Gods of Westeros: A Metaphysical Analysis of Game of Thrones


[Spoilers are kept to a minimum in this article, but it is assumed that the reader has either seen the first four seasons of Game of Thrones or read the first three novels in the series.]

Religion plays an essential role in the worldview of characters locked in the struggle for power within the grim world of Game of Thrones. The plurality of beliefs on the continent of Westeros raises the question of whether these antithetical religious views can be reconciled, that is, among the religions, do any show signs of being authentically linked to the divine, or are these beliefs merely delusions, with the gods being either misunderstood or nonexistent? In addition to the parallels with real world religions, the cataclysmic themes present in Game of Thrones bear semblance to certain eschatological prophecies found among several traditions, and these symbols will be examined here as well.

Before delving into this analysis, it is relevant to note the personal beliefs of the author. George R. R. Martin has explained,

"I suppose I'm a lapsed Catholic. You would consider me an atheist or agnostic. I find religion and spirituality fascinating. I would like to believe this isn't the end and there's something more, but I can't convince the rational part of me that makes any sense whatsoever.”

Given Martin’s Catholic upbringing, it is natural to find many Christian themes within the religions of his A Song of Ice and Fire series: the baptism, death and resurrection of the Drowned God worshipped by the Ironborn, the light and love of R’hllor worshipped by the Essosi and their missionaries found in Westeros, and the protection and grace of the Seven-faced creator worshipped by the majority of Westerosi. Martin takes special care not to explicitly prove one or more of these gods to be actual, living entities within the world, but rather provides fleeting evidence of supernatural, or possibly preternatural, intervention in response to prayers and rituals offered by characters. For example, the symbolic dreams of the three-eyed raven and sentient weirwood trees of the Old Gods, and the prophecies and visions of the Red God R’hllor -- not to mention the restoration back to life of one mortally wounded performed in this god’s name -- are clear occasions of the natural world being affected by spiritual beings, or at the very least, an impersonal source of magic.
The parable of the blind men and the elephant

If practitioners within each of the different religions in Westeros experience the reality of their gods, is this a case analogous to the parable of the group of blind men touching different parts of an elephant, each claiming to hold exclusive and total knowledge of the Truth? Is there an Absolute, which the finite minds of the inhabitants of Westeros are incapable of grasping in totality? Or does the author intend to suggest a postmodern viewpoint, in which there is no ultimate reality, and the individual’s subjective beliefs to be the only measuring rod of truth? Perhaps he means to impart that the superstitious mind of man grasps in the dark to find or invent meaning in a world where human life is as inconsequential and fragile as ants trying to understand sunbeams from underneath a magnifying glass. The adage that the sky in Westeros is blue because its inhabitants reside inside the eye of a blue-eyed giant seems to reflect this bleak outlook.

While not knowing the author’s intentions, it is at least possible to formulate a theory of the religions of Westeros, seen through a Traditional lens. To do so, it is necessary to draw parallels from these fictional practices to historical accounts of religion in the real world.

The False Paradigm of Dualism
As mentioned above, the religion of the Red God, R’hllor, Lord of Light seems at first glance to reflect the Christian idea of a loving deity who is opposed by the forces of darkness. Added to this is the exclusivity of the faith, in which unbelievers are condemned for worshipping false gods and burned at the stake, which is evocative of the era of the Inquisition and witch trials of Europe. However, this religion only bears some similarity to Christianity on its surface, given the dualist bearing the followers of the Lord of Light have on the world and the divine. This religion teaches that there are two gods: the god of light, heat and life, and the Great Other, the god of darkness, cold and death. The current world is seen as hell -- the only hell -- which implies that the Great Other is the dominant deity of the world, with the White Walkers beyond the Wall and their undead wights being manifestations of this evil.

The dualist belief of two gods in eternal opposition has existed since at least the third century A.D., propagated by the Gnostic Manichaean movement in Persia, and for a time it was one of the most widespread religions in the world. The Manichaeans believed that the world of matter was inherently evil and ruled by the demonic god Ahriman, the King of Darkness, whose fallen angels waged perpetual war against Zurwan, the Father of Greatness, god of light. The early Christian Fathers denounced Manichaeism as a heresy, due to the erroneous placement of Satan on equal ground with God, which suggests both beings to be eternal and proportionate in power. St. Augustine delineated that evil is not a force in equal opposition to good, but rather evil is the absence of good and holds no substance of its own; in a similar way to how cold is the absence of heat, and dark is absence of light -- these are not opposing qualities, but rather nondual deprivations. Lucifer is a creature, not a god, and therefore has finite power, while God is infinite, having no equal. Evil is the result of fallen free will -- not an eternal principle -- but the depravity of good confined within the realm of manifestation.

Thoros of Myr
Jaqen H'ghar

If one were to shed light on who this Red God really is in the world of Game of Thrones, it is best to judge by the fruits of this religion. First, there is the Red Priest, Thoros of Myr, a drinking and whoring companion of King Robert, who coats his blade in wildfire to deceive crowds into thinking that he wields a magic sword during combat. Then there is Jaqen H’ghar, the “faceless man” who seemingly assassinates enemies by merely giving the names of those he wishes to kill to the Red God. And most prominently, there is the Red Priestess, Melisandre, who uses various deceptive and violent methods to spread “the one true faith” across the continent of Westeros, including blood magic, sex rituals, and human sacrifice. It should be of interest just how well the Red Woman fits the description of the Whore of Babylon found in Revelation 17:3-4:

“And I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was clothed round about with purple and scarlet, and gilt with gold, and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand, full of the abomination and filthiness of her fornication.”


It would appear that this Red God of light and love is not what his followers claim him to be, given the remorseless and brutal acts committed by his adherents. As the Whore of Babylon is a companion to the Antichrist, so it would seem that Melisandre is a disciple of a demonic entity that portrays itself as a loving god. Afterall, the most convincing lies are those that give the appearance of goodness and often contain a mix of the truth in order to gain credence. But if R’hllor is himself some sort of fire demon, then what about the Great Other?

