This article is the latest in an essay series, entitled, The Secret Song of Florian and Jonquil, which deals with Jon and Sansa’s symbolic linkage to the legendary Westerosi figures. While part of a collective series, this chapter as with all the others can be read as standalone articles.
I ended the last chapter in the series by proposing that Jonquil was both the female progenitor of House Stark, and the corpse queen. I will be discussing this idea in-depth in a future chapter but before I get to that topic, I need to show how George has strongly and symbolically connected Sansa Stark not just to the ancient mystery of the corpse queen but also to the one surrounding Nissa Nissa.
To show this connection, I have to discuss a curious amount of symbolic coincidences that’s coalesced around Winterfell’s daughter. And so, while the title of this chapter probably seems a bit strange for an essay series about Florian and Jonquil, it’s actually not because at the center of those coincidences I mentioned, are bees and honey. Those of you who have read some of my previous writings maybe familiar with this idea.
However, this essay is a much deeper dive into the theory as I connect most if not all the dots. As is usually the case, it’s a pretty long with lots of supporting quotes. I’ve bolded the interesting parts for easy reference.
I’m always hearing that Sansa does not have a role to play in the magical side of the story and Lady’s death is usually given as proof that this will be the case. Supposedly, with Lady’s death, Sansa connection to magic was curtailed and so her role now is limited to the political side of things. To say the least, I find this to be an extremely shortsighted theory as book evidence strongly suggests that Sansa at least still has her skin changing abilities.
In actual fact, I happen to think that the killing of Sansa’s direwolf is probably one of the strongest pieces of evidence in support of her continued connection to magic. However, I’ve discussed the important symbolism of Lady’s death in other essays, including Do Direwolves Dream of the Weirwood Net and so I don’t want to linger on the topic.
In my essay titled, Of Bran and Sansa Stark, I broke down all the many ways that George compares Sansa to Bran, highlighting what I argue are her greenseer abilities. Now I want to discuss the synchronized list of coincidences that he uses to connect her character to important magical ones of the ancient past and how her landing in the Vale of Arryn bears this out. There are so many of these symbolic and mythological coincidences that to think she won’t be a big part of the magical storyline is to me at least, kind of silly.
Before I get into the many coincidences, I want to ask you to keep in mind a little rule of grammar and speech and that is how in many languages, *i* and *y* are often used interchangeably. The pronunciation of *y* sounds like an *i* and words with a long *i* sound is often spelled with a *y.* It’s also why words that end in *y* are changed to *ies* when made plural.
As an example, pinky becoming pinkies in its plural form. George even does this switching a few times in the text like in the spelling of Varamyr vs Varamir. Think of how Tolkein spells a similar sounding name, in his case, Faramir with the *i* as opposed to the *y.* This little spelling quirk will be of importance later but for now, let’s dig in.
In ASOIAF, George borrows from many real-world myths to flesh out his story. One of the important ones he plays with is that of the mythological underworld. There are many symbolic underworlds in his story, starting with the caves of the COTF, which are ultimately symbolic of the realm of the Weirwood Net, as the metaphysical realm is called by the fans.
In addition, there is the labyrinth beneath the House of Black and White in Braavos, the tunnels beneath the Red Keep, and the icy Eyrie to name just a few. All of these locations are represented as symbolic underworlds. However, as others before me has pointed out, the most important underworld symbol in the story is the North with Winterfell and the crypts where the dead Kings of Winter reside, at its center.
While Martin plays off the legends of numerous real-world myths, Greek and Roman mythology is often front and center. This he has done with the North set up as a symbolic underworld in the style of Hades and the Lord of Winterfell as the king of the realm. Martin even gives the Stark kingdom its own version of the River Styx, which must be crossed in order to gain admittance. Not all are welcome in the underworld and it’s difficult to cross the river without guidance.
The northern underworld version of the Styx is of course the Neck and its Charron or Ferryman is the Lord of House Reed. Here is a description of the real-world mythological Styx.
In Greek mythology, Styx is a deity and a river that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld (the domain often called Hades, which also is the name of its ruler). The rivers Styx, Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, and Cocytus all converge at the center of the underworld on a great marsh, which sometimes is also called the Styx.Wikipedia
And here is the description of the Neck. Martin’s creation sounds a lot like the marshlands of the Styx river.
It was the North and the North alone that was able to keep the Andals at bay, thanks to the impenetrable swamps of the Neck and the ancient keep of Moat Cailin. The number of Andal armies that were destroyed in the Neck cannot be easily reckoned, and so the Kings of Winter preserved their independent rule for many centuries to come.
The World of Ice and Fire – Ancient History: The Arrival of the Andals
A marsh, a swamp, and a bog are of course different words for the same type of watery forest landscape. Do you want to know the location of another swampy area in Westeros? I’ll tell you. The unnamed river that is fed from the Gods Eye, which is located by the unnamed town that Yoren and Arya passed through.
The river was a blue-green ribbon shining in the morning sun. Reeds grew thick in the shallows along the banks, and Arya saw a water snake skimming across the surface, ripples spreading out behind it as it went. Overhead a hawk flew in lazy circles.
A Clash of Kings – Arya IV
How do we know that it’s a swamp? Well, the water snake provides a hint but the abundance of reeds is the bigger clue. Reeds, both literally and in the case of Howland and his House, symbolically, grow in swamps and bogs. And so, it’s interesting that there is a marshland and a swampy river in the vicinity of the Gods Eye Lake with the Isle of Faces sitting smack in the center. We don’t know much about the Isle but it may turn out to be the second most important symbolic underworld after the North and Winterfell.
As with *i* and *y,* I want you to keep in mind the description of swamp and marshes as it will also come into play shortly. Now back to the symbolic usage of Greek and Roman mythology in George’s tale.
One of the most famous Greco-Roman myth is that of Persephone, her abduction by Hades, god of the underworld and the search by her desperate mother, Demeter to find her daughter. In ASOIAF, there are repeated echoes of this myth throughout the books in one manner or another.
There is the “abduction” of Lyanna Stark by Rhaegar Targaryen, which led to the eventual downfall of his house. We also see it in Petyr, a pseudo Hades’ abduction of Sansa, and him taking her to the Vale of Arryn. And of course, there is the ancient tale of Bael the Bard with his demonic name, who absconded with the Winter Rose of House Stark and hid out in the crypts of Winterfell, which as I mentioned is the center of the most important symbolic underworld in the story.
Many will no doubt argue that Lyanna is the main representation of the abducted princess in the story but they would be wrong. While Lyanna tale does reverberate in the tale, she’s also dead and is not a part of the story proper, which was not the case with Persephone, or Proserpina as she was called by the Romans. The Greco-Roman goddess suffered a symbolic death when she taken to the underworld but she did not die. No, the most important Persephone in our tale is Sansa Stark.
George sets Sansa up as the strongest personification of Persephone in the story when he placed her in the Eyrie a symbolic icy underworld that’s located in the *Vale* of Arryn. I told you to keep in mind how *i* and *y* are often used interchangeably in words. Another couple of things you should remember is the mythological importance of George placing Sansa in the Vale.
