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There are various religions in the Game of Thrones universe such as Faith of the Seven, Many-Faced God, Lord of Light etc; some seem to be based on real world ones and I read somewhere that the Faith of seven is inspired from old catholic beliefs which I don't have a link to.

If it's true then what are the real world analogues or influences for the religions in Game of Thrones?

  • somewhat related scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/79733/… – Mithoron Jun 16 '15 at 16:47
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    I've heard it argued that the Red Priests' faith is based on Zoroastrianism (a religion that spread from Persia and included fire worship and an opposition between a good deity and an evil one) mixed with some of the early history of how Christianity spread across Europe (e.g. burning heathens) but I can't offer any sources for that. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jun 16 '15 at 17:26
  • An interesting fact about Zoroastrianists is that they never burned people. In fact, they never even cremated their dead (which seems odd, given their obsession with fire), and it's because they equated death with evil and told people to stay away from corpses and their evil aura/forces. Indeed, fire itself was too valuable and pure to be tainted by the stench of evil that death brings. – Ghoti and Chips Nov 2 '16 at 22:45
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Short summary of the analogue religions, at a glance:

  • Faith of the Seven ≈ Catholic Church [confirmed analogue]
  • The Sparrows ≈ Protestant Reformation [confirmed analogue]
  • Old Gods of the Forest ≈ Animistic or Pantheistic Druidry [roughly equivalent]
  • The Drowned God ≈ Norse folk religion [weak analogue]
  • Lord of Light ≈ Zoroastrianism (fire worship) and Manichaeism (duality) [strong analogue]

Below I go into detail. There are many religions I did not include, either because they aren't relevant on the show, or (in the case of Many Faced God) I could not find strong enough connections to speculate on analogues.

  • Faith of the Seven ≈ Catholic Church

    “Instead of the Trinity of the Catholic Church, you have the Seven, where there is one god with seven aspects. In Catholicism, you have three aspects—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. I remember as a kid, I was always confused by that. ‘So there are three gods?’ No, one god, but with three aspects."
    - George R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire saga, in an interview for Entertainment Weekly.

    The Faith of the Seven is intentionally very similar to its non-fictional analogue, Catholicism.
    Here is a list of some of the parallels:

    • One God, many aspects: in Catholicism there is the concept of The Holy Trinity, which refers to 3 aspects (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) that together make up one God. In the Faith of the Seven, there is also one Deity, consisting of 7 aspects, each representing a different virtue.
    • Organization and hierarchy: Catholicism carries with it a power structure that is hierarchal, with the highest ranking clergy, the Pope, who lives in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican, and a council of Cardinals.
      The Faith of the Seven, similarly, has the High Septon as the highest ranking clergy, who lives in the Sept of Baelor, who rules the Faith together with a council of the highest ranking septons, the Most Devout.
    • Celibacy: both Catholicism and the Faith of the Seven enforce celibacy on their clergy.
    • Morality: both frown on gambling, homosexuality, preach against bastardy and curse things like incest and kinslaying, imposing guilt and judgement from the Father.
    • Holy Text: where Catholicism has the Bible, the Faith of the Seven has The Seven-Pointed Star, both divided into gospel-like sections.
    • Patriarchy: though society, government and culture in most of Westeros is patriarchal to begin with, it's worth noting that the Faith of the Seven, unlike the other fictitious religions, places a heavy emphasis on a male dominator mentality, where patriarchal values are enforced in the deity (the Father) as well as the clergy (Septons [male] outrank Septas [female], and ceremonies are always lead by the highest-ranking male member of the clergy). This parallels with Catholicism, where the highest rank a woman can reach is abbess, which is far inferior to the power a man within the Catholic church can reach.
    • Dominant religion and Paganism: being the dominant religion in Westeros, the Seven are sometimes referred to as "the New Gods", in comparison to "the Old Gods", which refers to the [Old] Gods of the Forest, which was established much earlier than the Faith, in fact it's "the original religion of the continent"(src).
      This rivalry and competition in religions is similar to the relationship between Catholicism and many of the polytheistic pantheons (e.g. Celtic polytheism) in Britain that it was trying to supplant, and how the word "pagan" and "paganism" was used derogatively to refer to religions other than Catholicism.
    • Place of worship: where a priest or bishop conducts ceremonies (wedding, wake before funeral) and other religious rituals, in a church, abbey or cathedral, for Catholicism, so does a septon conduct similar or the same services in an analogous building (a sept) dedicated for worship, for the Faith of the Seven.
    • Aesthetics: some of the more obvious overlaps in aesthetics present themselves in the comparison between the costumes and attire, but what should also not be ignored are the stained glass windows, lavishly decorated (gold plated or ornamented) interior design of the sept, along with the architecture and layouts (atrium, basilica etc.). Aesthetic similarities with real-world counterparts are not rare in Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • The Sparrows ≈ Protestant Reformation

    “You also had periods of religious revival or reform—the greatest of them being the Protestant Reformation, which led to the splitting of the church—where there were two or three rival popes each denouncing the other as legitimate. That’s what you’re seeing here in Westeros. The two previous High Septons we’ve seen, the first was very corrupt in his own way, and he was torn apart by the mob during the food riots [in season 2]. The one Tyrion appoints in his stead is less corrupt but is ineffectual and doesn’t make any waves. Cersei distrusts him because Tyrion appointed him. So now she has to deal with a militant and aggressive Protestant Reformation, if you will"
    - George R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire saga, in an interview for Entertainment Weekly.

    Though it's a subset/order within the Faith of the Seven, rather than a distinct major religion, it's worth mentioning as it's an analogue that Martin explicitly points out, and because its non-fictional counterpart, Protestantism, is very much an important faith in our world history.

