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Poisons, potions and their fellow travelers


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I was pondering Tears of Lys and Alyssa's Tears. One is a poison with the following description in the Wiki:

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When dissolved in liquids and swallowed, the poison eats away at the stomach and bowels of the victim, and appears to be a disease of those organs.[3] Giving the victim a powerful purgative, if done early enough, may be the only thing that can save their life,[4][5] but even that may not be enough.[6] It is unknown if the poison has a connection with the Weeping Lady of Lys.

When we are told about an unknown connection, I usually assume we are supposed to seek a connection. Here is a summary of what little we know about the Weeping Lady of Lys:

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When first entering the House of Black and White, Arya Stark notes the statue of a marble woman, 12 feet tall (3,66 meters). Real tears are trickling from the eyes, filling the bowl the woman cradled in her arms. The statue of a man with a lion's head stands nearby. At this point Arya cannot name the figures.[3] Early in her training, Arya is able to identify both the Weeping Woman and the Lion of Night.[2]

The weeping lady is a statue, which almost certainly alludes to another statue associated with tears:

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Alyssa's Tears is a waterfall in the Vale of Arryn. It lies on the western side of the Giant's Lance.[1] It receives its name from Alyssa Arryn, an ancient member of House Arryn who saw her family butchered before her and never shed a tear. No drop of the waterfall reaches the floor of the valley below. (Wiki)

...

A bell tolled loudly below them. High lords and serving girls alike broke off what they were doing and moved to the balustrade. Below, two guardsmen in sky-blue cloaks led forth Tyrion Lannister. The Eyrie's plump septon escorted him to the statue in the center of the garden, a weeping woman carved in veined white marble, no doubt meant to be Alyssa.

...

Bronn came out from behind the statue hard and fast, still moving left, aiming a two-handed cut at the knight's unshielded right side. Ser Vardis blocked, but clumsily, and the sellsword's blade flashed upward at his head. Metal rang, and a falcon's wing collapsed with a crunch. Ser Vardis took a half step back to brace himself, raised his shield. Oak chips flew as Bronn's sword hacked at the wooden wall. The sellsword stepped left again, away from the shield, and caught Ser Vardis across the stomach, the razor edge of his blade leaving a bright gash when it bit into the knight's plate.
Ser Vardis drove forward off his back foot, his own silver blade descending in a savage arc. Bronn slammed it aside and danced away. The knight crashed into the weeping woman, rocking her on her plinth. Staggered, he stepped backward, his head turning this way and that as he searched for his foe. The slit visor of his helm narrowed his vision.
...
One moment [Ser Vardis] was reeling backward, half-crouched behind his scarred shield; the next he charged. The sudden bull rush caught Bronn off balance. Ser Vardis crashed into him and slammed the lip of his shield into the sellsword's face. Almost, almost, Bronn lost his feet … he staggered back, tripped over a rock, and caught hold of the weeping woman to keep his balance. Throwing aside his shield, Ser Vardis lurched after him, using both hands to raise his sword. His right arm was blood from elbow to fingers now, yet his last desperate blow would have opened Bronn from neck to navel … if the sellsword had stood to receive it.
 
But Bronn jerked back. Jon Arryn's beautiful engraved silver sword glanced off the marble elbow of the weeping woman and snapped clean a third of the way up the blade. Bronn put his shoulder into the statue's back. The weathered likeness of Alyssa Arryn tottered and fell with a great crash, and Ser Vardis Egen went down beneath her. (AGoT, Catelyn VII)

Varys tells Ned Stark that Jon Arryn was poisoned with Tears of Lys. There is suspicion the Grand Maester Pycelle might have been the agent of the poison but he says that he thinks the squire, Hugh of the Vale, poisoned the Hand. Later, Sansa learns that Lysa Arryn poisoned her husband at the request of Petyr Baelish. 

If the Trial by Combat involving Bronn and Ser Vardis is a hint about the death of Jon Arryn (Lysa says that Ser Vardis was Jon's right hand), I think we can look to both the Tears of Lys poison for clues as well as the similar duel between Ser Gregor Clegane and Prince Oberyn Martell. Oberyn is an expert in the use of poisons and there is widespread suspicion that he poisons his weapon to ensure that Ser Gregor will suffer a slow and painful death, no matter the outcome of their combat.

For what it's worth, I think of both Ser Gregor and Ser Vardis as "green" characters while Bronn is a brown character and Prince Oberyn seems to be a red character - stemming from his Red Vyper nickname. In both Trials by Combat, Tyrion is the subject of the question about innocence or guilt. We are not told about the ingredients for Tears of Lys but it is considered a rare poison and it is made by Alchemists (who also make wild fire). Because Bronn and Prince Oberyn are both acting as champions and because there is probably wordplay on "champion" and "champignon," I suspect Tears of Lys includes mushrooms as an ingredient. 

But there is also wordplay on "tear" (the drop that falls from a sad person's eye) and "tear" (what happens to fabric when someone pulls it apart). So Arya has a "Needle" that could mend torn fabric but she hides her needle while she learns how to use poison. People in the Castle Black POVs often note that the Wall is weeping. A salty drop falls on Bran as he passes beneath the Wall at the Night Fort. 

But Tears of Lys is just one poison among many with potential deeper meaning or connection to other literary motifs in the books.

