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“How big a fool are you, old man? If there are enemies in this wood, a fire is the last thing we want.”
“There’s some enemies a fire will keep away,” Gared said. “Bears and direwolves and … and other things …”
Ser Waymar’s mouth became a hard line. “No fire.”
-Prologue, A Game of Thrones
This section will discuss the sym-biology, duty, and value of a totemic bear in the life of a wolf. We are told right off the bat in the prologue of A Game of Thrones that the enemy to bears and direwolves is fire- and most likely vice versa. So why the specific mention of bears and direwolves?
Jon’s story is one of self-discovery set within ASOIAF. His character starts out as insecure and jealous, but as we read through a series of characterizing events, we see the bear come to life in Jon. No doubt Jon is a wolf, but at key times he becomes a hunter, the hunted, a scout among the forest, and finally, a great protector. The great protector is the bridge that connects bears with their human-like qualities. Even in modern day vernacular we describe human mothers as protective as a mother bear with her cubs.
The author mentions in his anthology Dreamsongs, that his inspiration can come from more than one source, but it is how he puts them together that make it his own. GRRM has written the archetype of Jon and Val together in a few of his past stories. This seems to be a favorite pairing of characters for the author. Those stories include, but are not limited to:
- Nightflyers in Royd Eris and Melanthe Jhirl.
- Fevre Dream in Josh York and Valerie/Cynthia.
- Nor the Many-Colored Fires of a Star Ring where, in an unknowable expanse called Nowhere, humanity discovers the uncaring enormity of the universe. “We’re just for a brief meaningless little time, and nothing makes sense,” says one character. “And the time will come when we’ll be out there, wailing, in a sea of never-ending night.” The two shipmates that work together are very much like a Val-Jon combo. Both icy and cool, romantic with each other over everyone else, and set to helping each other complete a mission.
- And Seven Times Never Kill Man as the working duo Arik NeKrol and Jannis Ryther mashed up with a little Bitterspeaker as well.
- The Skin Trade in Willie Flambeaux and Randi Wade.
- yes, ‘Willie Flambeaux’, as in flaming penis, is the horny male and ‘Randi’ is his love interest because our favorite author has witty (naughty) sense of humor.
- The Armageddon Rag
- Shell Games
• Part I: The Cub Awakens
• Part II: Ranging for Knowledge
• Part III: A Snow Bear and a Black Bear
• Part IV: The Healing Honey Bear
• Part V: The Honey-Moon
• Part VI: Rise of the Protector Bear
PART I: The Cub Awakens
A shared theology across all myth and legend regarding the bear is the idea that it is the symbol for awakening the power of the unconscious, protection, introspection. Those are three rather strong themes in Jon’s entire arc. “Kill the boy, and let the man be born,” as Maester Aemon would say.
Jon’s wolf, Ghost, begins his story with his eyes fully open which could signify that Ghost, like Jon, is more advanced than his siblings. Ygritte’s notable phrase, “you know nothing, Jon Snow,” is the clue to both reader and Jon that there is more to come. This is a trait that Jon shares with Odin, as well as bears in life and myth. Additionally, George RR Martin has said he used part of various North American native Indian tribes as inspiration for the Dothraki, we will look at how the author may have used some other aspects for the Westerosi counterparts as well.
There are numerous connections to Jon and the Norse god Odin who has these aspects or attributes:
• Both make a quest for knowledge of which near death experiences are often experienced. In one of Odin’s quests he discovers the written word, or, runes to be more precise. Jon’s “kill the boy” moment is driven by his reading of the cryptically authored pink/bastard letter from Ramsay Bolton. In fact, the word “rune” and its cognates across past and present Germanic languages mean both “letter” and “secret/mystery.”
• The three totem animals: wolf, raven and bear = Ghost, Mormont’s raven/Bran, Val the she-bear.
• Odin’s dedicated warriors, the berserkers.
• Jon will carry Longclaw as Odin carried Gram.
However, Jon and Odin share more than the quest for knowledge. By the midpoint of the AFFC/ADWD timeframe, Jon has acquired all three totem animals. He has Ghost, his albino direwolf. He has Mormont’s raven (and/or Bran) squawking yet to be determined guidance in his ear, and then literally pecking his forehead to awaken Jon. As we shall see, Jon also has a bear, specifically the she-bear Val, who dresses in the white bear pelts characteristic of a free folk queen.
A shared theology across vatious myths and legends is that the bear is a symbol for unconscious, introspection, protection. Each of these ideas are strong themes in Jon Snow’s arc.
I encourage any reader here to also click over to read the writings about bears that Sweetsunray has on her blog. https://sweeticeandfiresunray.com/bears-and-maidens/
Jon starts the story feeling unconnected to any real identity. He is displaced emotionally when King Robert comes to Winterfell. A conversation between Jon and uncle Benjen serve as verbal reminders of Jon’s social position, and is reinforced by not being allowed to sit at the dining table with his Stark family. Jon’s later thoughts reveal what he can’t bring himself to say out loud.
I have no place, Jon wanted to say, I’m a bastard, I have no rights, no name, no mother, and now not even a father. The words would not come. “I don’t know.”
“I do,” said Lord Commander Mormont. (AGOT/ Jon IX)
Jon, as a bear cub, displays the unregulated fits of anger that take time and guidance to control. The first being when he charges across the table at Alliser Thorne when Thorne makes a cruel jab at Jon’s honor which in turn provokes the bear cub to lash out.
AGOT/ Jon VII:
And then he heard the laughter, sharp and cruel as a whip, and the voice of Ser Alliser Thorne. “Not only a bastard, but a traitor’sbastard,” he was telling the men around him. In the blink of an eye, Jon had vaulted onto the table, dagger in his hand. Pyp made a grab for him, but he wrenched his leg away, and then he was sprinting down the table and kicking the bowl from Ser Alliser’s hand. Stew went flying everywhere, spattering the brothers. Thorne recoiled. People were shouting, but Jon Snow did not hear them. He lunged at Ser Alliser’s face with the dagger, slashing at those cold onyx eyes, but Sam threw himself between them and before Jon could get around him, Pyp was on his back clinging like a monkey, and Grenn was grabbing his arm while Toad wrenched the knife from his fingers.
Later in the story we see Jon have a berserker moment when his head is rung like a bell while training in the yard with Iron Emmett. This time Jon realizes what he did was wrong (he is learning) and he apologizes for his outburst:
He was almost ready to lower his blade and call a halt when Emmett feinted low and came in over his shield with a savage forehand slash that caught Jon on the temple. He staggered, his helm and head both ringing from the force of the blow. For half a heartbeat the world beyond his eyeslit was a blur.
And then the years were gone, and he was back at Winterfell once more, wearing a quilted leather coat in place of mail and plate. His sword was made of wood, and it was Robb who stood facing him, not Iron Emmett.
I thought I had forgotten that. Jon could taste blood in his mouth, from the blow he’d taken.
In the end Halder and Horse had to pull him away from Iron Emmett, one man on either arm. The ranger sat on the ground dazed, his shield half in splinters, the visor of his helm knocked askew, and his sword six yards away. “Jon, enough,” Halder was shouting, “he’s down, you disarmed him. Enough!”
No. Not enough. Never enough. Jon let his sword drop. “I’m sorry,” he muttered. “Emmett, are you hurt?” (ASOS/Jon XII)
This scene clearly spells out the reasons for his insecurities. He wants the members of his Stark family accept him as a legitimate part of their pack, but the current perceptions of society will not allow Jon to be recognized as anything but a bastard. The same, yet one apart.
These societal ideals hang over Jon’s head all the way through the series as of ADWD. Jon even turns down Stannis’s offer to give Winterfell and Val to him, because he feels he should make a “bastard’s” choice of staying in the Night’s Watch. But how does Jon truly feel about what he wants as an individual?
Ygritte wanted me to be a wildling. Stannis wants me to be the Lord of Winterfell. But what do I want? The sun crept down the sky to dip behind the Wall where it curved through the western hills. Jon watched as that towering expanse of ice took on the reds and pinks of sunset. Would I sooner be hanged for a turncloak by Lord Janos, or forswear my vows, marry Val, and become the Lord of Winterfell? It seemed an easy choice when he thought of it in those terms . . . though if Ygritte had still been alive, it might have been even easier. Val was a stranger to him. She was not hard on the eyes, certainly, and she had been sister to Mance Rayder’s queen, but still . . .
I would need to steal her if I wanted her love, but she might give me children. I might someday hold a son of my own blood in my arms. A son was something Jon Snow had never dared dream of, since he decided to live his life on the Wall. I could name him Robb. Val would want to keep her sister’s son, but we could foster him at Winterfell, and Gilly’s boy as well. Sam would never need to tell his lie. We’d find a place for Gilly too, and Sam could come visit her once a year or so. Mance’s son and Craster’s would grow up brothers, as I once did with Robb.
He wanted it, Jon knew then. He wanted it as much as he had ever wanted anything. I have always wanted it, he thought, guiltily. May the gods forgive me. It was a hunger inside him, sharp as a dragonglass blade. A hunger . . . he could feel it. It was food he needed, prey, a red deer that stank of fear or a great elk proud and defiant. He needed to kill and fill his belly with fresh meat and hot dark blood. His mouth began to water with the thought.
