The Long Night of the Kali Yuga

2,103 words

“I don’t want any more stories,” Bran snapped, his voice petulant. He had liked Old Nan and her stories once … They left her with him all day now, to watch over him and clean him and keep him from being lonely, but she just made it worse. “I hate your stupid stories.”

The old woman smiled at him toothlessly. “My stories? No, my little lord, not mine. The stories are, before me and after me, before you too.”

In the previous essay, we introduced the vast world that comprises A Song of Ice and Fire and its television counterpart, Game of Thrones. This essay will be divided into two parts.

In the first part, we will review the overarching conflict against the Others and Winter. We will elaborate on the Long Night as a form of the Dark Age/Kali Yuga and its symptoms in this world. In the second part we will concentrate on the Starks and their role in the epoch, as Kings of Winter and then as Wardens in the North, and what makes the Starks so important.

The tale of the Long Night is introduced by Old Nan in an early Bran point-of-view chapter. Old Nan herself is an crone figure whose tales highlight the myths, histories, and traditions of the First Men and the North. Her tales are dismissed as pure fiction by many of the characters, at best they’re cautionary tales that are spun up to get kids to behave or learn the customs of their people, or more cynically, to keep the masses in order. Yet as we see in the prologue to A Game of Thrones, the Others are very real, and are heavily tied to Winter.

As we said before, Martin is touching on a lot of tradition, intentionally or unintentionally, which manifests throughout the series. We will start with the Long Night, an event that happened during the Age of Heroes, a time when the mythic founding of many Westerosi houses occurred. Then, we will focus on the Starks and the Night’s Watch and how the former typify kingship in a traditional sense.

The Long Night is analogous with the Hindu concept of the Kali Yuga. Coming from the Hindu text the Visnu Parana. Evola states in Ride the Tiger:

In the classical world, it was presented in terms of humanity’s progressive descent from the Golden Age to what Hesiod called the Iron Age. In the corresponding Hindu teaching, the final age is called the Kali Yuga (Dark Age). Its essential quality is emphatically said to be a climate of dissolution, in which all forces – individual and collective, material, psychic,and spiritual – that were previously held in check by a higher law and by influences of a superior order pass into a state of freedom and chaos.[1]

This includes a lack of piety by both rulers and the people.

One of the many leitmotifs of ASOIAF is the cynicism toward history, mythos, and hierarchy. The Dawn of Days is deep within the fog of history. The Long Night is in near as much obscurity, since none of the events of that era are learnt with any gravitas. Certainly, the winters of old do not weigh much on the inhabitants in the years of the series. Martin himself reflects this in his own look at religion and myth, “Much of those details are lost in the mists of time and legend. No one can even say for certain if Brandon the Builder ever lived. He is as remote from the time of the novels as Noah and Gilgamesh are from our own time.”[2]

After all, things in Westeros have been busy in the last 300 years; the complexities of this history far outweigh and distract the rulers and thinkers of the era. The aristocrats and maesters (i.e., ascetic scholars that serve noble families with an empirical, rationalist bent) have had much history to digest, not to mention the settling dust from the revolts and shifting allegiances, magic leaving the world with the last dragon and culminated in the Targaryens being overthrown.

All of these, however, are symptoms rather than causes. Much like in our world, we see the manifestations of involution, demoralization and degeneration, but they should not be confused with the causes. Within the context of Ice and Fire, I do not mean snowflakes and borean winds, but rather that Ice and Fire both have metaphysical centers (though ultimately unarticulated in the stories), and furthermore, each element has a yin and yang aspect to them. We see this in both the Starks and Targaryens, the Others and dragons, the old gods and R’hillor. It is the harmony and dissonance of these elements that makes up the Song[3].

That said, let’s go back to Old Nan and her stories. After all, the crone is wise.

While Bran is recovering from his fall, Old Nan tells him many stories. His paralysis has left the would-be knight depressed and all the heroics in the tales make him more depressed. Bran, comparatively, is much like the young of our epoch. Do our young not feel a certain paralysis? Are not our children tired of the old stories and desensitized to heroism? Not only that, but the young, and Bran like them, prefer scary stories (analogous with the horror genre) to the lofty tales. “My favorites were the scary ones,” he tells Old Nan.

Old Nan is not impressed:

“Oh, my sweet summer child,” Old Nan said quietly, “what do you know of fear? Fear is for the winter, my little lord, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind comes howling out of the north. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for years at a time, and little children are born and live and die all in darkness while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the white walkers move through the woods.”

“You mean the Others,” Bran said querulously.

As one can see, Old Nan does not care for the game of thrones. She does not say, “Fear is for civil war,” for instance. Fear does not come from civil unrest, not true fear, anyway. This fear has a transcendental and supernatural quality.