  • Is The Strangler linked to The Stranger?
  • At one point, I thought that "Milk of the Poppy," which seems to be a sort of morphine-like medicine in Westeros, could be symbolic of milk that comes from a father - wordplay on "Pop" and "Poppy." It's not exactly a poison, but it is used to drug people and might be lethal in excessive doses.
  • Nightshade is a real family of edible plants (tomato, potato, eggplant - anything involving eggs has to be important in ASOIAF) as well as a real poison (belladonna) in our world. Given the importance of night and shadows in the series. what is GRRM trying to tell us about poisons and shadows through the mention of nightshade?
  • More wordplay, through the "almost anagrams" that seem to be a thing in ASOIAF: is "venom" related to "lemon"? Are they opposites?
  • Is it significant that "manticore" contains possible hidden meanings involving "iceman," "romance," and "cremation" among other possibilities? 
  • "Gift" is the German word for poison. So any time we see gifts given or received, GRRM could be dropping a hint about poison.

Here is a link to the wiki entry on ASOIAF poisons for ease of reference. Please share your thoughts on the deeper meanings of poisons and potions in ASOIAF.

 

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I love your analyses. They are always so rich and detailed.

I believe that poisons in the story are linked to the 'soft power' side of the game of thrones, things like money, prestige, good looks, charms and wit. The Tears of Lys are supposed to be rare, suggesting they are expensive. The Tyrells, a wealthy family, used poison to kill Joffrey. The colour purple, connected with Joffrey's death, also has connotations of wealth and prestige. The Lannisters, the richest family, also use poison. There are many other connections.

Poisons are, in my opinion, opposed to the 'hard power' side of the game of thrones. They are considered unmanly. You cannot defeat them with skill at arms or by being a good commander. They do not care about your skill in battle or how many swords you can call upon.

I think in this respect the Red Wedding is interesting as Tywin considers it to fall into the 'soft power' category, using influence to quietly silence a few targets, when in reality it was a 'hard power' action, as lots of people died and they were killed with swords and other weapons. They were not killed 'softly' or quietly. In contrast the Purple Wedding is a successful 'soft power' operation as only the target dies and the perpetrators are not suspected. Would the red wedding have been more successful if the guests were just poisoned instead?

'Needle' could even suggest a syringe needle, to inject poison. Could Arya use a poisoned needle like Oberyn did with his spear? Could there even be a Sleeping Beauty connection? She pricks her finger on the needle part of a spindle (at least in the animated film). Alyssa crying forever could be linked to the intended eternal sleep of the princess. Do we know if the flow of the waterfall stops during winter?

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On 5/9/2022 at 5:55 AM, Braavosi Citizen said:

Poisons are, in my opinion, opposed to the 'hard power' side of the game of thrones. They are considered unmanly.

This is a really important point about poisons - or the perception of poisons - in ASOIAF: the wiki says that there is a general sense that poisons are used by "cravens, eunuchs, bastards and women," as well as the "debauched of the Free Cities." In other words, people who don't use swords or other iron weapons. 

I suppose there is a certain logic in poison being the lethal option available to a woman, when so few women in Westeros are given the opportunity to use a dagger or sword. 

Your compare/contrast of the Red and Purple Weddings also seems apt: we see Joffrey (but not Margaery) receive many gifts before his death, which might be part of the "Gift" as poison wordplay. I've long wondered whether Joffrey's death was a sort of Murder On the Orient Express killing, with (spoiler alert) many people having motives and many people participating in the murder. Each "gift" may have been an ingredient in the potion that killed the king.

Tyrion gives Joffrey a book but Joffrey indicates that he would rather have a dagger as a groom's gift. Tyrion is soon accused of poisoning Joffrey. But Joffrey did receive a sword from Tywin. Are we supposed to see the sword vs. the poison as a duel of some kind between Tyrion and Tywin? Or were Tywin and Tyrion both ready to get rid of the troublesome king? Tywin later dies when Tyrion shoots him, but there is strong suspicion among readers that Tywin had also been poisoned. Is this a second example of a sword vs. poison conflict? (If Tywin was poisoned, I wonder whether the poison was delivered by Shea, who had seduced Tywin in order to get close enough to deliver the dose but who was still loyal to Tyrion?) 

There's something going on at Joffrey's wedding feast that could lay out the relationship of poisons and swords, but I can't quite put my finger on it. 

On 5/9/2022 at 5:55 AM, Braavosi Citizen said:

'Needle' could even suggest a syringe needle, to inject poison.

I love this! I think there is an anagram involving "antibodies" hidden in the phrase, "the maesters call it obsidian." There is a great ASOIAF "miasma" theory tying ASOIAF to the real-world history of public health and the role of a doctor named Jon Snow who helped to advance the understanding of how disease spreads. In this approach to analyzing underlying meanings, I think that dragonglass will be the "white blood cells" or inoculation that allows humans to defeat the Others, who symbolize a pandemic disease invading Westeros. (Yes, GRRM was prescient.) 

Many swords in ASOIAF are part of the Ice / eyes wordplay, but maybe we will start to see more wordplay around Arya's Needle when she retrieves it from its hiding place. Or maybe her "prayer" list represents her work to defeat the "infection" that was unleashed when she freed Rorge, Biter and Jaqen from their cage. Or maybe the needle metaphor will be clearer if we see more characters putting obsidian to use as a weapon. 

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On 5/9/2022 at 5:55 AM, Braavosi Citizen said:

'Needle' could even suggest a syringe needle, to inject poison.

