This post has been born out of a conversation I had with Jon's Queen Consort and The Fattest Leach a while back in which we were discussing Val. It also comes in large part as a result of Bemused's thread on Westeros.Org. In which she proposes that Val may hold a Volva/Vala role in Wildling culture.
I have taken that idea a step further, and propose that this Volva/Vala role is already out in the open in the books. Vala were basically witches & there is an in world parallel to witches being made in these books. Woods Witches. The use of the word witch for a start; the role described is the same basically as in our own history ie: A woman who provides basic medical care via Herblore. Whom you might go to for an abortion, or for help during a birth. Who might make you a love spell or an ill-wish? Who might claim to have the ability to scry, or see? etc. This is basically who & what the Vala/Volva were too. In fact, you even find the Vala being referred to as witches when you read accounts in different languages, such as the Roman accounts. And when you look at the role of Volva/Vala in Norse culture,that of the Witch in the rest of pagan European culture, and what became of it post Christianisation it is basically the same thing. They even carried wands!
Bemused proposes in her own thread that Val is a Vala figure and I propose here that her role may be to play the Vala to Jon's Odin/war chief. In the real world, the Vala were nomadic to an extent they traveled independently and were welcomed and honoured when they visited a community. But they also would team up with a war chieftain from time to time and toghether they would form a kind of power couple. Their role echoing the Odin & Frigg/Freya relationship in their community. Some accounts say that Frigg/Freya taught the Aesir the power of Seidhr. (Seeing.) So I am inclined to think there is some likelihood in this notion that Val will be important to Jon.
In The Rogue Prince we meet Alys Rivers; whom I'll admit I'm more than a little obsessed with. She has the ability to see, she sees much and more in campfires, storm clouds, & puddles. And she teams up with a war chieftain, Aemond. Who incidently has one eye. See where I'm going with this? Alys is clearly a magic user, and she is depicted as flying through the sky with her long, flowing Black hair streaming behind her. Now she is flying on the back of a Dragon, but just take a minute to think about what that imagery evokes? Are you picturing a witch?
Alys was a beauty, young, and undoubtedly powerful. Whereas to my knowledge, the other Woodswitches we have met so far have all been old. Which of course fits another trope of witchery.
The Ghost of High Heart is ancient, decrepit, and no one would view her as a potential lover. Likewise, mother mole is inferred as being an old woman. Maggy the Frog is referred to also as a Woodswitch sometimes, though we know she is not of the Old Gods. She seems to fill the same role within Lannisport and the surrounding region as the traditional Westerosi WoodsWitches. Therefore;much as how Mellisandre becomes the Red Witch. Despite being a Priestess, not a witch. It seems Smallfolk in particular, but highborn also tend to name any female magic users as witches. And that anyone who fills the role perceived as Woodswitch will be named as a witch.
Morna is a Wildling Woods witch, whom we have met, unlike Mother Mole. What are we told of her? She is described as neither old nor young. So I'd guess she is mid to late 30's or early to mid 40's.
The idea that Dalla was a Woods Witch too is a good one, as we know she is described by Mel as a Wise Woman. And well, a Witch too is a wise woman. Another name for Vala is fjǫlkunnig, which means Plenty of Knowing.
The major impression we get in the books about Woodswitches comes from Southron Knights, and we're left with the impression of harmless old women, living hermetic lifestyles in the woods concocting moontea and selling their skills to young maids in trouble. But what if these ladies are just the remnants of a First Men institution which once held way more clout. I mean what happened to real-world witches once Christianity came in? They lost their social standing and went into hiding mostly. It got to the point of mass persecution & eventually hysteria! What about in a world where Paganism and Christianity had ended up co-existing though? Would they have ended up as a few lonely women living on the fringes of society doling out herbs and what not to the desperate villagers?
