While Ned’s crypt chapter was the key that unlocked the revelation of Lyanna as Persephone the flower maiden, Cat’s godswood chapter was the key of Winterfell and the North as an underworld guarded and ruled by the Starks with Ned matching many keypoints of Hades. It also hints at Cat as Persephone the wife. In this essay I analyse Catelyn as wife of the ruler of the Underworld, while I explore her as a chthonic mother in the consecutive essays. Various chthonic goddesses are referenced in Catelyn’s chapters. The first two contain elements of Persephone, Pandora, Demeter and Isis.
Persephone, the wife of Hades Stark
The very first thing we learn about her is that she dislikes the godswood and all that it represents by extension: the North, Old Gods, the winter, the cold, the harshness, gloomy Winterfell. It is the first sentence of her very first point of view, and we have not even heard or seen her through any other point of view yet.
Catelyn had never liked this godswood. (aGoT, Catelyn I)
Then we learn who Catelyn is by birth name and where she grew up – a Tully from Riverrun.
She had been born a Tully, at 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.
Catelyn describes it as pleasure garden. It is alive with light, sound, songbirds, spices and perfume. Riverrun’s godswood is a pleasure and feast for the senses. And even the shadows are dappled with light. Symbolically, Catelyn thus originates from a living world.
It is only by the third paragraph that we learn where ‘this godswood that she dislikes so much’ actually is located: Winterfell.
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.
It is the complete opposite to her: dark, silent, smelling of decay, and the trees and canopy are crowded so close together no light can reacht he surface. It is a place of shadows. It is not a garden, but a wilderness, the abattoir of gods with no names, an underworld. And she also hints that the castle is ancient too and a gloomy place to her too. So, we now have a picture of Catelyn Tully who grew up in a world that was a feast for the senses, but must call a gloomy castle and wilderness of decay and shadows her home.
The fourth paragraph tells us why that greatly disliked place is her home – she is the wife of Ned Stark, the ruler of the underworld.
But she knew she would find her husband here tonight. Whenever he took a man’s life, afterward he would seek the quiet of the godswood.
What a way to introduce Ned Stark to us in Catelyn’s mind – the husband who just took a man’s life. And the whenever makes it sound as if Ned takes a man’s life often. While Bran’s chapter gives us the information why and how Ned took Gared’s life, Catelyn’s generic expression would fit perfectly with a ruler of the underworld or the embodiment of death.
She finds her husband in the godswood, cleaning the blood of his greatsword Ice, seated on a stone, beneath the weirwood, beside the black pool of cold water. This is the first time we actually see Ned Stark through Catelyn’s eyes.
Catelyn found her husband beneath the weirwood, seated on a moss-covered stone. The greatsword Ice was across his lap, and he was cleaning the blade in those waters black as night. A thousand years of humus lay thick upon the godswood floor, swallowing the sound of her feet, but the red eyes of the weirwood seemed to follow her as she came. “Ned,” she called softly.
He is cleaning the blood of a man he beheaded from his blade, surrounded by underworld symbolism: the weirwood with bark as white as bones and leaves the color of bloodstained hands, seated on stone, and water black as night. It is such a place of death that Catelyn’s feet can’t even make a sound – the forest floor swallows the sound of her feet.
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.
Normally I mark words that apply for both the living world as the underworld in purple (such as white, red and water). But for this essay I am using the context to determine whether they are used in relation to the underworld or the living world. The red of the eyes and the leaves are not about the life giving aspect of blood, but related to bleeding or spilling blood by cutting and carving and getting your hands stained with blood when beheading a man.
I want you to take notice of the fact that Ice lies across Ned’s lap, unsheathed. We see this same image twice more, in different contexts – the swords in the laps of the statues in the crypts of Winterfell, as well as Robb’s sword when Tyrion visits Winterfell upon his return from the Wall.
By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each who had been Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts…[snip]… There were three tombs, side by side. Lord Rickard Stark, Ned’s father, had a long, stern face. The stonemason had known him well. He sat with quiet dignity, stone fingers holding tight to the sword across his lap, but in life all swords had failed him. In two smaller sepulchres on either side were his children. (aGoT, Eddard I)
Robb was seated in Father’s high seat, wearing ringmail and boiled leather and the stern face of Robb the Lord…[snip]…”Any man of the Night’s Watch is welcome here at Winterfell for as long as he wishes to stay,” Robb was saying with the voice of Robb the Lord. His sword was across his knees, the steel bare for all the world to see. Even Bran knew what it meant to greet a guest with an unsheathed sword. (aGoT, Bran IV)
… and so does Tyrion.
All three images are echoes of each other:
- In the crypts: stone likenness of former Lords of Winterfell and Kings of Winter, on a stone seat, with two direwolves at their feet, and a bare sword in their lap.
- Robb Stark: on the stone high seat, with two direwolf heads carved out, and an unsheathed sword in his lap, while he is acting Lord of Winterfell, in the absence of his father.
- Ned Stark: seated on a stone, with bare steel in his lap, talking about the baby direwolves with his wife.
Aside from the clearly repeated imagery of a ruler of Winterfell, with each echo we are given three different reasons for the bare steel (in order of appearance).
- Practical: to clean the sword (Ned Stark)
- Superstituous: to keep vengeful spirits in their crypts
- Hostile: as a sign to a visitor that they are unwelcome (Robb Stark)
Only one of those three reasons can actually be applied subtextually to all three instances, while the other two reasons cannot be transferred. The cleaning does not apply to the stone statues nor Robb, nor does keeping vengeful spirits in place apply to Ned and Robb beneath the weirwoord or on the high seat respectively. But Ned Stark cleaning Ice can be seen as an echo of the unwelcome sign, as much as it is echoed in the crypts. And this is actually the message in Jon Snow’s dreams of the crypts and Theon’s unsettled feelings when he has to guide Lady Dustin in the crypts – you are unwelcome. Even Ned Stark is aware of the hostile atmosphere in the crypts when he visits it with Robert. So, when Catelyn sees Ned Stark beneath the weirwood image cleaning the blood of a beheaded deserter from Ice, not only is it an ominous image of an executioner, but also a hostile one.
In this manner, we are introduced to Catelyn as the married Persephone, wife of Hades. Persephone was dragged from a flower field to the underworld, alive, and had to call that dismal place home ever after. We do not often associate Catelyn with flowers, but the memory of Riverrun’s lively garden at the start of Catelyn’s godswood chapter ends with the mention of scented flowers. And it was at Riverrun that Ned took Catelyn to wife1.
And one day fifteen years ago, this second father had become a brother as well, as he and Ned stood together in the sept at Riverrun to wed two sisters, the daughters of Lord Hoster Tully. (aGoT, Catelyn I)
Another flower reference with Catelyn is how she once wound flowers in her hair at Oldstones, when she was a young girl. Catelyn reflects on it when she talks with Robb at the ruin of Oldstones.
She had camped here once with her father, on their way to Seagard. Petyr was with us too . . .
“There’s a song,” [Robb] remembered. “‘Jenny of Oldstones, with the flowers in her hair.'”
“We’re all just songs in the end. If we are lucky.” She had played at being Jenny that day, had even wound flowers in her hair. And Petyr had pretended to be her Prince of Dragonflies. Catelyn could not have been more than twelve, Petyr just a boy. (aSoS, Catelyn V)
Once, Catelyn is established in this introduction as a Persephone, through her marriage with Ned as Hades, while disliking the underworld so much, Catelyn’s first chapter proceeds to give us a window on how Catelyn attempts to reconcile herself with her fate. She tries to soften her stern, distant, formal husband who is seated in a hostile manner with love and intimacy (hence, why I marked it in pink). As his wife she is the sole one in function with the ability to do that. But even then Ned’s initial response seems cold and distant.
“Ned,” she called softly.
He lifted his head to look at her. “Catelyn,” he said. His voice was distant and formal. “Where are the children?”
And yet, despite the formal and distant voice, Ned always first relates to her as the father of her children, with children as the ultimate symbol of new life. Though direwolves are chthonic animals – the Starks’ hellhounds – in this conversation they are pups still. Like children, pups symbolize new life and they are cute furballs to fall in love with.