I like this as well since Jon instructs her to stick them with the pointy end.  Given that the FM make and use poisons; Needle is an effective delivery system for getting between armor plates or chainmail. 

On 5/8/2022 at 11:52 AM, Seams said:

Please share your thoughts on the deeper meanings of poisons and potions in ASOIAF.

I've been wondering about the hallucinogenic properties of poisons.  In particular mushrooms or fungi.  I wonder is the weirwood nut is actually a mushroom.  The red and white description of the paste reminds me of amanita muscaria.  Lucid dreaming is one such affect it can have when ingested.  Or perhaps, Tyrion's mushroom.

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A Dance with Dragons - Tyrion I

The empty flagon slipped from his hand and rolled across the yard. Tyrion pushed himself off the bench and went to fetch it. As he did, he saw some mushrooms growing up from a cracked paving tile. Pale white they were, with speckles, and red-ribbed undersides dark as blood. The dwarf snapped one off and sniffed it. Delicious, he thought, and deadly.

There is also a rare purple mushroom and shade of the evening comes to mind.  Mushrooms are usually grown in the dark or at night.

Edit: There is also an inkcap mushroom which breaks down into an inky substance.  Also known as tippler's bane if mixed with alcohol.

Dany describes the shade of the evening:

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A Clash of Kings - Daenerys IV

"One flute will serve only to unstop your ears and dissolve the caul from off your eyes, so that you may hear and see the truths that will be laid before you."

Dany raised the glass to her lips. The first sip tasted like ink and spoiled meat, foul, but when she swallowed it seemed to come to life within her. She could feel tendrils spreading through her chest, like fingers of fire coiling around her heart, and on her tongue was a taste like honey and anise and cream, like mother's milk and Drogo's seed, like red meat and hot blood and molten gold. It was all the tastes she had ever known, and none of them . . . and then the glass was empty.

Mushrooms grow out of Bloodraven's brow and cheeks:

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A Dance with Dragons - Bran II

A spray of dark red leaves sprouted from his skull, and grey mushrooms spotted his brow. A little skin remained, stretched across his face, tight and hard as white leather, but even that was fraying, and here and there the brown and yellow bone beneath was poking through.

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A Dance with Dragons - Bran III

The sight of him still frightened Bran—the weirwood roots snaking in and out of his withered flesh, the mushrooms sprouting from his cheeks, the white wooden worm that grew from the socket where one eye had been. He liked it better when the torches were put out. In the dark he could pretend that it was the three-eyed crow who whispered to him and not some grisly talking corpse.

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A Dance with Dragons - Bran III

Under the hill they still had food to eat. A hundred kinds of mushrooms grew down here.

The COTF must certainly know a thing or two about mushrooms and their properties.

Edit: I don't think weirwoods produce a flower, fruit or a nut.  I think they prpagate through the roots like mushrooms.  Mushrooms growing on Weirwoods or around them would be the only fruit or nut they produce.

Edited by LynnS
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On the subject of the weirwood paste, could it be that the weirwood paste Bran consumed was fermented or rotting? Or could it be mixed with some sort of mushroom to add to or intensify the hallucinogenic effect? Perhaps the link to mushrooms could hint at the poisoned nature of Bran's gift. I agree there is quiet likely a connection with Tyrion's mushrooms. They are almost like a reverse fly agaric, white, speckled and with a red underside that is ribbed, according to the wiki.

Often brightly coloured animals and plants are poisonous, the bright colouration is a warning to other animals not to eat them.

I think that mushrooms don't need sunlight to grow, so they could have potentially been an important food source during the long night.

I find the Jon Snow - John Snow link very interesting. I think disease will play an important role in the later books, both literally and metaphorically. Jon Connington could start a greyscale epidemic. Those infected with greyscale turn into stone men. We could also argue that the wights are those who have been 'infected' by the others. The wights are trying to kill people so the others can create more wights, as a virus infects a healthy cell to replicate and infect more cells. Can the others reproduce on their own, or do they need humans to do it? Old Nan has a story about them having children with human women, which could suggest that they need humans to reproduce. We also have Craster giving his sons to the others.

John Snow helped prevent the spread of cholera, which is a bacteria, however. So it could be that the others are more of a bacterial infection that a viral infection. Cholera causes dehydration. The others could also cause dehydration by freezing water so it is no longer drinkable. 

 

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1 hour ago, Braavosi Citizen said:

I find the Jon Snow - John Snow link very interesting. I think disease will play an important role in the later books, both literally and metaphorically. Jon Connington could start a greyscale epidemic. Those infected with greyscale turn into stone men. We could also argue that the wights are those who have been 'infected' by the others. The wights are trying to kill people so the others can create more wights, as a virus infects a healthy cell to replicate and infect more cells. Can the others reproduce on their own, or do they need humans to do it? Old Nan has a story about them having children with human women, which could suggest that they need humans to reproduce. We also have Craster giving his sons to the others.

John Snow helped prevent the spread of cholera, which is a bacteria, however. So it could be that the others are more of a bacterial infection that a viral infection. Cholera causes dehydration. The others could also cause dehydration by freezing water so it is no longer drinkable. 

