Thursday, October 30, 2014

4 Reelz: Surrealist Dreams in Narative

Mary Shelley credited the original idea for Frankenstein to a dream; Robert Louis Stevenson made the same claim for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; even Stephanie Meyer says she dreamed some of the key scenes in Twilight. At the very highest and lowest points in the history of narrative, dreams have influenced writers to a great degree. Often they point to our inner thoughts, both troubles and longing, and sometimes foreshadow what is to come.

In the King of Tars, the princess dreams of one hundred black hounds who threaten her, but she thinks of God and is unharmed. It is easily apparent that the swarm of wild dogs is the Saracen army that invaded her father's kingdom - their dark coats representing the darker skin of the men in the Sultan's ranks. Then she dreams of another hound, singular this time (likely the Sultan himself) who is at first threatening to her, until she meditates on the passion of Christ. At her display of faith the hound transforms into a white knight. This mirrors the Sultan's own transformation after God reshapes his deformed child and he agrees to convert. 

But aside from the bazaar change in the pigment of her husband's skin, the princess dreams of the world as it was and will be in the surrealists tones that speak to a deeper level of understanding. This kind of subconscious storytelling pervades through the modern narrative, not only touching books but films, music and video games as well. For the more visually based narrative dreams play a crucial factor in our understanding of the internal workings of a character. Taking for instance the dream sequence in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner where Harrison Ford chases a unicorn through the woods. Despite the film's complex surrealism, it is understood that the flight of the unicorn is representative of Ford's own goals.

Another example from an even more resent film can be found in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, where Scott is a down on his luck boy wishing for a girlfriend. In his dream he is stranded in the middle of an expansive desert with no one around. When he lays down to die, a girl that he hadn't yet met skates through the dust and past him again. This girl would come into the film in the following scene.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Racial Branding

The emphasis on race and more specifically, the distinction of “white” from the cultural and physical “other,” appears not only in Sultan of Babylon and King of Tars but also in popular culture of today, such as the box office hit Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which although mostly fantastical has some elements of medieval culture in it, and the cult television series Game of Thrones.

In the Sultan of Babylon as well as in King of Tars, the “white” and Christian characters are clearly separated from the idol worshiping, pagan others by both religious affiliation and the depiction of both the Sultan and the King of Tars as weak until they are either converted or killed. For both male rulers are manipulated or usurped by women, whether it be their wives or children, and made to become more similar to the “white” religious crusaders.

In the Lord of the Rings, the good and noble characters that are on the right side of the battle for control of and freedom for Middle Earth can all be classified as white, from the elves to the Hobbits to Gandalf “the White” to the various human characters. Throughout the duration of the trilogy, the white characters are fighting against the unjust, evil and rebellious forces controlled by Sauron (who isn’t even human, but simply represented by a giant eye) and are made up of a variety of mostly monstrous forms, the troll-like Orcs, the dragon-esque Smaug, the deformed creature of Smeagul and the Balrogs. While these races are undoubtedly evil, it is their physical difference from the “white” characters that is most striking. Similarly, in In Game of Thrones, all of the powerful characters, from Daerneys to the Lannisters to the Stark family, are primarily white and there is little to none African or Asian representation.  It is only wild, savage, rather uncivilized Dothraki, reminiscent of the conquering Mongols that differ physically from the rest of the show’s cast.

Ultimately, in both the tales from Medieval literature and our own modern depictions, it is clear that the practice of racial branding is extremely relevant, common and often used to solidify the correctness or right to rule of the narrating party.

Pretend A' Faith

Is Faith Enough?