The idea that there can be multiple sources of evil is an interesting one. Some exorcists, such as Malachi Martin and Gabriele Amorth, have said that Lucifer and Satan are separate entities. In this view, Lucifer is the original fallen angel, the light-bringer, whose nature fell through pride and envy, and Satan is considered among the third of the angels in heaven who followed Lucifer and embodies death and destruction, the dragon of Revelation. Perhaps this is why the Bible makes a distinction between the “spirits of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12) and the “beast, that ascendeth out of the abyss” (Revelation 11:17). Following this categorization, R’hllor could be considered a luciferian being, giving the false appearance of light and divinity, while the Great Other embodies a satanic nature of chaos and annihilation. In Westeros, this false dualism attracts followers to one demon, out of fear for the other.

Sorcery Contrary to the Supernatural
The display of unnatural psychic phenomena will often draw followers to a religion or spiritual movement, such as Spiritualists conjuring the appearance and voices of the dead, unfathomable healings through Voodoo, or even Word of Faith preachers sending their audience to the floor in hysterics by what appears to be subtle energetic manipulation. Because these sorts of phenomena are generally inexplicable to a rationalistic approach, oftentimes they are mislabeled as ‘supernatural’ occurrences. In reality, these practices have nothing to do with the supernatural, as the word pertains solely to the divine; instead, these are preternatural acts of sorcery, drawing power from the intermediate spirit world, ruled by the lesser daemons.

In the world of Game of Thrones, there are similar cases of preternatural power being mistaken for divine intervention, the Red God being one example. However, the Faith of the Seven seems to fit the description of a traditional religion with ties to the divine, but evidence for this is not apparent, considering that those characters who worship their god in any of the aspects of Father, Mother, Maiden, Crone, Warrior, Smith and Stranger rarely see their prayers answered, nor witness any miracles. Perhaps this lack of tangible presence of the Seven-faced God implies an intention by the author that this is a false religion, with the seven gods being fabrications of the warlike race of the Andals, in need of a doctrine to keep the Seven Kingdoms in subservience. Or it could be that this seven-faced creator is something akin to the traditional view of God in the Abrahamic religions, as a being who resides outside of time and space and may intervene in the world through dramatic miracles from time to time, but more commonly intermediates through subtle acts of grace. In fact, the aspect of seven-Gods-in-one draws similarities to the Christian Trinity of three Persons in one Divinity.

A prayer wheel
Catelyn Stark is often seen weaving a prayer wheel to the God of Seven to protect her children. To the audience, it is unclear whether the gods are real and if they hear her prayer, but it could be the case that Bran was spared after his fall because of her intercession. This would be an example of the supernatural at work, which is less apparent than the preternatural wonders of other faiths, but would be no less real in its effects, the difference being where the power is drawn from within the cosmic hierarchy, that is, either from the transcendent Creator or from lesser deities, such the benevolent nature spirits worshipped by the Northmen or even from demons as discussed above.

Fissures in the Great Wall
In Hindu cosmology, the realm of manifestation is believed to pass through successive stages of a downward cycle. As the world falls progressively further from its spiritual Principle, mankind becomes more materialistic, and spiritual truths become hidden, especially in the final dark age -- the Kali Yuga -- of which many believe the modern era to be a late stage. As the current cycle draws to a close, chaos will continue to spread until the world is finally dissolved and creation begun anew. The metaphysician René Guénon described the materialist worldview of the current age as a "solidification" of the sensory world. This complete dependence on rational empiricism has in a sense cut off humanity from experience of the spiritual world; however, as this age comes to a close, what Guénon describes as "fissures in the Great Wall" begin to appear. These fissures are seen to be infernal forces breaking into ordinary existence, and the increasing presence of sorcery and psychic phenomena in society are a manifestation of this chaos.

Despite Game of Thrones taking place in a fantasy setting, initially there are not many occurrences of magic or other fantastical phenomena in the world. As Maester Luwin tells Bran:

"Perhaps magic was once a mighty force in the world, but no longer. What little remains is no more than the wisp of smoke that lingers in the air after a great fire has burned out, and even that is fading. Valyria was the last ember, and Valyria is gone. The dragons are no more, the giants are dead, the children of the forest forgotten with all their lore."

However, the world begins to change once Daenerys Targaryen has a dream of how to hatch her dragon eggs. After paying for life with the death of three others, her dragons are born from a funeral pyre, and magic is reawakened in the world. The Warlocks of Qarth are once again able to cast illusions, the pyromancers of King’s Landing find their wildfire spells be more potent, the followers of R’hllor experience prophetics visions, and the dead rise in the North beyond the Wall. From this it would seem that Westeros is undergoing its own form of the Kali Yuga, with dormant powers awakening as a precursor to impending calamity.

Accompanying the traditional doctrine on the end of the world, ‘the fissures in the Great Wall’ is symbolically described as the appearance of Gog and Magog, the demon harbingers of Armageddon, with their infernal army, mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, as well as in other traditions, known as Yajuj and Majuj in Islam, and Koka and Vikoka in Hinduism. All versions of this story describe these sinister beings leading an unhallowed army to breach a Great Wall, which was constructed as a barrier against hell.

While the Wall in the north of Westeros bears resemblance to the historical Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Britain, it undoubtedly mirrors this age-old legend of Gog and Magog as well. The Wall in Westeros was constructed through the use of magic to keep out invading creatures, such as wildlings, giants, wights, and the demonic White Walkers. Not only is it a 700-foot wall made of ice, it is presumably sealed with magical spells to keep those unwanted out. The cardinal direction of north is of particular significance, as the demon brothers Gog and Magog are described as giants who invade from the north. Coincidentally, the name of the giant king "Mag the Mighty" bears a striking similarity to the name Magog. As for the icy wilderness beyond the Wall, in Dante’s Inferno the ninth circle of hell is described as a vast frozen wasteland ringed by giants, yet another parallel.