Vale is another word for valley or dale located between hills or mountains, and as we will see shortly, one plays a major role in the abduction of Persephone.
To reinforce the idea that Sansa is the most important Persephone character, George has Petyr, a pseudo Hades tempt her with pomegranate seeds, which unlike in the real-world myth, Sansa refuses. I call Petyr a pseudo Hades because he is not the ruler of the North, the true symbolic underworld in the story and as such, can’t be the true Hades. This suggests that Sansa still has to be “stolen” by the true Lord of the Underworld.
Now let’s get to those coincidences I mentioned as we look at some of the many ways in which real world myths and George’s tale intersect in regard to Sansa. The first coincidence I want to discuss is a tale from the ancient past, which has surprising resonance and importance in Sansa’s storyline.
The story is told in TWOIAF and it only encompasses two lines. One of the great things about TWOIAF is that other than being a great addition to the myth building of the world he created; George also dropped a ton of clues about the story proper and the ancient mysteries at the heart of the tale. Two such clues are stories of two of the daughters of Garth Greenhand, the legendary God King like deity from the Dawn Age.
The story of the Reach begins with Garth Greenhand, the legendary progenitor not only of the Tyrells of Highgarden, but of the Gardener kings before them…and all the other great houses and noble families of the Green Realm as well.
A thousand tales are told of Garth, in the Reach and beyond. Most are implausible, and many contradictory. In some he is a contemporary of Bran the Builder, Lann the Clever, Durran Godsgrief, and the other colorful figures of the Age of Heroes. In others he stands as the ancestor of them all.
Garth was the High King of the First Men, it is written; it was he who led them out of the east and across the land bridge to Westeros. Yet other tales would have us believe that he preceded the arrival of the First Men by thousands of years, making him not only the First Man in Westeros, but the only man, wandering the length and breadth of the land alone and treating with the giants and the children of the forest. Some even say he was a god.
There is disagreement even on his name. Garth Greenhand, we call him, but in the oldest tales he is named Garth Greenhair, or simply Garth the Green. Some stories say he had green hands, green hair, or green skin overall. (A few even give him antlers, like a stag.) Others tell us that he dressed in green from head to foot, and certainly this is how he is most commonly depicted in paintings, tapestries, and sculptures. More likely, his sobriquet derived from his gifts as a gardener and a tiller of the soil—the one trait on which all the tales agree. “Garth made the corn ripen, the trees fruit, and the flowers bloom,” the singers tell us.
A few of the very oldest tales of Garth Greenhand present us with a considerably darker deity, one who demanded blood sacrifice from his worshippers to ensure a bountiful harvest. In some stories the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring. This version of Garth is largely forgotten.
The World of Ice and Fire – The Reach: Garth Greenhand
We are not here to discuss Garth as that subject would require its own essay. I posted the above excerpt to show that he was considered a god by many. Garth was a fertility god and some of those flowers he helped bloom were not just of the plant variety. Garth is said to have impregnated many of the daughters of the Reach…hence why practically all of the regional Houses can trace their ancestry back to him. Garth actually sounds a lot like Zeus, the father of Persephone in this manner.
My mentioning of Garth is also to introduce you to the legend of one of his daughters…actually two but the first one is the most important for this essay. The daughter in question is Ellyn Ever Sweet. In all the books that comprise the story of ASOIAF, there are only two brief sentences that mention Ellyn. Nonetheless, if you look deeply, you will discover that George packs a lot into those two sentences.
Ellyn Ever Sweet, the girl who loved honey so much she sought out the King of the Bees in his vast mountain hive and made a pact with him, to care for his children and his children’s children for all time. She was the first beekeeper, and the mother to House Beesbury.
The World of Ice and Fire – The Reach: Garth Greenhand
These two brief and simple sentences really don’t seem to say much but there is actually a lot of textural clues buried in them. Would you be surprised if I told you that Ellyn was part of a triangle involving one of her sisters and quite likely the “King of the Bees?” Can you discern that from the two sentences above? Well, I didn’t either until I came across a major clue that George dropped a bit later in the book.
This original triangle might also quite possibly be why George has included so many romantic threesomes throughout his story. Aegon and his two wives; Rhaegar, Lyanna and Robert; Daario, Dany and Hizdahr; Jaime, Cersei and Robert; and Petyr, Cat and Ned to name just a few. History repeats…just not in the same way. Most of the modern threesomes seem to involve one woman and two men as opposed to the original and so, George seems to be flipping the script this time around.
The second daughter at the center of the ancient triangle is this one.
Rowan Gold-Tree, who was so bereft when her lover left her for a rich rival that she wrapped an apple in her golden hair, planted it upon a hill, and grew a tree whose bark and leaves and fruit were gleaming yellow gold, and to whose daughters the Rowans of Goldengrove trace their roots.
As with the Ellyn Ever Sweet, George barely tells us anything about Rowan Gold-Tree. In addition to this brief passage, her name only appears one other time in the text in any of the published books that encompasses the world George created. This second reference is in TWOIAF when she is mentioned as the possible mother of Lann the Clever. You are probably wondering why I’m proposing that she was the third wheel in the triangle involving Ellyn and the King of the Bees?
Well, as he’s wont to do, George drops the answer a little bit later in ASOIAF when he tells us the story of a daughter of House Reyne. This is of course the house that was famously extinguished by Tywin Lannister, which led to the equally famous song, The Reynes of Castamere that was played at the Red Wedding.
The most significant death by far that stemmed from the Peake Uprising was that of King Maekar himself, but the chaos this caused has been abundantly chronicled elsewhere. Less well-known, but no less baleful, are the dire effects the battle had upon the history of the west. Tywald Lannister had long been betrothed to the Red Lion’s spirited young sister, Lady Ellyn. This strong-willed and hot-tempered maiden, who had for years anticipated becoming the Lady of Casterly Rock, was unwilling to forsake that dream. In the aftermath of her betrothed’s death, she persuaded his twin brother, Tion, to set aside his own betrothal to a daughter of Lord Rowan of Goldengrove and espouse her instead.
Lord Gerold, it is said, opposed this match, but grief and age and illness had left him a pale shadow of his former self, and in the end he gave way. In 235 AC, in a double wedding at Casterly Rock, Ser Tion Lannister took Ellyn Reyne to wife, whilst his younger brother Tytos wed Jeyne Marbrand, a daughter of Lord Alyn Marbrand of Ashemark.
—TWOIAF, The Westerlands: House Lannister Under the Dragons
Hmm! So, Ellyn Reyne, who coincidentally has the same name as Garth’s ancient daughter, stole the fiancé of a daughter of House Rowan. Of course, this is the same house whose lineage can be traced back to Rowan Golden-Tree. Do you think that George was trying to tell us something?
Why is this probable ancient triangle important and what does it have to do with Sansa’s arc? Well, while the story of Rowan is of symbolic importance that I plan to discuss a bit more in future essays, as I’ve mentioned above, Ellyn is the important daughter of note for this particular analysis. And the answer to the question of why she is important to Sansa’s storyline is bees, honey, the identity of the King of the Bees and the location of his vast mountain hive.
