Night’s Watch vows – altered history

The old way are returning, and the trees have eyes again.

Weirwood tree. Artist :Jailin

[Jon] “If the gods are good, we won’t encounter any wildlings. I’ll want the grey gelding.”

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.”

“The sept is home to the new gods. The old gods live in the wood, and those who honor them say their words amongst the weirwoods. You know that as well as I.”

“Satin comes from Oldtown, and Arron and Emrick from the westerlands. The old gods are not their gods.”

I do not tell men which god to worship. They were free to choose the Seven or the red woman’s Lord of Light. They chose the trees instead, with all the peril that entails.”

A Dance with Dragons – Jon VII, where Bowen Marsh, a northerner, encourages the sept/Faith of Seven


“No more than you?” mocked Ser Alliser.

Septon Cellador cleared his throat. “Lord Slynt,” he said, “this boy [Jon] refused to swear his vows properly in the sept, but went beyond the Wall to say his words before a heart tree. His father’s gods, he said, but they are wildling gods as well.”

“They are the gods of the north, Septon.” Maester Aemon was courteous, but firm. “My lords, when Donal Noye was slain, it was this young man Jon Snow who took the Wall and held it, against all the fury of the north. He has proved himself valiant, loyal, and resourceful. Were it not for him, you would have found Mance Rayder sitting here when you arrived, Lord Slynt. You are doing him a great wrong. Jon Snow was Lord Mormont’s own steward and squire. He was chosen for that duty because the Lord Commander saw much promise in him. As do I.”

A Storm of Swords – Jon IX, again we see a Faith of the Seven interference


This page started in the Westeros.org forum a while back. Here is a link if you would like to click over and take a look at the great discussion to be had there. New comments are welcome here in this blog. Reminder, this page here is a work in progress as I bring the correct quotes and credits over from the forum to here.

George RR Martin is yet again using the idea of history as we know it, history as recorded hundreds of years later through tales of tales, is not incorruptible. Very often history is purposely altered to reflect the desires of the current leading faction. This concept has been used in stories such as:

  1. Dying of the Light
  2. Nightflyers
  3. In the House of the Worm
  4. Dark, Dark were the tunnels
  5. The Way of Cross and Dragon
  6. The World of Ice and Fire. Yes, this book was purposely written to reflect the current views of the ruling family and maesters over magic.

What are the personal struggles, the matters of the heart, are our Night’s Watch brothers and shields that guard the realms of men going through?

Vow:noun. Used [approx] 60 times to describe the words of the brothers.

  1. a solemnpromise,pledge, or personalcommitment:marriagevows; a vow of secrecy.
  2. a solemn promise made to a deity or saint committing oneself to an act, service, or condition.
  3. a solemn or earnestdeclaration.
  • Vow most often refers to behavior. The person saying their vows is most likely agreeing to act or behave in a certain way for a certain period of time. Marriage vows are the most obvious example, and are intended to be kept for life.

Oath:noun, plural oaths [ohth z, ohths] /oʊðz, oʊθs/. Used [approx] 17 times to describe the words said by the brothers.

  1. a solemn appeal to a deity, or to some revered person or thing, to witness one’s determination to speak the truth, to keep a promise, etc.: to testify upon oath.
  2. a statement or promisestrengthened by such an appeal.
  3. a formallyaffirmedstatement or promiseaccepted as an equivalent of an appeal to a deity or to a reveredperson or thing;affirmation.
  • Oath can mean either a formal promise (or even an offensive word). Oath is more commonly used when the person speaking the promise calls upon [a] God to witness to the event.

These are the only terms used to describe the words the Night’s Watch brothers say as they make a pledge (#3 is rather interesting). I make this point because of what the first two quotes (but not only those quotes) show, and that is an interference to the system of the Night’s Watch that takes focus away from its original intent and purpose, while seemingly inventing new “rules” along the way.