I think we are supposed to compare the features exhibited by wights with those of greyscale / the stone men. They are very similar. Also the pale mare, very close to cholera in its symptoms  is in line with  your observation on the Other's causing dehydration by freezing water - the body is composed of about 70% water and it's likely their ice magic literally freezes the blood of their victims. The dehydrating aspect is evident in the description we get of the dusty dry blood Sam notices on Jafer Flowers torn hand. I wrote a piece on this subject years ago, posted to my blog. Essentially its on the role of water magic in resurrection, as well as greyscale, the pale mare and the butterfly fever of Naath as clues to the killing mechanics of the Others. 

 

On 5/8/2022 at 5:52 PM, Seams said:

Is The Strangler linked to The Stranger?

Yes, I would say. In her undeath, Lady Stoneheart is an aspect of the Stranger. She is also known as "the Hangwoman" and she has her victims killed by hanging, basically strangling and choking to death, much like the Strangler poison. Ultimately, the "strangling" theme is linked to the cutting of tongues in the sense that it prevents one from speaking and singing - the subject we were discussing in the Maimed Singers thread. 

 

On 5/8/2022 at 5:52 PM, Seams said:

More wordplay, through the "almost anagrams" that seem to be a thing in ASOIAF: is "venom" related to "lemon"? Are they opposites?

Not sure about venom linked to lemon. But venom is connected to milk. Oberyn milks snakes for their venom. Darkstar says he was weaned on venom. Sweetsleep is a gentle poison that will grant dreamless sleep in minute quantities but three pinches will kill. Sweetrobin is given sweetsleep mixed in his milk and it can be disguised in cakes and sweets because of its sweet taste. Since Lysa used the Tears of Lys to kill her husband I've been wondering if her breastmilk was unwholesome, causing her son's shaking sickness (lysis = cell dissolution or rapture in biology), with sweetsleep in small doses counteracting the effect. 

And after reading @LynnS reply with the interesting observations on mushrooms, could it be that poisonous mushrooms are essential to greenseeing - to be able to "fly"? Bloodraven is slowly wasting away over time but is kept alive by the tree, or rather his consiousness is kept alive, his body is all but dead. Bran then eating regular doses of weirwood paste which might contain said mushrooms could  be immune to the poison? Or as I suspect with Sweetrobin, the paste might contain an antidote? Melisandre was immune to Maester Cressens poisoned wine, by the power of her Red God she said. Qyburn brought Gregor back to life after he was poisoned. Was the poison an ingredient essential to the resurrection process? Plenty of food for thought. 

 

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On 5/8/2022 at 5:52 PM, Seams said:

I was pondering Tears of Lys and Alyssa's Tears. One is a poison with the following description in the Wiki:

It’s difficult to interpret the poisons in a straightforward way. There are many layers of symbolism to wade through. Safe to say we are supposed to connect tears and weeping with Lys and with poison. Perhaps we can also assume that a woman who has been greatly wronged or suffered extreme abuse at the hands of another might resort to poison as a weapon and that this has some deeper significance in the story.  
Alyssa and the Weeping Lady of Lys are opposites and yet the same – two sides of the same coin with two different outcomes played out by Catelyn and Lysa. The waterfall flows / weeps on the one hand and turns into a ghostly mist on the other. Alyssa never wept when her family was massacred and despite the god’s decree, her tears vaporize before reaching the ground indicating she is not at rest in death.

Catelyn mirrors Alyssa, the misty part of the waterfall. She believed most of her loved ones dead and never allowed herself to grieve in life. In death she knows no rest, still shedding no tears, opting for vengeance, with hanging / strangling her favoured method of bringing death. In contrast, Lysa uses poison in the form of the Tears of Lys to rid herself off her own husband and unlike her sister, often weeps. The anguish she felt all her life pours out of her moments before her demise. The weeping statue in the garden, now toppled, its torse broken in two, mirrors Lysa in her death by way of the moon door and also connects her to the Weeping Lady of Lys through her name and the use of the Tears of Lys as an instrument of death.   

In the House of Black and White, the Weeping Lady of Lys stands among the 30 other gods of death, her silver tears trickling into a bowl. She is a favourite of old women, of crones. As a goddess of death, the tears likely represent her instrument of bringing death, hence the “Tears of Lys.” Arya passes by the weeping lady on her way to her first assassination job, poisoned gold coin stashed on her person and our attention is drawn to the statue just as Arya passes by.

 

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The statue outside the shrine of the Weeping Lady of Lys was crying silver tears as the ugly girl walked by. In the Gardens of Gelenei stood a gilded tree a hundred feet high with leaves of hammered silver. Torchlight glimmered behind windows of leaded glass in the Lord of Harmony’s wooden hall, showing half a hundred kinds of butterflies in all their bright colors.

The silver gilded tree could be a reference to this version of Snow White which involves a mother named “Silver Tree” poisoning her daughter named “Gold Tree” with a poisoned thorn. Hammered silver suggests a beating that would lead to weeping. Some species of the butterflies of Naath are thought to cause the horrible Butterfly Disease, its symptoms may denote poisoning.