He would always ask her that. “In the kitchen, arguing about names for the wolf pups.” She spread her cloak on the forest floor and sat beside the pool, her back to the weirwood. She could feel the eyes watching her, but she did her best to ignore them. “Arya is already in love, and Sansa is charmed and gracious, but Rickon is not quite sure.”
Catelyn covers and ignores the underworld surroundings. She covers up the forest floor, turns her back to the weirwood and ignores the sensation of being watched. Catelyn uses her cloak to cover the forest floor. And what is her cloak, if not a marriage cloak? In my own language (Dutch) we have a figure of speech that if translated literally means – to cover something with the cloak of love. The correct figure of speech in English would be – cloak of charity. But here, it is love that Catelyn uses and refers to.
That cloak of love cannot actually make the underworld disappear or turn her husband into a southern lord ruling an area of the realm of the living.
“Is he afraid?” Ned asked.
“A little,” she admitted. “He is only three.”
Ned frowned. “He must learn to face his fears. He will not be three forever. And winter is coming.”
“Yes,” Catelyn agreed. The words gave her a chill, as they always did. The Stark words. Every noble house had its words. Family mottoes, touchstones, prayers of sorts, they boasted of honor and glory, promised loyalty and truth, swore faith and courage. All but the Starks. Winter is coming, said the Stark words. Not for the first time, she reflected on what a strange people these northerners were.
Even a toddler has to learn the inevitable facts of their new, young life as soon as possible in Ned’s eyes – winter is coming. It’s as true as Valar Morghulis – everybody dies. Both basically mean the same thing, really. With winter being the dead season, the expression winter is coming is synonymous to death is coming. So, while Catelyn talks of cute pups, squabbling young children and toddlers and love, it is met with a saying about death coming. It is emphasised that these are the Stark words, alone. She considers the northerners strange as in the modern ‘weird’ for it, but of course Catelyn here unwittingly equates the Stranger with a northerner as well.
Her loving wife tactic does help her husband in sharing with her, but that sharing inevitably implies she cannot ignore the underworld, but made into a participant of ruling it.
“The man died well, I’ll give him that,” Ned said. He had a swatch of oiled leather in one hand. He ran it lightly up the greatsword as he spoke, polishing the metal to a dark glow. “I was glad for Bran’s sake. You would have been proud of Bran.”
“I am always proud of Bran,” Catelyn replied, watching the sword as he stroked it. She could see the rippling deep within the steel, where the metal had been folded back on itself a hundred times in the forging. Catelyn had no love for swords, but she could not deny that Ice had its own beauty. It had been forged in Valyria, before the Doom had come to the old Freehold, when the ironsmiths had worked their metal with spells as well as hammers. Four hundred years old it was, and as sharp as the day it was forged. The name it bore was older still, a legacy from the age of heroes, when the Starks were Kings in the North.
The phrases and words I marked as pink could just as well have been marked in black, to highlight their connection to death and thus the underworld. But George has already showed us that Catelyn is trying to ignore the underworld connotations by covering it with her wedding cloak of love. And in that sense, a sword has a double entendre. George spells it out through Lady Dustin when she talks of Brandon Stark, and Daario’s arakh and stiletto have naked wanton women for hilts.
“Brandon loved his sword. He loved to hone it. ‘I want it sharp enough to shave the hair from a woman’s cunt,’ he used to say. And how he loved to use it. ‘A bloody sword is a beautiful thing,’ he told me once.”… [snip]…”I still remember the look of my maiden’s blood on his cock the night he claimed me. I think Brandon liked the sight as well. A bloody sword is a beautiful thing, yes. It hurt, but it was a sweet pain.
“The day I learned that Brandon was to marry Catelyn Tully, though … there was nothing sweet about that pain…[snip]…Afterward my father nursed some hope of wedding me to Brandon’s brother Eddard, but Catelyn Tully got that one as well.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)
“Into my bed. Into my arms. Into my heart.” The hilts of Daario’s arakh and stiletto were wrought in the shape of golden women, naked and wanton. He brushed his thumbs across them in a way that was remarkably obscene and smiled a wicked smile. (aDwD, Daenerys IV)
Sex and swords go hand in hand (literally in Daario’s case). While the paragraph of Catelyn watching Ned polish his greatsword is not explicitly lustful, notice how it lacks the chill that Catelyn feels when it comes to the Stark words. One would suppose that if Catelyn only regarded Ned oiling the sword in a morbid context, she would feel that same chill. Instead, she watches with fascination and finds it beautiful, heroic, kingly. And if this sexual subtext was not yet clear to you, then Michael Komarck’s illustration of Eddard with Ice that George’s editors selected to accompany the book certainly suggests it. (My my, Ned and his great sword).
Hence, the sexual connotation is still implied, as is the losing of her maidenhead, since Ned cleansed it of blood and Catelyn only ever bedded her husband.
And when Brandon was murdered and Father told me I must wed his brother, I did so gladly, though I never saw Ned’s face until our wedding day. I gave my maidenhood to this solemn stranger and sent him off to his war and his king and the woman who bore him his bastard, because I always did my duty.(aCoK, Catelyn VI)
Ned polishing Ice and Catelyn watching echoes the privileged intimacy of marriage that Catelyn has with Ned Stark. The next chapter does not shy away from telling us that they have a healthy sexual relationship that they both enjoy.
So when they had finished, Ned rolled off and climbed from her bed, as he had a thousand times before. He crossed the room, pulled back the heavy tapestries, and threw open the high narrow windows one by one, letting the night air into the chamber.
The wind swirled around him as he stood facing the dark, naked and empty-handed. Catelyn pulled the furs to her chin and watched him. He looked somehow smaller and more vulnerable, like the youth she had wed in the sept at Riverrun, fifteen long years gone. Her loins still ached from the urgency of his lovemaking. It was a good ache. (aGoT, Catelyn II)
Catelyn may dislike the underworld – the place, the attitude and what it requires from her husband – but she loves and desires her husband, even though she did not choose him initially. Not only does she find the sword has its own beauty. She loves the sword’s name and ancestry. The final lines of the paragraph about Ice, implies she regards Ned Stark as a man with the blood of kings and ancient heroes. He may not be the dashing womanizer as Brandon or Daario, but he has his own beauty to her, one she saw at their wedding when he looked vulnerable. Only Catelyn knows him in the intimate manner of lovemaking.
With the hint that theirs is a good marriage, Ned proceeds by sharing his concerns about the desertions and Mance Rayder as King-Beyond-the-Wall. Catelyn in return shares her fears about it to Ned.
“Beyond the Wall?” The thought made Catelyn shudder.
Ned saw the dread on her face. “Mance Rayder is nothing for us to fear.”
“There are darker things beyond the Wall.” She glanced behind her at the heart tree, the pale bark and red eyes, watching, listening, thinking its long slow thoughts.
His smile was gentle. “You listen to too many of Old Nan’s stories. The Others are as dead as the children of the forest, gone eight thousand years. Maester Luwin will tell you they never lived at all. No living man has ever seen one.”
“Until this morning, no living man had ever seen a direwolf either,” Catelyn reminded him.
“I ought to know better than to argue with a Tully,” he said with a rueful smile. (aGoT, Catelyn I)
Here we get the first indication that Catelyn has a keen intuition.She is in touch with her feelings and she senses a foreboding. Despite, being of the Faith and southern, she is the first person to fear the Others are a possible threat, while Ned – who should know better as a Stark – follows a maester’s rational beliefs². And she is actually correct. In just her first chapter alone, she has three correct forebodings.
- Darker things beyond the Wall than a King-Beyond-the-Wall: the Others
- The direwolf killed by an antler in her throat: the Baratheons being a threat to Starks
- Advizing Ned to guard his tongue around Cersei
“Robert is coming here?” When she nodded, a smile broke across his face.