In mythology, the bee, found in Indian, ancient Near East and Aegean cultures, was believed to be the sacred insect that bridged the natural world to the underworld.
“Aegean civilization is a general term for the Bronze Age civilizations of Greece around the Aegean Sea,” which is of course the time of period of time when Greek myths were popularized—one of the most famous being that of Hades and Persephone.
As I’ve mentioned in previous essays, in mythology, honey is like ambrosia or nectar, which were considered the food of the gods. In fact, Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, a German classical scholar who specialized in the studies of Greco-Roman mythology proposed just this theory.
W. H. Roscher thinks that both nectar and ambrosia were kinds of honey, in which case their power of conferring immortality would be due to the supposed healing and cleansing powers of honey,which is in fact anti-septic, and because fermented honey (mead) preceded wine as an entheogen in the Aegean world; on some Minoan seals, goddesses were represented with bee faces (compare Merope and Melissa).
In ASOIAF, George uses honey as his symbolic food of the gods. I suspect that this is because if he used the term ambrosia, it would have been a bit too obvious and he doesn’t like making things too easy for readers. Here are two great examples of Dany and Bran drinking Shade of the Evening or eating weirwood paste, which opens both their consciousness to visions of the higher plane. While in each instance the concoction starts out tasting horribly to them, it ultimately has the familiar taste of honey. This plays upon the symbolism of honey being the food of the gods.
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.
A Clash of Kings – Daenerys IV
It had a bitter taste, though not so bitter as acorn paste. The first spoonful was the hardest to get down. He almost retched it right back up. The second tasted better. The third was almost sweet. The rest he spooned up eagerly. Why had he thought that it was bitter? It tasted of honey, of new-fallen snow, of pepper and cinnamon and the last kiss his mother ever gave him. The empty bowl slipped from his fingers and clattered on the cavern floor. “I don’t feel any different. What happens next?”
A Dance with Dragons – Bran III
Ellyn Ever Sweet being such a lover of honey and bees, hints at her being a warg. In fact, all of Garth’s children should probably be seen as skin changers. The description of Ellyn strongly indicates that she was the “queen bee.” As bees were also seen as sacred creatures who travel between the three worlds, her being a beekeeper also suggests that she was a greenseer, and not just any greenseer, but quite possibly the first. Now what about this pact between Ellyn and the King of the Bees?
Well, let’s consider the types of pact that existed in real world medieval societies and how George has utilized the practice in the same way in his story. Pacts are generally about treaties that end wars or the joining two Houses in harmony though marriage. And often times, these two types of pacts are one and the same.
We’re told of the ancient conflict between the Children of the Forest and the First men that lasted for generations. This conflict only ended when a pact between the two sides was forged.
Regardless, the children of the forest fought as fiercely as the First Men to defend their lives. Inexorably, the war ground on across generations, until at last the children understood that they could not win. The First Men, perhaps tired of war, also wished to see an end to the fighting. The wisest of both races prevailed, and the chief heroes and rulers of both sides met upon the isle in the Gods Eye to form the Pact. Giving up all the lands of Westeros save for the deep forests, the children won from the First Men the promise that they would no longer cut down the weirwoods. All the weirwoods of the isle on which the Pact was forged were then carved with faces so that the gods could witness the Pact, and the order of green men was made afterward to tend to the weirwoods and protect the isle.
With the Pact, the Dawn Age of the world drew to a close, and the Age of Heroes followed.
The World of Ice and Fire – Ancient History: The Coming of First Men
Curiously, we’re also told of a second pact from this ancient period, and that is the one between Ellyn Ever Sweet and the King of the Bees. Is it possible that these pacts were connected and might the two have been even one and the same? I propose that the answer is yes and that like in real world medieval times and in instances in the story itself, this ancient one between the two rival factions involved a union between a daughter of the COTF, who was the first greenseer, and a representative of the First Men. I also theorize that this King of the Bees was in fact a dragon lord.
The world book tells us that Ellyn made the pact with the king who lived in a vast mountain fastness and promised to care for his children and their children for generations. Sounds like a marriage union to me. She’s also described as the first beekeeper and it is here that we start seeing those coincidental connections to Sansa kick in.
There is only one mountainous region in the story connected to bees and that is the Vale of Arryn. Cat, Tyrion and Sansa all think to themselves how the Eyrie looks like a honeycomb. Here are a few passages that I think support my theory as well as what I think the symbolism of the King of the Bee implies.
Catelyn looked up. Directly overhead, pale in the dawn light, she could see the foundations of the Eyrie. It could not be more than six hundred feet above them. From below it looked like a small white honeycomb. She remembered what her uncle had said of baskets and winches. “The Lannisters may have their pride,” she told Mya, “but the Tullys are born with better sense. I have ridden all day and the best part of a night. Tell them to lower a basket. I shall ride with the turnips.”
A Game of Thrones – Catelyn VI
The Arryns kept the only dungeon in the realm where the prisoners were welcome to escape at will. That first day, after girding up his courage for hours, Tyrion had lain flat on his stomach and squirmed to the edge, to poke out his head and look down. Sky was six hundred feet below, with nothing between but empty air. If he craned his neck out as far as it could go, he could see other cells to his right and left and above him. He was a bee in a stone honeycomb, and someone had torn off his wings.
A Game of Thrones – Tyrion V
“AWAY!” came Ser Lothor’s shout. Someone shoved the bucket hard. It swayed and tipped, scraped against the floor, then swung free. She heard the crack of Mord’s whip and the rattle of the chain. They began to descend, by jerks and starts at first, then more smoothly. Robert’s face was pale and his eyes puffy, but his hands were still. The Eyrie shrank above them. The sky cells on the lower levels made the castle look something like a honeycomb from below. A honeycomb made of ice, Alayne thought, a castle made of snow. She could hear the wind whistling round the bucket.
A Feast for Crows – Alayne II
It’s interesting that Tyrion considers himself a bee with clipped wings and it’s the cells that are compared to honeycombs. It suggests some type of imprisonment of the queen. Ok! I think that’s sufficient evidence to support the idea that George wants us to see the Vale and Eyrie as the residence of the King of the Bees. Let’s now look at what his moniker implies.
Here is the thing! There is no such thing as a King Bee. Male bees are drones, whose only job is to mate with the queen. Male drones are expelled from the hive in late autumn as the its focus changes to one of warmth and food conservation. They also die soon after mating with the queen because the “penis and associated abdominal tissues are ripped from the drone’s body after sexual intercourse.” By the way, I think the eunuch theme running throughout the story may tie into this aspect of the male drone.
Also, unlike female bees, drones do not have stingers and they don’t gather nectar nor pollen. They are pretty toothless without the queen bee. This means that for there to be a King of the Bees, he would have had to kill the queen and usurped her throne in some manner. And it would have been in a magical manner because the female worker bees of the hive would not accept a male king.
