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Darry Man

The Symbolic Significance of Ebony and Persimmon in ASOIAF

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Introduction

Reading ASOIAF as a modern-day mythological epic, as Lucifer Means Lightbringer (among others) encourages us to do, has opened up an entirely rich and varied world that goes far beyond mere games of thrones, clashes of kings, storms of swords, etc. You can hardly get past a few pages before you are inundated with symbolic text linking the current events in the books to meteorological or mystical events of the past – and, possibly, the future.

Using this methodology, which has uncovered strong links between supposedly disparate symbols such as weirwoods, the Grey King and Azor Ahai, you start to look for other patterns hidden in plain view, invisible information which is easily brought to light if you know what you’re looking for.

Or, rather, if you know how to look for it.

In this essay, I will examine the elemental duality which GRRM seems to be expressing throughout the narrative in a number of ways. Then, I will propose that one symbolic aspect of this duality has been more apparent than the other, and so I will bring forth some evidence of the opposing aspect through a few examples taken from the text of the main series. Finally, I will briefly speculate on the ramifications of this elemental duality and how it could potentially impact future events in the ASOIAF saga.

While the speculation is a fun and creative exercise for yours truly, my primary objective is to correctly identify the symbolic representations of this elemental duality such as they exist. I hope to encourage the reader to challenge these findings and undergo their own search for meaning behind these and other symbols. In particular, as I haven’t examined TWOIAF, the Dunk & Egg novellas or the other in-universe writings in great detail, I welcome and encourage any contributions from those writings in particular.

Before moving on here, I strongly urge you to read or listen to the work by @LML and others with respect to mythical symbolism in ASIOAF. It would make understanding this essay a whole lot easier.

 

A World of Black & White

Even novice readers of the ASOIAF series may notice the several references of various forms of elemental duality. It’s right there in the title: Ice and Fire. But it goes far beyond this. Many different oppositional themes are presented to the reader. Fire is also brought up in association with shadow (and ice conjures images of the “pale shadows” of the Others). Geographically, you have North vs. South, and Westeros vs. Essos. You have your two weird-ass seasons – summer and winter – which seem to reflect each other in duration and intensity. You have the faith of the Red Priests which has the god R’hllor up against The Great Other. You have the two most significant and symbolically-rich characters in Jon and Dany, who seems to mirror each other with their associations with ice and fire, man and woman, north and south, west and east, cold/wet and hot/dry, black and silver-gold hair … dead and alive?

For the time being, however, I want to focus on the various ways the colors black and white complement and contrast each other in ASOIAF.

The most obvious example is the House of Black and White, which is the home temple for the Faceless Men. Their religious belief is that there is only one god – the Many-Faced God – which is found in all other representation of gods from around the world.

Note that both the acolytes and the priests of this religion wear robes of black and white. Also, while inside their temple, they display icon representations from other Planetos religions; however, the temple entrance itself is two-toned: a weirwood door with an ebony face, and an ebony door with a weirwood face. This, of course, brings to mind the taijitu (i.e. “yin-and-yang” symbol), which is describes the duality of human nature, our light and darkness, goodness and evil, order and chaos, etc. and how these aspects are as complementary of each other as in opposition.

In AFFC, Arya thinks that “the look reminded her somehow of the heart tree in the godswood at Winterfell. The doors are watching me.” Notice that she doesn’t say this only of the weirwood-face-on-ebony door, but of both doors.

Why the equal parts black and white if they are worshipping one god? Perhaps this symbolizes life vs death. Yet, they only worship the god of the dead. Valar morghulis, and all that. Are they saying that death is part of life? That death is both sweet and sour? Are they denying the existence of the god of life itself?

Another example is the sigil of House Swann, as worn by Ser Balon Swann while in Dorne.

Quote

His snowy cloak was clasped at the throat by two swans on a silver brooch. One was ivory, the other onyx, and it seemed to Areo Hotah as if the two of them were fighting.

Black and white, in conflict.

Black and white are also the colors of the onyx and ivory cyvasse pieces used by Princess Myrcella and Prince Tristayne in Dorne. While these are not exactly the same make of all cyvasse pieces used in other games in ASOIAF, it may still symbolize black and white in conflict with each other.

Other examples are the black and white ravens of Oldtown, the white cloaks of the Kingsguard being modelled after the black crows of the Night’s Watch, the dark Valyrian-steel swords and the mystical pale white sword Dawn, and the black Starry Sept in Oldtown and the white Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing. The double doors at Tobho Mott’s residence on the Street of Steel in King’s Landing also feature a hunting scene carved out of weirwood and ebony.

My favourite example is the twin weirwood-and-ebony doors Dany comes across while tripping in the House of the Undying:

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Finally, the stair opened. To her right, a set of wide wooden doors had been thrown open. They were fashioned of ebony and weirwood, the black and white grains swirling and twisting in strange interwoven patterns. They were very beautiful, yet somehow frightening. The blood of the dragon must not be afraid. Dany said a quick prayer, begging the Warrior for courage and the Dothraki horse god for strength. She made herself walk forward.

Beyond the doors was a great hall and a splendor of wizards.

Drogon helpfully brings attention to these doors in his imitation of Poe’s Raven as he perches above them … before gnawing at the wood.

A more subtle example is House Blackwood, formerly of the North, followers of the old gods, and possessor of a ginormous dead weirwood in their castle. Blackwood known for a white wood? Are they named for the ravens perched in the tree every night? Or is GRRM telling us something about the importance of black wood in his story by contrasting against the obviously more noticeable weirwood against the family name?

(Also note here that Daenerys “Stormborn” Targaryen, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons is half Blackwood.)

Debate the significance of any or all of these symbols if you like, but for the purposes of this essay, we will assume elemental duality exists, that it is symbolized at least in part by constrasts of black and white, and that it exists for a purpose of some significance in ASOIAF.