Catelyn wished she could share his joy. But she had heard the talk in the yards; a direwolf dead in the snow, a broken antler in its throat. Dread coiled within her like a snake, but she forced herself to smile at this man she loved, this man who put no faith in signs. (aGoT, Catelyn I)
“You knew the man,” she said. “The king is a stranger to you.” Catelyn remembered the direwolf dead in the snow, the broken antler lodged deep in her throat. She had to make him see. (aGoT, Catelyn II)
“Please, Ned, guard your tongue. The Lannister woman is our queen, and her pride is said to grow with every passing year.” (aGoT, Catelyn I)
It is a great pity that Ned did not heed his wife’s advice months later, once he realized Cersei’s children were not Robert’s. While Catelyn’s decisions, choices and opinions are often cause of much debate with opinions varying between brilliant and stupid, there is no denying that Catelyn is remarkably astute and her intuition superb here. I cannot but help notice that Catelyn hits the mark thrice, while she is seated beside that cold, black pool and made eye contact with the weirwood behind her. It is almost as if she is an oracle in this chapter, or one of the three Norns at the Well of Fate (Urdarbrunnr). It certainly is something we need to store away in the back of our minds, because if Catelyn does fulfill the roles of one of three Norns, then we ought to consider two other women at Winterfell to have similar abilities.
One of the duties Catelyn tends to as wife of the ruler of the underworld is the delivery of the sole news from the living world that is of the underworld’s concern – who died.
Catelyn took her husband’s hand. “There was grievous news today, my lord. I did not wish to trouble you until you had cleansed yourself.” There was no way to soften the blow, so she told him straight. “I am so sorry, my love. Jon Arryn is dead.”
Like Persephone, Catelyn is the bridge between both the terrestrial and subterranaian world. George has Catelyn alone be the connection by having the messages from the south given to her first, before they are relayed to Ned. In her second chapter this bridging role of Catelyn via messages from the south to the north is repeated, in a rather contrived manner.
Maester Luwin drew a tightly rolled paper out of his sleeve. “I found the true message concealed within a false bottom when I dismantled the box the lens had come in, but it is not for my eyes.”
Ned held out his hand. “Let me have it, then.”
Luwin did not stir. “Pardons, my lord. The message is not for you either. It is marked for the eyes of the Lady Catelyn, and her alone.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)
These messages are all related to concerns of the underworld:
- the dead: who died and how did they die
- the mourners
- the visitors: who of the living comes to visit the underworld
She relays Robert’s story how Jon Arryn died in the first chapter, while the contrived message from Lysa adds the information that he was murdered.
“Jon …” he said. “Is this news certain?”
“It was the king’s seal, and the letter is in Robert’s own hand. I saved it for you. He said Lord Arryn was taken quickly. Even Maester Pycelle was helpless, but he brought the milk of the poppy, so Jon did not linger long in pain.”
“That is some small mercy, I suppose,” he said. (aGoT, Catelyn I)
“Lysa says Jon Arryn was murdered.”
His fingers tightened on her arm. “By whom?”
“The Lannisters,” she told him. “The queen.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)
Catelyn mentioning that she saved Robert’s message for Ned implies that she usually handles word from the South by herself without showing it to Ned, even about death or illness. Only in a high profile and personal case like this does she save it for Ned’s eyes to see for himself.
Though Ned inquires after the mourners, we also learn he asks after the living, not because he is particulary interested in them for himself, but for his wife’s sake.
She could see the grief on his face, but even then he thought first of her. “Your sister,” he said. “And Jon’s boy. What word of them?”
“The message said only that they were well, and had returned to the Eyrie,” Catelyn said. “I wish they had gone to Riverrun instead. The Eyrie is high and lonely, and it was ever her husband’s place, not hers. Lord Jon’s memory will haunt each stone…” (aGoT, Catelyn I)
Of much more importance to Ned are visitors of the underworld as it requires him to prepare the underworld for the visitors: guides, a feast, entertainment, his associates responsible of other sections of the underworld such as a representative of the Night’s Watch.
“The letter had other tidings. The king is riding to Winterfell to seek you out.”
…[snip]…”Robert is coming here?” When she nodded, a smile broke across his face.
…[snip]…”I knew that would please you,” she said. “We should send word to your brother on the Wall.”
“Yes, of course,” he agreed. “Ben will want to be here. I shall tell Maester Luwin to send his swiftest bird.” Ned rose and pulled her to her feet. “Damnation, how many years has it been? And he gives us no more notice than this? How many in his party, did the message say?”
“I should think a hundred knights, at the least, with all their retainers, and half again as many freeriders. Cersei and the children travel with them.”…[snip]… “The queen’s brothers are also in the party,” she told him.
With what we have seen from Catelyn earlier, it seems peculiar that Catelyn is the one who proposes to warn Benjen Stark of the Night’s Watch. The Wall and the Night’s Watch seemed Ned’s focus. I am not pointing it out because she is a woman or the wife, but because she has this dislike of the godswood, the weirwood tree, the Stark words and a fear for the Wall and what is beyond it. Would Catelyn have given advice on communication with the Night’s Watch regarding a deserter or wildlings? I doubt it. Though evidently, in the next chapter she advizes Ned what to do with Robert’s offer to make Ned Stark his Hand. I would say that she takes initiative to have a Stark representative of the Night’s Watch present when Robert visits, because she is the bridging character between the southerners (the living) and the northerners (the underworld).
I would also like to point out how Ned offers Catelyn to visit Lysa at the Eyrie.
“Go to her,” Ned urged. “Take the children. Fill her halls with noise and shouts and laughter. That boy of hers needs other children about him, and Lysa should not be alone in her grief.”
It is one of the few moments that Ned’s speech is filled with life symbolism. Since a Persephone belongs to both worlds and in myth voyages between the two yearly, here we get a subtle reference for Catelyn to resurface south.
Demeter of the lovely hair, the mother who bathes
Catelyn’s second chapter once again focuses on contrasting symbolism of life and death. Catelyn has been furnished in the hottest room of Winterfell, a little haven of the living world in the heart of the underworld.
Of all the rooms in Winterfell’s Great Keep, Catelyn’s bedchambers were the hottest. She seldom had to light a fire. The castle had been built over natural hot springs, and the scalding waters rushed through its walls and chambers like blood through a man’s body, driving the chill from the stone halls, filling the glass gardens with a moist warmth, keeping the earth from freezing. Open pools smoked day and night in a dozen small courtyards. That was a little thing, in summer; in winter, it was the difference between life and death. (aGoT, Catelyn II)
The paragraph is full of elements referencing life – the hot springs, blood rushing through a living and breahting man – that keep death at bay, conquer death even as it drives chill away and keeping the earth from freezing, so that they can grow food and flowers in a glass garden that otherwise could not be grown North.
Catelyn’s bedroom is her haven of life, and as a setting contrasts the godswood, Ned’s haven. It is stated that these are Catelyn’s chambers, not theirs. A married couple sharing a bedroom and only one is a modern practice. In feudal times high noble couples had separate bedrooms. Hence, the hot bedroom is hers and Ned is a visitor there (and he visits it often apparently), whereas Catelyn was the visitor in Ned’s godswood. This impacts the dynamics we witness between them. When Catelyn visits Ned in the godswood, we can see her in a Persephone role of the woman who is bound to the underworld through marriage. But in Catelyn’s haven another chthonic woman emerges – Demeter, the mother goddess.
Catelyn’s bath was always hot and steaming, and her walls warm to the touch. The warmth reminded her of Riverrun, of days in the sun with Lysa and Edmure, but Ned could never abide the heat. The Starks were made for the cold, he would tell her, and she would laugh and tell him in that case they had certainly built their castle in the wrong place.
Demeter was the goddess of the harvest and fertility as Demeter Sito (“she of the grain”). Where Persephone symbolized the fruit, flowers and grain itself, her mother Demeter was the one with the power to decide whether life grew or not. Persephone’s disappearance did not cause famine directly, but Demeter’s wrath over her daughter’s abduction. Demeter was a mother-goddess of the earth. As the divine teacher of agriculture, she was a corner stone of civilisation, including the laws people had to abide by.