It was a long moment before he understood what was happening. When he did, he bolted to his feet. “Ghost?” He turned toward the wood, and there he came, padding silently out of the green dusk, the breath coming warm and white from his open jaws. “Ghost!” he shouted, and the direwolf broke into a run. He was leaner than he had been, but bigger as well, and the only sound he made was the soft crunch of dead leaves beneath his paws. When he reached Jon he leapt, and they wrestled amidst brown grass and long shadows as the stars came out above them. “Gods, wolf, where have you been?” Jon said when Ghost stopped worrying at his forearm. “I thought you’d died on me, like Robb and Ygritte and all the rest. I’ve had no sense of you, not since I climbed the Wall, not even in dreams.” The direwolf had no answer, but he licked Jon’s face with a tongue like a wet rasp, and his eyes caught the last light and shone like two great red suns.
Jon says he would need to steal Val if he wanted her love. He does want her love and he wants to show it based on her free folk traditions; however, Jon has already “stolen” Val. The scene in ASOS/Jon X, during the Stannis invasion, has Jon holding Val under his protection with his blade drawn while on the north side of the wall. This is part of the free folk marriage custom of “stealing”. Jon’s desires for Val and the thought of his own family bring out the wolf in him, his primal need for a mate and pack. At this moment in time Jon is unknowingly, or un-admittingly, warging with Ghost. It is now that Ghost returns to Jon after being separated for several chapters. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves with Jon’s slow revelation of identity.
There is often a bearish “Jeor Mormont” type of character in the stories that include a Jon-type. It seems the Jon is frequently in need of a father figure protector to learn from. The story Fevre Dream has a very clear example:
- Fever Dream
The sharp, insistent rapping on his cabin door finally summoned Abner Marsh back from his deep, dreamless sleep. He stirred groggily and sat up in bed. “A minute!” he shouted. He lumbered over to his basin like a big naked bear just out of hibernation, and none too happy about it. It wasn’t until Marsh had splashed some water on his face that he remembered. “Goddamn it all to hell!” he swore angrily, staring at the gray shadows gathering in every corner of the small dim cabin. Beyond the window, the sky was dark and purple. “Goddamn,” he repeated, pulling on a pair of clean trousers. He stomped over and yanked open the door. “What the hell is the meaning of lettin’ me sleep so long?” Marsh shouted at Jonathon Jeffers. “I told Hairy Mike to wake me a whole goddamn hour before sunset, damnit.”
When Jeor Mormont bestows Longclaw upon Jon, this represents a welcome of a cub into a new family of brothers by Old papa Bear, as well as Jon’s first step into psychological acceptance of it. Jeor wants Jon to have it even though it is priceless. Tywin is dying for one, the Mormont daughters are out fighting a war and could use it, and yet, it has been unceremoniously hidden away under a bed. It takes a fire to bring it to the surface as it is dug from the ashes. Jon is now a brother of the Watch and his bastardy is of no issue – equal with his brothers. Longclaw is the Valyrian steel ancestral sword of House Mormont. I won’t go too much in to the backstory of Longclaw, instead I will direct you to another essay in this blog that covers the details about bear ancestry, including Longclaw.
“The fire melted the silver off the pommel and burnt the crossguard and grip. Well, dry leather and old wood, what could you expect? The blade, now … you’d need a fire a hundred times as hot to harm the blade.” Mormont shoved the scabbard across the rough oak planks. “I had the rest made anew. Take it.”
“Take it,” echoed his raven, preening. “Take it, take it.”
Awkwardly, Jon took the sword in hand. His left hand; his bandaged right was still too raw and clumsy. Carefully he pulled it from its scabbard and raised it level with his eyes. (AGOT/ Jon VIII)
Longclaw had a silver hilt in the shape of a bear head, but it skinchanges into a white wolf with garnet eyes when Jeor has it remade into the Jon-white wolf likeness. In a sense, Jon is the hilt to the sword, but he needs to learn how to control it.
- Sidenote: rubies vs garnets in the series equates to rubies as “royal that has fire”, to the bastard version which is the garnet- Ramsay, Tywin, The Skin Trade. What does this make Melisandre and her ruby at her throat? I suspect this adds credence that she is controlled by someone else who ranks “higher” than she does.
“The pommel was a hunk of pale stone weighted with lead to balance the long blade. It had been carved into the likeness of a snarling wolf’s head, with chips of garnet set into the eyes. The grip was virgin leather, soft and black, as yet unstained by sweat or blood.” (AGOT/Jon VIII)
Not all silver is the same in the story, however, it is established that silver is the healing metal as described by the Citadel. The silver for healing is mentioned several times in the book series, including AGOT/Jon 5, ACOK prologue, ACOK/ Bran 4, and is used to attach Eddard’s skull to his bone skeleton when Catelyn receives it in ACOK/ Catelyn V. A real world source of this idea is the use of colloidal silver in homeopathy remedies and water purification methods.
In the story, garnets are worn by bastards and rejected by nobility. They lack the “fire”. We see Tywin, a known elitist, reject garnets in favor of rubies. And we know of the many references to Rhaegar and his royal rubies and their association with “his blood”, a metaphor for his offspring. The author shows us the use of the garnet as the bastard of Bolton, Ramsay Snow, wears a garnet “blood drop “earring in his ear. Longclaw itself is sized as a “bastard” sword.
As he entered his lord father’s solar a few moments later, he heard a voice saying, “. . . cherrywood for the scabbards, bound in red leather and ornamented with a row of lion’s-head studs in pure gold. Perhaps with garnets for the eyes . . .”
“Rubies,” Lord Tywin said. “Garnets lack the fire.” (ASOS/Tyrion IV)
Ramsay was clad in black and pink—black boots, black belt and scabbard, black leather jerkin over a pink velvet doublet slashed with dark red satin. In his right ear gleamed a garnet cut in the shape of a drop of blood. (ADWD/Reek I)
Jon shrugged. “Girls get the arms but not the swords. Bastards get the swords but not the arms. I did not make the rules, little sister.” (AGOT/Arya I)
“My queen,” the big man said slowly, “all you say is true. But Rhaegar lost on the Trident. He lost the battle, he lost the war, he lost the kingdom, and he lost his life. His blood swirled downriver with the rubies from his breastplate…” (ASOS/Daenerys II)
Jon is now finding his identity. He is Now armed with a Valyrian steel blade that he earned, Jon starts to find his identity. The dormant bear in Jon rouses by the attack on his new family. After this Jeor sees something in Jon that is necessary for his next transformation. Jeor mentions Jon’s bloodlines, that of the First Men, and why Ghost is important in an almost prophetic way. Those readers with eagle eyes will notice this conversation takes place over hunks of ham. Boar/ham/pork are one of those story identifiers that tells the reader a change of leadership is about to happen.
“All I know is that the blood of the First Men flows in the veins of the Starks. The First Men built the Wall, and it’s said they remember things otherwise forgotten. And that beast of yours … he led us to the wights, warned you of the dead man on the steps. Ser Jaremy would doubtless call that happenstance, yet Ser Jaremy is dead and I’m not.” Lord Mormont stabbed a chunk of ham with the point of his dagger. “I think you were meant to be here, and I want you and that wolf of yours with us when we go beyond the Wall.” (AGOT/Jon IX)
Maester Aemon also sees something valuable in Jon when Jon realizes a crucial point to the series, that the land is one. Think back to what the bear protects: the forest, trees, animals, streams- all of it. As a man of the Night’s Watch, Jon is sworn to be the shield that guards the realms of men, all of it:
Maester Aemon touched his own collar lightly, his bony, wrinkled finger stroking the heavy metal links. “Go on.”
“He told me that a maester’s collar is made of chain to remind him that he is sworn to serve,” Jon said, remembering. “I asked why each link was a different metal. A silver chain would look much finer with his grey robes, I said. Maester Luwin laughed. A maester forges his chain with study, he told me. The different metals are each a different kind of learning, gold for the study of money and accounts, silver for healing, iron for warcraft. And he said there were other meanings as well. The collar is supposed to remind a maester of the realm he serves, isn’t that so? Lords are gold and knights steel, but two links can’t make a chain. You also need silver and iron and lead, tin and copper and bronze and all the rest, and those are farmers and smiths and merchants and the like. A chain needs all sorts of metals, and a land needs all sorts of people.”
Maester Aemon smiled. “And so?”
“The Night’s Watch needs all sorts too. Why else have rangers and stewards and builders? Lord Randyll couldn’t make Sam a warrior, and Ser Alliser won’t either. You can’t hammer tin into iron, no matter how hard you beat it, but that doesn’t mean tin is useless. Why shouldn’t Sam be a steward?” (AGOT/ Jon V)
And before Maester Aemon heads out with Sam across the Narrow Sea, we see Aemon in his final role to serve Jon and he is dressed as a bear. This scene is important because of the nature of the continual quest for knowledge. To paraphrase the poet Maya Angelou; to do better, you must know better:
Maester Aemon was seated in the back of it, huddled in a bearskin that made him look as small as a child. Sam and Gilly stood nearby. Her eyes were red and puffy, but the boy was in her arms, bundled tight. Whether it was her boy or Dalla’s he could not be sure. He had only seen the two together a few times. Gilly’s boy was older, Dalla’s more robust, but they were close enough in age and size so that no one who did not know them well would be able to easily tell one from the other.