 

Would a Woodchuck Chuck Black Wood?

There’s little need to elaborate on the ubiquity or significance of the weirwood when it comes to events in Westeros in general, and the North in particular:

  • The tree never dies unless meddled with (e.g. as Aemon says, “cold preserves”)
  • Dead weirwood never rots, but turns into stone after a thousand years
  • Symbolically, the tree and its white wood have been linked with bone, milk, milk glass and the moon, and is described as both white and pale as bone or milk
  • It’s linked to the First Men or the North in general and the Starks in particular
  • It is associated with godswoods
  • It provides a home for ravens
  • It supports underground caverns for creepy beings, such as the Children of the Forest or the Ghost of High Heart
  • It is made into thrones (specifically, at the Eyrie, and seats for Bloodraven, Bran and Beric Dondarrion under giant weirwoods)
  • It’s a repository or conduit of information and/or power of the old gods and their avatars, the greenseers, e.g. Bloodraven.

Because of this, the weirwood appears to have significant symbolic value toward the “Ice” aspect of the elemental duality of ASOIF.

Yet, outside a few instances of cut or carved weirwood, this very hardy and useful tree is found nowhere in Essos, where a significant portion of the story is set. So we ask ourselves whether there is a complementary form of tree or wood to the weirwood which is:

  • Associated with death or darkness
  • Represents consumption (e.g. by fire) rather than preservation
  • Black as opposed to white, and linked with black substances, objects or beings
  • Closer to the dragon heartland in Essos, such as Valyria, Asshai or the Great Empire of the Dawn
  • Associated with Daenerys, Targaryens and/or Valyrians
  • Associated with a fire god like R’hllor and corresponding avatars as opposed to the old gods
  • Associated with dragons
  • Associated with other creepy fire beings
  • Made into a throne
  • A repository or channel for power or information of the “anti-“ old gods, such as R’hllor
  • Otherwise associated with the “Fire” aspect of the elemental duality of ASOIAF

There are a few candidates for such a type of tree or wood. In Westeros, you have ironwoods, which was devised in the mind of GRRM and doesn’t exist in our world. Ironwoods are described as being black and a source of useful hardwood. Ned executes Gared, the Night’s Watch deserter, on an ironwood stump. Ironwoods are prevalent in at least some Westerosi godswoods, the haunted forest north of the Wall and the wolfswood near Winterfell. It is likely the origin of the name of House Yronwood, and possibly also that of House Blackwood, which may have originated in or near the wolfswood. The doors to the crypts of Winterfell are made from ironwood, so there is a possible mystical connection here.

There doesn’t seem to be any connections between the ironwood and the forces of Fire and fire gods in the same manner as the weirwoods have with Ice and the old gods, and there don’t appear to be any in Essos. There might be something there, but I cannot find evidence as such at this point in the story, and as such its narrative or symbolic purpose remains ambiguous.

 

Another candidate are the unnamed black-barked trees found in Qarth near the House of the Undying. The inky-blue leaves of this tree are used to create the thick blue hallucinogenic wine called Shade of the Evening.

While Shade of the Evening certainly has associations with magic or psychosis with the Qartheen warlocks, the Undying and the eldritch-to-be Euron Crow’s Eye, there doesn’t seem much ubiquity of the tree or usefulness of its product outside of freaking people out. Therefore, these black-barked trees could be ruled out in terms of having a symbolic relationship in contrast to the weirwood.

 

Ebony is more prevalent in ASOIAF than either ironwood or the black-barked trees of the Undying, but the frequency of mentions of ebony remains far less than those of weirwoods. This could be because ebony has no significance whatsoever, but it could also be the result of fewer POV characters in Essos or that the ebony has less of a cultural influence to the peoples of the east as weirwoods do to the northern Westerosi.

Searching through the published ASOIAF, the majority of references to ebony are those with respect to the “ebon skin” of Summer Islanders, such as Jalabhar Xho, Quhuru Mo or Chataya.  Of the remainder, we have:

  • The weirwood and ebony carvings in the double doors at Tobho Mott’s residence
  • The ebony-and-gold palanquin (burdened on white and black oxen, no less) given to Daenerys by Xaro Xhoan Daxos in Qarth.
  • The wide wooden doors “fashioned of ebony and weirwood, the black and white grains swirling and twisting in strange interwoven patterns” as seen by Daenerys in the House of the Undying
  • Prince Doran Martell’s ebony-and-iron rolling chair
  • The simple polished ebony bench serving as Daenerys’s throne in the pyramid of Qarth
  • The weirwood door with ebony face and ebony door with a weirwood face at the House of Black and White
  • The carved ebony statue of a man with a lion's head seated on a throne in the House of Black and White
  • The ebony chest with silver clasps and hinges supposedly encasing the white skull of Ser Gregor Clegane, and
  • Under the giant weirwood north of the Wall, “before them a pale lord in ebon finery sat dreaming in a tangled nest of roots, a woven weirwood throne that embraced his withered limbs as a mother does to a child”

These all seem to have more significance then either the black-barked trees of Qarth or the ironwoods of Westeros. To summarize, we have associations with:

  • Doors or passageways in conjunction with weirwood
  • A pair of conveyances (including one riding white and black oxen)
  • A chest constructed to transport a skull (symbolically linked to weirwood or moon)
  • Three thrones (Daenerys, Doran and Bloodraven), and
  • An idol in the House of Black and White, which seems to stand out from the rest

Ebony is said to be harvested in the Summer Isles, along with bloodwood, mahogany, purpleheart, blue mahoe, burl, tigerwood, goldenheart, and pink ivory. It doesn’t appear to grow anywhere else. We have no ebony trees actually appearing in the book.

Or do we?

 

The Ebon-Nexus and the Persimmon Tree

I admit, I’m an uncultured oaf and, as such, I had no idea that a fruit known as persimmon even existed until recently. Have you noticed the number of persimmon references in ASOIAF?