In Accadian myth Demeter’s daughter is Despoina, a much wilder version than Persephone, born from the copulation of Poseidon as a stallion and Demeter as a mare. Demeter attempted to escape Poseidon, but failed. Demeter’s rape was followed by her bathing. Hence, one of her epiteths was Lusia (“bathing”) and Thermasia (“warmth”), and both Despoina and Demeter were much more tied to spring sources. In Catelyn’s second chapter George repeats these references several times:
- a warm room, because of scalding hot springwater where Catelyn hardly ever needs to raise a fire in her hearth.
- glass garden to grow vegetables, fruit, and flowers
- hot scalding baths.
That Catelyn seldom needed to raise a fire in her hearth is a peculiar detail. The goddess of the hearth and home was Hestia, Demeter’s sister. With Catelyn as mistress of Winterfell and homemaker it is as if George stresses to not mistake Catelyn with the virginal goddess of the hearth, Hestia. While George emphasies that warmth and hotness is related to Catelyn, it is not in any way related to the firehearth.
Scalding, hot baths feature repeatedly in Catelyn’s chapters.
Old Nan undressed her and helped her into a scalding hot bath and washed the blood off her with a soft cloth.(aGoT, Catelyn III)
She bathed her hands in the basin and wrapped them in clean linen. (aGoT, Catelyn IV)
By the time Ser Desmond came for her, she had bathed and dressed and combed out her auburn hair. “King Robb has returned from the west, my lady,” the knight said, “and commands that you attend him in the Great Hall.” (aSoS, Catelyn II)
There are other Demeter eptiteths and symbols that feature throughout Catelyn’s arc, but for now I will focus on one that relates to Catelyn’s bathing and is part of her final thoughts before her throat is cut at the Red Wedding – her hair.
Catelyn had always thought Robb looked like her; like Bran and Rickon and Sansa, he had the Tully coloring, the auburn hair, the blue eyes. (aGoT, Catelyn III)
“It is only water, Ser Rodrik,” Catelyn replied. Her hair hung wet and heavy, a loose strand stuck to her forehead, and she could imagine how ragged and wild she must look, but for once she did not care.(aGoT, Catelyn V)
All that remained of her sister’s beauty was the great fall of thick auburn hair that cascaded to her waist. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)
She had washed her hair, changed her clothing, and prepared herself for her brother’s reproaches … (aSoS, Catelyn I)
After she’d undressed and hung her wet clothing by the fire, she donned a warm wool dress of Tully red and blue, washed and brushed her hair and let it dry, and went in search of Freys.(aSoS, Catelyn VI)
That made her laugh until she screamed. “Mad,” someone said, “she’s lost her wits,” and someone else said, “Make an end,” and a hand grabbed her scalp just as she’d done with Jinglebell, and she thought, No, don’t, don’t cut my hair, Ned loves my hair. Then the steel was at her throat, and its bite was red and cold.(aSoS, Catelyn VII)
Descriptions about food, clothing, hair and color of eyes are common in novels, but George tends to have different POVs focus heavily on different description topics. Tyrion’s chapters tend to have the eloborate food descriptions, even when it is a daily meal of little importance (peas anyone?). Sansa’s chapters focus heavily on clothing. Catelyn’s chapters feature hair a lot. That is not to say that other features are completely absent in each of these character’s POVs. Sansa’s chapters describe food and hair as well, but only of important characters or events. In Catelyn’s chapters even the most unimportant squire passing by will get a beard and hair description. Catelyn only focuses on attire at special occasions when it actually matters. It is not just the hair of every Dick and Tom that matters to Catelyn, but her own auburn hair is most precious to her, for Ned loved her hair.
Hair is a feature of Demeter. When she is referenced in Greek poetry she is called ‘beautiful/rich haired Demeter’.
I begin to sing of rich-haired Demeter, awful/revered goddess…
Bitter pain seized her heart, and she rent the covering upon her divine hair with her dear hands:… (Hymn to Demeter, Homerus 7th century BCE, translation Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Loeb Classical Library 1914)
The Homeric Hymn to Demeter served for centuries as the canonical hymn of the Eleusinian Mysteries. In another poem ascribed to Homer he again references her beautiful hair in relation to a legend where Demeter takes the youth Iason as her lover.
So, it was Demeter of the lovely hair, yielding to her desire, lay down with Iason…
I quoted the paragraphs about Ned’s and Catelyn’s lovemaking already in relation to the innuendo of the polishing of the sword, but I repeat it here to show how that paragraph references several life symbols.
The wind swirled around him as he stood facing the dark, naked and empty-handed. Catelyn pulled the furs to her chin and watched him. He looked somehow smaller and more vulnerable, like the youth she had wed in the sept at Riverrun, fifteen long years gone. Her loins still ached from the urgency of his lovemaking. It was a good ache. She could feel his seed within her. She prayed that it might quicken there. It had been three years since Rickon. She was not too old. She could give him another son.
It mentions the sensation of feeling, as well as seed, quickening and making a child – all related to new life. In her haven, Ned is not the Lord of Winter, but a youth, as naked and empty-handed as he was born, as vulnerable as he was on their wedding day.
The elements of a wedding, a vulnerable youth and conception of a son appear in one of Demeter’s legends. At a wedding party, she chooses the youthful Iason for a lover and takes him to a plowing field where they have intercourse. This is how she conceives a son by Iason. When Demeter and her lover return to the feast it is evident to all the other guests what the couple has been up to. Jealous, Zeus strikes the human Iason with a lightning bolt, which would prove his vulnerability. In the above quoted scene, Catelyn did not conceive, but thinks of it while the paragraph refers to her wedding day. And Catelyn did become pregnant with Robb either during her wedding night or shortly after, before youthful Ned Stark rode off to war again.
…[snip]…He had a man’s needs, after all, and they had spent that year apart, Ned off at war in the south while she remained safe in her father’s castle at Riverrun. Her thoughts were more of Robb, the infant at her breast, than of the husband she scarcely knew.(aGoT, Catelyn II)
Ned had lingered scarcely a fortnight with his new bride before he too had ridden off to war with promises on his lips. At least he had left her with more than words; he had given her a son. Nine moons had waxed and waned, and Robb had been born in Riverrun while his father still warred in the south. She had brought him forth in blood and pain, not knowing whether Ned would ever see him. Her son. He had been so small … (aGoT, Catelyn X)
Later in the same chapter we get further allusions to fertility symbolism as Catelyn gets up from the bed naked, while maester Luwin is present. Maester Luwin delivered all her children, or at least four of them³. And of course, though not outrightly mentioned, there is the implication that all those children, except for Robb Stark, were conceived and born in Catelyn’s bedroom.
With both Ned and Catelyn naked and wide awake it is clear to any visitor, such as Luwin, that the Lord and Lady of Winterfell had been sexually active and not woken from sleep. There is even a moment of embarrassment for Ned when Catelyn gets up from the bed. This scene would fit with the wedding guests able to guess what Demeter and Iason were up to before.
She threw back the furs and climbed from the bed. The night air was as cold as the grave on her bare skin as she padded across the room.
Maester Luwin averted his eyes. Even Ned looked shocked. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Lighting a fire,” Catelyn told him…[snip]…
“Maester Luwin—” Ned began.
“Maester Luwin has delivered all my children,” Catelyn said. “This is no time for false modesty.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)
What is evident is that in this haven of life and fertility, Catelyn’s focus would be on the South, civilisation and how it can be an advantage for her and her children, not in terms of what is best for the North or Winterfell, aka the underworld. While the chapter starts with the life and fertility symbols it especially includes symbols of motherhood. Hence we get a shift from Catelyn who considers the Wall’s and Northern interests in the godswood as chthonic Persephone to Demeter in her haven of life where her southron ambition surfaces. Persephone is not in conflict with Hades, but Demeter is. And it is this conflict we witness in Catelyn’s room, a conflict of priorities, understanding and interests.
Ned’s understanding and priority lies with his duty of ruling the underworld.
“I will refuse him,” Ned said as he turned back to her. His eyes were haunted, his voice thick with doubt.
Catelyn sat up in the bed. “You cannot. You must not.”
