It strikes me that both Val and Tormund ( yes,Tormund ) may belong to a priestly class, and therefore , may have been even more helpful to Jon than he knows. ( And I hope they'll prove to be yet more helpful to him in TWoW , including in his healing and recovery. )
We know GRRM has said that the religion of the Old Gods was inspired by Northern European religions, particularly Norse . Of course his religion of the Old Gods won't be a direct copy..it will be filled with George's own wrinkles and flights , but to me, there now seem to be ways the two coincide that weren't really apparent , or at most , only very vaguely hinted at , up until ADwD.
Tormund ...( Titles , titles..)
Who doesn't love Tormund ? He's such a colourful character , so hearty and larger-than-life. It's tempting to take him at face value ; just the salt-of-the-earth guy , created mainly to humanize the wildlings and provide a bit of humour. He's also the side-kick to end all side-kicks ... first to Mance , later , to Jon. He's enormously entertaining , with his seemingly endless string of honorifics , some of which seem perfectly straight forward, others which have inspired plenty of speculation ... Mead-King of Ruddy Hall ( doesn't that evoke a Hrothgar-esque figure ? ) ... Tall-Talker ( he certainly is that ) ... Thunderfist ( brawl with him at your risk ) ... Husband to Bears ( Mormonts ?) ... Giantsbane (or is it Giantsbabe ?) ... Horn-Blower ( past or future ? And was there a special reason Mance told Jon that it would be Tormund who would blow the giant's horn at the wall ?) ... One of my favourite titles is Breaker of Ice - ( are we meant to take it literally , or is George playfully tempting us to take it in a more modern sense? .. Tormund breaks the ice between Jon and Mance , between Jon and the wildlings generally and between us and the wildlings ).
The sheer number of his honorifics single Tormund out. Oh , we know he has a penchant for exaggeration , but he does occupy a place of importance and his full importance may not yet have been revealed . The two titles that interest me most here , are Speaker to Gods and Father of Hosts.
Many of the ASoIaF religions work in a way we're very familiar with .. a priest speaks for God to the people . In the Norse model , the priest speaks for the people to the Gods...Speaker to Gods.
As for Father of Hosts , the number of Tormund's actual children would hardly amount to a host , and besides , the title uses the plural , Hosts.. Being a father figure to multiple hosts would imply a fairly impressive status.
In Norse culture , in each household, the father would officiate at day to day religious observances for the family.His wife might have some religious duties in matters that were the domain of women. Religious observances affecting or involving the whole clan, would be conducted by the chief or leader .. filling the father's role. Leader and head priest, all in one. This type of priest could be either male - Goði , or female - Gyðja .
At times of important communal religious observances and feasts, like seasonal changes, e.g., (at which mead and the meat of sacrificed animals would be shared ) , a leader of stature with a large hold might see his clan swell with visitors , maybe even entire smaller clans . ( Are we reminded of Ruddy Hall again ? ) This is one way Father of Hosts might apply.
I can't help but be reminded of Tormund saying to Jon, " When all my folk are safe behind your wall , we'll share a bit o' meat and mead." .. Will this seal their agreement in the eyes of the Gods? .. At every important juncture where we see Jon and Tormund together, Tormund is sharing a skin of mead with Jon. It's probable that even without knowing it, Jon is participating in a religious observance ... demonstrating his goodwill and sincerity to something greater than Tormund alone , or jointly trying to facilitate a favourable outcome to the proceedings.
If this is true of Tormund, his presence beside Jon at the big scene in the sheildhall not only says he supports Jon as a friend , but that he feels it's perfectly OK with the Gods.
Val ( and Dalla ) ...What's in a name ?
Like many others, I always thought Dalla and Val stood out from most other wildlings we've met , seeming more refined , or educated , with an air of nobility ,or.. something. There have been speculations that they could have been stolen as brides from some of the Northern clans, or that they're Moonsingers reintroduced from Braavos. But the more I thought about these options , the less right I could feel about it.
As well as the priest / preistesses already mentioned, the Norse had other types of priestesses or wise women who might be healers, or seers , or both , to varying degrees. Some would seem to fit what GRRM calls a woods witch.
But there's another category that stands out ,the Völva (pl.Völur ). The anglicized term is Vala , and it echoes in both women's names. Just for a quick reference, wikipedia says.." Völur practiced seiðr, spá and galdr, practices which encompassed shamanism, sorcery, prophecy and other forms of indigenous magic." ..From a quick perusal of a number of sources, it seems some Vala might have skills as a healer , but not all by any means
The Vala travelled around freely - alone , or with a retinue of followers. They were honoured and welcomed wherever they went. They would be hired to foresee what was in store for individuals, specific enterprises , etc. ( Even Odin famously consulted a völva to learn what was in store for the gods.) Women seers were consulted as to if and when going to war was auspicious.
Both Val and Dalla seem to fit this category. Mance says he "met" Dalla on his way back from Winterfell. If , in GRRM's world , she's something akin to a Vala , she might have just been on her usual progress when they met , or she may have had a vision leading her to Mance. She is the one who offers Jon wisdom on the use of magic. When Jon tells Val she's to have a giant for a guard , Val responds , "..even Dalla could not boast of that."..Even Dalla , as if Dalla was of such an exalted status , there were hardly any limits to what she could boast of. Yet we're told repeatedly that she is not accorded special status by virtue of being Mance's wife. It stands to reason then , that she had status of her own , and even , possibly , that a good deal of Mance's status came to him through her... He was an outsider, had even been a crow ( not a great recommendation), but she might have provided him an impeccable seal of approval in the eyes of the Free Folk.