So what?

According to what I’ve read on the internets, persimmon trees are known to be quite resistant to pests and disease. They are one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring, preventing damage from late frosts, and the fruit hangs on well into the winter.

That in itself doesn’t mean anything.

You’re right. Persimmon fruit can be described as having a yellow-orange-red color, sometimes found in the shape of a heart.

Wait … what? A fruit that could resemble a fiery heart? Okay, that’s odd, but nothing to get too excited about. What else can you tell me about it?

Well, the persimmon tree is a species of the genus Diospyros. Etymologically, this name was derived from the words Greek words dios and pyron, which is erroneously but popularly given rise to referencing it as “divine fruit” or “Jove’s fire”.

Whoa, hang on. You mean people mistakenly but commonly link persimmon to the mythological fire of the gods? Like, what Prometheus stole from heaven and brought down to Earth? Well, that’s still weird, but this could be quite the coincidence.

That’s right, it could be a coincidence. Also coincidentally, modern Greeks refer to the fruit as “lotos”, giving rise to the assumption that this was the lotus fruit eaten by the intrepid voyageurs of Homer’s Odyssey.

Is that what caused Odysseus and his fellow seafaring warriors to abandon their quest to return home and linger for an extended length of time?

Yep.

[pause] … Go on.

The genus Diospyros also includes those species of trees grown for ebony wood.

Get the hell out of my house.

While this all might be nothing, the coincidences found with the nature and popular references to persimmon in our own world are too interesting to ignore as they are applied to ASOIAF.

The persimmon tree and fruit are mentioned a several times throughout the series, mostly associated with Dany:

  • In Qarth, Dany sends the traditional persimmon to the Opener of the Door to curry favour with the Pureborn
  • After her destruction of the House of the Undying, she eats cold shrimp-and-persimmon soup as she dresses once again like a Dothraki before she is to leave Qarth
  • In Astapor, she sips tart persimmon wine from a tall silver flute while negotiating for the Unsullied
  • A persimmon tree grows beside the pool on the terrace at the top of the Great Pyramid of Meereen
  • Xaro Xhoan Daxos selects a persimmon from a fruit platter while treating with Dany in Meereen
  • In ADWD, Dany thinks of the persimmon tree shortly before she dreams of Quaithe while on the Dothraki Sea.

Yep, Dany, the girl who puts the "fire" in ASOIAF, loves her persimmon. Hardly anyone else does. In fact, there was only one other reference to persimmon in the entirety of ASOIAF associated with another character. Early in AGOT, Ned visits Pycelle in the grand maester’s solar:
 

Quote

"Lord Arryn's death was a great sadness for all of us, my lord," Grand Maester Pycelle said. "I would be more than happy to tell you what I can of the manner of his passing. Do be seated. Would you care for refreshments? Some dates, perhaps? I have some very fine persimmons as well. Wine no longer agrees with my digestion, I fear, but I can offer you a cup of iced milk, sweetened with honey. I find it most refreshing in this heat."

There was no denying the heat; Ned could feel the silk tunic clinging to his chest. Thick, moist air covered the city like a damp woolen blanket, and the riverside had grown mostly unruly as the poor fled their hot, airless warrens to jostle for sleeping places near the water, where the only breath of wind was to be found. "That would be most kind," Ned said, seating himself.

Pycelle lifted a tiny silver bell with thumb and forefinger and tinkled it gently. A slender young serving girl hurried into the solar. "Iced milk for the King's Hand and myself, if you would be so kind, child. Well sweetened."

Did you see that? Ned Stark, our symbolic King of Winter, was offered persimmon, the fire of the gods, but instead chose iced milk – and both ice and milk share symbolic resonance with weirwoods.

I propose that, for the purposes of this story, the persimmon fruit and tree and ebony wood are one and the same, and that they hold the same symbolic significance. With one or other or both, these elements appear to be more closely related to Dany’s arc than that of other characters, and in alignment with fire symbolism.

 

Black Clouds, Silver Linings

Among other potential symbolic linkages to ebony and persimmon that I’ve found is silver. Silver, of course, comes up all over ASOIAF and used in many contexts, but it is very often found in close proximity with ebony or persimmon objects:

  • The little silver bell rung by Pycelle when treating with Ned
  • Tobho Mott, the owner of the home with the weirwood and ebony carvings in King’s Landing, “wore a black velvet coat with hammers embroidered on the sleeves with silver thread. Around his neck was a heavy silver chain and a sapphire as large as a pigeon’s egg”
  • Dany wears a tight silver collar and silver sandals when presenting the traditional persimmon to the Opener of the Door in Qarth
  • Dany tosses off this silver collar after while on the ebony-and-gold palanquin with Xaro Xhoan Daxos, and then interacts with her bloodrider Jhogo, who holds a silver-handled whip.
  • In Qarth, Dany wears a small silver bell braided in her hair as she breaks her fast on a bowl of cold shrimp-and-persimmon soup, then she rides her silver horse out of the city to the waterfront
  • Dany sips persimmon wine from a tall silver flute in Astapor
  • In ASOS, Dany breaks fast under a persimmon tree, then dresses with a silver sash, goes down to the audience chamber and sits on the ebony bench, where “her bloodriders were waiting for her. Silver bells tinkled in their oiled braids.”
  • The ebony chest holding the Mountain’s skull has silver clasps and hinges

Don’t forget that Dany has silver-gold hair too.