“My duties are here in the north. I have no wish to be Robert’s Hand.”
The Tully words are “Family, duty and honor,” in that order of priority. For her, one’s first duty is to family and then to the king and the honor the king shows Ned. Governing the North is somewhere at the end of the list of her duties. With Demeter family comes before duty as well. It is her duty to ensure the growth of crops and life. But when her daughter is stolen from her, she lets the world starve in defiance, even though the king of the gods, Zeus himself, consented Hades to take Persephone for a bride. Persephone on the other hand regards the duties of ruling the underworld as her own as much as it is Hades’s.
She had to make him see. “Pride is everything to a king, my lord. Robert came all this way to see you, to bring you these great honors, you cannot throw them back in his face.”
“Honors?” Ned laughed bitterly.
“In his eyes, yes,” she said.
“And in yours?”
“And in mine,” she blazed, angry now. Why couldn’t he see? “He offers his own son in marriage to our daughter, what else would you call that? Sansa might someday be queen. Her sons could rule from the Wall to the mountains of Dorne. What is so wrong with that?”
While Catelyn wonders why she cannot make Ned see, she simultaneously fails to see Ned’s duty. Blindness is a feature of the underworld, and that can extend to a metaphorical blindness. Catelyn fails to make Ned see, because as ruler of the underworld he is mentally blind to the interests of life and heavens, except when it pertains who and how they died.
They reach a momentarily impasse, until Maester Luwin arrives.
Ned turned away from her, back to the night. He stood staring out in the darkness, watching the moon and the stars perhaps, or perhaps the sentries on the wall…[snip]… Ned crossed to the wardrobe and slipped on a heavy robe. Catelyn realized suddenly how cold it had become. She sat up in bed and pulled the furs to her chin. “Perhaps we should close the windows,” she suggested.
Ned nodded absently. Maester Luwin was shown in.
I want to pay some attention to the opening and closing of that window. Ned Stark opens the window after their lovemaking in Catelyn’s warm, fertile room and he lets the night air in.
So when they had finished, Ned rolled off and climbed from her bed, as he had a thousand times before. He crossed the room, pulled back the heavy tapestries, and threw open the high narrow windows one by one, letting the night air into the chamber.
When Ned Stark lets the night in, he balances the warmth of life with the chill of the underworld. And while looking out into the night once in a while he remains connected with his realm. It is then that he decides for himself that he will refuse Robert. When Maester Luwin is shown in, he closes the window. Gradually, Ned is disconnected from the underworldy elements, and Catelyn lights a fire to burn both Lysa’s message as well as drive the last chill out. Both Catelyn and Luwin outnumber and outwit Ned Stark into accepting the position of the King’s Hand – not for honor, not to have daughter as queen, but to solve the murder of a dead man.
The Eleusinian Mystery
On my home page I used the quotes about the Myrish lens to illustrate how it urges the reader to look for deeper layers in George’s writing. But it also applies to the chthonic reading of the books. The Eleusinian Mystery was the mystery cult regarding secret knowlege of Persephone and Demeter. Mystai (initiates of the mystery) would enter a great hall, Telesterion, at the major temple of Eleusis and participate in rituals that revealed this secret knowlege:
- Dromena = things done. For example a re-enactment of the Persephone-Demeter myth
- Deiknumena = things shown. For example the displaying of sacred objects by a hierophant that were kept in a box.
- Legomena = things said. For example comments that accompanied the deiknumena.
- Aporrheta = the unspeakable. The term for all three elements combined. It was death to divulge the secrets, and playwrights were tried and condemned to death over it in actual history.
The complete scene about Lysa’s message all revolve around these concepts and is written to focus on seeing first, then saying and finally crimes done, as well as a vow of silence. We can actually literary divide the scene into each different part of the ritual.
Deiknumena (things shown)
Maester Luwin is shown in. He mentions the box and how it contains a lens, an instrument to help someone see, and that is how Luwin found a secret bottom inside that contained Lysa’s message. The sealed letter that has to be read and seen rather than spoken is then produced by Luwin in front of Ned and given to Catelyn, as its content is for Catelyn’s eyes only. So, we have a box containing a secret, and what can be called deiknumera (things shown). Maester Luwin is akin to a hierophant, a type of priest trained and knowledgeable in arcane principles and mysteries, particularly the Eleusian Mysteries. Within the Faith a Septon teaches and performs the public rites and beliefs of the Faith, whereas a maester is a learned man of the Faith who has studied and trained in the more mysterious arts.
“There was no rider, my lord. Only a carved wooden box, left on a table in my observatory while I napped. My servants saw no one, but it must have been brought by someone in the king’s party. We have had no other visitors from the south.”…[snip]…”Inside was a fine new lens for the observatory, from Myr by the look of it. The lenscrafters of Myr are without equal.”…[snip]…”Clearly there was more to this than the seeming.”
Under the heavy weight of her furs, Catelyn shivered. “A lens is an instrument to help us see.”
“Indeed it is.” He fingered the collar of his order; a heavy chain worn tight around the neck beneath his robe, each link forged from a different metal.
Catelyn could feel dread stirring inside her once again. “What is it that they would have us see more clearly?”
“The very thing I asked myself.” Maester Luwin drew a tightly rolled paper out of his sleeve. “I found the true message concealed within a false bottom when I dismantled the box the lens had come in, but it is not for my eyes.”…[snip]…”Pardons, my lord. The message is not for you either. It is marked for the eyes of the Lady Catelyn, and her alone. May I approach?”
The fact that the hierophant Luwin declares the secret within the box for Catelyn’s eyes only makes her an initiate. It turns out the letter is coded in the secret language that Lysa and Catelyn developed as children. Catelyn is the sole person who can decipher the letter, furthering her as an initiate. Her feelings of dread and knowledge the message contains grief, while it is still sealed, also attests to Catelyn being an initiate, since initiates are familiar with the mystery already. Of course, Catelyn does not know what it actually reads before she opens it, but she has a premonition of it.
Catelyn nodded, not trusting to speak. The maester placed the paper on the table beside the bed. It was sealed with a small blob of blue wax. Luwin bowed and began to retreat.
“Stay,” Ned commanded him. His voice was grave. He looked at Catelyn. “What is it? My lady, you’re shaking.”
“I’m afraid,” she admitted. She reached out and took the letter in trembling hands. The furs dropped away from her nakedness, forgotten. In the blue wax was the moon-and-falcon seal of House Arryn. “It’s from Lysa.” Catelyn looked at her husband. “It will not make us glad,” she told him. “There is grief in this message, Ned. I can feel it.”
Ned frowned, his face darkening. “Open it.”
Catelyn broke the seal.
Her eyes moved over the words. At first they made no sense to her. Then she remembered. “Lysa took no chances. When we were girls together, we had a private language, she and I.”
Catelyn is more than an initiate though. She very much is already tied to Demeter herself. The secret and news that was dreadful to Demeter was about the underworld. Note how often underworld vocabularly is used surrounding the appearance of the letter, Catelyn’s feelings and Ned’s expressions.
Of note here is that from the moment that Catelyn remarked that a lens is an instrument to help them see until Ned orders Catelyn to “tell them” what the message is about, George completely refrains from using the verb said and only once uses speak to highlight that Catelyn dares not speak. For a complete page one of the most often used verbs in literature is absent in the middle of a conversation between three characters. While characters speak, the text itself avoids the typical “he said” addition. Only four verbs related to speech are used in that passage – ask myself, command, admit, told – and each only once. This is quite extraordinary and George does this to emphasize the “showing”.
Legomena (things said)
The scene proceeds with the legomena. If you believed that the absence of the verbs said and tell and speak were merely coincidental or a general effort by George to avoid the use of these, then the next phase indicates it was done on purpose, for now the speech verbs said and tell get repeated several times. Ned orders Catelyn to tell them or him twice. Catelyn indicates they will need Luwin’s counsel (things he might say). The verb to say is used in various forms for a total of seven times. Catelyn does not say “Lysa writes,” but “Lysa says.” And the letter that one has to read becomes a warning that requires the wits to hear.
