Tywin Lannister is an ambitious man and he has used magic to advance the Lannisters in the Game of Thrones.
So what, right? A number of the religions and families use special powers, including warging direwolves, riding dragons, greendreams, making or pursuing prophecies, possessing special tools or weapons, casting spells. Does it matter to the reader if the magic doesn't come from an innate gift, but is brought about by blood sacrifice, a large payment, theft or dishonesty? Is the reader supposed to care how or why magic is used or, like the larger Game of Thrones in which magic is one kind of tool, is it only the outcome that matters?
My interest in Tywin's apparent interest in magic is partly that it seems so counter-intuitive: of all the major figures in the books, he seems so logical and pragmatic. He is a highly-respected military strategist and commander, as well as a natural-born administrator who keeps the Seven Kingdoms on an even keel during the reign of the Mad King. On first reading, the saying "A Lannister always pays his debts" seems like the slogan of a wealthy house that stays on top by buying services and goods and loyalty. Why would you need magic if you have all the gold in Casterly Rock?
We know that Cersei Lannister is obsessed with a magical, uncannily-accurate prophecy about her life and fate, and Cersei's anxiety and avoidance maneuvers seem such a contrast with Tywin's assured and confident moves through life. On the other hand, newborn Cersei didn't choose her own name, which is unlike any other in the books. GRRM may be giving us a clue about both Cersei and her parents by giving her a name like Circe, the ancient Greek goddess of magic.
If Tywin is trying to be very circumspect about his use of magic, he is not alone. Some other characters either hide their use of magic or open up to a very limited audience: Jojen knows that Bran needs to be educated about greendreams, but he doesn't go out and make a living making prophecies, for instance. Maybe Tywin employing magic seems especially secretive to me because Tywin is secretive in general, and he is not a POV character. Cersei becomes a POV, therefore we know more about the constant threat she feels from this prophecy hanging over her head. There is also a major effort on her part to hide the prophecy from others, however, as the author implies (I love when he does that) that Cersei killed the only other person who heard the fortune-teller's prediction. Maybe it's Melara's murder or Tywin's overall reputation for ruthlessness that make the Lannister brand of magic seem more sinister than other magical activities in the books.
Time for a little more evidence, I know you are thinking.
Lann the Clever and the Lannister Legacy
I admit, some of my evidence is indirect or far-removed. In the world book (The World of Ice and Fire), we have this early reference to Lann the Clever, the founder of the Lannister dynasty:
Names such as Brandon the Builder, Garth Greenhand, Lann the Clever, and Durran Godsgrief are names to conjure with . . . (p. 10).
Names to conjure with? But here the Lannister scion is keeping company with a legendary Stark, the father figure of the Reach and a hero of the Stormlands (associated with House Durrandon which is extinct except through intermarriage with the Baratheons). If magic is implied, they would all be parties to this hint. There are a couple other references in the world book, however, that hint at a special Lannister interest in magic:
The sword Brightroar came into the possession of the Lannister kings in the century before the Doom, and it is said that the weight of gold they paid for it would have been enough to raise an army. But it was lost little more than a century later, when Tommen II carried it with him when he sailed with his great fleet to ruined Valyria, with the intention of plundering the wealth and sorcery he was sure still remained. The fleet never returned, nor Tommen, nor Brightroar. (p. 197)
Here we have a Lannister seeking to gain sorcery by plundering the land of the dragons. Apparently this idea didn't work out well for him, and he lost his family's prized possession as well as his own life. Is there a message that the use of magic has to be done naturally, or honorably, and that “plundering” magic that doesn’t belong to you will not be rewarded?
Also from the world book, to those accustomed to looking for layers of meaning in GRRM's prose, this paragraph seems to imply something suspicious about the Lannister wealth:
The great wealth of the westerlands, of course, stems primarily from their gold and silver mines. The veins of ore run wide and deep, and there are mines, even now, that have been delved for a thousand years and more and are yet to be emptied. ... The gold of the west has traveled far, and the maesters know there are no mines in all the world as rich as those of Casterly Rock. (p. 197)
The author doesn't say, "There are no other mines as rich as those of Casterly Rock." He says, "there are no mines in all the world as rich as those of Casterly Rock." This implies that even the mines of Casterly Rock are not as rich as they appear to be. I think the deaths of Lord Tywin and Ser Kevan Lannister as well as Tywin's close ally Grand Maester Pycelle, will lead to the revelation that the gold coming out of Casterly Rock in recent years has been a myth; there has been some alchemy at work to create fake gold, keeping the Lannisters, as well as the kingdom, solvent. I think the author has handed us a clue here about the central role of magic and subterfuge in Tywin's efforts to keep the Lannisters in a preeminent position.