There remain instances where silver is not mentioned in the text or otherwise apparent with relation to persimmon or ebony:

  • When Xaro Xhoan Daxos selects a persimmon from a fruit platter while treating with Dany in Meereen
  • When Dany thinks of the persimmon tree shortly before she dreams of Quaithe while on the Dothraki Sea.
  • The ebony-and-weirwood doors in the House of the Undying
  • The ebony-and-weirwood doors at the House of Black and White
  • The carved ebony statue of the Lion of Night in the House of Black and White
  • Prince Doran Martell’s ebony-and-iron rolling chair
  • Under Bloodraven’s giant weirwood

The black-and-silver motif reminds us of a black night sky filled with silver stars, such as Beric “The Symbol that Rides” Dondarrion’s starry cloak, or Dany’s vision of Quaithe and her starry eyes while tripping out on the Dothraki Sea in ADWD.

Speaking of Quaithe…

 

What the Seven Hells is up with Quaithe?

No one knows, really. What do we know?

  • She’s a shadowbinder
  • She speaks the Common Tongue with hardly a trace of an accent
  • She wears a dark-red lacquered wood mask
  • She has shiny eyes
  • She’s into voyeurism, probably

That’s it. We don’t know what she wears. There’s no comment on her skin color (or if any skin can be shown), and Dany makes no mention of clothing. She also speaks cryptically and never gives a straight answer, like that smug asshole you met in university who smirks and says “actually…” whenever you state a fact. It’s really annoying.

Outside of Dany recalling the shadowbinder’s cryptic prophecies, Quaithe only appears – in person or in visions – six times in the ASOIAF text. Four of these instances are tied with references to ebony, persimmon or silver:

  • Dany is riding her silver when Quaithe departs after escorting her khalasar to Qarth
  • Dany wears a silver collar and shoes while riding in a palanquin with Xaro Xhoan Daxos through Qarth. She leaves the palanquin along with her bloodrider Jhogo to see a firemage, and encounters Quaithe talking weird-ass shit. Quaithe touches Dany on the wrist, and Jhogo moves her hand away with his silver-handled whip
  • On the terrace of the Great Pyramid of Meereen, Dany encounters Quaithe at night under the persimmon tree, moonlight shining in her eyes
  • Dany recalls fondly of her persimmon tree on the Dothraki Sea. She finds herself under the night sky, with the moon rising and the black sky filled with stars. Seeing Quaithe in a vision, Dany thinks, “Her mask is made of starlight.”

During the other two meetings with Quaithe, we see symbolic references of a different sort. While sailing to Astapor, Dany encounters Quaithe in her darkened cabin with no signs of ebony, persimmon or silver in the text. Outside her room are her bloodriders Aggo, of the double-curved dragonbone bow, and Rakharo with his golden-handled arakh. She’s on the ship she renamed after Balerion, the Black Dread. “Balerion seemed to wake with her” just before Quaithe’s appearance. In this event, then, Quaithe can be linked to a giant black dragon.

Daenerys’s first encounter with Quaithe at Vaes Tolorro is even more interesting, as it’s packed chockful of symbolism. They have found refuge in the City of Bones, a white-walled city that is littered with bones, twisty mazes of streets, handles of stone flagons almost mistaken for white snakes, a tall marble plinth in one of the city squares, and cold, fresh water to drink from wells. Remind you of anything? It’s as if Bloodraven’s weirwood cavern was moved to the Red Waste.

Knowing that she didn’t want to stay, she sent out her three bloodriders to find someplace to go.  Rakharo returned after describing the black bones of a giant dragon with great black jaws. Aggo returned describing the ruins of two cities, one of which was warded by a ring of skulls mounted on rusted iron spears, and the other produced an uncut fire opal that was presented to Daenerys. If you are familiar with the symbolic representations highlighted by @LML, you’ll note that both dragons (and their black bones) as well as the iron spears represent the comet debris and the moon-meteor impact which caused the Long Night.

So, returning to Dany at Vaes Tolorro we have the symbols:

  • Black dragonbone
  • Skulls impaled on rusted spears, and
  • A red lacquered-masked shadowbinder who says “We come seeking dragons”

These three symbols (along with the uncut fire opal) are mentioned in succession when Daenerys is given the opportunity to leave her weirwood analogue home.

Maybe GRRM is trying to tell us something.

 

What We Do in the Shadows

Quaithe is a shadowbinder. So is Melissandre. What does that mean?

  • They, um, bind shadows
  • They live in or are associated with Asshai
  • They … like fire?

Shadowbinders are the most enigmatic of all institutions of known POV characters in ASOIAF. They are said to scare the bejeesus out of everyone in Planetos, including those who reside in Asshai of all places, and are the only people who venture up the Ash River to the deep dark Shadowlands.

Melissandre is a priestess of the red god. Is Quaithe also a R’hllorean? Maybe, with her dark-red mask and all, but that’s all we have.

One thing we know both Mel and Quaithe have in common is that they hide their appearances. Melissandre uses a ruby-red glamour, similar to that which disguises Mance Rayder as he infiltrates Bolten-held Winterfell. Quaithe, as I mentioned, uses a wooden mask. Why is there absolutely no other description of Quaithe? Dany describes the jewelry, clothing, and other appearances of almost everyone she comes across, possibly because she’s a spoiled shallow teenage girl, but more likely because GRRM doesn’t want us to know more information about Quaithe just yet. Maybe Quaithe is just a pale-skinned Milk Men Qartheen and so she isn’t distinguishable from others in that city, but even if she did come across this way, I suspect that she is glamouring herself in some fashion.

A clue might be given with the black-skinned Moqorro, a seriously impressive priest of R’hllor. His complexion isn’t like the ebon-skinned Summer Islanders; it is “black as pitch, his hair white as snow.” This suggests that he isn’t merely from another human race, but has been transformed through magic.

Notice that in the chapter immediately following the introduction of Moqorro in ADWD, Bran sits on a weirwood throne in the north with Bloodraven, the last greenseer. Included in this crazy chapter full of kick-ass symbolism is another mention of “pitch” to describe the color black:

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The great cavern that opened on the abyss was a black as pitch, black as tar, blacker the feathers of a crown. Light entered as a trespasser, unwanted and unwelcome, and soon was gone again; cookfires, candles, and rushes burned for a little while, then guttered out again, their brief lives at an end.