Just who was this King of the Bees? Well, I theorized in one of my older essays, On the Hunt For Azor Ahai and the Bloodstone Emperor that he was Symeon Star Eyes. While some of my theories have evolved, I still hold that Azor Ahai and Symeon Star Eyes were one and the same.
George plays on the idea of the male bee usurping the queen with Petyr’s killing of Lysa. In Littlefinger’s case, he is attempting to take over the hive by using and controlling a new not yet fully-grown queen by the name of Alayne Stone. There are also echoes of the ancient triangle between Ellyn Ever Sweet, the King of the Bees and Rowan Golden-Tree in the story of Lysa, Petyr and Cat.
As Tyrion realizes, Littlefinger has a liking for sweet things.
“If there are any Tullys left when we are done.”
Littlefinger looked like a boy who had just taken a furtive bite from a honeycomb. He was trying to watch for bees, but the honey was so sweet. “Harrenhal and all its lands and incomes,” he mused. “With a stroke, you’d make me one of the greatest lords in the realm. Not that I’m ungrateful, my lord, but—why?”
“You served my sister well in the matter of the succession.”
A Clash of Kings – Tyrion IV
Remember how Sansa makes note of Littlefinger’s breath smelling like mint? I think that little detail is George playing with the fact that mint is a bee balm. Mint attracts bees and Petyr is symbolically using mint to calm and capture the queen so that he can take over the hive. It succeeded with Lysa but it won’t with Sansa. As a young queen, the mint momentarily tempts her but she is stronger that Petyr realizes, and resists.
“Your mother was my queen of beauty once,” the man said quietly. His breath smelled of mint. “You have her hair.” His fingers brushed against her cheek as he stroked one auburn lock. Quite abruptly he turned and walked away.
A Game of Thrones – Sansa II
Sansa tried to step back, but he pulled her into his arms and suddenly he was kissing her. Feebly, she tried to squirm, but only succeeded in pressing herself more tightly against him. His mouth was on hers, swallowing her words. He tasted of mint. For half a heartbeat she yielded to his kiss … before she turned her face away and wrenched free. “What are you doing?”
A Storm of Swords – Sansa VII
The interesting thing about Lysa’s name is that it’s a shortened version of Alyssa as in Alyssa Arryn, the ancient queen of the Vale.
Alyssa Arryn had seen her husband, her brothers, and all her children slain, and yet in life she had never shed a tear. So in death, the gods had decreed that she would know no rest until her weeping watered the black earth of the Vale, where the men she had loved were buried. Alyssa had been dead six thousand years now, and still no drop of the torrent had ever reached the valley floor far below. Catelyn wondered how large a waterfall her own tears would make when she died. “Tell me the rest of it,” she said.
A Game of Thrones – Catelyn VII
Both Lysa and Alyssa are two of those words that can also be spelled with an “i” as in Lissa or Alissa. They are also shortened versions of Melissa, which finds its origin in the Greek language and surprise, surprise, means bee.
Melissa is a given name for a female. The name comes from the Greek word μέλισσα (mélissa), “bee”, which in turn comes from μέλι (meli), “honey”. In Hittite, melit signifies “honey.”
According to Greek mythology, perhaps reflecting Minoan culture, making her the daughter of a Cretan king Melisseus, whose -issos ending is Pre-Greek, Melissa was a nymph who discovered and taught the use of honey and from whom bees were believed to have received their name. She was one of the nymph nurses of Zeus, sister to Amaltheia, but rather than feeding the baby milk, Melissa, appropriately for her name, fed him honey. Or, alternatively, the bees brought honey straight to his mouth. Because of her, Melissa became the name of all the nymphs who cared for the patriarch god as a baby.
Melissa in her caring of Zeus sounds a lot like Ellyn Ever Sweet…doesn’t she? It’s almost as if George wants us to associate bees and honey with the Vale for some reason—a location where he has coincidentally plopped the eldest daughter of House Stark. Let’s look a bit more at these coincidences.
It so happens that there is a mythological character strongly associated with Sansa Stark that is also connected to bees and honey. This would of course be Persephone who was known as the “honeyed one.” Bees are also associated with Persephone and her mother Demeter through the Eleusinian Mysteries performed by the cult that worshipped the two goddesses. You can read more about the mysteries here.
Persephone’s nickname among the ancient Greeks was Melitodes or “honeyed one” and the priestess of Persephone and Demeter’s cult were known as Melissai or “bees.”
In addition, the ancient Greek philosopher, Porphyry (233 to c. 304 AD) wrote of the priestesses of Demeter, known as Melissae(“bees”), who were initiates of the chthonian goddess. The story surrounding Melissae tells of an elderly priestess of Demeter, named Melissa, initiated into her mysteries by the goddess herself. When Melissa’s neighbors tried to make her reveal the secrets of her initiation, she remained silent, never letting a word pass from her lips. In anger, the women tore her to pieces, but Demeter sent a plague upon them, causing bees to be born from Melissa’s dead body. From Porphyry’s writings, scholars have also learned that Melissa was the name of the moon goddess Artemis and the goddess who took suffering away from mothers giving birth. Souls were symbolized by bees and it was Melissa who drew souls down to be born. She was connected with the idea of a periodic regeneration.
Now this is where things get really interesting. Remember I told you to keep the interchangeable usage of “i” and “y” in mind. Well, it just so happens that Persephone was abducted by Hades from the *Vale of Nysa.*
Hmm! Do you think Nysa could possibly be spelled Nisa or even Nissa? Might Persephone’s abduction from the Vale of Nysa have inspired George in the naming of the ancient female character at the center of the mystery that permeates in the current storyline. I would say that the answer is yes.
Was it the only inspiration? As we will shortly see, probably not. However, as George is on record as stating that he can’t write a character until he knows their name, I strongly suspect that the name of the location from where Persephone was kidnapped was one of the relevant inspirations for Nissa Nissa’s name.
In the Homeric “Hymn to Demeter,” the story is told of how Persephone was gathering flowers in the Vale of Nysa when she was seized by Hades and removed to the underworld. Upon learning of the abduction, her mother, Demeter, in her misery, became unconcerned with the harvest or the fruitfulness of the earth, so that widespread famine ensued. Zeus therefore intervened, commanding Hades to release Persephone to her mother. Because Persephone had eaten a single pomegranate seed in the underworld, however, she could not be completely freed but had to remain one-third of the year with Hades, and spent the other two-thirds with her mother. The story that Persephone spent four months of each year in the underworld was no doubt meant to account for the barren appearance of Greek fields in full summer—after harvest, before their revival in the autumn rains, when they are plowed and sown.Encyclopedia Brittanica
Persephone becomes Hades’ wife and Queen of the Underworld after her abduction. Sansa is Queen/Lady of Winter of the Northern Underworld but she ran to the South, the Summer Kingdom and away from her identity both literally and symbolically. She does have the blood of Summer in her but it is not her place. She can visit but it is not hers to rule, which is what she intended.
