- This article is about the deity. For the special feature, see: The Drowned God
The Drowned God is the deity worshiped on the Iron Islands. Together with the North, where the worship of the Old Gods of the Forest remains strong, the Iron Islands are one of the few regions of Westeros not abiding by the main religion of the Seven Kingdoms, the Faith of the Seven.
Depictions of the Drowned God, such as statues, are sometimes made by assembling pieces of driftwood into a vaguely humanoid shape with upraised arms - or by finding a single piece of driftwood which somewhat resembles a humanoid shape.
The belief system of the Drowned God justifies the ironborn practices of piracy and raiding. Followers of the Drowned God believe that He brought fire from the sea, and that He created the ironborn to reave, raid, and pillage. Much of the religion centers around maritime skills and martial ability. It is not simply praiseworthy to kill enemies in battle, it is considered a pious act.
A youth in the Iron Islands is not considered a man until he has killed his first enemy. The religion also encourages paying the "iron price" instead of the "gold price" -- meaning that it is better not to pay or trade for possessions, but to take them by force from the hands of dead enemies.
To outsiders, the Drowned God religion may seem like a thinly veiled justification for pillaging and plundering, but the ironborn themselves take their religion very seriously, and actually have a fairly well developed cosmology and belief system surrounding it:
- Within this belief system, the Drowned God is locked in an eternal struggle against the Storm God. The Drowned God's halls are located beneath the ocean, while the Storm God lives in a castle in the sky with his thunderclouds. The Storm God is constantly trying to send storms to dash ironborn ships against rocks.
- Resurrection figures prominently in the religion, specifically being revived after drowning. The Drowned God himself is said to have drowned in the sea, for the sake of the ironborn, but returned to life "harder and stronger". Drowning is also employed as a method of sacrificing captured enemies to the Drowned God.
- Due to their belief, the ironborn do not fear drowning in the sea. "Godly" ironborn - that is, fearless raiders - who drown are believed to be taken to the Drowned God's watery halls, where they will feast on fish and be tended by mermaids for eternity. Thus, whenever a reaver dies, the ironborn say that the Drowned God is in need of a strong oarsman.
While the Faith of the Seven prohibits same-sex relationships (for both men and women), it is unclear what the attitude of the Drowned God religion is regarding male and/or female homosexuality. Yara Greyjoy is a prominent ship captain who openly engages in sex with both men and women. None of her followers seem to find this unusual, but Yara herself is very much an exception to many norms in her culture, and it is unclear how typical such behavior is of the ironborn in general (see main article "Gender and sexuality").
In "A Dance of Dragons", Victarion Greyjoy drowns twenty male prostitutes, regarding them as "unnatural creatures", but it is unclear whether he acted out of religious zeal, or due to his personal opinion about homosexuality (since prostitution is a typically a paid service, it's also possible that the ironborn consider soliciting prostitutes as paying the "gold price", and therefore something to be avoided). At the same time, however, Victarion is aware that four of his men have raped a maester they took prisoner in the Shield Islands, and he does not care, making the distinction of specific practices even more difficult.
The common prayer exchanged by followers of the Drowned God states "What is dead may never die", with the usual response being an echo of the same line. If one person begins this prayer, others are usually expected to join in. The prayer involves clutching the right hand in a fist over the heart.
Priests of the Drowned God are called Drowned Men. They anoint devotees using sea water, which is considered holy water in the religion. Infants are ceremonially "drowned" during a baptism rite by being briefly submerged in sea water, or by a priest pouring sea water over their head. Adults may also be anointed with sea water in this fashion, when receiving a blessing from one of the Drowned Men. During the blessing ceremony, the following exchange occurs as the priest pours holy sea water over the adherent's head:
- Drowned Man: "Let [name] your servant be born again from the sea, as you were. Bless him with salt, bless him with stone, bless him with steel."
- Response: "What is dead may never die."
- Drowned Man: "What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger."