(If this passage was written by David Lynch, it would have included Special Agent Dale B Cooper’s immortal request for his cup of joe, “As black as midnight on a moonless night.” But I digress.)

Twin Peaks references aside, the text continues:

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The singers made Bran a throne of his own, like the one Lord Brynden sat, white weirwood flecked with red, dead branches woven through living roots. They placed it in the great cavern by the abyss, where the black air echoed to the sound of running water far below … There he sat, listening to the hoarse whispers of his teacher. “Never fear the darkness, Bran … The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.”

That this chapter immediately follows the introduction of Moqorro was no accident. Undoubtedly, GRRM intended to juxtapose the pale white greenseer embracing the darkness against the pitch-black prophet embracing the light.

So this is where begin to speculate: Moqorro is a shadowbinder, a powerful sorcerer and worshipper of the fire light, in the same vein as Melissandre and Quaithe. Because of this, I also speculate that Mel and Quaithe are not only hiding their potentially advanced age from the non-magical beings of Planetos, but that they are hiding their pitch-black skin which would totally freak people out and make the story too obvious to the reader.

And I speculate that the dark-red lacquer mask worn by Quaithe is made from black ebony wood, which acts as a glamour source and hides her appearance. This is why Dany doesn’t describe Quaithe beyond the face; she doesn’t see any other part of Quaithe other than her mask and eyes, or else she completely disregards the rest as irrelevant and forgettable. The only thing that matters is the relationship between ebony and Quaithe.

 

Ebony and Weirwoody: A Song of Disharmony

To sum up, I believe the elemental duality in AOIAF is real and intentional, and that this duality is symbolized throughout the text with the inclusion of weirwood and persimmon ebony (which are one and the same) in the narrative.

I table it all here:

Associations

 

Weirwood

 

Persimmon Ebony

 

Mortality

Preserves life

Consumes life (maybe?)

Color

White

Black

Primary elements

Ice

Fire

Other related elements

Bone, moon, milk

Dragonbone, iron, night sky, persimmon, possibly dragonglass candles

Geography

Northern Westeros

Southern Essos

Characters

Ned Stark, Jon Snow, the greenseers Bloodraven & Bran Stark

Daenerys, the shadowbinders Quaithe & Melissandre

Religion

Old gods

R’hllor

Beasts

Ravens

Dragons

Thrones

Eyrie, Bloodraven, Bran, Beric

Dany (ebony throne placed under the persimmon tree at the top of the Great Pyramid)

Magic

Communications medium for Bloodraven; repository for old-god knowledge

Glamour for Quaithe; no evidence that it holds or transmits information

 

Yes, this isn’t an exact science, and I don’t expect the persimmon ebony tree to be an exact polar opposite of the weirwood. There is no evidence of a shadowbinder sitting under a persimmon tree (and Dany sitting on her ebony throne below the Great Pyramid’s persimmon tree doesn’t count – yet), for example, and I’m stretching the symbology in some aspects to make the connections.

Nevertheless, I think we have just enough information to believe that persimmon ebony is symbolically juxtaposed against weirwood to some degree in the published ASOIAF and, because of this, we can conjecture how this impacts some less prominent yet no less significant characters in Quaithe, Melissandre and Moqorro. Also because of this, I believe that symbols of white and black will continue to reflect and counter each other as the ASOIAF reaches its crescendo, and that, contrary to the adherents of R’hllorism, Euronism or any other religious prophecies, neither aspect of the elemental duality will end up victorious but forever in conflict.

This symbolism matters to GRRM and, as such, it should matter to the reader. By identifying the use of persimmon and ebony in the story, we can look for related symbols indicating what happened in Planetos’ past and what we could expect to see as the ASOIAF reaches its crescendo.

Am I onto something? Where have I gone wrong? What am I missing, particularly from the supplemental text such as TWOIAF? I open the floor to your discussion...

 

 

 

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Very interesting!

Not a particularly profound observation, but perhaps you should include Ghost and the Ghost of High Heart in the weirwood beasts and persons? They are so very (and in Ghost's case, explicitly) weirwoody.

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48 minutes ago, Therae said:

Very interesting!

Not a particularly profound observation, but perhaps you should include Ghost and the Ghost of High Heart in the weirwood beasts and persons? They are so very (and in Ghost's case, explicitly) weirwoody.

Good catch. I missed adding the Ghost of High Heart reference because of sloppiness.

 

No excuse to forget about Ghost, though. That beast is a weirwood made flesh.

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This is very similar to a theory I wrote two years ago called The Garden of Edenos. I think you would like it. There is a reason the two trees are perceived opposites: black and white.

 

https://www.google.com/amp/s/endgameofthrones.com/2015/05/20/the-garden-of-edenos-the-weirwood-tree-of-knowledge-the-ironwood-of-eternal-life-and-the-wall-as-banishment-rexamined/amp/

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I've always thought there should be a parallel to weirwoods somewhere.  I kept leaning towards the black-barked, blue-leafed trees but you're right that they don't appear anywhere besides outside the HotU (except as Shade of the Evening).  But your point about the persimmons and the IRL link between persimmon trees and ebony is fascinating!  I'm not convinced, completely, mostly because I feel like Shade of the Evening is a parallel to the weirwood paste Bran eats...and the Shade comes from those weird trees at the HotU....and they've got similar effects on the drinker....at least, Bran and Dany describe the taste similarly...and I suppose it did open her to whatever visions she was given....

You make a lot of good points, and it's fascinating!  But there are still a few pieces missing to fit everything together (and that's not your fault! We need more books!)

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Pre...tty black. (I've been saying that since 1990.)

This is brilliant. Seriously.