Winter queens are weakened in summer and this is what happened to Sansa. The North is the dominion of Winter as the South is the realm of the Summer Kings. However, Bran who like Sansa is of both the North and South has been marked as the ruler of Summer, not Sansa. This is indicated by the name Bran gave his direwolf upon waking from his coma. And Sansa is marked as the Lady of Winterfell when Ned sends her direwolf bones back home to be buried.
Jon also has been marked and like Sansa, his true identity is in the North. Sansa ran from hers and Jon is afraid to claim his. However, they both must do so if the war is to be won.
Robb took them all the way down to the end, past Grandfather and Brandon and Lyanna, to show them their own tombs. Sansa kept looking at the stubby little candle, anxious that it might go out. Old Nan had told her there were spiders down here, and rats as big as dogs. Robb smiled when she said that. “There are worse things than spiders and rats,” he whispered. “This is where the dead walk.” That was when they heard the sound, low and deep and shivery. Baby Bran had clutched at Arya’s hand.
When the spirit stepped out of the open tomb, pale white and moaning for blood, Sansa ran shrieking for the stairs, and Bran wrapped himself around Robb’s leg, sobbing. Arya stood her ground and gave the spirit a punch. It was only Jon, covered with flour. “You stupid,” she told him, “you scared the baby,” but Jon and Robb just laughed and laughed, and pretty soon Bran and Arya were laughing too.
The memory made Arya smile, and after that the darkness held no more terrors for her. The stableboy was dead, she’d killed him, and if he jumped out at her she’d kill him again. She was going home. Everything would be better once she was home again, safe behind Winterfell’s grey granite walls.A Game of Thrones – Arya IV
Arya’s happy memories of playing in the Winterfell crypts hints not just at Jon’s death but also his return as a King/Lord of Winter. He is covered in flour like a ghost but he also steps out of one of the tombs that are specifically reserved for the Kings and Lords of Winter.
In addition to hinting as Jon’s death and return as a King of Winter, there is symbolic importance in Sansa running away. She runs away from Ghost Jon who as the Winter King in the scene is also a symbolic Hades, the Lord of the Underworld. And so, Sansa’s running out of the crypts is metaphorically as if Persephone was attempting to escape from Hades and her place at his side as Queen of the Underworld where she belongs.
This is why Sansa doesn’t eat the pomegranate offered to her by Petyr. He is not her Hades or rather Pluto as I think that Jon is symbolic of this more favorable aspect of the Lord of the Underworld . It’s also why when Jon descends to the lower levels of the crypts, I expect Sansa to be by his side. They both have to descend to claim their identity.
As the location of Persephone’s abduction is called a vale, one would expect it to be a mountainous region as that is generally the location for this type of landscape. And that is of course the case.
In Greek mythology, the mountainous district of Nysa (Greek: Νῦσα), variously associated with Ethiopia, Libya, Tribalia, India or Arabia by Greek mythographers, was the traditional place where the rain nymphs, the Hyades, raised the infant god Dionysus, the “Zeus of Nysa.”
Coincidentally, the flower used to lure Demeter’s daughter into Hades’ hands was none other than the *Narcissus-Jonquilla,* which I’ve proposed is the mysterious magical blue flower that represents the daughters of Winterfell. It also happens to be the name of a mysterious ancient figure closely identified with Sansa Stark.
Here are a few stanzas of the very long Hymn to Demeter. Does the description of the narcissus-jonquilla not read a lot like how George describes the blue winter roses…particularly how its sweet fragrance fills the air?
5 She [Persephone] was having a good time, along with the daughters of Okeanos, who wear their waistbands slung low.
She was picking flowers: roses, crocus, and beautiful violets.
Up and down the soft meadow. Iris blossoms too she picked, and hyacinth.
And the narcissus, which was grown as a lure for the flower-faced girl
by Gaia [Earth]. All according to the plans of Zeus. She [Gaia] was doing a favor for the one who receives many guests [Hādēs].
10 It [the narcissus] was a wondrous thing in its splendor. To look at it gives a sense of holy awe
to the immortal gods as well as mortal humans.
It has a hundred heads growing from the root up.
Its sweet fragrance spread over the wide skies up above.
And the earth below smiled back in all its radiance. So too the churning mass of the salty sea.
15 She [Persephone] was filled with a sense of wonder, and she reached out with both hands
to take hold of the pretty plaything.2 And the earth, full of roads leading every which way, opened up under her.
It happened on the Plain of Nysa. There it was that the Lord who receives many guests made his lunge.
He was riding on a chariot drawn by immortal horses. The son of Kronos. The one known by many names.
He seized her against her will, put her on his golden chariot,
20 And drove away as she wept. She cried with a piercing voice,
calling upon her father [Zeus], the son of Kronos, the highest and the best.
But not one of the immortal ones, or of human mortals,
heard her voice. Not even the olive trees which bear their splendid harvest.
Also, note how the 20th stanza reads a lot like this passage from when Sansa dreams of the symbolic Others.
That night Sansa dreamed of the riot again. The mob surged around her, shrieking, a maddened beast with a thousand faces.
Everywhere she turned she saw faces twisted into monstrous inhuman masks. She wept and told them she had never done them hurt, yet they dragged her from her horse all the same. “No,” she cried, “no, please, don’t, don’t,” but no one paid her any heed. She shouted for Ser Dontos, for her brothers, for her dead father and her dead wolf, for gallant Ser Loras who had given her a red rose once, but none of them came. She called for the heroes from the songs, for Florian and Ser Ryam Redwyne and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, but no one heard. Women swarmed over her like weasels, pinching her legs and kicking her in the belly, and someone hit her in the face and she felt her teeth shatter. Then she saw the bright glimmer of steel. The knife plunged into her belly and tore and tore and tore, until there was nothing left of her down there but shiny wet ribbons.
A Clash of Kings – Sansa IV
In antiquity, the narcissus-jonquilla was considered sacred to Hades and Persephone and believed to grow along the River Styx. Another interesting detail about the flower is that many biblical scholars also consider it to be the famous *Rose of Sharon* referenced in “A Song of Solomon.” The jonquil flower being considered a rose—another one of those coincidences I’ve been talking about.
The name “rose of Sharon” first appears in Hebrew in the Tanakh. In the Shir Hashirim (‘Song of Songs’ or ‘Song of Solomon’) 2:1, the speaker (the beloved) says “I am the rose of Sharon, a rose of the valley”. The Hebrew phrase חבצלת השרון (ḥăḇatzeleṯ hasharon) was translated by the editors of the King James version of the Bible as “rose of Sharon”; however, previous translations had rendered it simply as “the flower of the field” (Septuagint “ἐγὼ ἄνθος τοῦ πεδίου”, Vulgate “ego flos campi”,Wiclif “a flower of the field”). Contrariwise, the Hebrew word ḥăḇatzeleṯ occurs two times in the scriptures: in the Song, and in Isaiah 35:1, which reads, “the desert shall bloom like the rose.” The word is translated “rose” in the King James version, but is rendered variously as “lily” (Septuagint “κρίνον”, Vulgate “lilium”, Wiclif “lily”), “jonquil” (Jerusalem Bible) and “crocus” (RSV); Narcissus (“rose”, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature)
It seems quite likely that Martin named the main character in Sansa’s favorite stories after the flower Persephone was picking when she was abducted. This makes thematic sense as he has so strongly associated Sansa with the real-world mythical Persephone. It also seems not quite a coincidence that he calls the flower a rose in his story when it was called by the same name in one of the most famous and oldest poems in the world that just happens to be centered around a renewal myth.