When we take a look beyond the wall at Morna & Mother Mole it certainly seems they garner a lot more respect than the few modern Westerosi Witches do. Mother Mole is so revered that thousands of wildlings follow her after she has a vision. And Morna is not only a witch but also a warrior, and she wears a Weirwood mask. She seems to be a leader too, Jon puts her in charge of Queensgate. She has a title Morna Whitemask. And she seems to be respected amongst her people. So within the stronger Firstmen culture of the Wildlings Woodswitches are much more important than in the southron Seven worshipping regions.
Let's look at historical WoodsWitches now. Nimble Dick tells Brienne of Ser Clarence, a local folk hero. This is what he says of Ser Clarence's wife:- note this is another Warrior with a witch as a wife/partner.
"His wife was a woods witch. Whenever Ser Clarence killed a man, he'd fetch his head back home and his wife would kiss it on the lips and bring it back t' life."
So this Woodswitch had the power to reanimate the dead, even once the head was removed? Now I actually think this power is the fire kiss, but that's another topic. The point is though that this is a Woodswitch doing way more than performing abortions or making love potions for giddy maids.
In the world book we hear of several, firstly I'll mention a Dothraki war lord who consulted with his mother who was a Witch Queen, in the histories of the Grasslands. Interestingly one of the Norse poetic Edda's refers to a Vala called Gudrun who married Atilla the Hun. She served him their sons hearts in honey, after he had killed her brothers and then she killed him too. By setting fire to his hall with him inside. Sounds interesting given the Dothraki similarities to the Hunnish. Again this is a warlord with a witch for a wife or mother.
When Varymyr Six Skins gives us an account of his brothers' death. He says that a Woodswitch came to his mother and told her that her son was with the gods now. In the Tree's and all around them. This terrified Varymyr as it made him think his brother could see him. however my interest lies in the fact that here we see a WoodsWitch performing the role of a priest. In our world priests visit the bereaved and counsel them that their loved ones are in the arms of the Lord now. So here we have a WoodsWitch taking on that role showing once again that past the wall at least WoodsWitches are more than we've been led to believe.
In Storm we briefly meet a man named Lenn, whose feelings regarded the weather are taken as gospel, because his mother was a WoodsWitch. Again showing us that the seer ability of Woodswitches within the more traditionall Old Gods culture is taken seriously. We have a Wildling with Mance called Willow-Witch Eye, who has a long Black Braid. We learn nothing else of her. Though given GRRM's tendency to write about witchy women with long black hair I can't help take note of her. Maybe Mance took her because she has the blood of a witch? Witch-eye might indicate she has some seeing abillity? I'm speculating here but mainly just wanted to take note of her and the specific moiker of Witch-Eye.
And in the world book we learn of several historical Woods Witches who were also Queens. One in the Riverlands. Called Sharra-the Witch Queen. Again is she a Queen because she is a witch who teamed up with a warrior chief? Or is she more like Morna and leads/rules on her own?
We hear of the fire-Witch in the mountains of the moon, with her burned men and her dragon - this could be Nettles from The Princess and the Queen. I think we should consider why this woman is being named a witch? If it is Nettles then we have to take into account the fact she may have Targaryen blood. The Dragonseeds who claimed Dragons in that novella were supposed to be descended from Targaryens. Nettles is often thought of as not a dragonseed and so touted as proof that you do not need Targaryen blood to ride a dragon. She tamed hers with dead sheep. Personally I do think she was a Dragonseed, and if this was indeed her that the naming of her as a Witch by the First Men of the Mountains of the Moon, implies she was indeed of the Targaryen blood. And that she was named as a witch due to prophetic dreaming. A trait of Targaryens known as dragon dreams. There is nothing in the story that indicates as far as I remember that Nettles had any Dragon dreams. So I am merely speculating again.
