American Puritans & Game of Thrones

Sinners in the Hands of a Many-Faced God

game_of_thrones_hall_of_faces_embed_2016-1The “Game of Thrones” television series, an adaption of the book series by George R.R. Martin, revolves around a fantastic world where several wealthy and prominent families compete for a kingdom known as Westeros. The vicious battles between them are paralleled by wars fought between several religious groups, including the followers of the Lord of Light, the Drowned God, the Faith of the Seven, the Old Gods of the Forest, and the Many-Faced God. Of these groups, the religion of the Many-Faced God is the one that shares many similarities with the Calvinism practicedcalvin  by Puritans in the 17th century.
Calvinism
 is a branch of Protestantism that is named after John Calvin, a prominent French theologian and pastor, and it is a belief system that asserts the will of God over every aspect of life. Similarly, the cult of the Many-Faced God in “Game of Thrones” is founded on the basis that life revolves around a single entity: the Many-Faced God, who is a god of death. The similarities shared by these two religious groups include a nonchalant attitude towards death, the belief that death is predetermined, and an intense conversion processes that involve a deep sense of self-abnegation.

Nonchalant attitude towards death
The nonchalant attitude towards death that is apparent in the religion of the Many-Faced God stems from the belief that death is a gift from their deity that provides a much needed end to the suffering of human life. The disciples of this god are assassins known as the “Faceless Men” and are trained to dispatch others on command with unwavering submission. These disciples do not view assassination as morally incorrect actions because they believe that death is the ultimate gift that can be bestowed upon anyone and that assassination contracts are a mode by which that gift can be distributed. Disciples of the Many-Faced God live by two sayings: “Valar Morghulis”, all men must die, and “Valar Doharis”, all men must serve. To them, death is simply an inevitability that no one can escape, regardless of their health, wealth, or status. In this way, the disciples have an idea similar to that of Edward Taylor in “Meditation 26”, in which he pleads to God “Unclean, Unclean: My Lord, Undone, all vile, Yea, all Defiled: What Shall Thy Servant do?” This strong idea of humanity being in servitude to a God without whom they have no hope or happiness is one that is in the core of both Calvinism and the religion of the Many-Faced God.
The Faceless Men’s view of death is similar to the Calvinist view of death as being the end of the material world, but the beginning of a spiritual afterlife. In her poem, “The Flesh and the Spirit”, Anne Bradstreet – a prominent Puritan poet – demonstrates the emphasis placed on the afterlife, and the resulting insignificance of life on Earth, by having her personification of the spirit state to the personification of the flesh, “For my ambition lies above. / My greatest honor it shall be / When I am victor over thee” (59-61). Similarly, Mary Rowlandson – a devout Puritan who was taken captive by Native Americans – exhibits an indifferent attitude towards the death of a Native American child in The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, “My mistress’s papoose was sick, and it died that night, and there was one benefit in it– that there was more room” (Thirteenth Remove). Her sentiments reveal a lack of empathy towards the death of a human being – which is surprising since one of her children died earlier in the narrative – and a sense of detachment from the suffering of others.

Predetermined Death
Another point of similarity between Calvinism and the cult of the Many-Faced God is the belief that death was predetermined and, therefore, was inescapable. The Calvinist belief of “Unconditional Election” places God as the almighty judge of human lives who arbitrarily chooses who is to be “saved.” However, it was impossible for one to know whether or not he was saved and, therefore, Puritans took guesses as to whether they would enter the Kingdom of Heaven or burn in hell through their social status on Earth and spent much time praying to be saved. In the poem “The Day of Doom”, Michael Wigglesworth depicts the sinners – the “unelected”, those who did not pray, and the unconverted – as being trapped by God’s wrath: “No hiding place can from his Face, / sinners at all conceal, / Whose flaming Eyes hid things doth ‘spy, / and darkest things reveal.” (Stanza 13). Just as the “sinners” in the poem cannot escape their impending deaths – and the doom that follows soon after – neither can any human being according to Calvinism. Likewise, in the cult of the Many-Faced God, there is a governing of who must live and who must die by God himself and the will of God is understood to be the execution contracts they receive. As the Faceless Man Jaqen H’ghar states, “Death is certain”. The Faceless Men themselves are not allowed to execute people out of feelings of hatred or vengeance. Instead, they act as instruments to death as they carry out his bidding and execute whoever is destined to die.

Conversion/Self-Abnegation
Both religions involve an intense conversion process involving self-abnegation, or the abasement of oneself. For a Puritan conversion, one must publicly confess their past sins and declare his commitment to God in the future in the hopes of being saved. A pillar of Calvinism known as “Total Depravity” states that humans are inherently sinful, which becomes the basis for constant self-denial and shaming of oneself – a quality which is apparent in many Puritan writings. The supposed innate immorality of humans and the need for conversion is evident in Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, as he states: “All wicked men’s pains and contrivance which they use to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment.”

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Jaqen H’ghar in the simple garb which is characteristic of the disciples of the Many-Faced God and strips them of individuality. Behind him is the Hall of Faces, where the faces of the dead which are ready for use by the disciples as disguises are hung. 

In “Game of Thrones”, the character of Arya Stark wishes to join the Faceless Men and become a disciple of the Many-Faced God. However, the religion requires one to completely erase their past existence and individuality in order to join – leaving behind the lives they lived and their families/loved ones. In essence, Arya must murder herself and become “no one” in order to become a disciple. http-%2f%2fmashable-com%2fwp-content%2fuploads%2f2013%2f06%2ftumblr_m52z3d2dey1r0ghi8o1_500This measure of self-abnegation assures that the Faceless Men can take on whatever identity is necessary for their cause – with no reservations or distractions stemming from their personal lives – and maintain their devotion to the Many-Faced God.