“Lord Snow,” Maester Aemon called out, “I left a book for you in my chambers. The Jade Compendium. It was written by the Volantene adventurer Colloquo Votar, who traveled to the east and visited all the lands of the Jade Sea. There is a passage you may find of interest. I’ve told Clydas to mark it for you.” (ADWD/Jon II)
PART II: Ranging for Knowledge
In this part, we’ll be looking at the evidence in favor of the knowledge Jon gains while he is out ranging. This is the strong connection to the symbolism of bears being a representative for introspection. Through his experiences, Jon comes to the realization that the wildlings are altogether like those people south of the wall and they are not the true enemy. This is the first part of his knowledge gained, and subsequently, this is what riles up the mutineers as the “last straw” in why Jon gets stabbed:
Nothing was what he had expected; Whitetree was the fourth village they had passed, and it had been the same in all of them. The people were gone, vanished with their scant possessions and whatever animals they may have had. None of the villages showed any signs of having been attacked. They were simply . . . empty. “What do you think happened to them all?” Jon asked.
“Something worse than we can imagine,” suggested Dolorous Edd. “Well, I might be able to imagine it, but I’d sooner not. Bad enough to know you’re going to come to some awful end without thinking about it aforetime.” (ACOK/Jon II)
In A Clash of Kings at the Fist of the First Men, Jon is soon handed into the hands of his new teacher, Qhorin Halfhand. Almost immediately Qhorin insists that Jon and Ghost be allowed to travel farther north into the fangs and fists of the land. Ghost is one of the first things Qhorin asks about, as word of Jon and Ghost has spread to those north of the wall.
Qhorin glanced behind. “It is said that a direwolf runs with you.” (ACOK/ Jon V)
Then Qhorin chooses Jon to join him on a scouting, as he eats his egg. In the world of Ice and Fire, having an egg in the scene is an indication of a “gestation” period that later reveals a person of significance. Mormont at first puts up a fit, but he then concedes.
“Die,” the raven muttered, pacing along Mormont’s shoulders. “Die, die, die, die.” The Old Bear sat slumped and silent, as if the burden of speech had grown too heavy for him to bear. But at last he said, “May the gods forgive me. Choose your men.”
Qhorin Halfhand turned his head. His eyes met Jon’s, and held them for a long moment. “Very well. I choose Jon Snow.”
Mormont blinked. “He is hardly more than a boy. And my steward besides. Not even a ranger.”
“Tollett can care for you as well, my lord.” Qhorin lifted his maimed, two-fingered hand. “The old gods are still strong beyond the Wall. The gods of the First Men . . . and the Starks.” (ACOK/ Jon V)
A general search of bear totem symbolism will reveal many tales of bears as the keepers of dreams. They need the deep, dark caves for protection as well as the environment to foster dreams. Fossils of cave bears have been found for decades. The first were described in 1774 by Johann Esper. The fossils inside were first believed to be a variety of animals, including, dragons or unicorns. The caves soon got the moniker “dragon caves.” Hmmm, this seems familiar.
Qhorin brings Jon, the potential dragon, into his natural “bear” environment when in A Clash of Kings/Jon VIII, Jon and Qhorin take refuge in a cave. Jon de-cloaks himself, making him a “skinned” bear. He lays by the fire and falls asleep. This represents the celestial spirits of the bear.
Sleep came at last, and with it nightmares. He dreamed of burning castles and dead men rising unquiet from their graves. It was still dark when Qhorin woke him. While the Halfhand slept, Jon sat with his back to the cave wall, listening to the water and waiting for the dawn. (ACOK/Jon VIII)
What was the subject of Jon’s nightmares? Could Jon have been having a vision of the burning of Winterfell in this dream? The timeline works out.The dead men rising from their graves could either be Bran and Rickon and company from the Winterfell crypts. Or, it could be the spirits of the old Stark kings that were released when Bran and company took the iron swords from their laps, thereby disturbing the quiet slumber of the old kings. One thing we do know from the tales of totemic bear is if you dream of a bear, or as a bear, that is a sign you are ready to reveal your strength to the world. In summary, Jon decloaks himself, is exposed, has a dream about heritage, and then wakes to dawn and the being captured by the free folk and making a tough decision regarding his guide.
Qhorin is a tough bear in his own right. He comes to the realization that if he is going to be successful on his mission to get Jon in to the wildling camps, then he will need to take drastic measures. His solution is an ultimate self-sacrifice whereby he forfeits his life. This is discussed in the Bears and Maidens essay in the Sweetsunray blog. It is also during this scene that upon emerging from the cave, Jon has slipped back into his wolf self again.
The ranger was leaning away, and for an instant it seemed that Jon’s slash had not touched him. Then a string of red tears appeared across the big man’s throat, bright as a ruby necklace, and the blood gushed out of him, and Qhorin Halfhand fell.
Ghost’s muzzle was dripping red, but only the point of the bastard blade was stained, the last half inch. Jon pulled the direwolf away and knelt with one arm around him. The light was already fading in Qhorin’s eyes. “. . . sharp,” he said, lifting his maimed fingers. Then his hand fell, and he was gone. (ACOK/Jon VIII)
“Sleep came at last, and with it nightmares. He dreamed of burning castles and dead men rising unquiet from their graves. It was still dark when Qhorin woke him. While the Halfhand slept, Jon sat with his back to the cave wall, listening to the water and waiting for the dawn.”
It is during this great ranging that Jon is “stolen” by the free folk (inverse bear and maiden motif) which gives him the opportunity to learn more about them, and more about himself. Jon comes to see the injustice that is harbored against the free folk through his firsthand experience. He witnesses giants for the first time, he hears their song, and learns about the fate of that race. He sees how clans of all types have banded together as one for the protection of the many, realizing many are simply women and children and not much different than those south of the wall. Jon comes to see the injustice that is harbored against the free folk through this firsthand experience.
A wise piece of advice that Qhorin explains to Jon is, “to lead men you must know them.” (ACOK/Jon VII) Jeor comes to his realizations his own way, and then shares his epiphanies with Sam to which Jon later repeats in his own words.
“We never knew! But we must have known once. The Night’sWatch has forgotten its true purpose, Tarly. You don’t build a wall seven hundred feet high to keep savages in skins from stealing women. The Wall was made to guard the realms of men . . . and not against other men, which is all the wildlings are when you come right down to it. Too many years, Tarly, too many hundreds and thousands of years. We lost sight of the true enemy. And now he’s here, but we don’t know how to fight him. Is dragonglass made by dragons, as the smallfolk like to say?” (ASOS/Sam II)
“Are you certain that I have not forgotten some? The ones about the king and his laws, and how we must defend every foot of his land and cling to each ruined castle? How does that part go?” Jon waited for an answer. None came. “I am the shield that guards the realms of men. Those are the words. So tell me, my lord—what are these wildlings, if not men?” (ADWD/Jon XI)
At the end of A Storm of Swords, Jon III, Jon enters another a deep cave, this time with Ygritte, where they have sexytime pillow talk about cannibalism and Ygritte ‘nibbles’ his neck. Just a quick note: In all of my readings of Martin’s work, “nibbling” rarely happens, no one ‘nibbles’ except the fire people. I detailed this a bit on another page. Ok, a horse may nibble grass, but that is not the same thing. The Jon III chapter ends with Ygritte practically pleading, “I don’ tever want t’ leave this cave, Jon Snow. Not ever.” But when you take a closer look at what Ygritte is saying in this scene, she is tempting Jon to stay in the underworld. Perpetual hibernation is not a healthy habitat for a bear, as bears are meant to emerge from hiding. Bears have a job to do and they do not hide from their mission. They charge head on with raging force.
In addition to GRRM using the other sources of literary inspiration we know of, he is also using H.P. Lovecraft, as noted on the main page. Ygritte was developed and crafted from the Lovecraft mythos Great Old God Yig. This story was first written by a female author named Zealia Bishop, but when H.P. Lovecraft went to edit the story to fit into his Yog-Sothothian mythos, he ended up almost rewriting it in total.
- Yig, the Father of Serpents, is one of the Great Old Ones who first appears in “The Curse of Yig”. He acts as a god who sends his minions/children out to punish all who have murdered a snake in the past by either killing them or turning into a snake-like creature such as himself. He is the father of Ayi’ig and the mate of the outer god Yidhra. Even though Yig is easy to anger, Yig is also easy to please as long as no harm comes to his children, the snakes.
- The Curse of Yig
Yig was a great god. He was bad medicine. He did not forget things. In the autumn his children were hungry and wild, and Yig was hungry and wild, too. All the tribes made medicine against Yig when the corn harvest came. They gave him some corn, and danced in proper regalia to the sound of whistle, rattle, and drum. They kept the drums pounding to drive Yig away, and called down the aid of Tiráwa, whose children men are, even as the snakes are Yig’s children. It was bad that the squaw of Davis killed the children of Yig. Let Davis say the charms many times when the corn harvest comes. Yig is Yig. Yig is a great god.
Jon seems to realize this because the start of ASOS/Jon IV has Jon emerging like a bear from a cave, without Ghost anywhere in range, and yet he took a breath of crisp morning air and, “allowed himself to hope.”