  • Old Gods of the Forest ≈ Animistic or Pantheistic Druidry

    This is a rough but decent analogue, where we can draw similarities, and a lot of them hold up, but without explicit confirmation from Martin, and with a couple of irregularities, we can't say that it's a strong analogue.

    The Old Gods do not have churches, sacred texts, hierarchies, ceremonial rituals or any institutionalised dogma/structure reminiscent of the Faith. It is a much more personal relationship with their faith, where the only symbolic places of worship, comparable to a shrine, are weirwood trees.
    Also, followers of this faith believe in innumerable and unnamed nature gods, the spirits of each tree, each rock and each stream.

    In many ways this roughly mirrors the faith of animistic or pantheistic druids, who believe that a deity is present in all things, and is everything.
    Druidry has been practised in one form or another, in Europe, for millennia, and, like the Old Gods, has no specific dogma and certainly no religious text.

    Note: claims that the Old Gods is a religion analogous to Germanic or Norse paganism are false, since those have gods with names (among other significant differences). Also dubious is the connection to Native American shamanism/religion/faith, since it begs the question "Which one?", since there was never one universal Native American religion or spiritual system, and there are plenty of specific examples that are in no way analogous to the Old Gods. The similarity that can be connected to Native Americans is the way that their beliefs were discouraged (and supplanted) by Catholicism that was brought in by the settlers (much in the same way that the Faith of the Seven was imported during the Andal invasion, and pushed back the original (native) religion, the Old Gods). However, this is a dynamic that we see happen, historically, with Catholicism, over and over again, including Celtic polytheism and other European pagan beliefs.

  • The Drowned God ≈ Norse folk religion

    This is only a weak connection, especially if we remove the similarities between the two seafaring, coastal cultures (Vikings and Iron Islanders) and restrict it to comparing only the religions (though the Iron Island culture bears strong similarity to the culture of Viking era Danes, whom practised this Norse folk religion). Although there are some strong similarities, there are far more differences, though they may not be significant enough for the reader's interpretation. I will list the similarities.
    Note: I'll refer to a follower of the Drowned God as DG

    • Seawater is holy water to a DG, which is used in their ceremony of "drowning" infants during a baptism rite by being briefly submerged in sea water, which, from the mouth of Martin, evokes the baptismal practices of some Christian sects, though it is also true that water was used in birth and naming rituals in Norse religion.
    • DG do not fear drowning in the sea, in fact they believe that the fearless raiders among them, who drown at sea, are to be taken to the Drowned God's watery halls to feast on fish and be tended by mermaids for eternity. This is very similar to the Norse concept of Valhalla, where men who die gloriously in combat travel to the majestic hall in their afterlife.
  • The Lord of Light ≈ Zoroastrianism (fire worship) and Manichaeism (duality)

    • Zoroastrianism: worships fire, using Atar (fire) as a primary symbol, and erecting fire temples. Fire is considered to be life-sustaining, and prayer is usually done in the presence of some form of fire. Fire is considered the medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom is gained. These are all very strong similarities to the obsession with fire in Lord of Light. Zoroastrianism even includes beliefs about the resurrection of the dead, and a final savior of the world who will return the wicked to hell (Azor Ahai).
    • Manichaeism: strongly emphasises the good of light and the evil of darkness, and imagines our world as a battlefield between the duality (even the human person is seen as a battleground for the influences and powers of God and Satan). This is strongly similar to the preachings we hear from Melisandre about darkness and light.
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The religion of the Seven Gods is Catholicism... everyone has converted to it, the dominant technological civilization with swords and medieval armor and what not all believe. The septs are cathedrals, the septons are priest, etc.

Previous to that the Old Gods worshipped by some in the North, and this might map to the Roman/Greek religions in that its been supplanted by the Seven. However, given the nature of this religion, it's more Druid-like or even Native American. Definitely has a shamanistic bent.

The religion of the Drowned God is more Norse, with the Drowned God being some hodge-podge of Odin and Loki and the Iron Islanders something like Vikings.

The Many-Faced God and the Braavosi religion is something like the mystery cults from around the time of the birth of Christianity. Disciples struggle for years to qualify for new knowledge, and the masses never do.

Melisandre and her fire cult... not really sure. The dualism of it it sort of like Zoroastrianism, at least in a shallow way. But the way it's portrayed on the show seems more like a modern cult. The way she keeps very stern control of her disciples, all true believers that are certain that they (and their religion) will change the world for the better and in the short-term... that doesn't fit so much.

And I can't even begin to speculate on the religions of the cities in Essos. There are hints of the Babylonian and Egyptian pantheons, at least that's the impression I get, but nothing I can point out with a finger.

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    I've always equated the worship of the Drowned God with the Cthulu cults of Lovecraftian fame. – System Down Jun 17 '15 at 22:59
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    @SystemDown The submitter was asking about real world religions, and HPL's cults are all fictional. Besides, no one is gibbering insane on the Iron Islands, they're just run-of-the-mill psychopaths. – John O Jun 24 '15 at 14:17
  • saying "or even Native American" is problematic, it'd be like saying "Indoeuropean culture", it begs the question "Which one?", as they vary wildly, and a lot (if not most) are not valid analogues for Old Gods. – Ghoti and Chips Nov 2 '16 at 22:43
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    @SystemDown Aren't all religions fictional? ;) – user001 Nov 3 '16 at 11:58
  • @user001 Religions certainly aren't fictional, for better and worse. Their subject matter? That's a different question :) – Luaan May 10 at 7:11

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