Coincidences again abound when you look at the area where the famous biblical flower is said to have grown. Here is the description of the landscape of Sharon Israel in ancient times.
The Plain of, the area where the coastal plain widens south of the slopes of Mt. Carmel, extending about thirty miles south to the Yarkon River north of Joppa. It varies from about eight to twelve miles in width. In Israelite times, the dunes supported an impenetrable oak forest. Pastureland would have been on the fringe of the forest (1Chr 27:29). The rose of Sharon is kind of a crocus growing as a “lily among brambles” (Song 2:1-2). Thus the biblical picture of Sharon is a forbidding jungle of oaks and swampy marshes rather than a fertile or productive plain.
Is it just me or does the description of ancient Sharon remind you a lot of the description of the marshy landscape of the River Styx that led to Greek Underworld where Hades absconded with Persephone? It also matches the description of the Vale of Nysa…a mountainous region that was the land of the rain nymphs.
Martin named the ancient female character at the center of one of the great mysteries of his story, Nissa Nissa and there are many different meanings to the word. In Hebrew it means, “wonders.” In the Indian language it is a form of the name Nisha, which means “night.” In Scandinavian countries it’s the name for a friendly elf or fairy (COTF like short person), and in Greek, it means beginning (first greenseer). Every single one of these meanings fit with the clues George has dropped about Nissa Nissa.
The fascinating thing about the name Nissa as I’ve noted, is that like many words where the second letter is an “i,” a “y” is sometimes substituted in its place. And so, another way to spell Nissa is Nyssa. And it is in analyzing the second spelling that I discovered another one of those coincidences.
Nyssa also refers to a Greek water nymph, which of course with Sansa’s matriarchal line descending from House Tully with their fish symbolism is a point of interest. However, what I think is more significant is that Nyssa is also a genus of deciduous trees within the family Cornaceae. Nyssa trees are highly tolerant of wet soil and tend to grow along the borders of rivers, swamps and ponds (those coincidences are really running rampant).
Named after the Greek water nymph, there are many different varieties of the genus— Nyssa sylvatica, Nyssa aquatica, Nyssa biflora to name a few. Most interesting of all about the species of tree is that they produce a very expensive form of honey. Here is a description of Nyssa ogeche from Wikipedia.
Tupelos of the species Nyssa ogeche are valued as honey plants in the southeastern United States, particularly in the Gulf Coast region. They produce a very light, mild-tasting honey. In Florida, beekeepers keep beehives along the river swamps on platforms or floats during tupelo bloom to produce certified tupelo honey, which commands a high price on the market because of its flavor. Monofloral honey made from the nectarNyssa ogeche has such a high ratio of fructose to glucose that it does not crystallize.
The Apalachicola River in the Florida Panhandle is the center for tupelo honey. The honey is produced wherever tupelo trees (three species) bloom in southeastern USA, but the purest and most expensive version (which is certified by pollen analysis) is produced in this valley. In a good harvest year, the tupelo honey crop produced by a group of specialized Florida beekeepers has a value approaching $1,000,000.
WOW, another coincidence! Nyssa is also the name of a honey making tree. And not just any honey making tree but one that grows and thrives in marshlands and swamps that look a lot like the River Styx, which leads to Hades, Persephone’s winter home.
Oh, and if you are looking for another coincidence, do you remember those pomegranate seeds that Hades got Persephone to eat? Well, look at how they are described in the Hymn to Demeter (410th Stanza).
– then I sprang up for joy, but he, stealthily,
– put into my hand the berry of the pomegranate, that honey-sweet food,
– and he compelled me by biē to eat of it.
George is certainly pushing the concept of honey as the food of the gods and that it should be associated with Sansa Stark.
By the way, the theory that Nissa Nissa was the first greenseer is not mine. I first heard of it from Lucifer Means Lightbringer on YouTubeand while not positive, I think that he is the originator. However, while I agree with his theory, his reasoning is different from mine as neither he nor anyone else…at least not that I’m aware have associated Nissa Nissa with Ellyn Ever Sweet.
As I’ve theorized at the end of the previous chapter of this series, I believe that Jonquil in addition to being the original blue Winter Rose and the female progenitor of House Stark, was also the corpse queen. Was she also Nissa Nissa? That possibility is certainly in play.
However, it’s also possible that she was Nissa Nissa’s daughter or possibly even a sister. Whether she was Nissa Nissa or a female relative, I think she turned dark(e) at some point. Keep in mind that dark does not have to mean evil. It can simply mean vengeful…a philosophy that I would not be shocked to see Sansa take up.
Those of you who have read some of my previous essays are probably saying to yourself, “the legend of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa is an eastern one while the stories about Ellyn Ever Sweet and Symeon Star Eyes have Westerosi origins.” “Also, you said in the previous essays that the Bloodstone Emperor and the Amethyst Empress were Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa. Now you’re saying there are a different couple. Which is it?”
“You also suggested that Azor Ahai was a dragon Lord? Dragons are from the East, not Westeros.”
I will answer the last question first. Yes, I did agree with the theory proposed by others in the fandom that Azor Ahai was a dragon lord and I still believe it’s will quite likely turn out to have been the case. As I’ve discussed HERE and HERE, George has dropped some serious hints that there were dragon lords in Westeros…including in the Vale region in the ancient past. In fact, the Winged Knight aka the King of the Bees was quite likely a dragon lord.
The Arryn House legend states that the Winged Knight rode a giant falcon and controlled eagles and killed a griffin to claim the Vale. Some maesters theorize that the giant falcon in question was a dragon seen from afar. Then we get this in one of the Tyrion TWOW preview chapters and we see that dragons do indeed look like giant birds of prey when viewed from a distance.
Three hundred yards from where he stood rose the Wicked Sister, her long arm swinging up with a clutch of corpses—chunk-THUMP—and there they flew, naked and swollen, pale dead birds tumbling boneless through the air. The siege camps shimmered in a gaudy haze of rose and gold, but the famous stepped pyramids of Meereen hulked black against the glare. Something was moving atop one of them, he saw. A dragon, but which one? At this distance, it could as easily have been an eagle. A very big eagle.
The Winds of Winter, Tyrion I
George also compares dragons to eagles and hawks in the Princess and the Queen.
History calls the struggle between King Aegon II and his sister Rhaenyra the Dance of the Dragons, but only at Tumbleton did the dragons ever truly dance. Tessarion and Seasmoke were young dragons, nimbler in the air than their older brothers had been. Time and time again they rushed one another, only to have one or the other veer away at the last instant. Soaring like eagles, stooping like hawks, they circled, snapping and roaring, spitting fire, but never closing.