This seems to be paralleled with Arya at the doors of the House of Black and White. Arya, a Children of the Forest stand-in, first tries other techniques to get the doors to open. It is only when Arya says a certain “magical” set of words to get the doors top open. Once through the doors, Arya has her own reversal of time as she is asked her name and recants them back to the kindly man, but in reverse, until she comes to her true identity as Arya of House Stark. So, like Bran and everyone else, Arya is having a “time trip” experience in her own arc.

  • A Feast for Crows – Arya I

At the top she found a set of carved wooden doors twelve feet high. The left-hand door was made of weirwood pale as bone, the right of gleaming ebony. In their center was a carved moon face; ebony on the weirwood side, weirwood on the ebony. The look of it reminded her somehow of the heart tree in the godswood at Winterfell. The doors are watching me, she thought. She pushed upon both doors at once with the flat of her gloved hands, but neither one would budge. Locked and barred. “Let me in, you stupid,” she said. “I crossed the narrow sea.” She made a fist and pounded. “Jaqen told me to come. I have the iron coin.” She pulled it from her pouch and held it up. “See? Valar morghulis.”

The doors made no reply, except to open.

They opened inward all in silence, with no human hand to move them. Arya took a step forward, and another. The doors closed behind her, and for a moment she was blind. Needle was in her hand, though she did not remember drawing it.

  • A Feast for Crows – Arya I

The priest studied the coin, though he made no move to touch it. The waif with the big eyes was looking at it too. Finally, the cowled man said, “Tell me your name, child.”

“Salty. I come from Saltpans, by the Trident.”

Though she could not see his face, somehow she could feel him smiling. “No,” he said. “Tell me your name.”

“Squab,” she answered this time.

“Your true name, child.”

“My mother named me Nan, but they call me Weasel—”

“Your name.”

She swallowed. “Arry. I’m Arry.”

“Closer. And now the truth?”

Fear cuts deeper than swords, she told herself. “Arya.” She whispered the word the first time. The second time she threw it at him. “I am Arya, of House Stark.”

“You are,” he said, “but the House of Black and White is no place for Arya, of House Stark.”

“Please,” she said. “I have no place to go.”

  • A Feast for Crows – Cat Of The CanalsCat had made friends along the wharves; porters and mummers, ropemakers and sailmenders, taverners, brewers and bakers and beggars and whores. They bought clams and cockles from her, told her true tales of Braavos and lies about their lives, and laughed at the way she talked when she tried to speak Braavosi. She never let that trouble her. Instead, she showed them all the fig, and told them they were camel cunts, which made them roar with laughter. Gyloro Dothare taught her filthy songs, and his brother Gyleno told her the best places to catch eels. The mummers off the Ship showed her how a hero stands, and taught her speeches from The Song of the Rhoyne, The Conqueror’s Two Wives, and The Merchant’s Lusty Lady. Quill, the sad-eyed little man who made up all the bawdy farces for the Ship, offered to teach her how a woman kisses, but Tagganaro smacked him with a codfish and put an end to that. Cossomo the Conjurer instructed her in sleight of hand. He could swallow mice and pull them from her ears. “It’s magic,” he’d say. “It’s not,” Cat said. “The mouse was up your sleeve the whole time. I could see it moving.”

    “Oysters, clams, and cockles” were Cat’s magic words, and like all good magic words they could take her almost anywhere.


Biggest questions for the purpose of this thought challenge:

  • Just what are the Night’s Watch vows?
  • How old are they?
  • How much interference has been involved in changing them, and why?
  • What does this mean for the future of the story?
  • What do the vows not cover?

 


What we know in the current story that makes up the vows is this- speculated newer vows, original vows. One reason I speculate this is because the original vows follow the rules for existentialism, something GRMM has written about in stories and interviews in the past. He has said he has lightened up on the ideals, but that they are still there in some form. The original vows follow the existential idea of affirming the existence and authenticity of oneself.