Old Nan goes on:

“The Others,” Old Nan agreed. “Thousands and thousands of years ago, a winter fell that was cold and hard and endless beyond all memory of man. There came a night that lasted a generation, and kings shivered and died in their castles even as the swineherds in their hovels. Women smothered their children rather than see them starve, and cried, and felt their tears freeze on their cheeks… In that darkness, the Others came for the first time,” … “They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins. They swept over holdfasts and cities and kingdoms, felled heroes and armies by the score, riding their pale dead horses and leading hosts of the slain. All the swords of men could not stay their advance, and even maidens and suckling babes found no pity in them. They hunted the maids through frozen forests, and fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children.”[4]

The Others and the Long Night subvert every instinct and intuition of human nature. They don’t care for family, property, or order. They are necromancers, too, one of the gravest inversions of nature. Truly, we don’t know the motive of the Others at all, but the series shows they are a twisted mimicry of humans. They seem almost envious of humanity and its warmth.

Old Nan goes on:

“Now these were the days … of … the kingdoms of the First Men, who had taken these lands from the children of the forest. Yet here and there in the fastness of the woods the children still lived in their wooden cities and hollow hills, and the faces in the trees kept watch. So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he searched, until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds…”

Fittingly, Old Nan is interrupted by the Starks’ maester – a symbol of the empiricism and rationalism – so that Bran can play the role of lord.

Amid the horror of this tale is a hero. The Last Hero. He, the first members of the Night’s Watch, and the children of the forest used obsidian (called dragonglass, and melts the Others, while fire kills their zombies, i.e. wights) to defeat the Others in the Battle for the Dawn[5]. After this, it is easy to see why the first Night’s Watchmen and/or Bran the Builder thought it prudent to build an ice wall laced with ice magic to keep these Others out.

The Wall and the Others recall the Alexandrian Romance and the battle against Gog and Magog. As it goes, the hordes of Gog and Magog (which represent the unleashing of base, collectivist forces) were beaten back by Alexander, whom erected a wall to keep in the far north, according to Pseudo-Callisthenes. Alexander, here, is an obvious symbol of imperial power, which includes virility, order, and inner tranquility. We will elaborate on the concept of the emperor, his function, and symbols in the companion piece about the Starks.

Both walls are erected to halt the passions from overrunning the world.

Furthermore, the Others and their wights symbolize the tyranny of quantity against quality. The Others manipulate the dead, which we can read as an inner death as much as a physical one. Their numbers are countless and overwhelming. They have no will of their own and are similar to the masses that live for spectacle and consumerism. People who have no transcendent focus are easily manipulated and stirred into a frenzy. More and more we see this with each election as the “mandate” comes from below, with the people, rather than from above.

The Others are very much like the puppet-masters of this world. They are the inaccessible few that program the minds of the young and distract adults with trinkets and debt. As Old Nan says, the Others are cold, dead things, like the rulers of this inverted world order.

Furthermore, the metaphysical Winter, as an overarching event, takes its toll even on the Seven Kingdoms. As was mentioned above, there has been much upheaval since the Targaryen conquest, and long before then with the Andal invasion. The First Men prize a few things above all others: no kinslaying, no slavery, guest right. These three principles encompass foundations of civilization to a large extent. Positively, these principles cherish family, freedom and dignity, and hospitality, and the ancient Starks were keen to uphold these virtues, as they remembered “Winter is Coming”. They have no time for distractions.

With the technological innovations that came with the Andals, mostly iron swords over bronze and obsidian ones, we find the “Hephaestean” exchange. That is, the more technologically advancement a civilization sees, the more it loses sight of the transcendental. This is not to be confused with a promotion of a Luddite philosophy, as technology obviously has its advantages, but it is foolish to think that it comes to us without a price.

Each new upheaval and advancement plays into the Others’ favor. Men get corrupted and seek only material gain, they forsake honor, indulge in iniquity, and fight wars for themselves. Spiritual warfare is forgotten, and with them the real danger. The danger of losing the real war.

In the second part, we will elaborate on the Starks and their role past, present and future in the World of Ice and Fire. How they became Kings of Winter, and how they fell into exile.

Notes

[1] Julius Evola, Ride the Tiger (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2003), 9.

[2] http://www.westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Entry/The_Wall

[3] Furthermore, Ice and Fire utilize one another, as complementary, as when the First Men use obsidian/dragonglass against the Others.

[4] George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (New York: Bantam Books, 1996), 240.

[5] Various, “The Batte for the Dawn”, http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Battle_for_the_Dawn (accessed August 10, 2017)