Another type of drowning ceremony, used to anoint Kings of the Iron Islands, involves the Drowned Man actually drowning someone, holding them under the water until they stop breathing. They are then dragged ashore, where they begin to breathe again. The prayer is extended in this ceremony:
- Drowned Man: Let [name] your servant be born again from the sea, as you were. Bless him with salt, bless him with stone, bless him with steel. Listen to the waves, listen to the God. He is speaking to us, and he says we shall have no king but [name]. Let the sea wash your follies and your vanities away. Let the old [name] drown. Let his lungs fill with sea water, let the fish eat the scales off his eyes. What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger. What is dead may never die!
- Gathered: What is dead may never die!
Unlike the Faith of the Seven or the worship of the Lord of Light, the Drowned God religion appears to be rather sexist: ironborn men are expected to raid, plunder, kill, and command ships, but it is frowned upon for ironborn women to do any of these things. While the Faith of the Seven and the Lord of Light have priestesses, and the Old Gods of the Forest simply have no clergy at all, the Drowned God's priesthood is all-male.
It is thus considered quite unusual that Yara Greyjoy, as a young woman, has risen to command her own ship and led men on raids. Further, it is a testament to her popularity with the ironborn men she commands that they would willingly follow her, as she would have had to work even harder and be a very capable commander to earn the respect of such men. Despite being a very devout and pious follower of the Drowned God, even Balon Greyjoy himself is proud of and accepts Yara's activities, which are decidedly unorthodox for a woman in his culture.
In the Iron Islands, it is common to execute criminals by laying them on their back on the beach at low tide, with their arms and legs chained to four stakes, so they can see their death slowly creeping toward them a few inches at a time as the tide comes in - an offering to the Drowned God.
As with other major religions in Westeros, the Drowned God religion has several basic social rules against incest, kinslaying, and bastardy. It also upholds the laws of hospitality, which hold sacred the good behavior of a guest and host towards each other.
In the books
Author George R.R. Martin has said that the ironborn are loosely inspired by Vikings, and thus the Drowned God religion bears similarities to Norse myths. For example, "Godly" ironborn who die are at sea are said to feast in the Drowned God's halls under the ocean, which is analogous to the Viking belief that great warriors will feast in Valhalla when they die in battle. In Norse mythology, those who drown are said to be taken to the bed of Rán. A stark contrast with Viking belief is that while the ironborn consider the Storm God the ultimate evil, the Vikings considered the storm god, Thor, the champion of mankind (Thor was dually a fertility god/warrior god and most Norsemen were farmers). Like in Norse mythology, sacred hospitality is also practiced.
Season 5 of the TV series introduced idols of the Drowned God, particularly for use in the House of Black and White in Braavos. The World of Ice & Fire sourcebook (2014) actually states that the Drowned God has no idols made in his likeness - apparently the ocean itself is all that the ironborn venerate. However, several millennia ago, King Harmund II Hoare married a woman of House Lannister and converted to the Faith of the Seven, or rather his own bizarre interpretation of it. In this interpretation, Harmund believed that there were actually eight gods, the Seven and the Drowned God, and he is said to have decreed that "a statue of the Drowned God should be raised at the door of every sept" in the Iron Islands. Therefore, it seems that there are at least some informal depictions of the Drowned God - but since there are no "temples" to keep them in (the ironborn simply worship at the waves wherever the land meets the sea), they are not "religious icons" used as specific objects of veneration, not in the way the Faith of the Seven uses religious icons. At any rate, Harmund's bizarre edicts were a major blunder because they offended both the Drowned Men and the septons who had moved to the islands, so he had to rescind his order. His son Harmund III was later overthrown in a rebellion led by the Drowned Men (specifically one known as "the Shrike"), in which every sept in the Iron Islands was also burned down.
According to several comments in blog posts by George R.R. Martin, the Faith of the Seven never had much purchase on the Iron Islands compared to the Drowned God religion, but when it did, it was most often among the thralls of the isles - because the Faith of the Seven preaches against all forms of slavery (even though thralldom is not exactly the same thing as full slavery). This even further encouraged the ironborn's leaders to try to remove the Faith from the isles, because it indirectly (or perhaps directly at times) encouraged thrall revolts. In the current generation, Blacktyde may be the only isle with a sizable pocket of followers of the Seven, as Lord Baelor Blacktyde was sent to the Reach in his youth as a ward, and when he came back he had converted to the Seven
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