The Princess and the Queen
In regard to the contradiction of three different couples being Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa, well they were really not three couples. Rather, it’s a case of comparative mythology and a major society changing calamity, which impacted such a large portion of the known world that legends and tales were told in all parts of Planetos about the events and the participants. Each location shaped their own tales and legends about the proceedings and people involved but ultimately, it was the same story and cast of characters.
From the Great Empire of the Dawn, we get the legend of the Bloodstone Emperor, the Amethyst Empress and the tale of the blood usurpation; from Asshai, we get the story of Azor Ahai killing his wife Nissa Nissa; and from Westeros, we get the myth of Ellyn Ever-Sweet who married the King of the Bees. All three are about the same individuals and event. It’s just been distilled and reinterpreted though the eyes of different cultures. The three myths also clue us the reader in on different parts of the story.
The legend of the Bloodstone Emperor and the Amethyst Empress tells us that the ancient couple were siblings and he usurped her throne though some type of blood betrayal. Through the tale Salladhor Saan tells Davos about Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa, George is informing us that they were husband and wife and that the blood betrayal and usurpation involved her sacrificial killing at his hands. And finally, the myths about Ellyn Ever Sweet and the Winged Knight tells us that she was a Child of the Forest and he was a dragon lord. Three different couples whose story are ultimately one.
However, there are actually 4 ancient “couples” whose story is at the center of the great mystery that involves the Others. Three I’ve mentioned above and the fourth as you might expect, I proposed was Florian and Jonquil. The latter are jointly mentioned in the text more than any other ancient pairing, whose names and association are only mentioned once or twice. The names of Florian and Jonquil appear on numerous occasions and each time is centered on Sansa Stark.
Does this mean that Sansa is the modern day Nissa Nissa? Well, as I’ve argued, I think that she is a greenseer and so that possibility certainly exist. However, it is not definitely the case. She also might be the modern-day version of the ancient daughter of Nissa Nissa. While in previous essays, I’ve argued that Sansa was the modern day Nissa Nissa, upon further analysis, I’ve changed my mind and now I am more incline to think that she represents her daughter.
There are a few reasons why I think that she represents the daughter and not the mother. First and most importantly is because Sansa is without a doubt, the modern-day Jonquil, whom I’ve argued was the first Blue Winter Rose of House Stark. Secondly, I also believe that Jon has been set up to be the modern-day Florian. If this turns out to be the case and I strongly think it will, then Sansa cannot be the Nissa Nissa character because Jon is not the true Azor Ahai.
Why do I say that Jon is not Azor Ahai? Well, for obvious reason, I think that Dany more fits the described prophecy about AA. Also, while Melisandre presents Azor Ahai as a hero, clues suggest that he was not. There is the little thing that has to do with him killing his wife. However, what convinces me that Sansa and Jon are not Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa is that all textural clues point to the story of AA and NN being one about the usurpation of the rights of the woman with the man stealing her throne.
The Bloodstone Emperor killed the Amethyst Empress in what is known as the blood betrayal. Nissa Nissa, who clues suggest was the first greenseer was killed by her husband Azor Ahai, most likely in a quest for power. Finally, the King of the Bees usurped the right of Ellyn Ever Sweet, the queen bee.
So far, what we’ve learned about Florian and Jonquil suggests that their tale was a love story. It’s possible that we find out later that it turned dark but nothing in the text has so far suggested that Florian killed Jonquil in a quest to usurp her claim as was the case with the other ancient couples. And Jon has made it abundantly clear that he does not want to usurp Sansa’s right to Winterfell.
If usurpation is not in play between the two, then they are probably not the modern day Nissa Nissa and Azor Ahai. Of course, we don’t know what will happen when Jon finds out that Robb made him his heir. On the other hand, as Bran is still alive, it would be his rights that Jon would potentially be usurping because even though Sansa is the eldest, the right of inheritance first goes through the male line. Nonetheless, I expect Bran to give up his claim to the North.
Another reason to suggest that they are not Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa is because Jon is the Hades stand-in as the symbolic Lord of the Northern underworld. His death and eventual return reinforce this point. And while Hades/Pluto abducts Persephone, he does not kill her.
The tale of the Lord and Lady of the Underworld and Jon and Sansa being their stand-ins is also one of the reasons I’ve proposed that they will reunite in the Vale. Hades has to steal his Lady away to the underworld as the earth opens up in the textural stand-in for Vale of Nysa.
When Hades drove his chariot through the underworld, it must have sounded and felt like the earth was shaking. And when the ground opened up and his chariot burst forth, it must have looked and felt like an earthquake. It might even possibly have been described as like “giants waking from the earth.” What are earthquakes if not the earth opening up and what is a god if not a giant among men.
A warhorn, a bloody great warhorn.
“Yes,” Mance said. “The Horn of Winter, that Joramun once blew to wake giants from the earth.”
A Storm of Swords – Jon X
There are strong hints that waking giants is suggestive of earthquakes. And as I touched upon HERE, there are even stronger hints that there will be some type of disaster in the Vale resulting in an avalanche and the collapse of the Giant Lance.
Do I think it means actual giants or a Hades like character will arise from underground? Of course not! What I’m proposing is that symbolically when the earth opens…caused by meteors hitting Planetos, resulting in several earthquakes and the giant lance collapsing in the Vale, the true symbolic Hades will descend from the northern underworld to claim his bride.
My theory is that Jonquil was the daughter of Nissa Nissa who may have then gone on a quest to avenge the killing of her mother and somehow ended up becoming the corpse queen and creating the Others. Now of course, in terms of her motive, this is pure speculation on my part as there is not sufficient evidence to determine the reason for the creation of the Others.
However, I do think that Jonquil was the corpse queen to Florian’s Nights King and together, they created the Others. I will be discussing them as the potential NK and CQ in the next chapter as we explore their connection to the COTF.
While I don’t think that Jonquil was Nissa Nissa, there is one way that I can potentially see this being the case and that is if like Varamyr, NN body jumped in the moment of her death. Varymir was a powerful skin changer and I’ve always felt that the reason he did not succeed in hijacking Thistle’s body is because she was a woman. I think that he would have had better luck if she had been male.
There is an admonition against skin changing a person for a reason. It must have been previously done to horrible consequences. Nissa Nissa having a second life in Jonquil could certainly have been the first such occurrence…especially if she was on a quest of revenge.
Another coincidence that connects Sansa to Nissa Nissa are the several songs that echo the story of the ancient couple. Of particular note is Off to Gulltown. It is not known whether this is the title of the song or just the first line. In fact, we know pretty much nothing about the song except that it is old and that it is only mentioned twice in the text.
Dunk remembers Ser Arlan singing it while he rode to the tourney at Ashford Meadow.
Well, one morrow had brought rains that soaked them to the bones, and the one after had brought wet gusty winds, and the next a chill. By the fourth day the old man was too weak to ride. And now he was gone. Only a few days past, he had been singing as they rode, the old song about going to Gulltown to see a fair maid, but instead of Gulltown he’d sung of Ashford. Off to Ashford to see the fair maid, heigh-ho, heigh-ho, Dunk thought miserably as he dug.