FWIW I am absolutely certain Quaithe is Rhaella for reasons WAY too complex to get into here (it's buried in the Mother of Theories essay/book I'm working on), which makes the Ebon references make perfect sense, even though she ain't Dany's mom. She's a far more interesting character than we've been led to believe—something that's true of several women we've heard of but whom don't seem to play much of a role.

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23 hours ago, Jak Scaletongue said:

I've always thought there should be a parallel to weirwoods somewhere.  I kept leaning towards the black-barked, blue-leafed trees but you're right that they don't appear anywhere besides outside the HotU (except as Shade of the Evening).  But your point about the persimmons and the IRL link between persimmon trees and ebony is fascinating!  I'm not convinced, completely, mostly because I feel like Shade of the Evening is a parallel to the weirwood paste Bran eats...and the Shade comes from those weird trees at the HotU....and they've got similar effects on the drinker....at least, Bran and Dany describe the taste similarly...and I suppose it did open her to whatever visions she was given....

You make a lot of good points, and it's fascinating!  But there are still a few pieces missing to fit everything together (and that's not your fault! We need more books!)

Yeah, there's something with the shade of the evening, but the connections with weirwood paste are related thematically only with that one particular aspect.

There's so much to speculate on, but the focus of this topic was really to do with the ebony/persimmon connection. That hasn't been covered anywhere else. I'd like to see how it fits in with other theories, if it adds to anything else or if it's simply a strange coincidence.

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21 hours ago, M_Tootles said:

Pre...tty black. (I've been saying that since 1990.)

This is brilliant. Seriously.

FWIW I am absolutely certain Quaithe is Rhaella for reasons WAY too complex to get into here (it's buried in the Mother of Theories essay/book I'm working on), which makes the Ebon references make perfect sense, even though she ain't Dany's mom. She's a far more interesting character than we've been led to believe—something that's true of several women we've heard of but whom don't seem to play much of a role.

Thanks for sharing your own theories. Looking forward to see the essay!

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Till now I've assumed that the blue leaved trees were a variety of ebony, and therefore the opposing pair to the weirwoods. Now I'm not so sure  - the real-life identification of persimmon as an ebony seems very significant.

It's not even straightforward to say the weirwoods represent 'ice'. They are found in the north, and the colour of snow, but Bran tastes hot spices in the seed paste, and the red and white colouring is shared with Ghost - and Mel says of Ghost: warmth calls to warmth.

Dany gets a firey sensation when drinking shade of the evening, so the blue leaved trees are fire too. But shade of the evening seems the more unhealthy substance - Dany says it tastes foul like spoiled meat, whereas Bran says the weirwood paste is merely bitter, like the life-sustaining acorn paste. Maybe, then, the blue-leaved trees are corrupted weirwoods and not part of any natural balance between ice and fire.

But then again, are persimmons enough to be a counterweight to weirwoods? Dany doesn't get any idea of ice or fire from them, but the bitterness/tartness is very marked. Often the bitterness goes along with disappointment or bitter truths in a way that seems similar to lemons. That might not be the only meaning of persimmons though.

Things I'd add to the persimmon knowledge-base:

  • It would be interesting to know the context when persimmons appear, and whether the persimmons are swallowed down or rejected. I think Dany rejects the soup - I'm not sure.
  • Apparently, unripe persimmons are unbearably tart, and ripe ones more sweet. In some cases the sweetness increases when the fruit is exposed to frost.

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On 3/31/2017 at 11:33 AM, Springwatch said:

Till now I've assumed that the blue leaved trees were a variety of ebony, and therefore the opposing pair to the weirwoods. Now I'm not so sure  - the real-life identification of persimmon as an ebony seems very significant.

It's not even straightforward to say the weirwoods represent 'ice'. They are found in the north, and the colour of snow, but Bran tastes hot spices in the seed paste, and the red and white colouring is shared with Ghost - and Mel says of Ghost: warmth calls to warmth.

Dany gets a firey sensation when drinking shade of the evening, so the blue leaved trees are fire too. But shade of the evening seems the more unhealthy substance - Dany says it tastes foul like spoiled meat, whereas Bran says the weirwood paste is merely bitter, like the life-sustaining acorn paste. Maybe, then, the blue-leaved trees are corrupted weirwoods and not part of any natural balance between ice and fire.

But then again, are persimmons enough to be a counterweight to weirwoods? Dany doesn't get any idea of ice or fire from them, but the bitterness/tartness is very marked. Often the bitterness goes along with disappointment or bitter truths in a way that seems similar to lemons. That might not be the only meaning of persimmons though.

Things I'd add to the persimmon knowledge-base:

  • It would be interesting to know the context when persimmons appear, and whether the persimmons are swallowed down or rejected. I think Dany rejects the soup - I'm not sure.
  • Apparently, unripe persimmons are unbearably tart, and ripe ones more sweet. In some cases the sweetness increases when the fruit is exposed to frost.

I agree. I'm not too hung up on whether a weirwood represents "ice" or anything like that. I had a chart going trying to keep track of the various dualisms in the story, and since weirwoods were in cold climes, often in snowy areas, I tied it to ice, as the persimmons were tied to the hot, dry climates. But weirwood leaves also symbolize a burning tree (House Marbrand's sigil, e.g.), so it's not cut and dry.

And with the context that the fruit is being consumed, it's a good question. There are so few instances available to us to analyze, it's difficult to make a determination. The same goes with shade of the evening. Is it a corrupted ebony tree or something like that? I don't want to rule it out because it presents a means to go into the mystical world, just like weirwood paste. 

So we can only focus on what the text says, and that was the intent of the essay. I would hope others might be able to clue into this in their own study of the text.

 

 

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On 3/27/2017 at 8:37 PM, Daendrew said:

This is very similar to a theory I wrote two years ago called The Garden of Edenos. I think you would like it. There is a reason the two trees are perceived opposites: black and white.