In his way, Jon is rejecting Ygritte and her idea of hibernating away from the world. Jon often thinks fondly of Ygritte, but he follows his own path as we see when he rides off at Queenscrown.
So, what is a black bear to do? What makes a good mate for a bear? Tormund Horn-Blower advises.
“Well, you are a free man now, but if you will not have the girl [Ygritte], best find yourself a she-bear.” (ASOS/Jon II)
And so, Jon does.
He has been kept captive in the ice cells with an injured leg. Janos Slynt is determined to try and antagonize the wildlings at his door, and to try and get rid of Jon at the same time. Then what does Slynt do? He sends Jon to kill Mance Rayder. Jon knows the truth of what Slynt is attempting when Slynt sends Jon out to die.
The trap had teeth. With Maester Aemon insisting on Jon’s innocence, Lord Janos had not dared to leave him in the ice to die. This was better. “Our honor means no more than our lives, so long as the realm is safe,” Qhorin Halfhand had said in the Frostfangs. He must remember that. Whether he slew Mance or only tried and failed, the free folk would kill him. Even desertion was impossible, if he’d been so inclined; to Mance he was a proven liar and betrayer. (ASOS/ JonX)
I know that I am going to die, he thought. I know that much, at least. “All men die,” he could almost hear her say, “and women too, and every beast that flies or swims or runs. It’s not the when o’ dying that matters, it’s the how of it, Jon Snow.” (ASOS/ JonX)
But only death can pay for life! The natural order of things.
Stannis and his army come rumbling in, encircling the wildling camp and Mance’s tent. The situation gets tense inside and outside of the tent. Inside Dalla is moments away from giving birth to her cub, later called Aemon Battleborn, or Aemon Steelsong. Jon’s “death” brings the baby’s life and at the same time Jon “captures’ his wildling wife with his bared steel and demands. Jon is the protective bear. In this scene, every other person in the tent leaves; Mance, Tormund, the other skinchangers, everyone except for Dalla, Val and Jon. This scene also gives us an intense first glimpse at the medicinal nature of our bears.
The scream brought Val out of the tent, white-faced. “What is it, what’s happened?” Varamyr’s wolves were fighting each other, and the shadowcat had raced off into the trees, but the man was still twisting on the ground. “What’s wrong with him?” Val demanded, horrified. “Where’s Mance?”
“There.” Jon pointed. “Gone to fight.” The king led his ragged wedge into a knot of rangers, his sword flashing.
“Gone? He can’t be gone, not now. It’s started.”
“The birth!” Val was shouting at him.
Trumpets were blowing all around, loud and brazen.
“You best get back inside the tent,” he told Val.
“Gods,” Val whispered, “gods, why are they doing this?”
“Go inside the tent and stay with Dalla. It’s not safe out here.” It wouldn’t be a great deal safer inside, but she didn’t need to hear that.
“I need to find the midwife,” Val said.
“You’re the midwife.” (ASOS/Jon X)
PART III: A Snow Bear and a Black Bear
The importance of white bears in folklore and myth is a long and respected telling. With all the sources George uses as inspiration to this story, including those of First Nation and Native American tales, his residence in Santa Fe, and his work at Wild Wolf Sanctuary, it is no surprise that he chose the symbolism of the white bear to pair with our black bear, Jon Snow. Let’s take a look.
The author has mentioned that A Song of Ice and Fire is a three-part story, which is the standard format of any story. George has also informed readers that there will be important characters who die and then important characters later introduced. We first get glimpses of Val in the beginning of act 2, or most probably the Val archetype introduced in book 1:
“The good woman at the brazier,” ManceRayder went on, “is Dalla.” The pregnant woman smiled shyly. “Treat her like you would any queen, she is carrying my child.” He turned to the last two. “This beauty is her sister Val. Young Jarl beside her is her latest pet.” (ASOS/Jon I)
When Jon returns to Castle Black and the attack on the wall begins, Jon has this moment from atop the wall. Not only does this Val visual relate to the song and the mutiny, but it also relates back to Norse mythology. Odin had magical she-goat named Heiden, which grazed by the Yggdrasil tree, and its udders dispensed not milk but mead for the warriors in Odin’s Great Hall:
On the edge of the Wall an ornate brass Myrish eye stood on three spindly legs. Maester Aemon had once used it to peer at the stars, before his own eyes had failed him. Jon swung the tube down to have a look at the foe. Even at this distance there was no mistaking Mance Rayder’s huge white tent, sewn together from the pelts of snowbears…but his woman Dalla was outside tending the fire, while her sister Val milked a she-goat beside the tent. (ASOS/Jon IX)
When Jon sends Val to find Tormund and the other free folk, she is dressed as a regular brown bear. However, when she returns she changes skins and is dressed in symbolic white (snow) bear pelts. In addition to the snow bear aspect, Val mentions they are from Dalla, her older sister and “queen” of the free folk.
Then Ghost emerged from between two trees, with Val beside him.
They look as though they belong together. Val was clad all in white; white woolen breeches tucked into high boots of bleached white leather, white bearskin cloak pinned at the shoulder with a carved weirwood face, white tunic with bone fastenings. (ADWD/Jon XI)
*quick note: George has said the 1956 sci-fi movie, Forbidden Planet, is his favorite. He even has an original Robby the Robot in his house. The entire movie is like an ASOIAF precursor, right down to plots, history, motive, and character types. In one scene, the main female protagonist, Altaira, emerges from a pond under the red leafed trees. In addition to her physical looks being spot on for Val, Altaira garbs herself in a specially made white dress to impress the main male protagonist, whom she has a crush on. And when you think back to the (living) Stark child in ASOIAF, each one of them has a “spearwife” of sorts that guides them; Meera with Bran, Osha with Rickon, Val with Jon, Sansa maybe in the future with the Vale clans. The only one different is Arya, who is more the shield-maiden herself.
So, who are the First Nation people in the real world? Briefly, they are the indigenous peoples of the far northern hemisphere of the North American continent. They are an incredibly close parallel to the Free Folk in ASOIAF. Please feel free to read about First Nation peoples here for a start. The term “Indian” is a misnomer and considered offensive by some, the same as we have different free folk clans being called the derogatory term wildlings. There is a symbolic monument to the First Nation people that features a wolf, a bear, and an eagle and is a symbol if peacekeeping in times of war.
Sculptor Llyod Pinay felt it was very important to incorporate female figures in the sculpture to acknowledge the role of women not only as nurses, but as those responsible for maintaining families while the men were away. The human figures hold not only weapons but also spiritual objects: an eagle feather fan and a peace pipe. There are four animal figures, one on each corner to act as spirit guides, each with a special attribute: a wolf (family values), a buffalo (tenacity), an elk (wariness) and a bear (healing powers).
The white bear, or Kermode, is a very rare black bear. The Kermode is not an albino, same as the white raven that signals winter. Rather they are the same species, only the white bear is set one apart.The white ravens in ASOIAF are also said to be larger and more intelligent than their black brothers. Here is where I once again implore you to read the stories listed in the beginning, especially Nightflyers. When I say that in the story Nightflyers that Melantha Jhirl is a proto-Val, this is another example of the connections. Melantha is considered an “improved model”, is rather intelligent and always “three steps ahead”, as she is physically bigger, a more voracious appetite, and more sexually active than her other shipmates. We know Jon says that Val succeeded where other rangers failed in finding the remaing free folk, to say the least of her feats.
Jon comes to the realization that the Free Folk are also men, and they are of First Men blood like the rest of the northerners. Again, the same, yet one apart. We also see this “same, yet one apart,” in Ghost compared to his littermates. The white bear is thought to have mystical powers by many people. It is known that the term to use first when referring to the Kermode is spirit bear.
An interesting bit of information about the Kermode is that they are more successful at catching fish than their black brothers. The theme of fish and water is huge in Jon’s arc. Something I detailed in this thread on the Westeros forum.
Some black-white from Jon:
• And suddenly Ghost was back, stalking softly between two weirwoods. White fur and red eyes, Jon realized, disquieted. Like the trees …
• Red eyes, Jon realized, but not like Melisandre’s. He had a weirwood’s eyes. Red eyes, red mouth, white fur. Blood and bone, like a heart tree. He belongs to the old gods, this one. And he alone of all the direwolves was white. Six pups they’d found in the late summer snows, him and Robb; five that were grey and black and brown, for the five Starks, and one white, as white as Snow.
• “Have you been trying to steal my wolf?” he asked her.
“Why not? If every woman had a direwolf, men would be much sweeter. Even crows.”
• Then Ghost emerged from between two trees, with Val beside him.
They look as though they belong together. *
So, what does Jon want to do with this collective knowledge? It is also said that bears are the keepers of dreams, and we know Jon is one hell of a dreamer both in sleep and in waking. Here are a few examples. Jon the bear works it out through his dreams.
• Not my mother, Jon thought stubbornly. He knew nothing of his mother; Eddard Stark would not talk of her. Yet he dreamed of her at times, so often that he could almost see her face. In his dreams, she was beautiful, and highborn, and her eyes were kind.