A Faceless Man initially introduced himself to Arya as Jaqen H’ghar, but then precedes to refer to himself as “the man” and “no one” – demonstrating the self-abnegation demanded by the Many-Faced God.


Arya wins Jaqen’s approval by submitting herself to the requirements of the cult – namely by erasing her individuality.

The cult of the Many-Faced God bears several points of resemblance to the vengeful God of the Puritans. This may be explained by George R.R. Martin’s borrowing details from British history in creating the book series that “Game of Thrones” is based off of. In his rendering of the world of Westeros, Martin weaves in the history of the “War of Roses” and brings in elements of Paganism, Protestantism, and – most importantly – Puritanism. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the cult of the Many-Faced God embraces beliefs that are very reminiscent of Puritan Calvinism.  

 

Written by the Four Horsemen.

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10 thoughts on “Sinners in the Hands of a Many-Faced God

  1. Conversation/Self-abnegation is a very eye opening piece of your material. I have always wondered as to why myself and others feel so ashamed by out actions, even though God tells us to love ourselves for who we are and not what. We are not defined by one thing and better yet not by others because we walk our own path and embark on a brand new journey. Having self-denial from our sins can bring on a tremendous amount of depression. We do not know what is right and proper because life has thrown us to the wind. Once in the wind we have to either let it take us wherever it wants to or we fight against it in order to find our better selves. Thank You for your material it out some life moments into perspective.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I appreciate your research and presentation about Calvinism and the Faceless Men followers of the Many Faced God. It’s not a one-to-one comparison, of course, since the Faceless Men have very little dogma or religious practices other than their monklike service and their recognition of death being inevitable, since the Many Faced God makes very little requirements of them. I don’t know if there are any sins as such recognized by the Faceless Men, whereas Puritanism seemed to have a lot of thoughts and opinions on sins.

    I’m not trying to argue, I really like this article, and I think it’s interesting to put the Faceless Men in the same space as Calvinist Puritans. (I also like to the think of the Ironborn as having a similar religious outlook of early converts to Christianity in the British Isles, when they had to be weened off of warlike pagan deities. Not a one-to-one correspondence either, just similar in ways.)

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  3. I really enjoyed reading this. Your title really got me–I yelped out loud, I thought it was so clever. I never considered the comparisons between Calvinism and the Many-Faced God; most likely because when I think of puritans, I don’t consider death immediately. Initially, I get that image of burning in hell, and of people working furiously to try to earn their way into Heaven so to avoid this fate–the prospect of death is more of an afterthought. (I blame Jonathan Edwards and other fanatics for enforcing this affect so rigorously.)

    Overall, very eye opening piece. You guys make some very great comparisons that made me nod my head more than once. Bravo.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I enjoyed the clever title! The emphasis of death and not the individual definitely illustrates Puritanism and the Many Faced God. The comparisons drawn made me realize how severe and devout one would have to be in order to join these cults. Painting humans as all innately all sinful is a concept seen through Edwards, and the only way to be saved is converting to these religions. This is a very informational post! The videos are a great addition to show how the followers sacrificed their whole identity to be initiated in the cult of the Many Faced God.

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  5. Nice work! Your post is well-organized by subheadings that make each of your three comparisons distinct and clear. I think you do an excellent job of weaving in the literature from our class, especially the poetry. Your post is thought-provoking and made me wonder what parallels could be drawn between the contractual covenant with God in the Puritan faith and the “execution contract” in GoT.

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  6. This is a very well written post and I enjoyed reading it. I especially enjoyed the title. Another comparison between Calvinism and the The Faceless Men’s group is that they also don’t show much affect. Since they both don’t view death as a serious or sad thing, they lack affect towards death. Putting Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “The Flesh and the Spirit” also helps to illustrate the Calvinist way of thinking. Seeing how the Puritans and the The Faceless Men’s group react to death is especially strange for people reading about them in the 21st century. Nowadays people react to death with more sadness and depression, meanwhile they viewed it as a very natural thing that shouldn’t be a big deal. Overall, this was very well written and easy to read. I don’t watch GOTs and this explained it very well for an outsider to understand.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. This is awesome! Your play on Jonathan Edwards “Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God” within your title, caught my attention immediately. I also enjoyed the brief background you gave on the series Game of Thrones. I have never watched the show, so that tidbit of information was very helpful. The breakdown of what defined Calvinism and the cult of The Many Faced God was also great. The best part of this whole post was that you guys categorized the comparisons you drew between the two faiths. This made the piece flow beautifully, and kept me engaged without the chance of getting lost in the abundance of information. The clips from the show were also a great tool. Great job!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I really liked how your group explained the idea of death in this project and how it relates to the religion. It was VERY detailed and really showed how much research your group did. The research on the Game of Thrones and in the texts, were very well done as well. I really enjoyed reading this post. Keep up the good work guys!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. This is a really well organized post! The use of the headings was nice for outlining what you’d be talking about. All of the pictures you used were a nice addition too, giving a good visual for what you were talking about. Also your incorporation of video clips was a nice touch. It definitely helped me to better understand your examples! You went above and beyond in incorporating many of the texts we discussed in class. I especially liked the parallels with the Mart Rowlandson reading, since not many others included her. Well done!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I love that you formatted the piece with the bold sub-headings. It was a simple detail, yet when reading about two religions I’m not particularly well versed in, it helps to organize the information in a palatable way. I also found it helpful that you included the premise of GoT. In my own research I looked for information about the religions only, so the background you provided helped me to engage with your text.

    Your comparison about the calm attitude toward death was definitely notable. While I would not have named that as a characteristic of Puritanism, your reference to Rowlandson and Bradstreet made the perfect argument for your theory.

    Great Post!

    Like

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