 

https://www.google.com/amp/s/endgameofthrones.com/2015/05/20/the-garden-of-edenos-the-weirwood-tree-of-knowledge-the-ironwood-of-eternal-life-and-the-wall-as-banishment-rexamined/amp/

It's an interesting theory, and it can tie into my own in that there is evidence in our own world on a two-tree mythology. I'm glad you pointed these examples out. 

Not sure how the connection between the shade of the evening and ironwoods are supported by the text though. You'd think Jorah Mormont, who grew up and ruled in the North, would have recognized the trees at the House of the Undying as being ironwoods. The text just describes them as "a grove of black-barked trees whose inky blue leaves made the stuff of the sorcerous drink the Qartheen called shade of the evening." Jorah is "captain obvious" in his constant narration of all other world-building features in ASOIAF, but not here.

Meanwhile, ironwoods are described as having "black wood", which is featured as constituting the planks of the bridge just before Jon Snow discovered his direwolf puppy Ghost. Again, there is a mystical element at play, which is contrasted immediately in the next chapter with ironwoods contributing to the black the Winterfell godswood. Ironwoods are also called "black-barked" whilst Jon rides north of the Wall. No mention of blue leaves though. You'd think GRRM would note this.

So, while there is a black-bark connection between the Qartheen trees and Westerosi ironwoods, you need to make a considerable set of assumptions and conjectures to get beyond this. I just don't see it.

It could be that the Forest of Qohor, described as "dark" is made up at least in part by ironwoods. It's odd that this revelation would not be made specific by a Westerosi maester, but there is no reason to rule it out. Idols of the Black Goat need to be made out of something, so why not ironwood? Special attention is also made of the silver-furred, purple-eyed lemurs. Call out to Valyrian mysticism in those roots akin to the First Men greenseers?

But again, there is little to connect the Forest of Qohor to the shade of the evening though.

I also like the connection between the Ironborn and ironwoods. It's something I had never considered before.

 

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@Darry Man,

 

I think in a general way both types of trees have both elements in them.  Ice preserves and fire consumes, but both black and white trees do a lot of both giving long life, but sucking away the life from your body at the same time.  Like you said weirwoods are burning trees which are landing spots for the fire of the gods.  Those white trucks are never called icy that I can recall except when they are actually icy or even armored in ice at times, but that is something in itself.  We can suspect the black tree trucks are connected to fire because so many fiery things are burnt and black, but other thing are black as well so is not really enough.  

 

Great catch on persimmions being fire of the gods and being connected to black trees.  I think you are onto something there.  I bet @ravenous reader will like the persimmon and shrimp soup because it sounds so much like starfish soup from under the see.  The black clouds silver linings section looks like it may be an extention of the black swords with white hilts like, longclaw, Dany riding Drogon, and the Others controlling the black-handed wights who are often crows in black cloaks.  

 

The whole black vs white thing you are talking about here is a hell of an ambitious first thing to tackle when you join the forums.  Like you pointed out it is plastered on several doors throughout the books, all of which seem to contain something that it is not.  Tobho's doors contain a king's bastard posing as a smith with unknown parentage.  THotU contains 'wizards' that appear beautiful and young, but are actually rotten and flamable in a way that reminds of wights.  THoBaW contains all manner of face changers.  This appears to be connected to the battle of the whispering wood where Robb's face is blacked out, but Jaime, who looks unusually white and Other-like, is easy to identify from far away.  Another may be Ned's ToJ dream where his men are faceless 'grey wraiths', but the white clad Kingsguard are clear.  I am not sure where to take this information other than a tinfoily theory @LmL dug up involving half the moon hiding its face under black, light drinking debris while the white half that was turned away from the moonsplosion is still clear and easy to see.  It is a bit out there however, so there may be another solution.  I will find the link if you want it though.  If you could just go ahead and figure all this out that would be great.             

 

I wrote an OP when I first joined not long ago(which I did not put nearly so much work into as you did here and while I am at it I will tag @Pain killer Jane and @GloubieBoulga because you never know what they will find in this).  I shamelessly dropped it in the middle of a thread to get people to read it, just like I did with this one earlier.  Worst case, they don't read it.  Some may not, but don't be afraid to plug your stuff a little especially if you are new and no one knows to look for it.  Just don't do it over and over and you will barely make anyone sick of you.  :D        

    

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So cool post.

Actually, the Yin and Yang in the Sacred Tao are . . .

Just kidding, I'm not that guy in college. Still, while Yin and Yang represent all other dualism, it's best never to think of them as representing evil and good. They representing  complimenting forces in balance. When those forces are complimenting and in some kind of dynamic balance, then that is healthy or good. When they are out of balance then that is unhealthy or evil. And I am not just saying this to be smug guy, I think it is a key element to the story and may even play well into the symmetry you are looking for.

First, let's note that R'hllor is the god of light and shadow and his colors seem to be red for flame and black for the shadow it casts. Meanwhile, the Others are white (obviously) and have blue eyes. Red in the first case is the primary characteristic, shadow or black is the secondary characteristic. With others we think of the whiteness first. They are called White Walkers, after all. The blue is secondary. So weirwoods represent the primary characteristics of both sides, red and and white. The Warlock trees (seriously, they needs a gods damned name) represent the secondary characteristics of both black and blue. I think this kind of bolsters the idea that they are a corruption of weirwoods rather than a naturally occurring compliment. I suspect this is why Martin couldn't use it as the complimentary wood to weirwood in the House of Black and White. I mean they worship death and junk, but that corrupt Warlock magic is just a bridge to far.