“Can you read it?”
“Yes,” Catelyn admitted.
“Then tell us.”
“Perhaps I should withdraw,” Maester Luwin said.
“No,” Catelyn said. “We will need your counsel.” She threw back the furs and climbed from the bed. The night air was as cold as the grave on her bare skin as she padded across the room.
Maester Luwin averted his eyes. Even Ned looked shocked. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Lighting a fire,” Catelyn told him. She found a dressing gown and shrugged into it, then knelt over the cold hearth…[snip]…”Maester Luwin has delivered all my children,” Catelyn said. “This is no time for false modesty.” She slid the paper in among the kindling and placed the heavier logs on top of it.
Ned crossed the room, took her by the arm, and pulled her to her feet. He held her there, his face inches from her. “My lady, tell me! What was this message?”
Catelyn stiffened in his grasp. “A warning,” she said softly. “If we have the wits to hear.” …[snip]…”Lysa says Jon Arryn was murdered.”…[snip]…”The Lannisters,” she told him. “The queen.”
Ned released his hold on her arm. There were deep red marks on her skin. “Gods,” he whispered. His voice was hoarse. “Your sister is sick with grief. She cannot know what she is saying.”
“She knows, Catelyn said.
The discrepance between the total absence of the verb to say for a full page and it then appearing seven times in less than a page right after it shows how deliberate George uses (or does not use) the verb in the message scene. It is even used twice within the conversation itself, despite the fact that both Ned and Catelyn refer to a written message, not an actual spoken one. Notice too how Luwin averts his eyes in order to not see. Where in the deiknumena-section George explicitly writes how Catelyn dares not speak, he emphasizes in the legomena-section that Luwin dares not see.
George also explicitly breaks the first rule a commencing author learns – show, don’t tell. George does not show Catelyn lighting the hearth. No, he has Ned ask her what she is doing and she tells him (and consequentionally the reader) that she’s lighting a fire. George never actually shows the reader how Catelyn lights the hearth, only that Catelyn slips the message among the kindling and puts a log on top of it.
Dromena (things done) and aporrheta (unspeakable)
This is only a short section in the whole scene and concludes the message scene. The content of Lysa’s message fall in the category of the dromena (things done) – the queen murdered Jon Arryn and continues into what Ned must do. And we are also reminded that the message is aporrheta (unspeakable), punishable by death.
“Lysa is impulsive, yes, but this message was carefully planned, cleverly hidden. She knew it meant death if her letter fell into the wrong hands….”
George basically turned the murder mystery of Jon Arryn into an Eleusinian Mystery, and we should be on the look-out for similar vocabulary use and scheme when GRRM reveals the identity of Jon’s mother in the coming books.
The Eleusinian Mystery works insofar that Catelyn has ties to the Demeter archetype, but the who-dunnit seems rather mundane in comparison to the meta-physical aspect of the Eleusinian Mysteries. These Mysteries after all were about a mother losing her daughter, her wrath, the seasonal cycle, agriculture and the spiritual truth regarding nature – without death there is no life, and without life there is no death. Meanwhile Lysa’s message is not even remotely a truth; it is a lie. Jon Arryn was murdered, but not by Cersei Lannister. He was poisoned by his own wife, Lysa, who sent the Eleusinian Mystery box to Catelyn.
Lysa Tully to Petyr Baelish: “No need for tears . . . but that’s not what you said in King’s Landing. You told me to put the tears in Jon’s wine, and I did. For Robert, and for us! And I wrote Catelyn and told her the Lannisters had killed my lord husband, just as you said…” (aSoS, Sansa VII)
In that sense, Lysa’s box is more akin to Pandora’s box, which actually was a jar. It became known as a box because of a 17th century mistranslation. Pandora and her box is most famous by Hesiod’s telling in Works and Days (700 BC) that leaves no doubt of Hesiod’s misogynistic mind. Works and Days is an 800 line poem that attempts to teach his brother Perses (and humanity) how to live a frugal, honest, hard working, god abiding life, after Perses cheated Hesiod out of part of his inheritance because Perses squandered his own half. With his telling of Prometheus and Pandora, Hesiod attempts to explain why man has to work and suffer.
According to Hesiod, originally humanity (created by Prometheus) was all male faitfully worshipping the gods. To help his creation, Prometheus gave Zeus two plates of sacrifices, where cow meat was hidden inside a stomach on one plate and horns were hidden inside a layer of fat on the other. Zeus picked the tasty looking platter of fat, thereby determining that man would pay homage to the gods by burning the bones of the animals they ate, so they could keep the edible for themselves. Angry, Zeus took away man’s ability to use fire, but then Prometheus stole the fire from Mount Olympus and gave it back to humanity. Zeus punished Prometheus to suffer for eternity in Tartarus by being bound to a rock and having his regenerating liver eaten daily by an eagle. But Zeus also created the first woman, Pandora.
From her is the race of women and female kind:
of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who
live amongst mortal men to their great trouble,
no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth. (Theogeny, Hesiod, line 590-593)
The first woman was created out of earth and water by Hephaestus (god of fire and smithing), as beautiful as a goddess, a sweet-shaped maiden who could weave and sow (taught by Athene) with grace and longing (given to her by Aphrodite), but who would also sag over the years by cares. Hermes gave her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature. In other words, Zeus created women as evil, deceitful, beautiful temptresses that spend a man’s money he worked so hard for, but over time become old hags that men are required to depend on when they are old and sick. For Hesiod all women were golddiggers.
“But I will give men as the price for fire an evil thing in which they may all be glad of heart while they embrace their own destruction.” So said the father of men and gods, and laughed aloud. And he bade famous Hephaestus make haste and mix earth with water and to put in it the voice and strength of human kind, and fashion a sweet, lovely maiden-shape, like to the immortal goddesses in face; and Athene to teach her needlework and the weaving of the varied web; and golden Aphrodite to shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs. And he charged Hermes the guide, the Slayer of Argus, to put in her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature. (Works and Days, Hesiod, ll 54-68)
Zeus gifted Pandora (with jar) to Prometheus’ brother, who in the sight of her beauty forgot Prometheus’ warning not to accept Olympian gifts. The jar contained all evils to man – death, sickness, old age, plagues, hunger, war, etc. When Pandora opened it (by accident or out of curiosity), she released these evils and humanity suffers them ever since. Pandora closed the jar again, much too late. All that was left in the jar, the moment she closed it again, was hope (literally expectation)4.
Lysa’s message brings all evil upon the Starks. Without it, Ned Stark would not have accepted Robert’s offer and remained North. Robert would have huffed and puffed, but leave for King’s Landing again. Even if Robert attempted to war the North, Ned Stark could defend the North easily from Moat Cailin and with the help of Howland Reed’s crannogmen. Bran would not have climbed and fallen on the day to say goodbye to Winterfell. There would not have been an assassination attempt on Bran’s life, no abduction of Tyrion nor Tywin’s revenge on the Riverlands for it and Ned would still have a head. Lysa’s and Littlefinger’s desires and deceit packed and gifted to Catelyn as an Eleusinian Mystery was a box of doom. The irony here is that Pandora’s box becomes a curse for the underworld, which ultimately becomes a bane for the world of the living.
But who is Pandora then – Lysa or Catelyn? One sends the lie in a box as a gift, while the later opens the lie and uses it as the final argument to convince her husband into accepting the job of the Hand for her own desires to make her daughter the future queen of Westeros. Lysa’s obsessive desire to have Petyr Baelish for a husband turns her into a mercenary woman who does not care about the mysery and innocent lives lost that her message caused, while Petyr’s obsession for Catelyn (in the shape of her daughter Sansa) also drives the plot. Since Pandora is the archetype of women’s share in the mysery unleashed on the world by or for them, both Lysa and Catelyn show Pandorian aspects. Notice too how Catelyn lit a fire (stolen from the gods by Prometheus) in which she burned the evil lie that came out of Lysa’s box.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Lighting a fire,” Catelyn told him. She found a dressing gown and shrugged into it, then knelt over the cold hearth…[snip]… She slid the paper in among the kindling and placed the heavier logs on top of it. (aGoT, Catelyn II)
It is believed by scholars, based on epiteths and artwork on pottery, that Hesiod’s Pandora was his personally altered version of an earth goddess. Traditionally Pandora is taken to mean ‘all-gifted’, which is what Hesiod describes – each god giving Pandora gifts. But it actually might have meant ‘all giving’. Classic scholars generally assume that secondary (or tertiary) mythological characters splintered off from the primary god or goddess, while still preserving some of the aspects. This tends to happen especially with goddesses, and most often to Great Goddesses. The general Mother Earth or Mother Goddess personifies nature, fertility, motherhood, creation but also destruction. Over time, these aspects end up being splintered across several later goddesses with more specialized functions. For example, with the Greeks:
- primordial Gaia (‘earth’), mother of the Titans.
