58

This has been puzzling me for a while now.

Since red priests of R'hllor can, amongst many other seemingly "magical" things, bring people back from the dead, how come this religion isn't dominant throughout the World of Ice & Fire (not the single book, but the world of Game of Thrones in general)?

I realise that common people are easily fooled by just about any preacher of any cult, but in this case evidence is completely overwhelming.

It is even more puzzling how people do not get totally freaked out by this. Sure they seem somewhat surprised by the "oddity" of somebody being revived, but certainly not enough to become true believers themselves.

Could it be because living in a world with dragons, zombies, warlocks, mind controllers, future seers etc. just diminishes one's ability to be amazed by things we would call supernatural?

But then why even worship gods like the Seven or the Drowned God, who don't even manifest any miracles on a regular basis, at all?

Am I missing something?

  • 7
    I’m not sure what the answer is within the context of the books, but I will say that real-life religions have often explained away the miracles of competing religions as demonic, without denying that they actually happened. And in a world like ASoIaF, who’s to say that the other faiths haven’t had their share of miracle-workers in the past? If I genuinely believed that my god had done a miracle in the past, I might not be so quick to join the new kid on the block (particularly if eternal perdition or some such was promised to heretics). – Adamant Jan 5 '17 at 19:49
  • 20
    Because it's new, and news traveled slow before Internet? Also, old habits (see Old Gods) dies hard, and for an ordinary Joe it's really hard to prove a miracle (see that bit about Internet) – Gallifreyan Jan 5 '17 at 19:50
  • 3
    @Majaii It's ambiguous in the books too. Aeron the priest has a cult of people he drowns then (usually...) resuscitates, and it's unclear if it's natural or supernatural – user568458 Jan 5 '17 at 20:36
  • 3
    Not all Red Priests/Priestesses have the same effect when they perform the Last Kiss (Kiss of Life). – Möoz Jan 5 '17 at 21:25
  • 3
    Some really excellent answers below. I would just add that though the world is a fantasy setting, real magic doesn't seem to have been seen for a century or more. No Dragon's, no spells, no warlocks, zombies, etc. there has been a general increase in background mana, if you like. Suddenly EVERYTHING connected to magic is getting steroid-like pumped. If you read Shadowrun at all, this may seem familiar. – Broklynite Jan 5 '17 at 21:48
79

The religion seems to be gaining power, as the priests gain actual powers.

This is an interesting question, and I suspect that it'll be explored more in future books and that it's deliberate that all we have right now are clues. But there's enough in those clues to tell us that the thing that makes Red Priests presently so impressive was, up until recently, nowhere near as strong as it is now:

  • Red priests seems surprised by their own power. Thoros was a jaded drunk who had virtually given up on the faith until, to his great surprise, he bought someone back to life. We see Melisandre openly admit to frequently relying on fakery, lies and parlour tricks in order to increase people's faith - and from how well stocked she is with potions and powders, it seems these parlour tricks are common for red priests. In the TV show but not (yet?) in the books:

    Melisandre didn't expect to be able to bring Jon back to life, but managed to.

  • Magic (particularly fire-related magic) is on the rise. Pyromancers are making wildfire faster than ever, the warlocks' magic abilities increased (seemingly dragon-related i.e. fire-related), and, in the books but not (yet?) the TV show:

    magical obsidian candles suddenly work again. These had not worked for so long, the maesters seemed to assume they never worked and were merely traditional learning props for teaching humility

    Something is happening.

  • The red priests are rapidly gaining influence. The ones we meet in Volantis seem to be just one book away from bringing about some kind of revolution, from seemingly having been quite minor. Melisandre came from nothing to influence one of Westeros's more powerful lords. They seem to be spreading everywhere, while there's little to suggest that before recently they were much more than one sect among many from a far-flung corner of the far east. The powers in Essos don't seem to see them as a threat (yet!).

It's quite possible (and I suspect might be confirmed in the next book) that the Red Priests were until recently mostly all talk, parlour tricks, and predictions little better than guesses.

There are a few moments we seem them candidly, such as Thoros when he is confessing his past ineptness, and Mel in chapters written from her own perspective. In these moments, they seem to be as surprised at the extent of their current powers as anyone. Melisandre in particular seems to be giddy and drunk on the novelty of having real, actual, non-fake visions that sometimes come (misleadingly) true.

We haven't yet seen the Volantis priests like Benerro and Moqorro candidly. So far, we've only seen them showboating and trying to impress. If/when we do see what they're really thinking, I expect there will be some big reveals that tie in with whatever Marwin has observed about whatever this big change is that is happening.