Maggy the Frog and House Spicer
As a girl, Cersei visited the Lannisport fortune teller Maggy the Frog. Initially, Maggy rejected the request to tell Cersei's fortune. After Cersei threatened her, Maggy told her that she would receive answers to three questions. The ominous outcomes for Cersei and her future children have been a burden to Cersei ever since.
When Maggy entered the story, I immediately saw parallels with Mirri Maz Duur, the Lhazareen holy woman who offers healing services and prophetic insights to Dany while betraying her, leading Dany to burn MMD to death on Khal Drogo's funeral pyre. Depending who you believe, either Dany or MMD trades the life of Dany's unborn child for the life of Khal Drogo, who sinks into a virtual coma and is alive only in the sense that he is still breathing. MMD warned Dany that, "Only death can pay for life," and Dany may or may not have understood that she was sacrificing her child to save her husband. As with Cersei and Maggy, there was a major, "Be careful what you wish for" lesson involved in employing the magical abilities of this crone from Essos.
Maggy is also linked to Tywin, in at least a roundabout way (although possibly also directly). Tywin arranges with Sybell Spicer for the seduction of Robb Stark by Jeyne Westerling, Sybell’s daughter. The romance leads Robb to break a promise to marry a Frey daughter, eventually leading to Robb’s murder by the Frey family. House Spicer was founded by the son of Maggy the Frog. So this is a situation where Tywin has employed a “witch” to bewitch Robb Stark. (Sybil is another “witch” name from classical mythology, by the way.)
This leads me to my next set of educated inferences about Tywin delving into magic. How does the son of a Lannisport spice merchant and a fortune teller get to establish a noble house in Lannisport? They would probably have to receive some kind of charter from the King's representative in the west, which would be - - Tywin Lannister. We have a number of clues that Tywin looks down on all small folk, and he specifically mentions spice traders as being crass lovers of slapstick entertainment and beneath the ranks of the Lannisters:
... when Tyrion had reminded him that in ten days he would be a man grown, free to travel where he wished, Lord Tywin had said,
"No man is free. Only children and fools think elsewise. Go, by all means. Wear motley and stand upon your head to amuse the spice lords and the cheese kings. Just see that you pay your own way and put aside any thoughts of returning."
[ADwD, Chapter 8, Tyrion]
So a spice trader would have to have something Tywin wanted in trade to become a lord in the Westerlands. I suspect that Tywin went to Maggy the Frog sometime when his wife was pregnant with Tyrion and asked Maggy to tell him what it would take to ensure that his son became the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. (Although his request might have been a variation on this – maybe Tywin wanted the same things the Cersei wanted, and he would be satisfied with Lannister grandchildren on the throne. Or maybe he just wanted to bring down his “frienemy,” King Aerys.) I think it’s likely that Tywin granted a lordship to Maggy's son but received one of those "Be careful what you wish for" deals in return: his son was born a little person and his wife died in childbirth. Tywin may have meant his first-born son when he bought this black magic deal, but the magic woman may have found his request was not specific enough and told him it would be his second son or a grandson who would fulfill the prophecy. So it appears that Tywin detests Tyrion, but he may actually believe he is preparing him to be a dignified royal person; he wants a Lannister on the Iron Throne, and he is doesn't want Tyrion to undermine the destiny for which Tywin paid such a high price.
I have read theories in this forum that predict that Sybell Spicer double-crossed Tywin: she had two daughters (one with narrow hips and one with round hips). Robb Stark fell in love with and married one daughter, leaving her pregnant when he went to the Frey-Tully wedding and lost his life. Sybell brought the other daughter, who is not pregnant, to show as proof that there is no Stark heir on the way and collect her reward. If this Spicer double-cross theory is true, and there is a Robb Stark heir in development, it is possible that Maggy the Frog's own descendant could be the "younger queen" who will cast down Cersei and take all that she holds dear.
A king should bear a kingly weapon.
Having a Valyrian Steel sword is a status symbol that Tywin craves for House Lannister. He doesn’t want to just steal the Stark sword, Ice, he wants it remade into a red sword – make that TWO red swords -- that represents his House. He enlists the expert armorer, Tobho Mott, who is one of the few smiths able to use spells and expertise to rework Valyrian steel:
Tyrion wondered where the metal for this one had come from. A few master armorers could rework old Valyrian steel, but the secrets of its making had been lost when the Doom came to old Valyria. "The colors are strange," he commented as he turned the blade in the sunlight. Most Valyrian steel was a grey so dark it looked almost black, as was true here as well. But blended into the folds was a red as deep as the grey. The two colors lapped over one another without ever touching, each ripple distinct, like waves of night and blood upon some steely shore. "How did you get this patterning? I've never seen anything like it."