- her daughter Rhea (‘ground’) becomes the Mother Goddess or Great Mother of the Olympian gods.
- her granddaughter Demeter is also a Mother Goddess who provides( and refuses) nutrituous bounty of the earth5. Where Gaia is primal, Demeter is a cultured earth goddess who teaches agriculture to humanity.
- her great-granddaughter Persephone represents the cultivated harvest itself.
- Pandora seems to have a similar nature in providing humanity with earthen gifts. Even post-Hesiodic pottery represents Pandora rising from the earth with her arms upraised to greet her husband Epimetheus. She even had a cult once. Even Hesiod’s Pandora wears a wreath of woven grass and flowers to adorne her head. Pandora becomes the humanized Persephone.
Ultimately, Pandora seems to have been a chthonic goddess6.
A possible esoteric revelation that was part of the Eleusinian Mysteries would have been the knowledge that life is bound to the underworld. Seeds have to be planted into the soil, into the ground and thus are born from the underground to feed the living. Animals need to be bred but also killed in hunts or slaughter to feed people to stay alive. Ecology is a constant recycling of dead organisms to feed the living ones. Persephone’s myth does not only explain the cause of the seasons, but symbolizes this inevitable union of the ecological life and death cycle. And the pre-Hesiodic myth about Pandora probably illustrated those aspects – the earth giveth, and the earth taketh. It is likely that she had or opened two jars, instead of just the one, since Homer’s Illiad mentions two urns from which Zeus gives blessings or evils onto humanity.
Osiris’ coffin, Isis and the golden phallus and Demeter of the golden sword
Ned frowned. He had little patience for this sort of thing, Catelyn knew. “A lens,” he said. “What has that to do with me?”
When Ned asks what the box has to do with him, we can answer, “Indirectly, everything”. As ruler of the underworld heinous crimes such as murder concern him, and he plays an inevitable part in the myth of Pandora’s box as well as the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Luwin plucked at his chain collar where it had chafed the soft skin of his throat. “The Hand of the King has great power, my lord. Power to find the truth of Lord Arryn’s death, to bring his killers to the king’s justice. Power to protect Lady Arryn and her son, if the worst be true.”
Ned glanced helplessly around the bedchamber. Catelyn’s heart went out to him, but she knew she could not take him in her arms just then. First the victory must be won, for her children’s sake. “You say you love Robert like a brother. Would you leave your brother surrounded by Lannisters?”
“The Others take both of you,” Ned muttered darkly. He turned away from them and went to the window. She did not speak, nor did the maester. They waited, quiet, while Eddard Stark said a silent farewell to the home he loved. When he turned away from the window at last, his voice was tired and full of melancholy, and moisture glittered faintly in the corners of his eyes. “My father went south once, to answer the summons of a king. He never came home again.”
Unfortunately, Ned Stark will never return home again either, well not alive at least. Instead he loses his head.
I now jump to an entirely different pantheon and chthonic pairing – the Egyptian Isis and Osiris. Osiris was the ruler of the underworld Duat. Unlike Hades, he only became the god of the dead, after he was murdered by an envious Set, a trickster jackal god of chaos, deception, violence, storm and desert7. According to Plutharch’s “Of Isis and Osiris” from the 1st century CE, Set devized a plan where he took King Osiris’s body measurements and had a beautiful, ornate box made with the help of the Queen of Ethyopia. At a banquet he presented this box and said that he would gift the box to the person who could fit himself in it. Only Osiris accomplished the challenge, since it was custom-made to fit only him. As soon as Osiris lay in the box, Set and his accomplices put the lid on it and threw him in the Nile where he drowned. Isis searched for the box in order to give her husband a proper burial. She found it in a tree in Byblos (in present day Lebanon, settlement since 7000 BC), took it back to Egypt where she hid it in a marsh or swamp. But when Set went hunting that night, he discovered the box , dissected Osiris’ body in a rage and scattered the body parts all across Egypt to ensure that Isis could never find him again. After years, Isis manages to reassemble Osiris, except for his phallus which was eaten by fish. Together with Thoth (mediator, scribe, magical art, science, judgement of the dead) she manufactures a magical golden phallus for Osiris. She transforms into a kite, copulates with Osiris and conceives a son, Horus, who sets out to avenge the murder of his father and dethrone Set. Once Osiris was properly mummified and buried, he rose to the throne of the underworld.
The deception by envious Littlefinger matches Set’s deception with the custom made coffin and plan to murder Osiris. He lures Ned Stark to King’s Landing and brings House Stark down with more lies and intends to rule the Riverlands, Vale and North combined, if not all of Westeros.Lysa’s message in a box is a death trap.
The silent sisters return Ned’s gathered bones to Catelyn in Riverrun. Notice the connection between Rivverun and Isis discovering Osiris’s body after it floated down the river to Byblos. The silent sisters accompanied Ser Cleos Frey, who served as a mediator between the Lannisters and Starks, when Tyrion ordered the return of Ned’s bones. Of course bones are numerous puzzle pieces that need to be assembled. The paragraph of Catelyn looking on her dead husband mentions how his dismembered skull has been reattached with wire to the body.
“I would look on him,” Catelyn said.
“Only the bones remain, my lady.”…[snip]…One of the silent sisters turned down the banner.
Bones, Catelyn thought. This is not Ned, this is not the man I loved, the father of my children. His hands were clasped together over his chest, skeletal fingers curled about the hilt of some longsword, but they were not Ned’s hands, so strong and full of life. They had dressed the bones in Ned’s surcoat, the fine white velvet with the direwolf badge over the heart, but nothing remained of the warm flesh that had pillowed her head so many nights, the arms that had held her. The head had been rejoined to the body with fine silver wire, but one skull looks much like another, and in those empty hollows she found no trace of her lord’s dark grey eyes, eyes that could be soft as a fog or hard as stone. They gave his eyes to crows, she remembered.
Catelyn turned away. “That is not his sword.”
“Ice was not returned to us, my lady,” Utherydes said. “Only Lord Eddard’s bones.” (aCoK, Catelyn V)
The most glaring parallel here with the Osiris myth is that Ned’s greatsword Ice is missing, while that particular sword is a phallic symbol in Catelyn’s eyes. In fact, Ice has been destroyed and reforged in two other swords, ornately decorated with gold. So, we definitely have an echo of the mythical dynamics of Osiris, Isis, Thoth, Horus the Younger and Set woven into the story8, with Ned as Osiris, Catelyn as Isis, Ser Cleos Frey and/or Tyrion as the mediating Thoth, Catelyn’s sons as Horuses and Petyr Baelish and other enemies as Set.
As the reforged sword with golden hilt, not only are Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail phallic symbols. The golden sword is also an epiteth for Demeter in the Hymn to Demeter I already mentioned.
Apart from Demeter, lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits, …
Oathkeeper ends up in Lady Stoneheart’s hands, and notice that when it is laid in front of her, she only has eyes for the golden pommel.
Another of the outlaws stepped forward, a younger man in a greasy sheepskin jerkin. In his hand was Oathkeeper. “This says it is.” His voice was frosted with the accents of the north. He slid the sword from its scabbard and placed it in front of Lady Stoneheart. In the light from the firepit the red and black ripples in the blade almost seem to move, but the woman in grey had eyes only for the pommel: a golden lion’s head, with ruby eyes that shone like two red stars.(aFfC, Brienne VIII)
Torches and fruit are some of the most well known attributes Demeter carries. Less known nowadays is that she carried a golden sword or sickle, which she used in battle against the Titans, earning her the epiteth Khrysaoros or ‘lady of the golden sword’.