• Jon Snow laughed with him. Afterward they sat on the frozen ground, huddled in their cloaks with Ghost between them. Jon told the story of how he and Robb had found the pups newborn in the late summer snows. It seemed a thousand years ago now. Before long he found himself talking of Winterfell.
“Sometimes I dream about it,” he said. “I’m walking down this long empty hall. My voice echoes all around, but no one answers, so I walk faster, opening doors, shouting names. I don’t even know who I’m looking for.
• When he closed his eyes, he dreamed of direwolves.
• When the dreams took him, he found himself back home once more, splashing in the hot pools beneath a huge white weirwood that had his father’s face.
However, one of the most ambitious dreams Jon has is when he wants to unite two peoples as one. He wants to join the free folk back in with Westeros. Jon is going to make this dream come true by joining the two sides as one. A white bear is the same as the black bear.
“Because they’re different,” he insisted. “Like night and day, or ice and fire.”
“If ice can burn,” said Jojen in his solemn voice, “then love and hate can mate. Mountain or marsh, it makes no matter. The land is one.” (ASOS/Bran II)
“My father dreamed of resettling the Gift,” Jon admitted. “He and my uncle Benjen used to talk of it.” He never thought of settling it with wildlings, though . . . but he never rode with wildlings, either… “I agree.” (ASOS/Jon XI)
As we read along in Jon’s development, we see him take on the pivotal role as a witness to oaths, as Jeor before him did. The Night’s Watch oath is a tradition that dates to the Age of Heroes. It adds brothers to the pack.
However, this also relates to real world bear folktales. In western Alaska, the icy polar bear is considered the father of the Yup’ik people, and the spirit of the white polar bear is invoked as a witness to the taking of oaths. We see this happen in Jon during this scene with Bowen Marsh, who is encouraging new gods oaths, but Jon insists on the old gods and the trees.
“A clever lord, you. Ghost’s the better choice. I don’t have the teeth for biting wildlings anymore.”
“If the gods are good, we won’t encounter any wildlings. I’llwant the greygelding.”
Word spread fast at Castle Black. Edd was still saddling the grey when Bowen Marsh stomped across the yard to confront Jon at the stables. “My lord, I wish you would reconsider. The new men can take their vows in the sept as easily.” (ADWD/JonVII)
With their black hoods and thick black cowls, the six might have been carved from shadow. Their voices rose together, small against the vastness of the night. “Nightgathers, and now my watch begins,” they said, as thousands had said before them. Satin’s voice was sweet as song, Horse’s hoarse and halting, Arron’s a nervous squeak. “It shall not end until my death.” (ADWD/JonVII)
For comparison, we should consider what the ancient weirwood gate under Nightfort, known as the Black Gate, accepts as the only requirement for passing through.
“I am the sword in the darkness,” Samwell Tarly said. “I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers. I am the shield that guards the realms of men.”
“Then pass,” the door said. (ASOS/Bran IV)
In practically all of the global tales about bears we have, they consider bears as guests of honor. In Val we see the same thing as Jon places her in the tower under his protection via a giant, of which Val is highly impressed. Stannis and Selyse both insist Val is a wildling princess, which is a fairly high honor for the likes of a ‘savage’ wilding to be seen in the eyes of southron nobility. Stannis doesn’t simply call Val a princess, but he gives her an actual place of honor during a ritual R’hollorist burning along with Melisandre at his side.
His breastplate had a flaming heart inlaid above his own. Girding his brows was a red-gold crown with points like twisting flames. Val stood beside him, tall and fair. They had crowned her with a simple circlet of dark bronze, yet she looked more regal in bronze than Stannis did in gold. Her eyes were grey and fearless, unflinching. Beneath an ermine cloak, she wore white and gold. Her honey-blond hair had been done up in a thick braid that hung over her right shoulder to her waist. The chill in the air had put color in her cheeks.
Lady Melisandre wore no crown…
Val stood on the platform as still as if she had been carved of salt. She will not weep nor look away. Jon wondered what Ygritte would have done in her place. The women are the strong ones. (ADWD/Jon III)
It seems that one of the strongest pieces of evidence in the story for a Jon/Val union of some sort is the history repeating within the world itself. What happened in the past is a hint to what is about to happen in the future. With or without the R+L=J theory, what Jon and Val are doing is acting out the fieriest romance that starts the events of the story and brings us to where we are now.
Val is the quintessential weirwood maiden in the current story. She is the Lyanna “Knight of the Laughing Tree” to Jon’s “Prince Rhaegar”.
• Val is described by Mance as “this beauty” when Jon first meets her. Lyanna was crowned the queen of love and beauty.
• Val’s personality is wild, she is witty in her speech, and without care as we hear Lyanna is in her life. The best scene to witness this in Val is when she gets sassy with Selyse and then refuses to kneel to her in the ADWD/ Jon XI chapter.
• Lyanna is betrothed against her wishes to an unwanted suitor, Robert Baratheon. Val is betrothed against her wishes, by Robert’s family, to various knight’s in attempt to transition her into the southron culture as the lady of Winterfell. Selyse assumes (incorrectly) this will cow Val as we see here, “The queen’s lips tightened, and her chin gave a small quiver. “You are insolent. I suppose that is only to be expected of a wildling. We must find you a husband who can teach you courtesy.” (ADWD/ Jon XI)
• Lyanna sneaks off after the Tourney at Harrenhal, pursued by Rhaegar for either love or prophecy reasons- either way it is a game changing event in history. Jon secretly releases Val from the imprisonment chamber because he needs her to carry out an important mission. To find the remaining free folk and lead them back to safety, which could be linked to Jon and the prophecy of a Last Hero. Allowing the free folk through the wall is seemingly against the Night’s Watch purpose.
• Jon stole Val, as Rhaegar “stole” Lyanna.
• After Lyanna is “stolen”, she is kept in a tower. Jon thinks to himself, “I would need to steal her [Val] if I want her love.” After Val is stolen by Jon during Stannis’ invasion, she is kept in Hardin’s Tower, the same place where Jon first roosted when he arrived at Castle Black.
• Both instances also have the spiriting away of a secret baby. History repeats, but with a twist.
Val returns, at the phase of the moon like promised, and Ghost is at her side. Just as important, she looks like the Knight of the Laughing Tree’s shield. She is cloaked in white (a marriage cloak?), and she even has a mini sigil clasped to her. Will Jon use this for his personal sigil when he is healed?
Like so much else, heraldry ended at the Wall. (ADWD/Jon X)
But then the girl comes walking in with the sigil (family crest)… and here I think we need to add an, “you know nothing, Jon Snow.”
“Did you follow me as well?” Jon reached to shoo the bird away but ended up stroking its feathers. The raven cocked its eye at him. “Snow,” it muttered, bobbing its head knowingly. Then Ghost emerged from between two trees, with Val beside him.
They look as though they belong together. Val was clad all in white; white woolen breeches tucked into high boots of bleached white leather, white bearskin cloak pinned at the shoulder with a carved weirwood face, white tunic with bone fastenings. Her breath was white as well … but her eyes were blue, her long braid the color of dark honey, her cheeks flushed red from the cold. It had been a long while since Jon Snow had seen a sight so lovely.
“Have you been trying to steal my wolf?” he asked her. (ADWD/Jon XI)
PART IV: The Healing Honey Bear
Often in the First Nation stories, bears are the keepers of medicine. This coincides very nicely with the theory that Val and Dalla are a take on the Norse Volva, who were wandering healers. The Norse Volva/Vala were also known as speawife, or, spearwife in ASOIAF. In ASOIAF they are often woods witches. A discussion on the Norse parallels can be found here. There are also abundant parallels to the Val-Jon situation and the volva Hyndla, who rides a wolf on a mission to find out the pedigree of Ottar/Odin. What “pedigree” could Val find in Jon? To discover his actual parentage, including the potential for him to be the son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and/or, one of the fabled heroes that returns to save the world from the Long Night.
There is a Pawnee legend about White Bear Medicine Woman. She was born with the spirit of a bear, after her father killed a bear while she was in her mother’s womb. She is the origin of the Bear Medicine Ceremony invoking healing powers by actions of a bear based on her narrative myth.
The Sioux tribes regard the she-bear as a healing mother symbol. When a pregnant mother bear was tired of carrying her heavy brood within her belly, she leaned against a redwood sorrel plant and the plant spoke to her and told her the secrets of birthing medicine, which in turn she used this knowledge to help other mother’s. The bear became a medicine woman.
“She was not! Don’t say that!” Sam had only spoken to Val twice, when Maester Aemon called upon her to make sure the babes were healthy. (AFFC/Sam I)
And recall the scene where Jon is not knowing he is stealing Val, something the other Night’S Watch brothers ask him about later. What we have is Jon, the black bear, telling his snow bear what her duty shall be.
“Go inside the tent and stay with Dalla. It’s not safe out here.” It wouldn’t be a great deal safer inside, but she didn’t need to hear that.
“I need to find the midwife,” Val said.
“You’re the midwife. I’ll stay here until Mance comes back.” (ASOS/Jon X)
We have moonsingers, Essosi versions of the Westerosi woods witch, also called godswife, mentioned in ASOIAF. Dalla and Val both fit the basic description of a moonsinger; priestesses, nomadic raiders, healers, know birthing songs. Jon declared Val the midwife as well as described her as a moon maiden symbol. Val is a moonsinger.