  • A Game of Thrones – Jon VI
They said the words together, as the last light faded in the west and grey day became black night.
“Hear my words, and bear witness to my vow,” they recited, their voices filling the twilit grove. “Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. 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, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”
The woods fell silent. “You knelt as boys,” Bowen Marsh intoned solemnly. “Rise now as men of the Night’s Watch.”
But on closer reading you’ll notice that the oldest part of the wall, the Black Gate under Nightfort, does not require most of the vows to be recited. Aside from the symbolism surrounding Bran at this point, the gate requires the oldest, simple set of vows, or more specifically, and identity. Who are you? These are the oaths to personal identity… and in ASOIAF world, to the trees.
The [possible] later addition to the vows seem to follow a more indoctrinated creed. If you know anything about Martin’s previous works, it is that large migrations of religiously intolerant peoples that strive to make “progresses” puts them smack dab in the category of zealots. They are hive-minded, controlling, and egotistical, causing harm to the nature and indiginous ecology all around them. Not unlike one of the many aspects of the Andals. In Martin’s previous stories these zealots are called the Steel Angels (discussed heavily in the Daenerys section of this blog).
  • The World of Ice and Fire – Ancient History: The Arrival of the Andals

At the mouth of the Rhoyne, the Valyrians founded the first of their colonies. There, Volantis was raised by some of the wealthiest men of the Freehold in order to gather up the wealth that flowed down the Rhoyne, and from Volantis their conquering forces crossed the river in great strength. The Andals might have fought against them at first, and the Rhoynar might even have aided them, but the tide was unstoppable. So it is likely the Andals chose to flee rather than face the inevitable slavery that came with Valyrian conquest. They retreated to the Axe—the lands from which they had sprung—and when that did not protect them, they retreated farther north and west until they came to the sea. Some might have given up there and surrendered to their fate, and others still might have made their last stand, but many and more made ships and sailed in great numbers across the narrow sea to the lands of the First Men in Westeros.

The Valyrians had denied the Andals the promise of the Seven on Essos, but in Westeros they were free. Made zealous by the conflict and flight, the warriors of the Andals carved the seven-pointed star upon their bodies and swore by their blood and the Seven not to rest until they had hewn their kingdoms from the Sunset Lands. Their success gave Westeros a new name: Rhaesh Andahli—the Land of the Andals, as the Dothraki now name it.

It’s agreed by the septons, the singers, and the maesters alike that the first place where the Andals landed was on the Fingers in the Vale of Arryn. Carvings of the seven-pointed star are scattered upon the rocks and stones throughout that area—a practice that eventually fell out of use as the Andal conquests progressed.

The potential new additions to the vows would follow the more über conservative, religiously (Catholic) driven Andals who go to extreme measures such as carving stars into their own skins. Instead of vows/oaths, we get a more strict addition that is not in the same manner of what the meaning of vow or oath is. By definition this would be a creed.