Interestingly, the brothers of the Night’s Watch who guard the Wall parallel certain aspects of the monastic orders of the Middle Ages. Medieval monasticism was the only societal institution which admitted members from all classes, from those of noble birth to lowborn serfs. In much the same way, the brothers of the Night’s Watch are a mix of nobles, peasants, and even thieves, and the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are reflected in the oath the Black Brothers take:

"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post..."

In much the same way that monks in the Middle Ages were seen as defenders against demonic influences in the world by keeping nightly vigils, so too the Sworn Brothers are the shield of the Realm against the creatures of darkness that seek to enter the Seven Kingdoms, bringing everlasting night and death.

Eschatological Destruction
If the world in Game of Thrones is undergoing its own sort of Kali Yuga with the increase of magic and chaos, it seems to be approaching the end of an age, if not the end the world. In Westeros, seasons last for several years and with the advent of winter, there is the threat of the Long Night, which is a period of cold and darkness that can last a generation, when the White Walkers awake and spread death across the land.

The Long Night calls to mind the Catholic end times prophecy of the Three Days of Darkness, in which following a "bitterly cold night", the entire world will be covered in a dark pestilence with the "air infected by demons who will appear under all sorts of hideous forms", whereby many will perish before the end of the world.

A rain of fire is also said to play an essential role in the final destruction of the world among the prophecies found in several traditions: the hurricane of fire described by Catholic visionaries; the seven suns of destruction foretold in Buddhism; the fire from the sky that will boil the oceans and burn the land as told by the Hopi. One particularly noteworthy prophetic tale comes from the Norse tradition, in which following the harsh period of Fimbulvetr, which consists of three successive winters without summer, a great war will breakout and the demon giant Surtr, wielding a flaming sword, will fling fire across the nine worlds, submerging Midgard into the ocean as the world comes to an end.

Many of these eschatological prophecies carry the same theme, that of destruction by ice and fire. Given that George R. R. Martin’s book series’ official title is not Game of Thrones but A Song of Ice and Fire it can certainly be assumed that not only do the ice demons beyond the Wall play a central role in the strife in Westeros, but inevitably Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons will come to the fore. But what part will these creatures play? Will they really be a salvific power for good, as the audience is led to hope for? Or will there follow a wake of destruction with their arrival in Westeros?

Messianic Tidings
During the portentous times the characters in Game of Thrones live in, there is an occasional message of hope found in the prophecy of a savior. Melisandre tells of the Champion, whose coming was first prophesied 5000 years earlier. The Champion is the Prince Who Was Promised, who will be reborn "amidst salt and smoke" when "the red star bleeds"  and will wield the flaming sword "lightbearer" to combat the darkness.

The Targaryens also had a similar prophecy of the "Prince That Was Promised", who would be be a savior in a dark time.  In A Clash of Kings, there is a scene in the House of the Undying in Qarth that was not depicted in the television version, but it bears significance. Daenerys has a vision of the past and sees her eldest brother Rhaegar naming his newborn son, declaring, "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire." The Targaryen family was all but annihilated with the exception of Daenerys and Maester Aemon. Could it be that Melisandre was wrong about Stannis Baratheon being the Champion, and it is Daenerys and her dragons who will fulfill this ancient prophecy?

But what sort of savior would come from Melisandre’s demonic religion? This seems to suggest that the Champion is someone who appears righteous but is actually evil, akin to the Christian prophecy of the Antichrist or the Dajjal of Islam. When Daenerys was with Khal Drogo’s child, the Dothraki also had a prophecy that their son would be ‘the Stallion Who Mounts the World’. This foreboding title did not come to fruition, as the child was delivered stillborn, having the appearance of a deformed monster with the wings of a bat -- an ostensibly ominous image. Moreover, blood-hungry dragons by no means bear the characteristic of a divine protector, especially considering the medieval association with dragons and the diabolic.

Incidentally, there is a clear example of inversion of Christian symbology in the fourth season of the television series. Instead of granting mercy to the slave masters of Meereen, Daenerys crucifies those who had previously nailed slave children to the city’s mileposts -- which is an obvious contradiction of the symbol of the cross as portrayed in the Christian tradition. After all, what is an antichrist but one who gives the appearance of virtue but who is in truth covertly malicious? As Origen says, "...evil is specially characterized by its diffusion, and attains its greatest height when it simulates the appearance of the good, for that reason are signs, and marvels, and lying miracles found to accompany evil, through the cooperation of its father the devil."

Of course, Daenerys does seem to hold more or less good intentions, so these comments are intended merely as speculation and are not meant to incite umbrage among readers with regards to a well-liked character. However, given the power found in symbols, it is necessary to draw attention to images and themes that echo inverted spirituality.

Final Thoughts
Comparing fictional religions to those found in the real world runs two risks: 1. it may seem odd to give such importance to a make-believe world, finding significance in its fanciful tales and magic, as if these say anything about genuine truth, or 2. it may cast real world religions in a poor light, as being fictional creations of the minds of men. The first category of opinion is more likely to be found among some devout religious who fail to see the universal power of symbols, while the second opinion might be expected of those who feel aversion to religion, believing it to be an antiquated body of superstition.

In lieu of either of these standpoints, it is helpful to recall the words of Confucius, "Signs and symbols rule the world, not words nor laws." The use of symbolism carries a significant weight, whether it is found in fiction or dogma. As Plato reasoned, symbols exist independently from the human mind, and originate in an unchanging, eternal realm of the intellect; that is to say, symbols are universal because they derive from a supernatural realm. For that reason, the implementation of symbols wields the power to affect change in the world, which is why it is essential to scrutinize symbolic content when used in fictional forms of entertainment, as oftentimes the audience will passively forego analytical judgment and inattentively accept whatever message is presented from the writers’ point of view, whether it be sound or fallacious.