There is a place called the Witch isle in the Vale region which has a sinister reputation. And in The World of Ice & Fire once again we learn of a woman; a leader - Ursula Upcliff. Of House Upcliff whose seat lies upon the Witch Isle. Ursula was said to be a powerful sorceress. She joins with several of the other First Men of the Vale in an attempt to throw back the Andals but according to songs, one Torgold Tollett tore the Witches head from her body. So we can garner that there is a song about this battle and that in it she is named as a Witch. Given she was said to be a sorceress and lived on Witch Isle. I think it likely she can be included in our list of historical Woodswitches who were powerful leaders. She claimed to be the wife of the Merling king a god often associated with sea faring and who house Velaryon claim they received the Driftwood Throne from as part of a pact. So again we have a witch as wife to a great leader, a god no less!
In the reach: Harlon the HunterandHerndon of the Horn, twin brothers who built their castle atop Horn Hill. Took to wife the beautiful Woodswitchwho dwelled there, sharing her favors for a hundred years (for the brothers did not age so long as they embraced her whenever the moon was full).
Another woods witch taking warrior husbands, two in this case! And one with strong magical powers it seems.
At Highgarden. Mern III (the Madling) showered gold and honours on a Woodswitch who claimed that she could raise armies of the dead to throw the Andals back. Again this can be taken as evidence that some Woodswitches had knowledge of the magic required for the fire kiss.
And in the Stormlands the Woodswitch known as the Green Queen held the rainwood for a generation.
Nymeria was known as a Water Witch, and a Witch-Queen. So again showing us that when women turn up in Westeros with magical powers they get adopted into the category of witch. All of which adds weight to the idea that Woodswitches are or have been in the past people who wielded real magical ability and various skills. And that their place in this world could indeed be far more than what we are initially led to believe.
One of the questions I posed in the thread which this post is based upon was; why are Woodswitches named Woodswitches? Is it because they are witches who live on the fringes of their communities, in the woods. Or are they called Woodswitches because they are witches of the Weirwood?
I think it is the latter, these women whom we meet in the historical accounts are all First Men. The Woodswitches of the Free Folk are of course also First men. The Ghost of High Heart is as far as can be asertained from the text an Old Gods follower. She even looks like a Weirwood with her long white hair, pale skin, and red eyes. We have a few non-Old Gods women who are named Witch in the series. I feel we can make reason of this by assuming that in Westeros if a woman turns up and has magic then people will call her by the name which they use for women in their own communities who have magic. ie: Witch.
Note how Mellisandre becomes the Red Witch, not a Woodswitch. She is viewed as a witch and they use something associated with her to dub her the Red Witch, she wears red all the time. Nymeria became a Water Witch,because the Rhoynar's magic was water magic. The witch with a dragon in the Mountains of the Moon was a Fire Witch becauseher dragon breathed fire. Which again supports that this may have been Nettles, she was not as far as I can recall an Old Gods follower, indeed coming from Dragonstone she likely was not. But the clans of the Mountains of the Moon are, so them naming this woman Fire Witch would indicate she was not of the First men like them.
What does all of this tell us? Well, it all comes together to indicate that Woodswitches matter a lot more than you'd imagine. And that if Val is a Woodswitch in training (as indicated by her having a Weirwood face brooch as opposed to Morna's full mask) then we might see her using some of the powers we hear about through the historical accounts, in the upcoming books.
When we take into account the stuff about the Valla and Warlords from Norse mythology and the stuff from the historical accounts of Woodswitches and Kings/warrior leaders. I think we can make a prediction about Val & Jon. It became quite obvious in A Dance with Dragons that there is sexual attraction between the two characters.
Something I noted of interest, was that Jon; who is an Odin figure. Spies Val through a Myrish lens from atop the wall. A Myrish lens is essentially a telescope so he's looking at her one eyed here.
And when he spots her outside of Mance's tent she is milking a goat. In Norse mythology, there is a goat (Heiðrún.) who provides the Mead for the hall of Valhalla. That Mead is served by the Valkyries. Who are represented on earth by the women known as Valla or Volva. Who as I said at the start were essentially witches who wandered around and teamed up with warrior leaders. So again this hints at Jon and Val as an Odin & Frigg/Freya team.