“Craster’s son?” Val shrugged. “He is no kin to me.”
[Jon] “I have heard you singing to him.”
“I was singing to myself. Am I to blame if he listens?” A faint smile brushed her lips. “It makes him laugh. Oh, very well. He is a sweet little monster.” (ADWD/Jon VIII)
*quick note: In Native American culture, the moon is viewed as the protector of people during the night. It was thought that when a solar eclipse occurred, a giant fish was swallowing the moon. For their very survival, the people would have to start an enormous bonfire and throw as mush greenwood into it as possible. Using this green, or wet, wood would cause so much smoke that the fish would cough up the moon and put it back in place. I have often theorized that Patchface’s diddy about old fish and new fish must do with a possible struggle for power between Val and Melisandre after the mutiny. These folktales could be our clues. Fiery Melisandre opposing an icy-moon Val.
How else is Val seen to be skilled with healing and health? Aside from Maester Aemon calling in Val a few times to check on the babies, she seems to have a strong idea of what to do for those with greyscale. Give them the gift of mercy. Of course, Jon being raised south of the wall is opposed to Val’s idea. However, it is Val who has experience with the sickness… in this case Jon is the one who still knows nothing. In this exchange between Jon and Val, she is not only giving advice and caution against a disastrous medical condition, but she could possibly be acting out her role as the seer volva and is giving caution against a future outbreak.
“The maesters say greyscale is not—”
“The maesters may believe what they wish. Ask a woodswitch if you would know the truth. The grey death sleeps, only to wake again. The child is not clean!”
“She seems a sweet girl. You cannot know—”
“I can. You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Val seized his arm. “I want the monster out of there. Him and his wet nurses. You cannot leave them in that same tower as the dead girl.” (ADWD/Jon XI)
It is for these reasons, and a few others to be revealed in The Winds of Winter, that I think it will be Val, not Melisandre, will heal Jon after his mutiny stabbing. To be clear, I do not think we readers should assume the author is putting Jon at the same level as other characters such as Beric Dondarrion. Berric, and even Lady Stoneheart, are in the story to serve a different arc. Beric and LSH are not skinchangers. They erode and degrade over time, losing a part of their memory and humanity each time they are resurrected.
Jon is a warg and is only recently starting to admit and accept this idea not too long before the mutiny. The long-held fandom belief that Jon’s soul, or conscious thought, will survive because of Jon warging Ghost. A ghost is a disembodied consciousness, and Ghost is Jon’s vessel. Jon has not had time to learn his talent, but with Val to oversee physical healing, Tormund for security, and Borroq (who referred to Jon as “brother”) there in attendance for the warg aspect, Jon’s chance of survival increases. At the time of the mutiny, Ghost is locked away. I propose that someone will release Ghost and Jon will attempt to make his first conscious warg.
“I would swear that wolf of his is keeping the boy alive. The creature is outside his window day and night, howling. Every time they chase it away, it returns. The maester said they closed the window once, to shut out the noise, and Bran seemed to weaken. When they opened it again, his heart beat stronger.” (AGOT/Tyrion I)
The foreshadowing of Jon only being injured, albeit deeply and traumatically, but him surviving is shown in a past/present/future type of lineup that includes Rhaegar, Robb, and Bran. This is to say, the chance that Jon is not truly dead in the bodily sense is a real possibility. There is a shared idea among the fandom that says Jon will survive his mutiny is by warging into Ghost, where he meets Bran, maybe has some dialogue with Bran, and then Jon’s consciousness is returned to his body.
However, if fire is used on Jon in anyway after the stabbing, we do hear of the free folk using fire as well.
When he brought the skull to Mormont, the Old Bear lifted it in both hands and stared into the empty sockets. “The wildlings burn their dead. We’ve always known that. Now I wished I’d asked them why, when there were still a few around to ask.” (ACOK/ Jon II)
Part V: The Honey-Moon
At this point we should take a closer look at Val and that honey hair of hers. At a key moment in the story, Jon describes Val’s honey hair as silver like the moon:
- A Dance with Dragons – Jon VIII
“The light of the half-moon turned Val’s honey-blond hair a pale silver and left her cheeks as white as snow.”
So, in this scene, as Val is touched by the all-important moon, she has a touch of silver about her, a touch of moon healing. Interesting since we now have a physical reference to Val being a healer, in addition to the Norse inspiration, and now Val being a she-bear who is a keeper of medicine.
A summer solstice full moon is also an extremely particular type of full moon: a Strawberry Moon. But the Strawberry Moon did not receive its name due to its color; in fact, it doesn’t generally appear red in color at all, but rather, more like honey or amber. The Strawberry Moon was given its name by Native American tribes because it occurs when strawberry-picking reaches its peak. Other names for it include the Rose Moon, the Honey Moon, and the Hot Moon, depending on what part of the world you are from.
In ancient Greece, Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals, was a cherished goddess. at the age of three years, Artemis, while sitting on the knee of her father, Zeus, asked him to grant her six wishes: 1) to remain always a virgin; 2) to have many names to set her apart from her brother Apollo; 3) to be the Phaesporia or Light Bringer; 4) to have a bow and arrow and a knee-length tunic so that she could hunt; 5) to have sixty “daughters of Okeanos”, all nine years of age, to be her choir; 6) and for twenty Amnisides Nymphs as handmaidens to watch her dogs and bow while she rested. She wished for no city dedicated to her, but to rule the mountains and for the ability to help women in the pains of childbirth. Artemis believed that she had been chosen by the Fates to be a midwife, as Jon chose Val in ASOS/Jon X, particularly since she had assisted her mother in the delivery of her twin brother, Apollo. Her symbols included the golden bow and arrow (Rhaegar and Jon), the hunting dog, the stag (Baratheon), and the moon. Artemis often sent bears to provide nurse to orphaned children. Festival of Artemis in Brauron, where girls, aged between five and ten, dressed in saffron robes and played at being bears, or “act the bear” to appease the goddess after she sent the plague when her bear was killed.
- Val is a honey-moon… and a honeymoon!?!?
- Could this summer solstice honey moon also be why Bran named his wolf Summer?
- Is there a relation to a strawberry/honey moon and the man who gives Bran a berry while in the Winterfell glass gardens? Ok, this one probably not, but I felt it was worth mentioning.
A Game of Thrones – Bran II
Yet now that the last day was at hand, suddenly Bran felt lost. Winterfell had been the only home he had ever known. His father had told him that he ought to say his farewells today, and he had tried. After the hunt had ridden out, he wandered through the castle with his wolf at his side, intending to visit the ones who would be left behind, Old Nan and Gage the cook, Mikken in his smithy, Hodor the stableboy who smiled so much and took care of his pony and never said anything but “Hodor,” the man in the glass gardens who gave him a blackberry when he came to visit …
Back to the honey color. A few things here. First, to pull from ASOIAF, we have some examples of alchemy going on throughout. A something into something new exchange. Well, there is a notion that honey is sunlight changed into gold. Royalty. If Val inherited Dalla’s “royal” clothes, then Val could have inherited Dalla’s royal jewels, amber. Both honey and amber have similar royal healing qualities. We will have to keep our eyes open in The Winds of Winter for the amber to pop back into the story.
Second, and more humorously, from the main series we have the song of The Bear and the Maiden Fair. A stanza analysis shows the start of Jon’s relationship to Val, the three mutineers at the “for the watch” moment, the goat that follows them to the “fair”, the honey hair, and the courtship ritual of the free folk that Jon and Val follow.
A bear there was, a bear, a bear!
all black and brown, and covered with hair.
The bear! The bear!
• This black bear is Jon
Oh come they said, oh come to the fair!
• This is the trick in the taboo bear hunt, as described here. You cannot let the bear know he is to be killed.
Three boys, a goat and a dancing bear!
They danced and spun, all the way to the fair!
The fair! The fair!
• Three boys = Marsh, Wick Whittlestick, and the third knife in the back.
• The goat could be Val, a woman of the free folk, the reason why Jon was stabbed. Jon’s first glimpse of Val from his spyglass while atop the wall, Val is milking a goat. However, Bowen Marsh could be the scape-goat, a puppet used by the fiery hand to thrust the knife.
• The fourth knife Jon “never felt” = Melisandre, the fiery hand of R’hllor. The “dancing” bear is Jon fighting (for his life?), because in ASOIAF, to dance means to fight.
Oh, sweet she was, and pure and fair!
The maid with honey in her hair!
• This is Val, for sure. Honey hair.
• Jon refers to Val’s honey-colored hair three times; ASOS/ Jon X, ADWD/Jon III, ADWD/ Jon XI.
The bear smelled the scent on the summer air.
• This is the scent of desire to mate.
He sniffed and roared and smelled it there!
Honey on the summer air!
Oh, I’m a maid, and I’m pure and fair!
I’ll never dance with a hairy bear!
A bear! A bear!
I’ll never dance with a hairy bear!
The bear, the bear!
Lifted her high into the air!
• Jon puts Val up in Hardin’s tower to be guarded by Wun Wun. This impresses Val.
The bear! The bear!
I called for a knight, but you’re a bear!