 

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Fever is the first sign of this plague, followed by painful spasms that make it seem as if victims are dancing wildly and uncontrollably. In the last stage, the afflicted sweat blood, and their flesh sloughs from their bones.

tWoIaF

There is no weeping here but the victims sweat blood. Some real world poisons cause uncontrollable restlessness, agitation and seizures or spasms. This suggests the butterflies are poisonous rather than carriers of a microbial disease. So Arya passes a goddess, a tree and the butterflies in the Lord of Harmony’s hall, all three associated with poison and is on her way to poison someone herself. Of note – Arya wears the face of a girl who was brutally beaten by her father, which ties into the suffering of the weeping woman. She also hates her victim’s twitching hands which are always restless, reminding her of two white spiders. The man’s “office” is in the Purple Harbor. These elements – purple, spiders, the girl who suffered and the poison also relate to Sansa. The beatings and cruelties she endured, the hairnet like a silvery spiderweb with black amethysts from Asshai that are a deep purple by daylight:

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Ser Dontos fumbled in his pouch and drew out a silvery spiderweb, dangling it between his thick fingers. It was a hair net of fine-spun silver, the strands so thin and delicate the net seemed to weigh no more than a breath of air when Sansa took it in her fingers. Small gems were set wherever two strands crossed, so dark they drank the moonlight. “What stones are these?” “Black amethysts from Asshai. The rarest kind, a deep true purple by daylight.”

The Harbor is also relevant because the hairnet with the poisoned stones are her ticket out of King’s Landing to a safer harbor:

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It’s magic, you see. It’s justice you hold. It’s vengeance for your father.” Dontos leaned close and kissed her again. “It’s home.”

But is it really justice and home? A harbor is a safe haven for ships but Purple Harbor is not always a safe haven for the families of Arya’s victim’s clients because he does not always pay out the insurance due them when a husband or father is lost at sea. He does not honor debts owed. The Eyrie is at best a dubious harbor for Sansa. And Littlefinger is akin to the man who does not honor debts. As master of coin, he borrowed millions, running up the crown’s debt, leaving others to pay up. LF chews mint and is pretty good at “minting coins.”

With her strangling of Freys and Lannisters likely analogous to the Strangler poison, Lady Stoneheart is also part of  the connection.

Alyssa or the weeping woman of the Eyrie stands in the garden in place of a weirwood, her tears linking her to the red tears of the weirwoods. 

Another link to “weeping” and poison comes by way of Ramsay:

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“Yes, m’lord. Domeric. I … I have heard his name …”Ramsay killed him. A sickness of the bowels, Maester Uthor says, but I say poison. In the Vale, Domeric had enjoyed the company of Redfort’s sons. He wanted a brother by his side, so he rode up the Weeping Water to seek my bastard out. I forbade it, but Domeric was a man grown and thought that he knew better than his father.

Domeric rides up the Weeping Water (a river) and dies of a sickness of the bowels (symptoms of the Tears of Lys) or poison.

Ramsay abuses his wife to the extent that she lives in fear of him. Jeyne Poole cries lakes of tears, her weeping is no secret in Winterfell. Her back is crisscrossed with a spiderweb of scars from whippings she received in Littlefinger’s brothel.  

 

Back in Essos, prostitutes are brandmarked with a tear under the eye. The sickness of the bowels is called the Pale Mare, brought to Meereen by a man mounted on a pale female horse. The illness quickly spreads through Dany’s freedmen, killing hundreds within a few days. Note that “mare” in Latin is the sea, from mori – a body of water. Also Old English mare – incubus, nightmare, monster, from the PIE root mer – to harm, die.

 

What to make of all this? My educated guess is that the author is showing us how the Others mass kill and perhaps even raise the dead through the ritual rape and abuse of women whose suffering poisons their tears which are vaporized and carried on the winds to exterminate the living. Like Ramsay, the Others hunted maidens through the forests and Ramsay’s treatment of the women is well known to us. And a final thought – perhaps the Others don’t even need to do this. Maybe this ritual can be carried out successfully by men. Men like Ramsay, Euron and Craster.

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I’ve done some more digging into the motif of tears and poison plus further connections I had seen before but could not really put in context to the rest. I’ll also offer an explanation as to why I think tears, poisoning and the suffering or abuse and rape of women are linked to raising the dead.

To recap my last post in a nutshell – Alyssa’s Tears are linked to both Catelyn and Lysa, Catelyn being that part of the “ghost torrent” of the waterfall that does not weep and does not rest in death, rising instead to wreak vengeance. Having her victims choked to death by hanging links Lady Stoneheart to the “strangler” poison. Lysa symbolizes  tears in their poisonous aspect through her use of the “Tears of Lys.” Further we have symbolism surrounding and connecting female characters who suffer, including tears or the lack thereof, the colour purple, spiders, poison and “safe” harbors (as in Arya and Sansa, and to some extent Jeyne Poole. Tully colors, red and blue, yield purple when mixed.  

The statue of the Weeping Lady of Lys being in the temple of the Many Faced God of death suggests she is a goddess of death and that her tears are poisoned or bring death. Noteworthy also in the context of the abuse of women is that the Lion of Night statue is mentioned right after the Weeping Lady. The free city of Lys, also known as Lys the Lovely, is famous for its bed slaves, both male and female. Slaves are bought as well as bred for the pillow houses. The Lyseni are very close to the Old Valyrians in looks – purple, lilac or pale blue eyes, pale skin and silver-gold hair. The alchemists of Lys manufacture poisons, including the strangler and the tears of Lys. According to Glydayn, the Lyseni fight with plots and poisons, rather than with armies:

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Amongst the Lyseni, it is truly said, wars are fought with plots and poisons rather than with armies.

Lysa fought with “plots and poisons,” so does Arya who hatches a poison-plot for her first assignment as a faceless woman. Sansa is also involved in the plot to poison Joffery.

