Game of Thrones certainly has bewitched millions with its powerful mix of complex plots, breathtaking scenery, violence, sex, and magic. Witchcraft abounds in the television series, from shapeshifting to conjuring shadow spirit babies. Modern witchcraft shares many common practices with Game of Thrones, since George R.R. Martin drew heavily from some of the same sources who influenced modern witchcraft. From the nature of the spirits summoned to the symbols used, the witchery of Game of Thrones reflects the practices of witches today, and can provide inspiration for our own magic.
Natural magic abounds in Westeros, but it’s what the characters do with it in their witchery that’s truly fascinating, especially how it relates to witchcraft today. Below is a sampling of the witchery performed during the seven seasons of the hit HBO show to help set the mood for the final season.
The Transformative Power of Fire And Ice
Daenerys is reborn when she emerges unscathed from the funeral pyre of her beloved, becoming the Mother of Dragons. Fire, like blood, is everywhere in Game of Thrones, in both mundane and magical ways. Dragon fire is the combination of both. Ice is just as important in the series, especially in the threat of the massive army of ice-zombies led by the Night King. Fire and ice imprison, kill and liberate. Freezing spells using the image of your enemy are one way to practice Game of Thrones influenced witchery, perhaps add an appropriate symbol from the show.
The army of zombies, the White Walkers, represents the fear of the unknown, the stranger that’s an extension of the collective shadow self. It is our darkest side wrapped in ice. Winter is coming. Be prepared, witches.
Melisandre, often referred to as The Red Woman, definitely fits the image of the witch: dangerous, seductive and powerful. A priestess of the Lord of Light, she’s used so many types of witchery: blood magic using leeches, sex magic, birthing a shadow baby, necromancy and prophesy to name a few. Lord of Light is an epithet sometimes applied to Lucifer, who is seen as a Witch Father by some.
When it was revealed that Melisandre was using an enchanted amulet to make herself appear young and beautiful, nobody was surprised. While not as extreme as her magic, many modern witches cast glamour spells to magically enhance their appearance. There’s a darker side to this witchery in the shadowy meaning of making Melisandre really a hag: female power is ugly underneath all the glamour.
Danerys is imprisoned by the illusions of the vile Qartheen warlock Pyat Pree so he can feed off the power of her dragons to make his magic stronger. It doesn’t end well.
Sometimes considered a type of glamour witchery or illusion, transforming one’s appearance to that of another creature is a spiritual practice that’s used by many modern witches to deepen their understanding of the mysteries. In Game of Thrones, Jaqen H’ghar, literally shapeshifts into others as one of the Faceless Men. However, he also transforms into many archetypes as well, including being Arya’s protector and teacher. Like many mythic shapeshifters, he brings transformation not only to himself, but to those around him. Explore the power of his character for insight on how to transform yourself.
Animal Spirits And Skinchangers
Animal spirit magic often includes blending energies with the goal of adapting the archetypal powers of the creature. This power has long been associated with the witch, such as the lore regarding the witch taking on the form of her companion rabbit to travel the night unseen. Compared to the books, the television series downplays the animal spirit magic, especially that of the Stark children’s direwolves who are sort of corporeal embodiments of guardian spirits for the siblings. The epic story of their father finding six orphaned pups, one for each of his children foreshadows the coming disasters.
Skinchangers in the HBO series posses this ability. One example is Orell, the Wildling scout who uses his bonded eagle to look out for danger. When he is killed by Jon Snow, Orell shifted his consciousness into his eagle.
Warging is the term used in Game of Thrones to describe possessing a wolf to travel through time and to distant locations. Bran, the disabled Stark son, is a skinchanger whose warging was unleashed after he was pushed out of a window. This is a reminder that true initiation into mystical powers often comes with a very high price. Bran also possesses his protector, Hodor, in order to minimize disaster. While not possession, taking the perspective of those who we seek to understand is a form of merging our energy with theirs. The practice of connecting to the higher self of another is another form of this blending.
Read more about The Forgotten Magic of Game of Thrones: Greenseers and Wargs
AlchemyCersei, in her Walk of Atonement symbolizes the walk of shame enforced on many witches for speaking their truth, especially when they grow too powerful. She gets her revenge when she kills them all with wildfire, a deadly potion created by The Alchemists Guild. The use of poisons to gain power and other forms of baneful witchcraft are controversial parts of modern witchcraft. However, their allure as a symbolic claim of sovereignty can’t be denied.
Visions of the future abound in Game of Thrones, with various seers predicting diverse and dire outcomes for many of the characters. Cersei herself received a dismal future from Maggy, a woods witch, who predicted that all her children would die before her.
Purchase The Game of Thrones Tarot to practice divination with the spirits of Westeros.
Telepathy And Spirit Guides
Bran’s relationship with the Three-Eyed Raven reflects that that some modern witches have with mentors, whether they be living or dead. Their connection travels across space and time, binding them together. Brynden often shapeshifts into a literal three-eyed raven when he visits Bran’s dreams and visions.
Potions And Poisons
The use of lethal poisons has historically been associated with witchcraft, especially by women. This trope is on full display in several murders in Game of Thrones. Wildfire may be more in the domain of alchemy than traditional witchcraft, but the potion that killed Khal Drogo hearkens back to the feared potions of witches of old. Poisoning was historically associated with female aggression and witches. Game of Thrones has many poisoning victims, including Olenna Tyrell’s murder of Joffrey.
All men must die, but some don’t stay dead. This is certainly true for some of the residents of Westeros. In Game of Thrones there are three ways that necromancy is practiced: resurrection by the Lord of Light; reanimation by the Night’s King, and Frankensteinism by ex-Maester Qyburn. Jon Snow’s reanimation by Melisandre is one example. Beric Dondarrion was resurrected by Thoros of Myr, who, like Melisandre, follows the Lord of Light. Qyburn brings The Mountain back to life as a potent weapon using a blend of science and alchemy, playing the show’s Dr. Frankenstein.
Maggy predicted Cersei’s future by sucking on her blood after she had her prick her finger. Danerys is promised that blood magic can restore Khal Drogo.
Melisandre uses those leeches to cast her death spell on the “Three Kings.” Blood in general is a red river running through the series, as is magic using the powers of the life force. Blood is used in modern witchcraft as an energetic representation of the practitioner or the target of the spell, but not typically in such nefarious ways as in Game of Thrones.
No discussion of the witchcraft in Game of Thrones would be complete without writing about Melisandre’s use of sex as a weapon of witchcraft, including her leeching of Gendry discussed above. Melisandre’s coupling with Stannis in order to conceive the shadow spirit that kills his brother is a seminal moment, but the birth of the creature is truly unforgettable.
Practicing Witchery Using Game of Thrones
In addition to the previously mentioned Game of Thrones tarot, If you’re in possession of the books, bibliomancy with these tomes would be an excellent undertaking. The power of the written word is a dominant theme throughout both the books and the show, from magical texts to recording family lines. Honoring ancestors although not strictly witchcraft is a common practice for modern practitioners and was a huge part of the religions of Game of Thrones. The archetypes represented in the characters of practicing witchcraft in the series are powerful ways to explore ourselves and others. Finding inspiration for our own spells and spiritual development from Game of Thrones is indeed bewitching, as I’m sure watching the final season will be.
We’ll be discussing the witchcraft of Game of Thrones for the next several weeks in The Witches’ Realm.
All images HBO.