Moreover, it is sometimes the case that certain truths cannot be grasped until viewed from a mythological approach, which is why some stories will hold the attention and permeate a deeper meaning within the audience's lives, due to the enfolding of universal truths within a fictional setting.
Game of Thrones utilizes many universal symbols, as touched upon in this article, and whether or not the author himself is fully aware of the import of such symbolism is extraneous to the effect this has on his audience. Matters of gods, magic and creeds hold a place deep in the human psyche, and therefore merit proper reflection even when encountered in a fictional world. By contemplating a myth, ever and again it is possible to arrive at Truth.

[Thanks for reading. Please do not discuss any upcoming spoilers in the comments section.]

How to Trust Your Demon: A Hollywood Counter-Myth

It has been said that the telling of myths has no place in the modern world, that the only remnants of such transformative symbolism are to be found in modern storytelling through film. Joseph Campbell once remarked that movie theatres are now our temples, where the public receives its teachings of myth. Whether or not this is a positive quality of mass entertain is subject to debate, considering the Hollywood tendency of propagating either progressive, anti-traditional values and debased morality, or the retelling of ancient myths with inverted meanings. Often both of these characteristics are to be found within modern storytelling, and Dreamworks’ recent children’s movie How to Train Your Dragon is no exception.

Reversing the ancient tale of the hero who slays the dragon, the film promotes the value of compassion towards these creatures. While the story may imbue a message of tolerance to the audience, encouraging children to question common prejudices and to embrace ostracized groups, this simple allegory should not distract from the face-value message of the film that demonic creatures are merely misunderstood creatures who mean no harm to humans. From a symbolical, rather than simply allegorical, point of view, this message neutralizes the traditionally held representation of the dragon as an evil being.

As discussed in the previous article, metaphysical symbols each carry a dual character and meaning. In the East, the dragon is generally of a Divine disposition, as portrayed by the wise Chinese dragon who has mastery over the element of water, or by the Hindu Kundalini, the serpent force which lies at the base of the human spine, who upon awakening ignites the yogic process of transformation. In the West, the Divine character of the dragon is represented by Ouroboros, the cosmic serpent who swallows its own tail, symbolizing the cyclical existence of the manifested Universe, an embodiment of the eternal One.

Conversely, Western legends generally depict dragons as malevolent creatures, such as in Saint George and the Dragon, Saint Romanus and the Gargouille (which tells of the origin of gargoyles used atop churches), the Greek myth of Cadmus, the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf, and the Norse tale of Fafnir. The Hindu myth of Vritra also tells of a dragon-like asura who battles the god Indra.

From the opening of How to Train Your Dragon, it is apparent which aspect the dragon represents in the film, as the first impression of the dragons ruthlessly attacking a village bears a malevolent trademark.

The story features the ever-repeated motif of the bumbling outcast protagonist who, despite all odds, saves the day. In the first scene, Hiccup tries to prove himself as a courageous Viking by shooting a snare at an elusive Night Fury dragon.

The dragon is hit, and falls with an illuminated burst.

The next day, Hiccup finds the dragon, but makes a failed attempt at slaying the creature, instead choosing to free it.

He soon discovers that the dragon is unable to fly, as the left fin of its tail has been destroyed.

The image of an imperfect, winged creature falling from the sky brings to mind the story of the fallen angel Lucifer. Considering the traditionally demonic character of dragons, such a connection would not be inappropriate.

Moreover, the damaged tail parallels the Islamic foretelling of the dajjal, in which asymmetrical deformity is a telling characteristic of the Antichrist, who leads the world astray under the trustful guise of benevolence.

Just as in other animated films, particularly Monsters Inc., creatures that have traditionally been considered to be evil and hostile to humans are shown to the audience to be in fact misunderstood, friendly beings.

Gradually, Hiccup forms a friendship with the dragon, which he names Toothless, due to the hidden set of teeth that spring out of its mouth.

As Hiccup undergoes dragon combat training with his peers, Gobber, the ‘idiot in charge of initiation’ as described in the book, encourages Hiccup to read the Dragon Manual, which contains generations of knowledge that his people have obtained on dragons.

Owing to the lack of information on Night Furies, Hiccup soon realizes that his people do not know everything there is to know about dragons, and, in fact, many things they think they know turn out to be untrue.

In a secular Hollywood film, this ancient book is not considered to be of a sacred nature, but simply revered; however, this rejection of generational knowledge by the protagonist demonstrates the anti-traditional undertones of this film, giving the impression that one’s ancestors are merely superstitious and hold only transitory knowledge which can be replaced by younger generations.

Furthermore, Hiccup’s own father, Stoick, portrays the stereotypical domineering father who refuses to listen to opinions which differ from the accepted norms of the people. As with most animated features, the protagonist’s father is depicted as narrow-minded and ignorant of the way the world really is; rarely do we see a movie in which a protagonist’s parents are understanding and wise, coming from an ancient and knowledgeable tradition. All we encounter are themes of rebellion against ignorant elders and backwards traditions.

And like many other animated films’ attempts to connect with the audience, How to Train Your Dragon mockingly portrays a traditional culture with characters who behave just like modern movie-goers, speaking crude dialog rife with contemporary sarcasm (although it must be noted that, unlike most other Dreamworks productions, pop culture references are fortunately absent in this film). Even any references to Norse spiritual traditions are done in an off-hand way, in which appeals to the gods are made with such superficial exclamations such as
‘Odin, it was rough, I almost gave up on you, but all the while you were only
holding out on me. Oh Thor almighty!’
What we essentially see are a group of profane modern characters guised as medieval Vikings with no understanding or effective interaction with the world unseen.

Apart from being a dragon combatant-in-training, Hiccup also works as a blacksmith’s apprentice, and using his iron-working abilities, he designs and forges a new tail wing for his dragon.

The image of merging flesh with machine evokes the modern pursuit of bionics and transhumanism, in which physical limitations, whether impairments or simply the ‘human condition’ in general, are overcome through the implementation of technology. In this sense, man ‘evolves’ by means of his own ambition. In the film, the dragon is made able to re-ascend, due to the hero’s promethean ingenuity, again another luciferic element present in the story. It is worth noting that the trade of blacksmithing was traditionally considered to be one associated with lower magic, which ultimately degenerated into base sorcery, as metal-working involves the chaotic nature of ‘infernal’ elements.