Another interesting quote comes from Yandal:

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To this day, Lys remains "a feast for the senses, a balm for the soul." Its pillow houses are famed through all the world, and sunsets here are said to be more beautiful than anywhere else on earth.

Balm for the soul – balm is an anagram of lamb which is significant here, the lamb being a sacrificial animal. A lamb for a soul – a sacrifice for a soul. Lys is a “feast” for the senses and sunsets are also highlighted, sunsets of course precede nightfall. In Essos in general, prostitutes are branded with a tear under the eye and despite the effusive descriptions of Lys, we can be certain that the bed slaves do not enjoy self determined joyful lives; quite the contrary.

In Qarth, Dany meets the Pureborn who along with other Qartheen are able to weep at will, weeping considered a mark of a civilized person. The Pureborn, named Milk Men (a possible nod at the Others) by the Dothraki are apparently also fond of using poisons:

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Dany’s tight silver collar was chafing against her throat. She unfastened it and flung it aside. The collar was set with an enchanted amethyst that Xaro swore would ward her against all poisons. The Pureborn were notorious for offering poisoned wine to those they thought dangerous, but they had not given Dany so much as a cup of water.

Another element we see in connection with tears and poisons is silver. The Weeping Lady cries silver tears, Alyssa’s Tears are a shining silver thread. The silver collar with the enchanted amethyst echoes Sansa’s silver spiderweb hairnet with the amethyst strangler gens, only this collar is supposed to be a ward. It identifies her with Sansa, whose poisoned hairnet brought death. Dany finds it too tight – it chaffs her throat, recalling strangling and she flings it aside. The dragon does not weep.

Another parallel to the tears and poison motif comes by way of the poisonous manticore and the Sorrowful Men. These Qarthi assassins are twice associated with weeping by the fact that they are from Qarth where people weep at will and the sorrow they express towards their victims. The manticore gets even more interesting when we add Amory Lorch whose sigil is a manticore into the mix. Cremation is a complete anagram of manticore. Lorch was torn apart by a bear and initially I wondered where the connection could be. Well, the implication becomes clear if you consider that wights are only finally “put to rest” when they are cremated or when they are torn apart and have their bones cracked by hacking to pieces with a weapon or by an animal such as a bear, a shadowcat or a wolf.

 

Obara’s Story:

Obara tells Doran Martell how Oberyn claimed her from her mother:

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The day my father came to claim me, my mother did not wish for me to go. 'She is a girl,' she said, 'and I do not think that she is yours. I had a thousand other men.' He tossed his spear at my feet and gave my mother the back of his hand across the face, so she began to weep. 'Girl or boy, we fight our battles,' he said, 'but the gods let us choose our weapons.' He pointed to the spear, then to my mother's tears, and I picked up the spear. 'I told you she was mine,' my father said, and took me. My mother drank herself to death within the year. They say that she was weeping as she died.

 

Noteworthy in this symbolism is that though Obara’s mother dies, she has given birth to a sand snake, snakes associated with poison. I looked up sand snakes. They are burrowing reptiles, a species of boa, not poisonous, but they suffocate their victims by constriction, bringing us back to the strangling theme. Obara carries a spear, but also a whip which can be used to strangle (revisit Viserys). The motif of drinking is also important, though I have not quite figured out that yet. My guess is that drinking is related to drowning and also important to the raising process. Consumed excessively, alcohol of course poisons the body over time.

This narrative of the spear and the tears mirrors the Giant’s Lance and Alyssa’s Tears at the Eyrie imo. It also clarifies what happens to those who weep and do not fight back. They despair and die of grief. On the other hand, those who reject tears and grief in favor of choosing their own weapons live to fight another day, for vengeance, like Obara and her Sand Snake sisters, Arya, Lady Stoneheart and Sansa, whose courtesy is her armour and who learns to play the game. And Dany of course whose dragon is her weapon. Oberyn was well versed in the art of producing poisons and Tyene takes after her father, poison being her chosen weapon (Tyene’s features are similar to the Lyseni).

 

The courtesans of Braavos

Amongst those who “reject grief” and choose their own weapons are the courtesans of Braavos. While the ordinary whore is worthy of contempt and without status, the beautiful courtesans are highly sought after. Men will pay an arm and a leg to spend a night with them. Basically, the courtesans have achieved what Tyrion advises Jon to do:

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Let me give you some counsel, bastard. Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.

The courtesans have made their profession their strength and in doing so have achieved elevated status amongst their peers as well as in society. I daresay there is a relationship between “courtesan” and Sansa being “armored in courtesy.” The Black Pearl is the most famous of all. She descended from the first Black Pearl, the Pirate Queen who was Aegon the Unworthy’s mistress. I take “Pirate Queen” to be another version of “Night Queen.” Further, her real name is Bellegere Otherys and of course there is more wordplay going on here. Otherys requires no further explanation. Bellegere puts me in mind of the herb Belladonna – nightshade – which has medicinal properties but is lethal in high doses.  Belladonna means “beautiful woman” while Bellegere can be translated as “desirable beauty.” The courtesans are desirable and beautiful and the motif is related to women who become concubines to rich and powerful men, such as Lynesse Hightower, former wife of Jorah. 

 

Now to the idea that a woman’s tears or grief represents the poison that is an ingredient in a ritual aimed at raising the dead.

