roose Bolton expels the infestation from Winterfell and, at this precise time, Reek exorcises his spirit across the stygian moat and barricades of Hades back into the realm of the living. His body is mangled and soul is forever scarred, but both are now free from their torturous captor. He is aligned with a new sense of purpose, at last on his way to becoming the heroic whole.
His name is Theon.
Our spiritual selves
What does this story teach us about our own selves?
To Jung, the growth of our consciousness comes from the interaction between the convergence of the soul and the collective unconscious, which connects the person to the spirit of man. This is known as individuation.
By the process of individuation, Jung urges us to reach completion rather than perfection, which is an unattainable goal.
One should never think that man can reach perfection, he can only aim at completion – not to be perfect but to be complete. That would be the necessity and the indispensable condition if there were any question of perfection at all. For how can you perfect a thing if it is not complete?
Make it complete first and see what it is then. But to make it complete is already a mountain of a task, and by the time you arrive at absolute completion, you find that you are already dead, so you never reach that preliminary condition for perfecting yourself.
Jung believes that the way to bring oneself to being complete or whole is to acknowledge the unconscious components of one’s personality and bring them to light. As Jung scholar Jolande Jacobi explains:
It remained Jung’s untiring scientific and psychotherapeutic endeavor to work out a methodological procedure for bringing these components to consciousness and associating them with the ego, in order to realize the “greater personality” which is potentially present in every individual.
Dreams are one way to become aware of the unconscious components of the personality. They are revelation of our unconscious done in symbolic form, the archetype of which are common throughout cultures and times. These archetypes are expressed time and time again through the means of myth, folktales, prophesy, song, art and drama. The particularities of these stories change from place to place and time to time, but the underlying truths remain consistent.
However, we hinder the individuation process with our personas, those masks we use to help us conform and integrate with our surrounding environment.
While our persona helps us get along with others, it also prevents journeying into the subconscious and discovering truths about our selves:
One cannot individuate as long as one is playing a role to oneself; the convictions one has about oneself are the most subtle form of persona and the most subtle obstacle against any true individuation. One can admit practically anything, yet somewhere one retains the idea that one is nevertheless so-and-so, and this is always a sort of final argument which counts apparently as a plus; yet it functions as an influence against true individuation.
It is a most painful procedure to tear off those veils, but each step forward in psychological development means just that, the tearing off of a new veil. We are like onions with many skins, and we have to peel ourselves again and again in order to get at the real core.
We take this heroic journey to the depths of our unconscious in order to identify those primordial drives or instincts which form the basis of our psyche (e.g. sexual impulses). We explore these drives as a means to provide meaning to our suffering lives, but this can lead to either a subservience to the drives, or the rejection of them completely.
Central to this is what Nietzsche calls the “organizing idea,” which is the ”dominant master drive that forms the living centre of the psyche and co-opts all the other drives to act in subordination to its end.”
From Ecco Homo, Nietzsche says:
The organizing “idea” that is destined to rule keeps growing deep down — it begins to command; slowly it leads us back from side roads and wrong roads; it prepares single qualities and fitnesses that will one day prove to be indispensable as a means toward a whole — one by one, it trains all subservient capacities before giving any hint of the dominant task, “goal,” “aim,” or “meaning.”
As the Academy of Ideas website explains:
The organizing idea, in other words, arranges the plethora of competing forces in one’s psyche in a manner that allows one to strive with single minded devotion towards a heroic goal which gives meaning to life.
This organizing idea is the Logos, and its alignment generates our spirit. If there is harmony among these drives, if our words are true, then we act toward a meaningful spirit, and become the hero.
As these books show, if our selves are not properly aligned and our drives out of harmony, we can fall into our own personal hell. We can allow ourselves to let malevolent spirits take over our lives, then we become bitter and resentful, frozen on our past experience without growing our inner consciousness. In this sense, we are like zombies, doing the bidding of another, wasting ourselves as we grow old, decay and fester for a long time, unless someone else puts us out of our misery.
Or it could be worse. We could end up imposing our wretched spirit onto the world. We could be dominating someone else, maybe a loved one, terrorizing them, not allowing them an opportunity to live their own lives or to discover themselves. The results of such a situation can be catastrophic for both you and those around you.
In order to act the hero, we must first acknowledge the various components and drives of our selves and then act on them. As Jon matures within the Night’s Watch, he was aware of his dreams but did not understand what they were telling him. Nevertheless, he persisted in what he thought was his duty, even at the threat of his own life. When he faltered, he was not entirely with his spirit. His death marks the opportunity for him to kill the boy and let the man be born through his animating spirit.
Like Theon having his skin peeled away both figuratively and metaphorically, in order to put ourselves in touch with the spirit manifest from our unconscious selves, we too must also strip away our personas and come to terms with our true selves — body, soul, spirit — as a means to become truly whole.
I’m not privy to GRRM’s own thoughts on the mysteries of the soul. It is possible that he has not broken down the concept of the triune man — of body and soul and spirit — as a basis of his story, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t channeling this concept either. Jung teaches us that we get in touch with our collective unconscious (i.e. our archetypal imprints present at birth) through dreams and visions and stories and myth. These are the realms of Martin, and it is the reader who engages in these realms by our active participation in this process.
Remember that it isn’t the monster on the page that scares you on the page; it’s the realization that you have that monster within you. The horror dwells deep in your soul, the part that connects with the collective unconscious, and there is nothing more terrifying than bringing it to the surface.