The House of Black and White

The fantasy cultures in George R. R. Martin’s epic Game of Thrones stories have conjured a rich diversity of religious perspectives. The journey of Arya Stark, noblewoman by birth and killer by temperament, leads her to the House of Black and White, which is the temple, headquarters and thanatorium of a cult of priestly assassins known as the Faceless Men:

Worshipers came to the House of Black and White every day. Most came alone and sat alone; they lit candles at one altar or another, prayed beside the pool, and sometimes wept. A few drank from the black cup and went to sleep; more did not drink. There were no services, no songs, no paeans of praise to please the god. The temple was never full. From time to time, a worshiper would ask to see a priest, and the kindly man or the waif would take him down into the sanctum, but that did not happen often.

Thirty different gods stood along the walls, surrounded by their little lights. The Weeping Woman was the favorite of old women, Arya saw; rich men preferred the Lion of Night, poor men the Hooded Wayfarer. Soldiers lit candles to Bakkalon, the Pale Child, sailors to the Moon-Pale Maiden and the Merling King. The Stranger had his shrine as well, though hardly anyone ever came to him. Most of the time only a single candle stood flickering at his feet. The kindly man said it did not matter. “He has many faces, and many ears to hear.”

Although the priests of the House of Black and White offer no formal services, most of the people who make their way there are clearly engaged in a one-way ritual pilgrimage.

Martin has also commented on the cult, to the effect that:

There’s a little bit in there in the philosophy of the Faceless Men; they’re- in some senses they’re a death cult, and it’s a religious basis, which I kind of thought about and extrapolated from that. I’m surprised we don’t have more death cults in the real world, because it just seems to me, if you’re gonna worship something, death is a pretty good thing because you know, like, we have all these religions that promise you life-everlasting. None of them ever deliver on it. Everybody in all the other religions dies anyway, so the death cult is the one that wins. The death cult can really deliver death. ‘Come and worship with us, and you will die.’ Well, yeah, you probably will! So….what the hell. I took that and ran with it.

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