• Ser Patrek tries to steal Val but gets killed himself. When Jon hears the screams of Ser Patrek, his first thought is of Val (ADWD/ Jon XIII).
A bear, a bear!
All black and brown and covered with hair
She kicked and wailed, the maid so fair.
• This is the wilding tradition of stealing your bride, and the bride putting up a fight as a sign of her independence and strength. The maid makes the final decision in “stealing.” We will have to wait and see how far the author will take this analogy in the main story.
But he licked the honey from her hair.
• Reminiscent of the “lord’s kiss” Jon gives to Ygritte while down in the cave.
Her hair! Her hair!
He licked the honey from her hair!
Then she sighed and squealed and kicked the air!
• Ok, this should be fairly self-explanatory. The honey licking, the squealing, etc… yes, the maid accepts the bear and this is consummation.
My bear! She sang. My bear so fair!
And off they went, from here to there,
• This verse possibly follows certain theories that Val will be used to lure Jon out of Castle Black and will chase her across the north to either Winterfell or Dreadfort.
The bear, the bear, and the maiden fair.
• And, they are paired off together. The honeymoon.
The song is also referenced again as Sam and Maester Sam cross the Narrow Sea. This is when Maester Aemon is in his bearskin covers, and Gilly is in her fur cloak that was given to her by Sam, which is another type of wedding ritual.
It was more pleasant out in the open air, especially when Dareon was singing. The singer was known to Blackbird’s oarsmen, and would play for them as they rowed. He knew all their favorite songs: sad ones like “The Day They Hanged Black Robin,” “The Mermaid’s Lament,” and “Autumn of My Day,” rousing ones like “Iron Lances” and “Seven Swords for Seven Sons,” bawdy ones like “Milady’s Supper,” “Her Little Flower,” and “Meggett Was a Merry Maid, a Merry Maid Was She.” When he sang “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” all the oarsmen joined in, and Blackbird seemed to fly across the water. Dareon had not been much of a swordsman, Sam knew from their days training under Alliser Thorne, but he had a beautiful voice. “Honey poured over thunder,” Maester Aemon had once called it. He played woodharp and fiddle too, and even wrote his own songs . . . though Sam did not think them very good. Still, it was good to sit and listen, though the chest was so hard and splintery that Sam was almost grateful for his fleshy buttocks. Fat men take a cushion with them wherever they go, he thought. (AFFC/Sam II)
Thirdly, bears and bees have a symbiotic relationship, or more specifically mutualistic, that revolves around honey… or even royal jelly. Jon will be revealed to be of royal stock, just as Val is constantly called “princess.” Dalla was a “queen”, to which Jon wonders, “He has taken a liking to Val. Her sister was a queen, why not her?” So, is there a sticky link between the honey hair and royal jelly, which have immense healing properties?
And Mead. That drinkable honey-wine is represented all over Castle Black by the end of ADWD.
• Tormund Giantsbane—Tall-Talker, Horn-Blower, and Breaker of Ice, Tormund Thunderfist, Husband to Bears, Mead-King of Ruddy Hall, Speaker to Gods and Father of Hosts—thrust out his hand.
• He slapped Jon’s back. “When all my folk are safe behind your Wall, we’ll share a bit o’ meat and mead. Till then …”
• Within was a mead so potent it made Jon’s eyes water and sent tendrils of fire snaking through his chest. He drank deep. “You’re a good man, Tormund Giantsbabe. For a wildling.” (The name Giantsbabe is a joke Jon is carrying over from ASOS)
• Then Tormund was pounding him on the back, all gap-toothed grin from ear to ear. “Well spoken, crow. Now bring out the mead! Make them yours and get them drunk, that’s how it’s done. We’ll make a wildling o’ you yet, boy. Har!”
There is a First Nations legend that gives a little explanation as to why the bear and human share so much overlapping respect and physical symbiology. As it is told, a First Nation’s daughter fell in love and married a Bear, who happened to be the nephew of the Great Bear Chief. She gave birth to twin bear cubs and was known as the Bear Mother.
Hmmm. We have Val and Jon both working to keep Mance’s baby safe and Craster’s little Monster safe. So, there completes our un-nuclear family of bears with a set of bear cubs at their heels. I am sure we could break down a familial relation tree to who is the nephew of the Great Bear Chief as well. This all follows George’s ideals of bringing unrelated, unlikely sources together to create something stronger. A theme he uses in most all his books both within ASOIAF, and without. The Aleut and Haida tribes, as well as most others, believe that a union between a human and a bear is ideal because it strengthens the greatest aspects of both.
“Longspear’s not your brother.”
“He’s of my village. You know nothing, Jon Snow. A true man steals a woman from afar, t’ strengthen the clan. Women who bed brothers or fathers or clan kin offend the gods, and are cursed with weak and sickly children. Even monsters.” (ASOS/Jon III)
We should let the great Tormund Tall-Teller give us the Jon and Val foreshadowing here. Take it away Mead King….
“The more I drank the more I thought about her, and the more I thought the harder me member got, till I couldn’t suffer it no more. Fool that I was, I bundled meself up in furs from head to heels, wrapped a winding wool around me face, and set off to find her. The snow was coming down so hard I got turned around once or twice, and the wind blew right through me and froze me bones, but finally I come on her, all bundled up like I was.
“The woman had a terrible temper, and she put up quite the fight when I laid hands on her. It was all I could do to carry her home and get her out o’ them furs, but when I did, oh, she was hotter even than I remembered, and we had a fine old time, and then I went to sleep. Next morning when I woke the snow had stopped and the sun was shining, but I was in no fit state to enjoy it. All ripped and torn I was, and half me member bit right off, and there on me floor was a she-bear’s pelt. And soon enough the free folk were telling tales o’ this bald bear seen in the woods, with the queerest pair o’ cubs behind her. Har!” He slapped a meaty thigh. “Would that I could find her again. She was fine to lay with, that bear. Never was a woman gave me such a fight, nor such strong sons neither.”
“What could you do if you did find her?” Jon asked, smiling. “You said she bit your member off.”
Only half. And half me member is twice as long as any other man’s.” Tormund snorted. “Now as to you . . . is it true they cut your members off when they take you for the Wall?” (ASOS/Jon II)
Thank you for that colorful scene Tormund. Here is another horn of mead for ya!
And to round out those clever thoughts of Tormund’s and how the woman responds, we have this:
[Edd] “A clever lord, you. Ghost’s the better choice. I don’t have the teeth for biting wildlings anymore.”
[Jon] “If the gods are good, we won’t encounter any wildlings. I’ll want the grey gelding.” (ADWD/ Jon VIII)
“She won’t mind. Will you, girl?”
Val patted the long bone knife on her hip. “Lord Crow is welcome to steal into my bed any night he dares. Once he’s been gelded, keeping those vows will come much easier for him.”
“Har!” Tormund snorted again. “You hear that, Toregg? Stay away from this one. I have one daughter, don’t need another.” Shaking his head, the wildling chief ducked back inside his tent (ADWD/ Jon XI)
Some readers take Val’s mention of “gelding” as a form of aggression. This isn’t so. Gelding a horse is what you do to a wild stallion to help get “control” of himself. This is what Jon needs, spiritually, if he is going to avoid turning into a berserker as he goes in and out of warging after the mutiny.
Bear meanings associated with the moon continue in Pueblo lore in which the bear is connected to underground temples (crypts). Here the bear is said to oversee the night, and lives in rhythm with the Native Indian cycles of the moon.
In fact, many ancient peoples understood the connection of the moon and the bear because of its hibernation patterns. But more importantly, our nature-savvy ancestors recognized the dual nature of the bear associated with the full and new moons.
“You have my word, Lord Snow. I will return, with Tormund or without him.” Val glanced at the sky. The moon was but half-full. “Look for me on the first day of the full moon.” (ADWD/ Jon VIII)
Jon told him. “We say, Never drink with Dornishmen when the moon is full. We say a lot of things.” (ADWD/ Jon XIII)
Part VI: Rise of the Protector Bear
The nature-based mindset follows the “sleeping” (yin-moon-hibernating-winter) and “waking” (yang-sun-awaken-spring) nature of the bear and assigned specific meaning to each of these phases in bears life. Jon’s bear transformation will be complete when he awakens as a bear does with a new focus in life, not merely to protect the Night’s Watch as he did with Jeor in the beginning, but to protect the entire realm.
You may be saying that, “Jon was stabbed, he is dead, he cannot protect the realm from the real threat of the Others.” Or, “Melisandre is going to do it.” To that I say that all seems fair if we simply read the words on page without putting together the crumbs George left for the reader. These clues, when put together, prefigure another option.
First, Melisandre is a false “weirwood”. Actually, she is not a tree symbol at all. SHe has copper red hair, carries a ruby, and emits heat, and we are introduced to her on fiery Dragonstone, which is the fiery womb of the fiery religions and dragons. There is not natural connection between Melisandre and Ghost, instead she must use the magic of her potions and powders to get Ghost to “like” her. In addition to their being little reason to trust how Mel is interpreting her visions. She confuses a lot of people for something else. Renly, Alys Karstark as Arya, Stannis as Azor Ahai and his false Lighbringer sword, etc.
I would like to bring our attention to the fourth knife that Jon “never felt”?