By studying the behavior of his dragon, Hiccup soon discovers methods of subduing other dragons in combat, without having to inflict violence (establishing a myth counter to such legends as George and the Dragon). He quickly draws admiration from the village, and is chosen by the elder to participate in the traditional slaying of the dragon.
In this case, either the village elder is just as blind as all the rest and truly believes that Hiccup will conform to their ways and kill the dragon, or she silently condones his iconoclastic rebellion and hopes he will bring about a change in the village customs.

In the battle arena, Hiccup attempts to demonstrate to the people their ignorance of the true nature of dragons; they are not evil, humans can befriend them.

The peaceful demonstration is interrupted, however, by Stoick, whose aggressive stance provokes the dragon to resume its attack, thus confirming the people’s ‘ignorant’ suspicions.

The father, who bears a hammer resembling the mythic Mjöllnir, evokes the image of Thor, the Norse god of strength and protection. The audience readily perceives Stoick as an intolerant and judgmental character set in his ways, as he calls innocent Toothless a ‘devil’ and declares the dragons’ nest to be ‘hell’. However, this character, who embodies the paternal deity Thor and casts judgment on infernal creatures, bears similarities to the Christian and Judaic conception of God, of which the primary audience for such a film carries. The story demonstrates that this father figure is in reality limited by his intolerant disposition, and a new approach to dragons (or infernal entities) is needed, once the old ways are rejected.

Refusing to fight in the arena, Hiccup is exiled, and Toothless is confined, forced to lead the Vikings to the hidden dragons’ nest. Upon arriving, the warriors witness an unknown beast emerge from the cave, the dragon queen.
One may recall the dragon and the two beasts from the Book of Revelation: the dragon Lucifer falls from the sky unto the earth, and at the time of the apocalypse, the first beast rises from sea, resembling a leopard, and the second rises from the earth, making a noise ‘like a dragon’. The parallel between Toothless’ fall and that of Lucifer has already been remarked upon; however, it is also significant that the art directors for the film deviated from the book’s original description of the dragon, in favor of a more feline-like creature inspired by a black leopard screen saver displayed on a Dreamworks employee’s computer. This image paired with the initial scene of the dragons’ attack over the sea, offers a parallel of Toothless and the other dragons to the first beast of Revelation. And in this scene, the queen dragon fits the description of the second beast, emerging from the deep underground.

Hiccup and his peers arrive, each mounted on a dragon and attack the queen. The others are soon defeated, leaving only Hiccup and Toothless against the giant beast. In the final strike, the queen is hit, and Hiccup and his dragon fall through the fire.

It seems they are both dead, until an injured Hiccup emerges from the protective wings of Toothless. The father approaches the dragon, and realizing his mistaken views, says apologetically, ‘Thank you for saving my son’. The flawed father’s only begotten son is saved, and the dragon is a hero.

Symbolically this evokes an inversion of Christian doctrine, as the devil (Toothless) saves Christ (‘resurrected’ Hiccup), with the Father (Stoick) begging his forgiveness.

Having fallen with the dragon, Hiccup now bears a similar deformity, his missing leg reflecting Toothless’ damaged tail wing.

The subtle message given in this film, doubtlessly unintentional by the moviemakers but significant in its scope, is that what we have traditionally thought to be evil is, in fact, benevolent and should be befriended. This brings to mind the often-endorsed sentiments of New Age teachers encouraging others to ‘embrace their shadow’ and attempt to heal negative subconscious energies by integrating them into the personality (See the article False Shepherds for further analysis). As Hiccup intimates his reason for not initially slaying the dragon, ‘When I looked into his eyes, I saw myself.’ The concept of owning one’s shadow and identifying with negative traits of the subconscious offers an open invitation to outside, infernal forces, which gain access to the human mind through the gateway of the subconscious.

Furthermore, the happy ending in which all the townspeople change their ways and each have a friendly dragon pet, resembles another New Age practice of acquiring spirit guides, typically found among an array of unknown, low-level entities often mistaken for wise, benevolent beings.

It may seem an exaggeration to detect demonic themes underneath an otherwise innocent children’s movie, but the powerful impact such images have in shaping young minds must be brought into consideration. In effect, Hollywood movies are practical tools for social programming, with or without the filmmakers’ conscious intention. In this seemingly harmless, or ‘toothless’, fairy tale, the audience is exposed to a number of jibes at traditional beliefs, favoring a new, modern approach to life, while simultaneously promoting the idea that the devil is not evil, but merely misunderstood, thus blurring the borders between good and evil, encouraging children to seek out the creatures found in darkness, in hopes of making a new friend.

A World Turned Upside Down: The Inversion of Sacred Symbols


The values held by our modern society can be said to be a complete reversal of those held by preceding cultures rooted in spiritual truths. The accelerating contempt for tradition has led the masses to believe ancient wisdom and its myths to be mere foolishness, that only the world of the senses is real, there is nothing which lies beyond; or, if it be conceded that higher realms do indeed exist, they are of minor importance, earthly life takes precedence now, let us leave death to worry about the hereafter.

In every spiritual tradition, symbols were implemented in initiatic practices to act as a bridge between this world and the world unseen. The realm beyond, incapable of being expressed in ordinary language, was represented through the use of symbols. These sacred symbols acted as supports which could transport an initiate into higher realms of being, while simultaneously acting as conduits to channel Divine Knowledge unto to the realm of manifested existence, following the hermetic adage ‘As above, so below’.

In recent times, however, this ancient wisdom has been denied and rejected, now considered to be nothing but superstitions of the past, inapplicable to our ‘advanced’ modern civilization. Nevertheless, remnants of this knowledge of the power behind sacred symbols has survived, but not without corrupt distortions and misuse of the teachings.