"Nor I, my lord," said the armorer. "I confess, these colors were not what I intended, and I do not know that I could duplicate them. Your lord father had asked for the crimson of your House, and it was that color I set out to infuse into the metal. But Valyrian steel is stubborn. These old swords remember, it is said, and they do not change easily. I worked half a hundred spells and brightened the red time and time again, but always the color would darken, as if the blade was drinking the sun from it. And some folds would not take the red at all, as you can see. If my lords of Lannister are displeased, I will of course try again, as many times as you should require, but—"
Just as the north remembers, the old sword remembers, and it refuses to turn Lannister crimson, in spite of the spells. It seems that Tywin’s “magic” could be effective at Casterly Rock or the Red Wedding or the Westerling home at The Crag, but Lann the Clever is, perhaps, an even match for Brandon the Builder: the sword Ice will not entirely surrender its true grey color, even when spells are used to turn it to Lannister red. The Valyrian steel sword Brightroar was lost when a Lannister sailed off the “plunder” sorcery in Valyria; sorcery fails when a Lannister steals a Valyrian steel sword from its ancestral house.
A few people in Westeros are skeptical about Stannis Baratheon’s magic flaming sword, but many believe it to be genuine or fear that it might be genuine. Tywin is impatient with the rumors and the gullible small folk, but he wants that magic for his own family: "With this fool's jabber of Stannis and his magic sword, it seemed to me that we had best give Joffrey something extraordinary as well. A king should bear a kingly weapon."
Sometime after uttering the line about “something extraordinary” for Joffrey, I believe Tywin changes his mind about the nature of the extraordinary weapon Joffrey should “bear”. Elsewhere, I shared findings to support the notion that Tywin was responsible for the murder of Joffrey. The murder weapon was a sword: either poison on the hilt of Widow’s Wail, or a spell contained in the runes on Ser Ilyn’s silver sword, loaned to Joffrey for cutting the pie.
I found another possible clue in the books, buried in a paragraph in an Arya POV at Harrenhal:
After that it was back to scrubbing and scurrying and listening at doors. Lord Tywin would soon march on Riverrun, she heard. Or he would drive south to Highgarden, no one would ever expect that. No, he must defend King's Landing, Stannis was the greatest threat. He'd sent Gregor Clegane and Vargo Hoat to destroy Roose Bolton and remove the dagger from his back. He'd sent ravens to the Eyrie, he meant to wed the Lady Lysa Arryn and win the Vale. He'd bought a ton of silver to forge magic swords that would slay the Stark wargs. He was writing Lady Stark to make a peace, the Kingslayer would soon be freed. (ACoK, Arya VII)
GRRM likes to mix in foreshadowing or other hints with things that are partly true or not true at all (recall the variety of explanations for the comet). Tywin’s magic silver swords buried in the list of Harrenhal rumors gain credibility when viewed in the context of Tywin’s interest in topping the magic sword of Stannis Baratheon, as well as the description of the sword produced by Ser Ilyn at Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding reception: “six feet of ornate silver bright with runes.” The sword may or may not be intended to kill Stark wargs, but the evidence does seem to support Tywin’s interest in magic swords. (Also, with the gold and silver mines at Casterly Rock, why would Tywin have to buy silver? Perhaps another clue that the precious metals at Casterly Rock are fake and he has to buy the real metal to create magic swords.)
The magic sword, “bright with runes,” might be the perfect combination of Tywin’s approach to warfare: “Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens." Magic presumably uses words when casting spells, so a weapon that carries the magic of a spell offers at least two ways to win at the same battle: swords and words.
Pycelle vs. Qyburn
As Tywin is removed from the Red Keep, Cersei’s Queen Regent star seems to ascend. She rejects the service of her father’s long-time ally, Grand Maester Pycelle, and instead relies on a failed Maester, Qyburn. We don’t know much yet about the motives or inner lives of either man, but I suspect the transition in the Lannister regime from the Grand Maester to the anti-Maester signals a change from a careful and discreet use of magic to a disastrous use of magic. If I’m right about Pycelle helping Tywin to create fake gold, that is one problem that will be made much worse for Cersei by the loss of his services and his subsequent murder by Varys. We have seen Qyburn create a fighting Frankenstein monster, Ser Robert Strong, by apparently ruthlessly dismembering and torturing people provided by Cersei. Tywin and other Lannisters may have stumbled into some “be careful what you wish for” lessons about the use of magic, but Cersei apparently has not learned from her own early experience with the fortune teller. Like father, like daughter?