  • 3
    Not only so long they assumed they never worked, so long that they had made that assumption for so long that they developed a traditional test of humility based on the premise that they could not be made to work. – Random832 Jan 5 '17 at 21:56
  • 3
    That's one interpretation. When I read it, my interpretation was that the test was once, long ago, a test of magical ability, but was impossible for so long (and the maesters were hostile to/skeptical about magic for so long) that it came to be interpreted as a traditional test of humility. I guess/hope we'll find out in the next book... – user568458 Jan 5 '17 at 23:01
  • 2
    Game of Thrones is growing increasingly similar to a "Medieval Shadowrun" with all those "magic is coming back" moments. I wonder what will come next. – T. Sar Jan 6 '17 at 12:10
  • Did Melisandre really bring back JS? Even after the resurrection, she is portrayed as being cold where before she explicitly said she does not feel the cold due to the Lord of Light warming her. This indicated that her faith has left her and even after the resurrection this seems to be the same. So personally i am still wondering if she was responsible for the action or something else was, my personal theory is that Ghost plays a part of the ordeal and that JS warged into Ghost which kept his soul alive. – Vahx Jan 7 '17 at 9:06
34

R'hllor is very prominent on Essos, where the religion is based. There the red priests are born and gain their station; only a few have come to Westeros. For example, Thoros is from Myr and Melisandre is from Asshai.

The religion is new, so it hasn't caught on in Westeros yet. This is a key factor, but even had it existed a century before, it's likely that it would not have caught on:

Aegon the Conquerer was not a follower of R'hllor. When he was crowned by the High Septon and united all of Westeros, the Seven Kingdoms all became part of that religion. This is much like when Constantine converted to Christianity and the entire Roman Empire became Christian. Latin became the language of Christianity, and it spread across all of Europe. In the books, the Old Gods were still worshipped in the North, and the Drowned God on the Iron Islands, but the Seven were the gods of Westeros.

The miracles performed by red priests are incredible but largely legend to people of the Seven Kingdoms. They see these miracles and think of demons and pagans, since in their experience religion doesn't involve such miracles. When Westerosi can be persuaded that the miracles are the work of a god, not a devil, they do convert in large numbers, such as Stannis and his men.

But not all of them: Davos and Maester Cressen are faithful to their own religions and do not convert like the rest of Stannis's followers.

It's also worth mentioning that in the little experience Westerosi do have with R'hllor, they see things like giving birth to shadow assassins, sacrificing people to spill blood on stone dragons, and also fire, which can burn as easily as it gives life.

  • 4
    This answer touches on something important that the accepted answer ignores: that this evidence doesn't seem holy, but wicked, to many observers. Shadow monsters and sacrificing little girls don't tend to sing "lord of light" when witnessed. – Kyeotic Jan 6 '17 at 20:16
16

Because the "overwhelming evidence" is a new thing.

Thoros of Myr admitted that he was effectively a fraud, pretending to power with cheap tricks like his flaming sword. When he raised Beric Dondarrion with the traditional rite of the Red God, he was surprised that it actually worked.

Melisandre muses, in one of her POV sections, about how her powers have grown; how she has become truly powerful instead of having a small set of tricks supplemented by props and powders.

All of which, we are led to assume, is - like the dragonglass candle at the Citadel - a recent change, triggered by and related to the return of Dragons to the world.

So, in 20 years - if things remain as they are - look to R'hllor as being a more prominent faith. Results matter. But right now, they're still flashing in the pan, and not enough people have seen, if you'll excuse me, the light.

  • OTOH: Also look to other religions also gaining power from their own magical tricks. We haven't seen Septons raising the dead and performing miracles but there's nothing shown for why a sufficiently pius one would not be able to. For all we know, the high sparrow might rise on the third day or something. – bp. Jan 6 '17 at 5:03
  • 2
    @bp. Good point; the Alchemists Guild made quite a... splash... with the Wildfire which they said was now easier to make (asking Tyrion if, related point, there happened to be any new dragons in the world). So R'hllor isn't the only religion getting a leg up. – gowenfawr Jan 6 '17 at 5:06
  • 2
    Even the return of dragons might be just a symptom. It seems that the whole world comes through periods of relative magical quiet and shouting. At the start of the books, the magic of the world seems to be picking up again - Whitewalkers and the Winter, dragons, priests - all are gaining strength at the expense of man's industry. And then (presumably) men get it together, fight the upsurge, force it down (or just wait it out); and as magic dies down, people stop believing it was ever real, making them weak again when it comes around in the next cycle. – Luaan Jan 6 '17 at 10:48
8

Adding to the other good answers:

Because few people in Westeros have been exposed to evidence of the Red Priests' successful miracle work.

Who even knows Berric Dondarion was resurrected? Who knows about Thoros of Myr as a priest of R'hllor (as opposed to knowing of the Brotherhood Without Banners)? Who knows about Melisandre's Shadow Baby? Practically nobody.

On the other hand, a large number of people know about how these Red Priests failed to work miracles - Stannis is known to have come under the influence of a Red priestess and adopt her faith - only to fail in his bid for the throne; And Thoros of Myr is still remembered as a vagabond drunkard who got lost somewhere up North.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.