So, with the reforged Ice with a golden pommel in Lady Stoneheart’s hands, we have both Isis in possession of Osiris’ golden phallus as well as Demeter of the golden blade. And while the golden lion symbolizes life (sun symbol), it also has ruby eyes that look like red stars – with stars being death symbols – or red comets (?). Blended together it makes for a sword that incorporates the union of life and death, which is exactly what Osiris’ golden phallus represents – a life bringing phallus of a dead man.
Ultimately, the golden phallic sword shows how multiple mother godesses of different mythologies unite in Catelyn. The Greeks themselves linked Demeter to Isis. The Greek historian Herodotus compared the two in the 5th century BCE. When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, Isis became identified with Demeter and the Mesopotanian Astarte (Ishtar), who Catelyn also shares features and events in her arc with. I will discuss Astarte/Ishtar more in depth in the essay of Catelyn’s chapters at the Eyrie. So, not only does it make sense that we should find commonalities to other goddesses of other mythologies, when George includes elements referring to mother goddess mythology, but that George explicitly and intentionally could use the commonalities – they were already identified 2500 years ago as such by the Greeks.
While Cat’s first chapter alone would lead us to the conclusion that Cat is Persephone the Wife, her second chapter reveals that Cat is in essence more like Demeter, and thus has an innate agenda that juxtaposes that of the underworld. In her haven of life, she wants her husband to abandon the underworld and leave it to its own devices. General references to Demeter in Catelyn’s chapters are her bathing, the warm room using water of the hot ponds, her focus on hair and Ned loving her beautiful hair, as well as fertility elements.
The plot device used to achieve the goal of Ned abandoning the North is Lysa’s box, which is steeped into three different box mythologies – the Eleusinian Mystery, Pandora’s box of doom and Set’s box to trick Osiris into his death. The Isis-Osiris connection for Catelyn and Ned becomes clear once we regard Ned’s greatsword Ice having a phallic meaning. When Ned’s bones are brought to her at Riverrun, the sword is missing, just like Osiris’s sole body part that remained missing was his phallus, eaten by fish. With the aid of others, Isis magically replaced the missing phallus with a golden one. Ned’s phallic symbol Ice was reforged at the order of Tywin into two longswords with golden pommels – Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail. Oathkeeper ends back in Lady Stoneheart’s camp when the Brotherhood without Banners capture Brienne, and all Lady Stoneheart has eyes for is the golden pommel. Not only does this fit with Isis possessing the golden phallus, but matches the other mother goddess Demeter, the lady of the golden blade.
Summary of chthonic roles
|Mythological characters or gods||Roles||aSoIaF characters|
|Hades||Living ruler of the Underworld||Ned Stark|
|Persephone||Fellow ruler of the Underworld, Wife of Hades // Queen of the Underworld, abducted flower maiden||Catelyn Tully Stark, Lyanna Stark, Jenny of Oldstones|
|Demeter||Fertility goddess of fruit and harvest, of the lovely hair, of the golden sword, of the bath and hot springs, connected to the underworld since fruit and vegetables cannot grow without it and seeds have to be burried in soil.||Catelyn Tully Stark|
|Pandora||Temptress who unleashes doom, death and sickness onto humanity // All giving chthonic earth and fertility goddess, half interred, half her body above earth||Lysa Tully Arryn, Catelyn Tully Stark|
|Isis||mother and wife goddess, wife of the ruler of the underworld, mother of a king, protector of the dead and proper burrial, goddess of the children and magic. She searched for the body parts of her murdered husband, and found all parts except his phallus, which she replaced with a magical golden one to birth her king-son||Catelyn Tully Stark|
|Osiris||Betrayed king who was tricked and murdered and his remains desecrated. Once reassembled, except for his phallus (replaced by a golden one) he became the ruler of the underworld||Ned Stark|
|Set||Envious murderer of Osiris||Petyr Baelish, Joffrey|
|Sisyphus||A Greek king who refused to remain in Hades and tricked his wife into an improper burrial which allowed him to return to the surface and haunt the living||Ned Stark (in a positive manner)|
Summary of chthonic items
|Mythological items||Function||aSoIaF items|
|Osiris’s golden phallus||Fertility symbol of life being born out of death.||Oathkeeper in Lady Stoneheart’s possession|
|Osiris’s missing phallus||Osiris’s true phallus is eaten and gone by fish, symbolizing true death||Ice missing and destroyed|
|Demeter’s golden blade||A golden sword or sickle she used both to perform the first harvest as well as war against and depose the Titans.||Oathkeeper, Jaime Lannister (?) in Lady Stoneheart’s possession|
|The Eleusinian Mystery||A ritual for the initiated regarding the secret truths of the Persephone-Demeter myth involving items and phases of things shown, things said and things done, which are all unspeakable by punishment of death||Lysa’s box with message|
|Pandora’s box||Actually a jar containing death, ilness, old age, poverty, hunger, war. It was opened whereby humanity has to suffer all these ills ever since||Lysa’s box with message|
|Set’s box = Osiris’s coffin||A coffin that was custom made to fit Osiris body and used to trick Osiris into fitting himself in it, only to be shut inside and murdered.||Lysa’s box with message|
- Catelyn was not abducted like Persephone. But Persephone’s father, Zeus, consented to the match. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, was left in the dark about it.
- Within the context of an underworld, maester Luwin may be speaking truth unintentionally – underworld creatures, like the Others, were never part of the living world, and thus never lived at all.
- Does “all her children” also include Robb Stark? If so, then that means maester Luwin was at Riverrun before he became maester at Winterfell, since Robb Stark was born at Riverrun, not Winterfell.
- It is unclear what the implications are of hope remaining in Pandora’s jar. If the jar is a prison that keeps evil at bay, then hope is still imprisoned and people are denied hope. If hope as an evil, then humanity is spared from such foolishness in the face of despair and death. The subject of hope in Pandora’s jar deserves its own philosophical essay in light of all the mysery and tragedy in aSoIaF, if anyone ever cares to do so.
- Demeter’s mother Rhea, who was the earth goddess before Demeter, is also called rich-haired.
- Hesiod’s one-sided account seems distorted by his personal views regarding women. His written source is the oldest and distinctly connects Pandora solely with evil. But both older and younger pottery convey a more rounded version: blessings as well as evil. Hesiod was bitter with his brother Peres squandering first his own half of the inheritance and then bribing judges to be granted part of Hesiod’s half. He wrote Pandora’s myth in a poem that served as his personal, moral answer to his brother, where he tells a story of one brother (Prometheus) attempting to help humanity, while the other is fooled into taking Pandora for a wife. Did Hesiod blame a woman as the cause of his brother’s spending and did he use Prometheus and Pandora as a literary parallel to chide his brother for his foolish choice? He may have been one of the earliest poets who founded the later tradition to make a philosophical and social argument. It is unlikely that this ancient scholar on Greek myth was an initiate into the Eleusinian Mysteries. He was the son of an immigrant from Asia Minor and middle class farmer who lived in Beotie (with the Greek city Thebes) and thus not near Athens. He wrote a poem how a muze gave him a laurel staff, but not a lyre, and thus not trained in a traditional manner. And then there is his great dislike for women. Would the cult of Eleusis initiate such a man into the secrets of two earth goddessses?
- In the long history of Egypt, Set was not always an evil god. Ancient Egypt as a cultural source existed for over 3000 years, from the Early Dynastic times to the Ptolemian and Roman period. Those thousands of years were not without invasions and inner struggles, which was reflected in how a god, including Set, was considered a beneficial god or an evil one. For this essay though, I’m using the later views on Set, after he was demonized.
- Yes, Dany’s burrial of Drogo and Raego also echoes the Isis-Osiris myth. Let us leave that for Dany’s chthonic cycle.