This may shed light on the reason Val can set out alone to find Tormund. Jon simply thinks of her as brave , strong and capable , as Ygritte was ... but if a priestess, Val would have the added protection of respect and a degree of immunity to the usual dangers faced by a woman travelling alone... This would explain her air of calm confidence when she sets out. She shows no sign of trepidation ; she's relaxed and assured enough to playfully banter with Jon .
We're told that Val is Dalla's sister , but we don't know if she's a sister by blood , or by vocation. The clothes given to Val by Dalla have a definite ceremonial feel to them. They would be impractical in day to day life ... Fine woven , all white ( like a weirwood ) ... the weirwood pin, which we don't see her wearing at any other time( more than simply a piece of jewelry ?) , the bone knife ( Why bone , when metal would probably be available to her ? Is it more than a utility knife? ). Though she jokes with Jon about not wanting her clothes to get stained, this could be for more important reasons than a woman just not wanting a smudge on her party dress . The garments may be much more than just a nice prezzie from sis - perhaps a mark of Val's attaining some level of proficiency as a priestess , or a rich reward for some priestly service rendered.
Seen in this light, so many things about Val take on new meaning. When she sets out to find Tormund, she tells Jon to look for her at the " first day of the full moon". She may not have had any control over when she set out..Jon had final say in that.." the moon was but half full " . We don't really know if it was waning or waxing. How can she be so sure of her arrival time ? She tells Jon , "I know where I must go. " ..( How ?)
The full moon would be a good time to bring something to fruition( getting the people to the wall ). Does her costume in Tormund's camp imply that she's been conducting some kind of ritual before Jon arrives ? When Jon and Tormund come to terms, it's agreed that Tormund will bring his people through the wall in 3 days time. If they agreed at the full moon , that means the wildlings would be coming through the wall at the new moon , an auspicious time to start a new venture.
( This seems to agree with the practices of the CoTF ( and therefore , with the worship of the Old Gods )..if we read Bran's ADWD chapter at p.449, hardcover , we see that each new phase of his training begins at the new moon .)
Again when Val's setting out, there's an exchange with Jon which , on the surface , is about the little monster. Jon says , " I have heard you singing to him." Val replies , " I was singing to myself. Am I to blame if he listens ? .."
Now , I wouldn't claim Val would never sing to Little Monster , but an account of a völva ritual in the "Saga of Erik the Red" describes singing or chanting ( to attract those she wished to converse with ), and dancing.. (in that case, with support from other women who knew the rituals ), which was duly rewarded by a vision sent by the Gods..
Maybe Val sang to the Monster sometimes, but maybe Jon has unwittingly heard her conducting rituals to locate Tormund..or for other purposes.
Before she leaves she gives Jon a thinly veiled warning against Mel "..Fire is a fickle thing. No one knows which way a flame will go....Do you remember what my sister told you?"
"Yes." A sword without a hilt , with no safe way to hold it..
"Good" ... She seems satisfied, but actually, Jon is thinking Mel is right, a sword without a hilt is better than no sword at all... Of course , if she's a priestess, it may be that Val would not object to some judicious magic..just not Mel's.
She's sure Mel knows about the little monster, and seems to know more about what Mel sees in her fires than Jon does.."Ashes and cinders." says Jon. "Kings and dragons." says Val.... Does Val have some way of knowing about Mance ?
If she's a priestess , she's done pretty well to keep it hidden from Mel.
When she and Jon are riding back from the meeting with Tormund , Jon says "..The hard part still awaits me. The part where I convince mine own to eat this meal I've cooked for them. None of them are going to like the taste , I fear."
"Let me help."
"You have. You brought me Tormund."
" I can do more. ".... ( Really ? To help Jon make the deal palatable to the NW? How ? )
Going back to the powers of the Vala , they apparently could perform sorcery , as well as being seers . Perhaps Val can as well...because I can't see how Val's personal prestige, or possible visionary ability, or religious influence would have the same potency among the Night's Watch as among the Free Folk, so what else could she be speaking of , in that exchange about the NW, if not magic ?
Whatever her position or abilities , she would not appear to specialize in healing. When Dalla is giving birth , Val wants to go for the midwife. When lecturing Jon on Shireen's greyscale , she says he should ask a woods witch if he would know the truth.
This makes me suspect ( and hope ) that Morna the Warrior Witch may have some special expertise in dealing with battle wounds ( or assassination attempt wounds )
One last vague suggestion that may have interesting implications for Jon. One of the forms of ritual performed by Vala , seiðr , incorporates fertility magic/rites. This type of rite was only very rarely practiced by males ( and they would likely be looked down upon as unmanly ). Some scholars conclude that this means some rituals would require actual intercourse and a male priest / practitioner would automatically be adopting the passive ( woman's) role. As far as I can tell , a male who was simply assisting the priestess , by taking the male role, would suffer no such disdain... ( Maybe a bit of nudge , nudge , wink , wink , ..and maybe a bit of envy .).. I think it was Mance who called Jarl Val's " pet ". I wonder what his actual relationship to her was ?
Tormund tells Jon of Val , " She's too clever for the likes o' you and me." and though it's said in jest, it probably means he does defer to her knowledge, and perhaps ability. And of all the wildlings we've met , it seems only the late Dalla was more highly respected.
Edited by bemused, 09 May 2012 - 03:57 AM.