  1. anysystem,doctrine, or formula of religiousbelief,as of a denomination.
  2. anysystem or codification of belief or of opinion.
  3. an authoritative, formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief, as the Apostles’ Creed, theNiceneCreed, or theAthanasianCreed.
  • A Storm of Swords – Bran IV
“How did you get through the Wall?” Jojen demanded as Sam struggled to his feet. “Does the well lead to an underground river, is that where you came from? You’re not even wet . . .”
“There’s a gate,” said fat Sam. “A hidden gate, as old as the Wall itself. The Black Gate, he called it.”
The Reeds exchanged a look. “We’ll find this gate at the bottom of the well?” asked Jojen.
{and then]
“Why?” Meera demanded. “If there’s a gate . . .”
“You won’t find it. If you did it wouldn’t open. Not for you. It’s the Black Gate.” Sam plucked at the faded black wool of his sleeve. “Only a man of the Night’s Watch can open it, he said. A Sworn Brother who has said his words.”
“He said.” Jojen frowned. “This . . . Coldhands?”
[and then]
A turn or two later Sam stopped suddenly. He was a quarter of the way around the well from Bran and Hodor and six feet farther down, yet Bran could barely see him. He could see the door, though. The Black Gate, Sam had called it, but it wasn’t black at all.
It was white weirwood, and there was a face on it.
[and then]
They were white too, and blind. “Who are you?” the door asked, and the well whispered, “Who-who-who-who-who-who-who.”
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. Its lips opened, wide and wider and wider still, until nothing at all remained but a great gaping mouth in a ring of wrinkles. Sam stepped aside and waved Jojen through ahead of him. Summer followed, sniffing as he went, and then it was Bran’s turn. Hodor ducked, but not low enough. The door’s upper lip brushed softly against the top of Bran’s head, and a drop of water fell on him and ran slowly down his nose. It was strangely warm, and salty as a tear.
This is probably because these additions were added by someone other than the men of the Watch that actually knew the purpose. Additionally, just like the negative aspects of bastards arrives with the Andals and their puritanical ways (the Seven is based heavily on Catholicism), it seems these newly added vows of utter personal restrictions arrives as well. The histories show that the Watch did not care who you prayed to, and in death you could be burned or buried. What mattered was the man holding the vows and protecting the realms of men together. There is more I want to say regarding this aspect, but I am inviting discussion first.
  • A Storm of Swords – Samwell II
“Jon Snow’s dragonglass, then. If dragonglass daggers are what we need, why do we have only two of them? Every man on the Wall should be armed with one the day he says his words.”
“We never knew . . .”
“We never knew! But we must have known once. The Night’s Watch 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?”
“The m-maesters think not,” Sam stammered. “The maesters say it comes from the fires of the earth. They call it obsidian.”
You know who does remember? That’s right, the North.
  • A Game of Thrones – Jon I
“Lord Eddard Stark is my father,” Jon admitted stiffly.
Lannister studied his face. “Yes,” he said. “I can see it. You have more of the north in you than your brothers.”
“Half brothers,” Jon corrected. He was pleased by the dwarf’s comment, but he tried not to let it show.

As posted at the beginning of this page, the old ways are returning and the trees have eyes again. Not only does Jon see life return to the Watch (ADWD Jon XII), as Kissdbyfire points out in this post, but we also see Samwell take a wife. And yes, vows are exchanged in front of a tree… a fat pink mast to be precise! Samwell cloaked Gilly with his Night’s Watch cloak back at Craster’s Keep in A Storm of Swords, and now we get to the consummation. And all of this happens in a mixture of milk and water = milkwater. Hot Damn! Good stuff.

  • A Feast for Crows – Samwell IV

. . . and kissed his mouth.

Sam found himself kissing her back. I said the words, he thought, but her hands were tugging at his blacks, pulling at the laces of his breeches. He broke off the kiss long enough to say, “We can’t,” but Gilly said, “We can,” and covered his mouth with her own again. The Cinnamon Wind was spinning all around them and he could taste the rum on Gilly’s tongue and the next thing her breasts were bare and he was touching them. I said the words, Sam thought again, but one of her nipples found its way between his lips. It was pink and hard and when he sucked on it her milk filled his mouth, mingling with the taste of rum, and he had never tasted anything so fine and sweet and good. If I do this I am no better than Dareon, Sam thought, but it felt too good to stop. And suddenly his cock was out, jutting upward from his breeches like a fat pink mast. It looked so silly standing there that he might have laughed, but Gilly pushed him back onto her pallet, hiked her skirts up around her thighs, and lowered herself onto him with a little whimpery sound. That was even better than her nipples. She’s so wet, he thought, gasping. I never knew a woman could get so wet down there. “I am your wife now,” she whispered, sliding up and down on him. And Sam groaned and thought, No, no, you can’t be, I said the words, I said the words, but the only word he said was, “Yes.”

Afterward she went to sleep with her arms around him and her face across his chest. Sam needed sleep as well, but he was drunk on rum and mother’s milk and Gilly. He knew he ought to crawl back to his own hammock in the men’s cabin, but she felt so good curled up against him that somehow he could not move.