 

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16 hours ago, Unchained said:

@Darry Man,

The whole black vs white thing you are talking about here is a hell of an ambitious first thing to tackle when you join the forums.  Like you pointed out it is plastered on several doors throughout the books, all of which seem to contain something that it is not.  Tobho's doors contain a king's bastard posing as a smith with unknown parentage.  THotU contains 'wizards' that appear beautiful and young, but are actually rotten and flamable in a way that reminds of wights.  THoBaW contains all manner of face changers.  This appears to be connected to the battle of the whispering wood where Robb's face is blacked out, but Jaime, who looks unusually white and Other-like, is easy to identify from far away.  Another may be Ned's ToJ dream where his men are faceless 'grey wraiths', but the white clad Kingsguard are clear.  I am not sure where to take this information other than a tinfoily theory @LmL dug up involving half the moon hiding its face under black, light drinking debris while the white half that was turned away from the moonsplosion is still clear and easy to see.  It is a bit out there however, so there may be another solution.  I will find the link if you want it though.  If you could just go ahead and figure all this out that would be great.             

 

I wrote an OP when I first joined not long ago(which I did not put nearly so much work into as you did here and while I am at it I will tag @Pain killer Jane and @GloubieBoulga because you never know what they will find in this).  I shamelessly dropped it in the middle of a thread to get people to read it, just like I did with this one earlier.  Worst case, they don't read it.  Some may not, but don't be afraid to plug your stuff a little especially if you are new and no one knows to look for it.  Just don't do it over and over and you will barely make anyone sick of you.  :D        

    

Yeah, I was falling down that black-vs-white rabbit hole when all I really wanted to do was to show that relationship between ebony and persimmon. But one should relate these to the larger context, so I had to include those examples. There is something GRRM is telling us, though. 

I appreciate the tags too. (I don't know how to tag names, only the hyperlinks to other sites.) I'm not really writing any of this for self-promotion, and I don't need credit for my ideas. Writing this all helps me understand the books better. If it's shared, great, but I'm happy to be a little wallflower inserting my little comments from the peanut gallery from time to time.

Still, I'm not going to eschew any recognition either!

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10 minutes ago, Darry Man said:

Yeah, I was falling down that black-vs-white rabbit hole when all I really wanted to do was to show that relationship between ebony and persimmon. But one should relate these to the larger context, so I had to include those examples. There is something GRRM is telling us, though. 

I appreciate the tags too. (I don't know how to tag names, only the hyperlinks to other sites.) I'm not really writing any of this for self-promotion, and I don't need credit for my ideas. Writing this all helps me understand the books better. If it's shared, great, but I'm happy to be a little wallflower inserting my little comments from the peanut gallery from time to time.

Still, I'm not going to eschew any recognition either!

Yep, it's not just about credit either the forums are like a computer and the more people go through an essay the more things they will find.  I know that my mind was blown with what people found after they read my only OP.  It was honestly a lot more than I found before I wrote it.  I just wanted to help get something like that going.  Those black trees are a mystery that not much progress has been made on.  Connecting them to the sea stone chair as was done after you pointed out kraken tentacles are like roots is something, especially since we have shade drunk person running the iron islands now.  

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15 hours ago, Durran Durrandon said:

So cool post.

Actually, the Yin and Yang in the Sacred Tao are . . .

Just kidding, I'm not that guy in college. Still, while Yin and Yang represent all other dualism, it's best never to think of them as representing evil and good. They representing  complimenting forces in balance. When those forces are complimenting and in some kind of dynamic balance, then that is healthy or good. When they are out of balance then that is unhealthy or evil. And I am not just saying this to be smug guy, I think it is a key element to the story and may even play well into the symmetry you are looking for.

First, let's note that R'hllor is the god of light and shadow and his colors seem to be red for flame and black for the shadow it casts. Meanwhile, the Others are white (obviously) and have blue eyes. Red in the first case is the primary characteristic, shadow or black is the secondary characteristic. With others we think of the whiteness first. They are called White Walkers, after all. The blue is secondary. So weirwoods represent the primary characteristics of both sides, red and and white. The Warlock trees (seriously, they needs a gods damned name) represent the secondary characteristics of both black and blue. I think this kind of bolsters the idea that they are a corruption of weirwoods rather than a naturally occurring compliment. I suspect this is why Martin couldn't use it as the complimentary wood to weirwood in the House of Black and White. I mean they worship death and junk, but that corrupt Warlock magic is just a bridge to far.

 

I agree that the tao is a balance, rather than a good/evil dichotomy. I prefer to regard it as an order-vs-chaos balance, where you need a little of both in the world. But that's just me.

I am definitely not sold on an entirely different substance contra weirwood; I only think that ebony/persimmon is a symbolic representation of something which could be in opposition to the symbolic purpose of the weirwood. Both symbols could be oppositional aspects of the same element within the story. So, e/p could be the symbolic representation of a corrupt greenseer or a burnt weirwood. 

For example, as I touched on in the essay, Dany seats herself on an ebony bench which is below the persimmon tree, which alludes to the Bloodraven's rooted throne beneath the weirwood. I cannot believe this to be accidental, but it also does not necessarily mean there is something particularly magical about ebony/persimmon either.

 

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1 hour ago, Darry Man said:

I agree that the tao is a balance, rather than a good/evil dichotomy. I prefer to regard it as an order-vs-chaos balance, where you need a little of both in the world. But that's just me.

I am definitely not sold on an entirely different substance contra weirwood; I only think that ebony/persimmon is a symbolic representation of something which could be in opposition to the symbolic purpose of the weirwood. Both symbols could be oppositional aspects of the same element within the story. So, e/p could be the symbolic representation of a corrupt greenseer or a burnt weirwood. 

For example, as I touched on in the essay, Dany seats herself on an ebony bench which is below the persimmon tree, which alludes to the Bloodraven's rooted throne beneath the weirwood. I cannot believe this to be accidental, but it also does not necessarily mean there is something particularly magical about ebony/persimmon either.

 

Agreed, it feels more like a symbolic compliment than a magical one.

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