 

So far we’ve witnessed Catelyn’s unexpressed grief over the loss of Ned and her children and her immediate anguish over Robb’s murder which fuels her vengeance in undeath. Her emotions are poisoned by grief, she remembers and enacts retribution by transferring this “poison” to the victims she hangs.

Gregor Clegane was poisoned by Oberyn and is brought back to life by Qyburn. The text suggests the experiments he conducted to revive Clegane somehow involved Lady Falyse. Lady Falyse was in great distress, weeping uncontrollably when she came seeking help and refuge from Cersei. Bronn had killed her husband in a duel, kicked her out, assumed the title “Lord Stokeworth” and usurped control over House Stokeworth. Recall her daughter Lollys was raped half a hundred times during the riot at King’s Landing. The name Stokeworth can be interpreted as “worthy of being stoked” as in a fire, to stoke a fire. The Stokeworth sigil depicts a white lamb holding a golden goblet on a green field and I believe the golden goblet (cup, chalice) symbolizes blood, golden blood, recalling the golden blood and together with the name Stokeworth, the fire, of Old Valyria. The blood ties back to the weeping statue in the garden at the Eyrie which is crafted from “veined marble.” After Qyburn  is finished with her, Lady Falyse is broken, no longer capable of anything. She’s as broken as Lysa and the statue itself. In biology, the word lysis refers to the breaking up of cells. It is also part of dialysis. Qyburn may have used her sacred or godly blood to revive Clegane. Or he may have used her life fires, or both.

The connection to fire / poison is also echoed by the Black Pearl who descends from Aegon the Unworthy (golden blood of Valyria) and in case we missed that, she also asks Arya for hot-sauce to eat with her fresh cockles. And to Catelyn, Lysa and Sansa, all “kissed by fire”.

 

Dany’s vision in the house of the Undying

Dany’s first vision in the House of the Undying and her last experience of the Undying feeding on her life fires while she lies helpless and unable to move or stop it, illustrate the ravaging of a beautiful woman (the four servitors raping the woman and chewing on her breasts) which ends in the Undying attempting to use her life-force to rejuvenate themselves. But the Undying are not the only ones to do so. Her “children,” her freed slaves also feed on her, indeed, they feed on her before the Undying:

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Ten thousand slaves lifted bloodstained hands as she raced by on her silver, riding like the wind. “Mother!” they cried, “mother, mother!” They were reaching for her, touching her, tugging at her cloak, the hem of her skirt, her foot, her leg, her breast. They wanted her, needed her, the fire, the life, and Dany gasped and opened her arms to give herself to them

The Undying were all around her, blue and cold, whispering as they reached for her, pulling, stroking, tugging at her clothes, touching her with their dry cold hands, twining their fingers through her hair. All the strength had left her limbs. She could not move. Even her heart had ceased to beat. She felt a hand on her bare breast, twisting her nipple. Teeth found the soft skin of her throat. A mouth descended on one eye, licking, sucking, biting

 

Sucking, licking, biting ... should remind us of leeches and the Leech Lord but I digress. The image of the freed slaves feeding on Dany’s life correlates with wights who are slaves to their supposed Other masters, being fed an unnatural life source. Daenerys gave up weeping on the Dothraki Sea after her dragon guiding spirit strengthened her through dreams (through her "one eye, her third eye." Her personal weapon, Drogon, saved her from serving as the source of new life for the Undying. She drank Shade of the Evening however, and even though we do not know what it contains, diverse slow acting poisons are likely components, first granting visions and later possibly paralyzing her. Two attempts have been made to poison Dany. That the Undying waited for her for a thousand years suggests she probably has enough life force for thousands and if used for such a purpose could raise an unparalleled army of the dead (Dany of course being the golden blood of Valyria, the kingsblood etc. etc.).
 

Exchanging a woman for an army acquires a whole new additional meaning in this regard. It applies to Viserys exchanging Dany for a Dothraki army – note Viserys tells her he would let Drogo’s entire army rape her if that was the price for said army. The analogy also applies to Renly / Margary, Joff / Margary, Robb/Frey alliance, Theon’s promise to let Ramsay have the kennel girl as a reward for bringing him fighting men.

The bookending of the woman being ravaged by dwarf servitors and the feeding of the Undying on Dany’s life force in the House of the Undying is the closest example we have regarding brutalized women as conduits of magic to raise the dead.  

There is one more thing worth mentioning here: the case of the cut-off nipple we observe with Khal Drogo as well as with the unsullied soldier.

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“My sun-and-stars is wounded.” The arakh cut was wide but shallow; his left nipple was gone, and a flap of bloody flesh and skin dangled from his chest like a wet rag.

A missing nipple likely denotes no longer being able to suck at the mother’s breast – the mother who gives life through her milk and like Daenerys who gives the fire of life back to the Undying. The flap of bloody flesh from which the severed nipple hangs is akin to the “thread of magic” that flows from the woman (the mother) to the dead. With only one nipple, the connection to the source of magic is incomplete, implying that the dead person cannot be fully raised from the dead with all the qualities that make life worth living intact. This is demonstrated by the only partially successful raising of Drogo. Note that poison is also involved in Drogo’s death – his wound turned septic, causing blood poisoning.