In the current story, ever since Donal Noye gave Jon a well deserved verbal thrashing, Jon has been growing in to this position of guardian and making realizations based on first hand experience and truths rather than rumors. Here is but one example (that of course I have theories about), and in this example, again we see just the basic vows that the oldest part of the wall requires- no more, no less:
  • A Dance with Dragons – Jon XI
Marsh flushed a deeper shade of red. “The lord commander must pardon my bluntness, but I have no softer way to say this. What you propose is nothing less than treason. For eight thousand years the men of the Night’s Watch have stood upon the Wall and fought these wildlings. Now you mean to let them pass, to shelter them in our castles, to feed them and clothe them and teach them how to fight. Lord Snow, must I remind you? You swore an oath.”
“I know what I swore.” Jon said the words. “I am the sword in the darkness. 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, the shield that guards the realms of men. Were those the same words you said when you took your vows?”

“They were. As the lord commander knows.”

“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?”
Bowen Marsh opened his mouth. No words came out. A flush crept up his neck.
And this is a rather interesting comparison to the subtext in a statement Jojen makes- when the long night falls, everyone has to work together to survive:
  • A Storm of Swords – Bran III
“Something is happening across the lake,” said Jojen. “I thought I saw a man pointing at the tower.”
I won’t be afraid. He was the Prince of Winterfell, Eddard Stark’s son, almost a man grown and a warg too, not some little baby boy like Rickon. Summer would not be afraid. “Most like they’re just some Umbers,” he said. “Or they could be Knotts or Norreys or Flints come down from the mountains, or even brothers from the Night’s Watch. Were they wearing black cloaks, Jojen?”
By night all cloaks are black, Your Grace. And the flash came and went too fast for me to tell what they were wearing.”
One thing I will say, that the new vows do start in a rather interesting way: Night gathers, and now my watch begins.
The Night’s Watch does not answer to the king down in King’s Landing. It was established well before there ever was such a position, or city. All laws end at the wall and that is because it is an autonomous entity.
  • A Storm of Swords – Samwell V
“He should, yes,” said Janos Slynt. “But it must be said. We brothers are only simple soldiers. Soldiers, yes! And Your Grace will know that soldiers are most comfortable taking orders. They would benefit from your royal guidance, it seems to me. For the good of the realm. To help them choose wisely.”
The suggestion outraged some of the others. “Do you want the king to wipe our arses for us too?” said Cotter Pyke angrily. “The choice of a Lord Commander belongs to the Sworn Brothers, and to them alone,” insisted Ser Denys Mallister. “If they choose wisely they won’t be choosing me,” moaned Dolorous Edd. Maester Aemon, calm as always, said, “Your Grace, the Night’s Watch has been choosing its own leader since Brandon the Builder raised the Wall. Through Jeor Mormont we have had nine hundred and ninety-seven Lords Commander in unbroken succession, each chosen by the men he would lead, a tradition many thousands of years old.”
Stannis ground his teeth. “It is not my wish to tamper with your rights and traditions. As to royal guidance, Janos, if you mean that I ought to tell your brothers to choose you, have the courage to say so.”

The Watch has fallen- literally in the current story because of the mutiny, but also through the course of time. It was not established to be a penal colony as it is now. It used to be vibrant and a place of honor. We do still see some sons join the Watch voluntarily, but not nearly as often as used to be. Why? Well, the glory was detracted by the forming of the Kingsguard. The vows of the Watch are what Visenya used to establish the Kingsguard, which a slashing at the king prompted her to do… and well, the symbolism around that is overwhelmingly obvious as well. Visenya was the first to detract fromt he esteem of the wall, just as Queen Alysanne did later with the closing of Nightfort. Post #45 has a quote form the World of Ice and Fire book that talks a little more about what Queen Alysanne did to the north https://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/151698-nights-watch-vows-and-the-truth-of-history/&do=findComment&comment=8215212