The slow decay of spiritual practices over the centuries has given way to the anti-traditional movement of our times, a movement which rejects both tradition and the spiritual principles it represents in cultures throughout the world. Most people today remain unconscious of their anti-traditional mentality, which has been instilled through generations of cultural conditioning, having been raised to understand their materialistic, unspiritual worldview to be ‘just the way things are’ in terms of everyday reality. Even those who consider themselves religious hardly act any differently from all the rest; once Sunday prayers are finished, the return to secular, ‘ordinary’ life resumes.

There are others, however, who play a conscious role in the destruction of spirituality, humans who assist in manifesting malefic forces into the corporeal realm in which we reside. Ancient knowledge that has survived into the present age is now being distorted and inverted to suit the intentions of the few ‘Elite’ of the anti-traditional movement, who seek to break all ties humanity once had to the higher realms, effectively destroying any defense we might have had against the impending breach of the lower realms into our world. Evil, whether in its brute, unconscious form, or in its manifestation through pernicious, intelligent beings, has subtly spread into our realm. Humans who have acted either knowingly or unconsciously have participated in the reversal of symbols and the inverted direction human activity is taking. ‘As below, so above’; the gates of the underworld are opened, as all hell prepares to break loose.

Before undertaking the current study of symbols, a note must be made concerning the topic of evil. Many today do not believe in such a concept, either due to conditioning by materialist scientific views on the one hand, or by watered-down New Age teachings on the other, which suggest that if we are all One, then evil is only an illusion. This last point is a common misconception. The unmanifested Divine realm remains situated above duality, transcending all concepts of positive/negative, good/evil; the Infinite reduces all existence to metaphysical Zero. We, on the other hand, reside in the manifested physical realm, the world of relativity, individuality, and division, where the forces of good and evil have very real effects on our lives. In other words, angels and demons are just as real, or unreal, as ourselves.

Holding the concept of duality in mind, it must be understood that all symbols hold both a benefic and a malefic character, depending on the intention, or charge, of the image. Having no original tradition of its own, Evil must use pre-existing spiritual systems and invert the practice to achieve its subversive ends.

The symbols to be analyzed here presently are instantly recognizable, if not notorious in character. What were once held to be the most sacred of symbols have now been twisted into icons of evil, and the frequency of which we are exposed to such images is staggering, along with the implications of such mass propagation of inverted tradition.

The Swastika

Appearing in a wide variety of traditional cultures throughout the world, the swastika is one of the most ancient Divine symbols, used by traditions in East Asia, India, Ancient Greece, Celtic societies, and even Native American tribes. In the Middle Ages, the swastika even appeared in Christian symbology and can still be found within some Carmelite and Cistercian order churches in Europe.

The swastika derives its meaning from a related symbol, that of the solar disc. The symbol of the sun, composed of a single dot within a circle, refers to not only the astrological body but also the Divine Source of Life itself. The Center represents the Divine Principle of pure Being, from which all manifested creation derives its existence. The realms furthest from the Principle reside on the outer circumference, while the more spiritual realms are located in close proximity to the Center. From the Center on out we find the formless Causal realm, then the dreamlike Subtle (Astral) realm, followed by the Physical realm, and finally, the lower, infra-human levels of the Underworld, being the furthest from the Divine Principle.

The solar sign is often divided into four sections, forming the sign of the solar wheel, which can represent the four periods of the day, the four phases of the moon, the four seasons, the four directions, even the four ages of humanity. The Center also represents the union of opposites, as the polarized ends of each spoke of the wheel are brought into balance in the center.
The swastika is a variation of the solar wheel in that the four sections of the circumference are bent into arms to show movement. Contrary to popular believe, the direction of the arms’ rotation does not change the symbol’s meaning, as both orientations have been used in spiritual traditions. The symbol of the swastika depicts how all existence revolves around the timeless Center of Being.

As René Guénon explains:

‘The fixity of the Center is the image of eternity, where all things are present in perfect simultaneity. The circumference can only turn around a fixed center; similarly, change, which is not sufficient unto itself, necessarily supposes a principle which is outside change; this is the ‘unmoved mover’ of Aristotle, which is again represented by the Center…[T]he Center communicates movement to all things, and, since movement represents life, the swastika becomes thereby a symbol of life, or, more exactly, the vivifying role of the Principle in relation to the cosmic order.’ (Symbols of Sacred Science, 1962)

A symbol that was traditionally considered to embody the very Principle of Life has now taken on the complete inverse in meaning, as the general public in the modern West now associates the swastika solely with the atrocities committed by the Third Reich. Consequently, the swastika now embodies the anti-spiritual concepts of tyranny, war, and mass genocide.

The Nazi regime heavily relied on knowledge of the occult in order to rise to power. This is an often overlooked characteristic found in those who gain power so swiftly and effectively with little resistance in their path. To effectively alter the course of events in the physical world, it is necessary to appeal to the forces that have a direct influence over this world, that is, the powers of either good or evil which belong to the nonphysical realms. It is likely for this reason that the Nazis chose such a powerful spiritual symbol to emblemize their rising global empire. As a result, the malefic aspect of the symbol’s dual nature was accessed, and the swastika became an icon of death.

The Pentagram

Like the swastika, the sign of the pentagram has been used by many traditional cultures and is perceived with an equally negative connotation in modern culture. The pentagram has been found in the traditions of Taoism, Ayurveda, the Ancient Greek Pythagoreans, and medieval Christianity.

Christianity used the pentagram as a sign of the five senses and a symbol of health. It also portrayed the five wounds of Christ and was therefore used as a protective symbol against evil.

The ancient Pythagoreans used the pentagram as a sign of health as well, and the five points referred to the five elements of creation, with ether (or spirit) vivifying and ruling over the other four elements of fire, earth, water and air.

However, during the emerging interest in occult magic in 19th century Europe, the occultist Eliphas Lévi propounded that an inverted pentagram with two points facing upwards was a sign of evil. Whatever his intentions for propagating such a concept, the negative connotations of the pentagram spread, and ultimately the symbol in both its upright and inverted forms became associated with evil in Western mentality.