The Hedge Knight
Tom of Sevenstreams is also singing the song when he encounters Arya, Hot Pie and Gendry. Per westeros.org, these are the known lyrics to the song.
Off to Gulltown to see the fair maid, heigh-ho, heigh-ho.
I’ll steal a sweet kiss with the point of my blade, heigh-ho, heigh-ho.
I’ll make her my love and we’ll rest in the shade, heigh-ho, heigh-ho.
Here we have a very “old” song whose lyrics echo the Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa legend wherein a fair maid is potentially killed by her lover using a sword. George also associates swords and blades with the male penis on several occasions in the text, which gives the second line dual meanings. The three lines also hints at the possible death of both parties.
Curiously enough, we have another one of those coincidences because Sansa is the fair maid from Gulltown in the story or rather I should say, Alayne Stone is.
“Alayne … Stone, would it be?” When he nodded, she said, “But who is my mother?”
“Please no,” she said, mortified.
“I was teasing. Your mother was a gentlewoman of Braavos, daughter of a merchant prince. We met in Gulltown when I had charge of the port. She died giving you birth, and entrusted you to the Faith. I have some devotional books you can look over. Learn to quote from them. Nothing discourages unwanted questions as much as a flow of pious bleating. In any case, at your flowering you decided you did not wish to be a septa and wrote to me. That was the first I knew of your existence.” He fingered his beard. “Do you think you can remember all that?”
“I hope. It will be like playing a game, won’t it?”
A Storm of Swords – Sansa VI
Sansa’s temporary name change that she uses to hide her identity while in the Vale brings us full circle to Ellyn Ever Sweet as we wind this chapter down.
Alayne is another way of spelling of Elayne or Elayna (French), which is also spelled as Elaine (Celtic origin) or Elena (Spanish). There are several other spelling variations of the name from other parts of the world. However, if you research the etymology, you will discover that all these variant spellings of the name are ultimately derived from the Ancient Greek name Helene.
From Old French Elaine, a variant of Elene, cognate to Helen, ultimately from Ancient Greek Ἑλένη (Helénē). A Celtic origin has also been suggested since the name appears in Arthurian legend. Doublet of Helen.–Wikitionary
Another possible origin of Helene is Selene, the Greek Goddess of the moon. Either origin symbolically ties into Sansa’s story arc as Alayne Stone because as she is currently betrothed to the future Lord of the Vale, who rules the famous Mountains of the Moon, one can argue that she is metaphorically, a moon goddess. However, her symbolic ties to the mountains is not the important thing I want to point out about her name.
As Alayne is derived from Helene, one can immediately see another variant of the name would be Helen, made famous by the story of the Helen of Troy, the queen of Sparta who was kidnapped by Paris, the Prince of Troy. A variant of Helen is of course Ellen, which is spelt in a number of different ways including Elena, Eleni and surprise, surprise, Ellyn as in Ellyn Ever Sweet. Do you think George might want us to associate Sansa with the ancient character?
Let’s now recap to see if I have this all straight as there are a lot of coincidences to remember. Martin names the character at the center of one of the great mysteries of the book Nissa Nissa. The name can also be spelled Nysa or Nyssa and Persephone, the real-world Greek goddess who is strongly associated with Sansa Stark was kidnapped from the Vale of Nysa. But that’s not all! George also drops a major clue in TWOIAF that the Westerosi version of Nissa Nissa was the honey and bee loving Ellyn Ever Sweet and that she quite likely married the King of the Bees aka the famous Winged Knight of the Vale.
And again, that is not all because it turns out that the flower used by Hades to lure Persephone into his trap was the sweet-smelling narcissus-jonquilla aka the jonquil flower, which just happens to have been the famous *Rose* of Sharon from The Song of Solomon. This same jonquil flower is the namesake of an ancient in-world figure that’s closely tied to Sansa Stark and was quite likely the female progenitor of House Stark and also quite possibly the famous corpse queen.
There are even more coincidences because there is also a real-world genus of honey making trees with the family name of *Nyssa*, which grow in swampy marshlands very similar to the River Styx and the Vale of Nysa from where Persephone was kidnapped. The ancient location where the “Rose of Sharon” grew was also a similar landscape of bogs and swamps.
What did I forget? Oh yes…Persephone is called the honeyed one and the priestess of the cult dedicated to her and her mother were called Melissas, which meant bees. Alyssa and Lysa are also shortened versions of Melissa and were the names of two female rulers of the Vale of Arryn, one of who we know was killed by her husband and her kingdom usurped.
Finally, the name Alayne Stone currently being used by Sansa Stark to hide her identity is a variant of Ellyn as in Ellyn Ever Sweet, the ancient honey loving beekeeper who was quite possibly the ancient Nissa Nissa and a COTF. Oh, and the pomegranate seeds used by Hades to tie Persephone to the underworld are described as “that honey sweet food,” in the Hymn to Demeter.
So many coincidences that tie Sansa to magical in-world and real-world mythological characters—and I know that I’ve forgotten some. Yet we are to believe that Sansa will not be connected to the magical storyline.
Now, no doubt some will argue that George’s use of honey is just symbolism and Sansa is just fulfilling the role of an archetype. I would say that yes, it is about symbolism and Sansa like practically every character plays the part of an archetype at one time or another…sometimes even different ones in the same scene.
However, there is symbolism and then there is SYMBOLISM. And George seems to have gone out of his way to specifically connect Sansa to myths about gods, bees, and honey as the food of the gods in a way he hasn’t any other character. And then there is the simple fact that while the Long Night may have occurred all over Planetos, the focal point was in Westeros and the ancient Starks were at the center of events. George has also admitted that the Stark kids are the center of current story as well.
Someone once said to me that nothing important happened in the Vale in ancient times. I tend to disagree but here’s the thing, even if that were the case, it doesn’t really matter because George has set things up so that important events will occur there, in the current storyline.
As I’ve said on many occasions, Martin uses the legends of the past to inform upon the modern story just as he uses the current characters to provide answers on ancient mysteries. Therefore, can it be mere coincidence that he gave Sansa a pseudonym that is a variant of Ellyn? As the clues that I’ve outlined suggest that Ellyn was both a COTF and a greenseer…possibly even the first of her kind; and is at the center of the great mystery of the book, I tend to doubt.
Also, if and when meteors descend on Planetos as Lucifer Means Lightbringer has proposed—a theory that I endorse, textural clues suggests at least one major piece will fall in the Vale. And so, thousands of years from now, the geographic area that comprise the Vale and the Mountains of the Moon just might be described as having a similar landscape to the current dark terrain of Asshai and the Mountains of the Morn.
Instead of all of the phenomenons I’ve listed being coincidences, I would say that it’s more of case of convergence, and strongly indicates that major events…including those of a magical nature will coalesce around Alayne Stone aka Sansa Stark as she sits in the Vale of Arryn.
In the next chapter, we dig into the idea that Florian and Jonquil were the Nights King and corpse queen and explore their suggested connection to the Children of the Forest.