“Dalla died.” Jon was saddened by that still. “Val is her sister. She and the babe did not require much capturing, Your Grace. You had put the wildlings to flight, and the skinchanger Mance had left to guard his queen went mad when the eagle burned.” Jon looked at Melisandre. “Some say that was your doing.”
She smiled, her long copper hair tumbling across her face. “The Lord of Light has fiery talons, Jon Snow.” (ASOS/ Jon XI)
So, what other option does Jon have? What foreshadowing? I say past, present, future, and it started back in Nightlfyers when GRRM provided Royd his own “spearwife” in Melantha, as well as Randi Wade when Willie goes to her for protection. There are other examples as listed at the beginning of this page.
- “You are right, Karoly,” Royd said, “I do not wish to kill any of you. But I must be protected.”
“You will be,” Melantha said. “Karoly can set the others to chasing your hull fragments. I’ll be your protection. I’ll stay by your side. If anyone tries to attack you, they’ll have to deal with me. They won’t find that easy. And I can assist you. The work will be done three times as fast.
Royd was polite. “It is my experience that most planet-born are clumsy and easily tired in weightlessness. It would be more efficient if I worked alone, although I will gladly accept your services as a bodyguard.”
“I remind you that I’m the improved model, captain,” Melantha said. “Good in free fall as well as in bed. I’ll help.”
“You are stubborn. As you will, then. In a few moments I shall de-power the gravity grid. Karoly, go and prepare your people. Unship your vacuum sleds and suit up. I will exit the Nightflyer in three standard hours, after I have recovered from the pains of your gravity. I want all of you outside the ship before I leave. Is that condition understood?”
- [Dany’s vision of Rhaegar] Rubies flew like drops of blood from the chest of a dying prince, and he sank to his knees in the water and with his last breath murmured a woman’s name. (ACOK/ Daenerys IV)
- The app, co-created by George, claims that Rhaegar said “Lyanna” when he died.
- “Yes. Robb, get up. Get up and walk out, please, please. Save yourself . . . if not for me, for Jeyne.”
“Jeyne?” Robb grabbed the edge of the table and forced himself to stand. “Mother,” he said, “Grey Wind . . .”
“Go to him. Now. Robb, walk out of here.” (ASOS/ Catelyn VII)
- Robb Stark’s last word/name said with his dying breath is “Grey Wind”.
- … And still the eagle clung to his face, its talons tearing at him as it flapped and shrieked and pecked. The world turned upside down in a chaos of feathers and horseflesh and blood, and then the ground came up to smash him.
The next he knew, he was on his face with the taste of mud and blood in his mouth and Ygritte kneeling over him protectively, a bone dagger in her hand. He could still hear wings, though the eagle was not in sight. Half his world was black. “My eye,” he said in sudden panic, raising a hand to his face.
“It’s only blood, Jon Snow. He missed the eye, just ripped your skin up some.” (ASOS/ Jon II)
- An eagle attack can be seen as a bolt to the eye, which is how in-world tells the reader is how you kill a dragon. This could also be a “fiery claw” of R’hllor, and this being the first attack on Jon, the next being the mutiny attack that brings the cold.
- “She won’t mind. Will you, girl?”
Val patted the long bone knife on her hip. “Lord Crow is welcome to steal into my bed any night he dares. Once he’s been gelded, keeping those vows will come much easier for him.”
“Har!” Tormund snorted again. “You hear that, Toregg? Stay away from this one. I have one daughter, don’t need another.” Shaking his head, the wildling chief ducked back inside his tent. (ADWD/ Jon XI)
Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun howled again and gave Ser Patrek’s other arm a twist and pull. It tore loose from his shoulder with a spray of bright red blood. Like a child pulling petals off a daisy, thought Jon. “Leathers, talk to him, calm him. The Old Tongue, he understands the Old Tongue. Keep back, the rest of you. Put away your steel, we’re scaring him.” Couldn’t they see the giant had been cut? Jon had to put an end to this or more men would die. They had no idea of Wun Wun’s strength. A horn, I need a horn. He saw the glint of steel, turned toward it. “No blades!” he screamed. “Wick, put that knife …”
“For the Watch.” Wick slashed at him again. This time Jon caught his wrist and bent his arm back until he dropped the dagger. The gangling steward backed away, his hands upraised as if to say, Not me, it was not me. Men were screaming. Jon reached for Longclaw, but his fingers had grown stiff and clumsy. Somehow he could not seem to get the sword free of its scabbard.
Then Bowen Marsh stood there before him, tears running down his cheeks. “For the Watch.” He punched Jon in the belly. When he pulled his hand away, the dagger stayed where he had buried it.
Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air the wound was smoking. “Ghost,” he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end. When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold … (ADWD/ Jon XIII)
- The wights, Bran realized. Someone set the wights on fire.
Summer was snarling and snapping as he danced around the closest, a great ruin of a man wreathed in swirling flame. He shouldn’t get so close, what is he doing? Then he saw himself, sprawled facedown in the snow. Summer was trying to drive the thing away from him. What will happen if it kills me? the boy wondered. Will I be Hodor for good or all? Will I go back into Summer’s skin? Or will I just be dead?
The world moved dizzily around him. White trees, black sky, red flames, everything was whirling, shifting, spinning. He felt himself stumbling. He could hear Hodor screaming, “Hodorhodorhodorhodor. Hodorhodorhodorhodor. Hodorhodorhodorhodorhodor.” A cloud of ravens was pouring from the cave, and he saw a little girl with a torch in hand, darting this way and that. For a moment Bran thought it was his sister Arya … madly, for he knew his little sister was a thousand leagues away, or dead. And yet there she was, whirling, a scrawny thing, ragged, wild, her hair atangle. Tears filled Hodor’s eyes and froze there. (ADWD/ Bran II)
- Note the falling position, the skinchanging/warging and looking back upon his self.
- The Children of the Forest/weirwood creature being there to save Bran.
- Summer being there to drive the attackers off, the same as Wun Wun does to Ser Patrek in his efforts to protect Val.
- Even Hodor chanting his name is the same as the chant, “For the watch.”
- Jon’s hand was stiff and clumsy, just as Bran was broken as useless as he lay in the snow and then was dizzy and stumbling as he took over Hodor’s body.
We have this warning from Maester Aemon. This could be the “ice” magic needed to save Jon; Bran serving as Jon’s “mental” ice armour, which helps to protect Jon:
- Fire consumes, but cold preserves. (AFFC/ Sam III)
And this could be used in conjunction with Jon’s vows. This is Jon’s final awakening. It is said in the story that not even Azor Ahai worked along, and it seems that the vows are going to be a list of all of those needed to fight for life. This will not come from just one person. There are atleast four “heros” mentioned int he vows:
- “I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men.” (AGOT/Jon IX)
If you think back to Jon being and Odin figure in ASOIAF, then you can see another connection between the two and the well of knowledge. In one of the stories of Odin and his continual quest for knowledge, he goes to Mimir’s Well. While he is there, he sacrifices an eye to get a drink of the waters to impart himself with a cosmic knowledge. In ASOIAF, Jon is connected to a few of the astrological constellations, in addition to him being a ‘sun’ figure (he is the Sun’s son). It takes Jon having a near death experience to deliver him to his own “well of knowledge”.
… away, he meant to say. When Wick Whittlestick slashed at his throat, the word turned into a grunt. Jon twisted from the knife, just enough so it barely grazed his skin. He cut me. When he put his hand to the side of his neck, blood welled between his fingers. “Why?” (ADWD/ Jon XIII)
All the same, in this series the author uses “blood welling” eight times, and none of them are life threatening wounds. Some people do end up dying, but from another mortal means of demise. In addition to blood welling the way the author is using it, we also get this hint:
When one man-at-arms grew careless in her presence she had snatched his dagger from its sheath and stabbed him in the neck. Another inch to the left and he might have died. (ADWD/ Jon III)
Jon may or may not become a leader in Westeros. He may die a final death for all I know. Jon may be the bittersweet ending the author is promising for the readers. If Jon becomes an official leader in Westeros, it will be the people who decide the position for him as foreshadowed by the Lord Commander Mormont putting Jon where he needs to be, and by Qhorin demanding Jon go with him, and the Night’s Watch election (possibly decided by raven-Bran asBran will be Jon’s “ice armour”).
One thing we do know is that the author has plans for Val in the third act of the series.
Sam reddened. King Stannis had plans for Val, he knew; she was the mortar with which he meant to seal the peace between the northmen and the free folk. (AFFC/ Samwell I)
In the end, Stannis’s wise words will have a deeper meaning when he says, “I was trying to win the throne to save the kingdom, when I should have been trying to save the kingdom to win the throne.” When Jon the sun-bear rises, he will bring the dawn which ends the long night, and after much battle and change, ultimately saves the realm.
One thing is certain about bears, and Jon. They are both dynamic and symbolic of transformation. This includes the theme of resurrection. After a long period of deep, introspective comatose span of inaction (even death-like) – the bear emerges, victorious and driven to sustain its life. And this will happen with the help and guidance of the she-bear, Val.
Thank you for reading along with the jambles and jumbles of the Fattest Leech of Ice and Fire. I welcome questions and requests for more book quotes. It is just me that keeps up with this blog, so sometimes I fall behind. Poke me with a stick for more info 🙂