It is only recently that Wiccan and Neo-Pagan groups readapted the original meaning of the pentagram; however, the association the symbol has with evil gives the impression that many newcomers join these groups out of a sense of rebellion for their own Christian roots, giving a sort of ‘edginess’ to their newfound magical practices. Even if these groups’ aims are expressly peaceful, nature-oriented practices, the modern influence of negative associations one has of the pentagram and magical practices in general stills remains. Despite all good intentions, the likely outcome is that these groups are likely to attract some members who are either consciously or unconsciously attracted to the idea of black magic, an idea that is hardly dispelled by Wicca’s sole ethical code of ‘an it harm none, do what ye will’, a doctrine echoing the creed of Aleister Crowley’s ‘Do what thy wilt shall be the whole of the Law.’

All Neo-Pagan groups aside, the practice of black magic has been gaining popularity in recent decades, hidden from the public eye. The inversion of the once sacred symbol of the pentagram is just another indication of the chaotic times we live in, as a symbol that was once used to invoke health is now feared by the general population. More discomforting, however, is that this symbol, once used to ward of evil, is now implemented in its very evocation.

The All-Seeing Eye

The Eye of Providence, or the All-Seeing Eye, is a symbol found in both Christian and Masonic traditions, which carries a meaning similar to that of the solar symbol discussed above and bears similarities to the Egyptian Eye of Horus. Generally depicted as a single eye centrally placed inside an upright triangle, the image reveals the Divine Creator as the Center of all Being, whose omniscience reaches through all realms of existence. If the triangle is inverted, Divine Providence is depicted as descending from Heaven unto manifested creation.

‘The upright triangle relates properly to the Principle; but when it is inverted by reflection in manifestation, the gaze of the eye contained therein appears in a way to be directed ‘downward’, that is, from the Principle toward manifestation itself, and besides its general sense of ‘omnipresence’ it takes on more clearly the special sense of ‘Providence’. If, on the other hand, this reflection is envisaged more particularly within the human being, it must be noted that the form of the inverted triangle is none other than the geometric schema of the heart; the eye in its center is then properly the ‘eye of the heart’…’ (Guénon, Symbols of Sacred Science, 1962)

Taken on the microcosmic level, the All-Seeing Eye represents the seat of intuitional intelligence of the heart. It can also represent the Third Eye, which grants access to knowledge of the Eternal, that is, the timeless present moment, which holds all past and future events simultaneously.

It is likely that early Masonic interpretations of this symbol were more or less in accordance with the esoteric Christian understanding. However, the tradition of Freemasonry eventually fell into modern corruption, as true initiates came to be replaced by certain members of the aristocracy, who usurped the tradition and implemented its symbols without a deeper understanding of the Mysteries.

Modern distortions stemming from the growing ideology of the English ‘Enlightenment’ of the time quickly changed the esoteric quality of the Masonic tradition, as rational Deism came to reject reverence for the supernatural and mystical intuition. Instead, the Deists embraced logical reasoning as the supreme faculty for the attainment of knowledge in the newly established ‘Age of Reason’, a movement which essentially severed any connection with higher realities, as religion became subject to redefinition by profane modern science, an essentially materialist view which denies, or formally ignores, the existence of the nonphysical.

This new form of Deistic Freemasonry was eventually established in the New World. Thomas Jefferson, one of several Deists among the United States’ Masonic-influenced founding fathers, stated in a letter to John Adams,

‘To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is.’ (1820)
This statement adequately summarizes the anti-traditional mentality that America was founded upon. Belief in the supernatural, miracles, and Divine Providence was declared to be ‘heresy’ and ‘atheism’; inversely, the belief in the material realm as the one reality was deemed noble. To the Deists, God, the Supreme Architect, could only be known through His works, that is, by observing and studying the natural world, i.e. applying reason through the scientific analysis of the material realm. Even the concept of God was reduced to a mere abstraction, as Deists proclaimed belief in the existence of a Supreme Being simply because they found adequate logical reason to do so and were unwilling to take their anti-religious stance to the extreme of atheism.

Harboring resentment toward the priestly ruling class of organized institutions, the founding fathers built ‘the wall of separation between church and State’, granting mere tolerance to religion as the world’s first secular society was established. Many of the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence were inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s encounters with the Iroquois Nation, with its admirable demonstration of a self-governing people. However, only the outward aspect of this traditional culture was borrowed, while disregarding the spiritual principles upon which the Native Americans’ very way of life was centered. Despite the inspiring example set by the Iroquois, General George Washington ordered their villages burnt to the ground, disregarding their partial alliance in the war against the British, just one of many occurrences of the mass killings Native tribes were subjected to, all in the name of American ‘liberty’.

Many prefer to forget the atrocities committed against the Native people of the Americas (whose population of 40 million was nearly equivalent to that of Western Europe at the time of the first settlers) and tend to believe the United States to have been founded upon ‘spiritual’ values, but a closer examination of these ideals is needed.

Even though the laws set by the Constitution protect individual rights, founding a nation upon the creed of ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’ simply reduces all human activity to aspirations contained within the material realm, thereby denying any recognition of supra-human truths and adherence to higher principles. Taking the solar symbol discussed above into consideration, it is as if the outer ring of the solar wheel divorced itself from the Divine Center, the physical realm proclaiming to be sufficient unto itself, an act that brings to mind the spirit of Lucifer rebelling from Heaven.

Essentially, the empirical studies of science were consecrated as being the only path to knowledge, thus binding modern civilization to the realm of matter in a new age of humanism, in which the Divine Principle as represented by the Eye of Providence was rejected, replaced by a different conception of godhood.

The image of the All-Seeing Eye remained in use, however, and the founding fathers combined the symbol with that of an unfinished pyramid and the inscription of Annuit Coeptis, ‘Providence favors our undertakings’ to compose the Great Seal of the United States.

To those who followed the Age of Reason’s faith in logic, enlightenment was considered to be the acquisition and synthesis of knowledge collected from scientific research. In this sense, a being does not undergo inner transformation to attain transcendent enlightenment, as understood in the East; instead, Western enlightenment is tantamount to the endless toil of discovery and ‘progress’. Thus, the image of God as portrayed on the Great Seal became the emblem for endless Becoming, rather than the traditional embodiment of pure Being.