  • The World of Ice and Fire – The Targaryen Kings: Aegon I
But out of all the tragedy was born one glorious thing: the Sworn Brotherhood of the Kingsguard. When Aegon and Visenya placed prices on the heads of the Dornish lords, many were murdered, and in retaliation the Dornishmen hired their own catspaws and killers. On one occasion in 10 AC, Aegon and Visenya were both attacked in the streets of King’s Landing, and if not for Visenya and Dark Sister, the king might not have survived. Despite this, the king still believed that his guards were sufficient to his defense; Visenya convinced him otherwise. (It is recorded that when Aegon pointed out his guardsmen, Visenya drew Dark Sister and cut his cheek before his guards could react. “Your guards are slow and lazy,” Visenya is reported to have said, and the king was forced to agree.)
It was Visenya, not Aegon, who decided the nature of the Kingsguard. Seven champions for the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, who would all be knights. She modeled their vows upon those of the Night’s Watch, so that they would forfeit all things save their duty to the king. And when Aegon spoke of a grand tourney to choose the first Kingsguard, Visenya dissuaded him, saying he needed more than skill in arms to protect him; he also needed unwavering loyalty. The king entrusted Visenya with selecting the first members of the order, and history shows he was wise to do so: two died defending him, and all served to the end of their days with honor. The White Book recounts their names, as it has recorded the name and deeds of every knight who swore the vows: Ser Corlys Velaryon, the first Lord Commander; Ser Richard Roote; Ser Addison Hill, Bastard of Cornfield; Ser Gregor Goode and Ser Griffith Goode, brothers; Ser Humfrey the Mummer, a hedge knight; and Ser Robin Darklyn, called Darkrobin, the first of many Darklyns to wear the white cloak.

 


So, let’s discuss what the vows are and what they mean for the future. I know there were many a thread in the ancient forum days discussing just this topic, but they are all archived and new discussion is needed. This thread started out of need from this discussion in addition to many private chats about the topic.

UPDATING HERE FROM OTHER CONTRIBUTORS IN THIS THREAD:

  1. Post #11 by Otherfromanothermother has some great ideas about why the vows were said by Sam in front of Bran. Here.
  2. Post #16 by Window’s Watch touches on the idea that the NW may not have been so monkish back in its formative days Here.
  3. Post # 17 by Kissdbyfire really shows how the old ways are returning Here., then again talked about in Post #34 including “bastards” aren’t so bad Here.
  4. Post #18 by Free Northamn Reborn asks a few deep questions about language and history… things I had not thought of before Here.
  5. Bloodraven did not abandon his post, no, he moved up in rank to the First Sea Lord Here.
  6. Post #33 Thank you to Tucu for reminding everyone that Waymar shot first! ;)Here.
  7. Post #40 by Ckram starts the discussion on the many castles were built and then later connected, walls to wall, Here.
  8. Post #44 starts a discussion about maybe the Others in the AGOT prologue are looking for someone Stark-like in particular Here.
  9. Post # 45 adds a little more book info about Queen Alysanne and what she did to the north Here.
  10. Posts #68-71 We actually have some fun courtesy of Trefayne :lol:  Here.
  11. Post #76 by Rufus Snow has some excellent suggestions for each line of the vows Here.
  12. Post #8287 has some great suggestions by KissdbyFire, Trefayne, and Ygrain for the magic connections in the wall Here.
  13. Post #87 has the definition of realm… and we love definitions around here ;)Here.
  14. Post #102 with another great comment from Kleevedge about the plurality of “walls” in the oath Here.
  15. Post #107 welcomes Obscured by Klowds and the introduction of the Seventy-nine sentinels Here.
  16. This #204 post by Julia H has great details about lines of the vow.
  17. This #187 post by Julia H has some of the most pertinent book quotes pertaining to this thread. Hint: echoes through the centuries
  18. This #216 post by Seams and the connections to the Fist and the cache Jon finds.
  19. This #207 post by Bemused that goes line by line, in a nicely poetic fashion.
  20. updating to add more soon

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