 

Mythological, historical context for raising the dead through grief:

The ritual lament in ancient Greek Tradition informs us on the connection between grief, lamenting, weeping and the raising of the dead. In ancient Greece, the funeral lament was a highly ritualized ceremony carried out by women only. At death, a female chief mourner led a group of female relatives in mourning the dead person. Pronounced wailing, weeping, shrieking, tearing of clothes and hair and other forms of self-mutilation such as scratching the face accompanied the preparation of the body for burial. Historians believe that the lament functioned as a kind of half-spoken song in conjunction with movement, dance.

This state of ritualized grief was thought of as a “conversation with the dead,” invoking a liminal state that opened a portal between the living and the dead. Also as stated in the article titled “Sacred Songs for the Dead”:

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As time went on, the role of female song leader would serve as the predecessor to an occult offshoot, the goes, who used song as a vehicle to transcend mortal constraints. Under the goes, funeral songs were no longer songs: they were spells, used to lure the dead back to earth. The goes was akin to a witch, due to her supernatural powers; she had even mastered the art of necromancy and could temporarily bring corpses back to life. (Source)

I feel GRRM has drawn on this piece of ancient history in respect of the magic used to fuel the raising of a large number of dead. Further, the extreme expression of grief enacted by the funeral women was also thought to incite anger and retribution, especially if the deceased was slain or a victim of murder. By the sixth century, this tradition was toned down by law and subsequently banned by the patriarchs – men excluded from the ceremony - taking away the woman’s role in death and in effect, silencing the female voice. We note the parallel to the Silent Sisters of the Faith in the narrative who are responsible for attending to and preparing the dead, women who are silenced because they are required to take a vow of silence. I’ve provided some links to the ritual lament below.

 

In this context, George Martin has also been inspired by Alice Walker’s novel, “The Color Purple,” in my opinion.  The protagonist, Celie, is a fourteen year old black girl from an impoverished family in Georgia. She is regularly beaten and raped by her father and bears his child, the baby presumably killed by her father in the woods. Her next child, a boy is also taken away by her father. Celie is initially unable to defend herself against abuse and resorts to writing letters to God. As time goes on she interacts with other women and through these relationships finds her own voice, gains  independence and achieves a measure of self-determination. Literary devices used include sewing and quilting (patchwork). Sewing empowers her to gain material independence while the patchwork quilt symbolizes diverse people coming together in unity. Color is used to signify Celie’s transformation from drab (dark colors) to empowered (bright colors), culminating in the color purple with her religious awakening. She marvels how she never noticed the wonders that God has made, such as “the color purple.” You’ll find a synopsis complete with themes, motifs and symbols here. One of my favorite books. 

 

Like Celie's journey, the weeping women of aSoIaF undergo a transformation from victimization to empowerment. In the context of my interpretation, the abused weeping woman who serves as a conduit of magic to raise the dead gradually transforms to an empowered one. Using her own weapon, she turns on her tormenter, killing him instead. The color purple is an expression of this empowerment, represented by the purple Valyrian eyes, the poisonous purple amethysts, the Black Pearl of Braavos and Braavos itself, the bastard daughter of Valyria that broke free of the chain of slavery (the snail found by the Braavosi yielded dark purple dye, which the Braavosi used to color the sails of the ships the founders had stolen from the Valyrians. They paint their hulls purple too).

The uniting element of patchwork can also be observed in aSoIaF where it also serves as a metaphor for transformation. And of course, sewing / and sowing is a theme as well.

There’s much more to this investigation, especially the significance of the lamb, the Lamb People from whom Mirri Maaz Durr hails (and the fact that she engages in returning Drogo back to the living), the lamb as a sacrifice to empower necromantic magic, Robb holding a leg of lamb and looking at Dany, a giver of the fire of life, in mute appeal (knowing in death that she is capable of giving him back his life?). Jeyne Westerling who grieves over her dead husband, fighting her mother, holding on to her crown and tearing her clothes.. I personally believe Jeyne will play a major role in raising Robb from his death bed. I’m also pondering the Bolton practice of flaying which might be an extreme device designed to heighten the anguish and increase the “tears” of women designated to fuel necromantic magic.

 

One last thought on silver and gold coinage and for example, the account of Tysha being raped by Tywin’s garrison and paid a silver coin by each man and her rape by Tyrion who pays a gold dragon because he is “worth more.” If we think of whores and other suitable women such as Dany in terms of opening portals to channel magical energy to raise the dead, then the coinage represents the mythological obolus paid to ferry the dead into the underworld, or in this case, the obolus paid to ferry the dead back to life. The many silver coins paid are reserved for the many undead, while the gold coins are the price paid for persons of importance being returned. Significant then, that Dany is the ”coin” paid by Viserys for his Dothraki army (can’t find the exact quote at the moment), or that Brienne who hails from Tarth, the Sapphire Isle, ruled from Evenfall Hall is worth a bag of sapphires (sapphires also the blue star eyes of the Others).

My thanks to @Seams and other posters in this thread for reviving my interest in the topic and spurring me on to taking a closer look. :) The picture is not complete but we’re getting there.

 

References to the Greek Ritual Lament:

Sacred Songs for the Dead

Shaping the Pain: Ancient Greek Lament and Its Therapeutic Aspect

On Ancient Greek Lamentation And Women In Democracy

 

Summary of “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker

 

Related to this topic is my study of Pearl Maidens in aSoIaF, posted in two parts some years ago to my blog:

The Pearl Inheritance

The Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea

 

 

Edited by Evolett
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