The sight of the unfinished pyramid placed beneath the distorted image of Divinity brings to mind the tower of Babel, as humanity seeks to attain godhood through its own ambitions.

The pyramid is constructed by the workings of the nation’s people, massed together into a collective body, as exemplified by the obverse side of the Great Seal’s motto E pluribus unum, ‘Out of many, one’. All individuals are assimilated into the collective melting pot, with the Great Work of humanity as the final goal.

Many today despair at the corrupt condition America has fallen into, viewing the early years of the country as the halcyon days of the nation, in which local communities governed and provided for themselves. But what many fail to see is that the seeds of the centrally-controlled corporatist political machine that America has become today were planted at the very inception of the country. Secularism and the myth of progress gave way to uncompromising scientific ‘advances’ in industry, and the consequent efficiency of production gave rise to a utilitarian, consumerist society, which erupted from the United States and continues to infect the rest of the world to this day.

The Great Seal not only degraded the once sacred Eye of Providence into an emblem of collective utilitarianism and humanistic progress, however. As the character of the United States continues to degenerate, so too does the meaning of the Great Seal which represents such a global empire.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a 32nd degree mason, opted to print the Great Seal on the one-dollar bill under the influence of fellow mason Henry Wallace in 1934, coinciding with the dictatorial New Deal. Since then, the ‘big government’ practices of the United States have ceaselessly expanded, and the All-Seeing Eye has gained a new association, that of the all-powerful, all-seeing surveillance of the Leviathan State.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s image of the Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings demonstrates how a traditionally sacred image of Divinity can just as fittingly depict the inverse, evil nature of the symbol: the ever watchful Eye of Sauron represents not benevolent omniscience, but rather nefarious surveillance and control.

As the global-encompassing dominance of the modern, anti-traditional civilization continues to spread its influence, one is left to speculate on the intentions behind those who implemented such a powerful symbol as the All-Seeing Eye as a national, monetary, and now corporate emblem (see Vigilant Citizen’s article 'Pyramid and All-Seeing Eye: Their Occult Meaning and Use in Corporate Logos'). Is this simply an unconscious manifestation of malefic forces? Or is it possible that, like the Nazi regime, there are those who secretly use the inverted charge of powerful sacred symbols as a means to gain dominance over the unsuspecting public?

The Perpetual Carnival

A common element found in traditional cultures around the world is that of the carnival. Allowing for an annual time of disorder among a society offered the opportunity for chaotic forces to manifest and to be regularly dispersed. One example is the Feast of Fools in Europe, in which religious customs were mocked and social roles were reversed. The temporary allowance for the mockery of traditions and the expression of negative characteristics of the people typically ensured a return to thriving social order once the festivities ended and routine life resumed.

Guénon explains:

‘[I]t is, in short, a matter of somehow ‘channeling’ these tendencies and rendering them as inoffensive as possible, by giving them an opportunity to manifest themselves, but only during very brief periods and in very set circumstances, and by assigning this manifestation narrow limits which it is not allowed to overstep. If it were not so, these same tendencies, for lack of the minimum satisfaction required by the present state of humanity, would be at risk of exploding, so to speak, and spreading their effects to the whole of existence, collectively as well as individually, causing a disorder far more serious than that which is produced only during some few days especially reserved for that purpose…’ (Symbols of Sacred Science, 1962).

As desecration of religious traditions has now become commonplace in modern pop culture, there is no longer any use for an annual time of disorder, as chaos has been unleashed on society at large. The clearest sign of the subversive nature of modern society is the shameless proliferation of inverted sacred symbols. It must be recalled that the image itself need not be altered for the inversion to take place; the distortion lies in the intention behind the symbol’s use, and as we have seen in this discussion, there are plenty of examples of perverse modern usage.

Recently, there has been some discussion over the use of occult symbols in the media and corporate logos, suggesting a conspiracy of the ‘Elite’ manipulating the masses. While the work exposing such malevolent use of symbols is important, the sacred side of esoteric symbolism must never be forgotten. To declare all occult imagery as being evil is not only seeing one half of the issue, it is fueling the negative connotations and further destroying any sacred meaning with which humans associate these powerful symbols.

Guénon warns of the satanic ‘counter-initiation’ presently at work within modern society, which seeks to destroy all traditional notions of the sacred:

‘[T]he cleverest and most dangerous subversion is not the one that betrays itself by too obvious singularities easily noticed by anyone, but it is the one that deforms the meaning of symbols or reverses their import while making no change in their outward appearance. But the most diabolical trick of all is perhaps that which consists in attributing to the orthodox symbolism itself, as it exists in truly traditional organizations and more especially in initiatic organizations (the latter being specially liable to attack in this case), the inverted interpretation that is specifically characteristic of the ‘counter-initiation’; and the ‘counter-initiation’ does not fail to take advantage of this method of promoting confusions and uncertainties when it can derive some profit from them. This is really the whole secret of certain campaigns, very significant in view of the character of the present period, conducted either against esoterism in general or against any one initiatic form in particular, with the unconscious help of people who would be very astonished, and even appalled, if they could become aware of the use that is being made of them; unfortunately however it sometimes so happens that people who imagine that they are fighting the devil, whatever their particular notion of the devil may be, are thus turned, without the least suspicion of the fact on their part, into his best servants!’ (The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, 1945)
Perhaps all this talk of evil brings many to scoff at such ramblings and superstitions. But it is worth considering: if malevolent forces do indeed exist and have direct influence over our feelings and thoughts, then would propagating ideas of the absurdity of its existence not be evil’s greatest strategy? Those who refuse to admit to this possibility put themselves at risk, as they disregard any measure of protection and remain susceptible to malefic persuasion. We are given many clues to the hidden forces at work, and a good place to start is by observing the corrupted nature sacred symbols have become.
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