In the King of Tars we are presented with a princess, whosefeigned conversion from Christianity to the Sultan’s Pagan faithsatisfies the Sultan’s requirements for coitus and marriage.  For him, (the Sultan) it was enough to hear her say the words and to see her draped in his countries’ clothing.  It was not until the “lump” or unformed child came into existence that proof of the princess’s deception appeared, which led to the “duel of their gods” and the ultimate conversion of the Sultan, proved through the change of his skin from black to white.  This all happens rather quickly in the story as     pregnancy occurs directly after marriage, but what would have happened if she had not conceived a child for say, years? As she continued to worship the gods she claimed not to love, dressed as a Saracen, and lay with her husband, would anyone, including her father, The King of Tars, ever truly trust her continued Faith?  Where does time and actions cross the line of no return?  This question is not only for times of past, but rears its head today in similar fashion.
In April of 2014, a rebel group from Nigeria called BokoHaram kidnapped more than 200 school girls.  The girls’subsequent forced conversion to Islam was felt throughout the world.   No one believes that these girls have really taken on the faith, but sympathize with their survivalist behavior.  But for how long?  Boko Haram is taking its chances with the girls, marrying them off to their members after conversion is completed.   They seem to possess an understanding that even if the girls were released, or escape, their purity of faith and body will come into question from then on.  One such woman saidthat she and a few others were released after, they pretended to be Muslims, and pledged never to return to school.”  
This is a political move on Boko Haram’s part.  The longer they hold on to the girls, constraining them to their culture and practices, the more power they convey, and the more justification they have for their beliefs.  People begin to wonder when the pretending ends and the believing begins.  Releasing a few girls at a time that can testify to the groups purpose and procedure serves to propagandize their message.  If they can hold on to the majority of the girls long enough for them to produce viable offspring, they have won their “duel of the gods”, and can claim political and spiritual validity.
The King of Tars is political religious propaganda.  The vehicle is a woman’s body and faith, through the act of conversion.  The proof of her faith lay in her immobile unformed child, but true dominance revealed itself in the conversion of the Sultan.  With his conversion, he earned the political right to call upon others, The King of Tars, for political gain.  Boko Haram, as well, is taking steps to ensure their right to call upon others of the Muslim faith to take political action, including defying the Nigerian government and international pressure, and they seem capable of holding their ground.  Just days after the Oct 17th announcement that a cease fire had been negotiated with Boko Haram, between 25-30 more women and girls were abducted.
While it is unlikely that any of the abducted girls’ offspring will be unformed lumps of flesh, it is likely that many of the girls who stay long enough within Boko Haram will have difficulty reintegrating into whatever faith and community they were torn from, and their offspring will always hold the stigma of evil practice. People will always wonder how far did any of these women go down that rabbit hole.

The External and Internal Threat: Past Prejudice, Modern Progress, and Danger

The medieval Christian stories we have been reading present more a clearly defined and  simplistic view of religion and race. In the medieval mind, race and religious faith are inseparably intertwined, placing this relationship in clearly defined boundaries: if you are white you are Christian, if you are not white you are not Christian. In the confines of this simple equation, what is and is not a threat to these Christian’s is easy to identify as well: religion that is not Christian is foreign religion, and foreign religion threatens Christianity. 
            In these stories we see a division in this threat of foreign religion, there is the internal threat and the external threat. On an internal level you have the Jewish population seen as a foreign religion in Christian nations (EX: “Child slain by Jews” in The Middle English Miracles of the Virgin). On an external level you have Islam, seen as a foreign religion present in foreign nations (EX: Sultan of Babylon). How much of this ideology is retained today? Very little, and what does remain has of late, evolved substantially.
            Western nations that once identified as Christian nations have become largely secular. With a trend towards multiculturalism, the majority of western nations have been encouraging an unprecedented level of immigration that has changed the face of many of these nations. National identity in many western nations is shifting away from conceptions of race as a unifying quality, to union though ideological identity. With national identity shifting to ideological over racial, what is perceived as threats to these nations has also shifted from racial to ideological.
Though this shift has created national identity dramatically different from the nationally identity we see in medieval literature, we do see in the modern day, a reflection of the threat posed by foreign religion in medieval literature. Terrorist attacks and war in the Middle East has reawakened the perception of Islam as a threatening force. However, unlike in medieval literature this threat has had, more singularly, an ideological contest. This war and terrorism has not been seen as having racial motivation, but ideological.
Just as important to note is that unlike the Christian nations of the past, western nations of the present do not perceive all Muslims or Islam as a whole to be the threat, but rather, what has been deemed “radical Islam”. Though Islam has again become perceived as a threatening force, it is not Islam as a whole that is seen as threatening. In the modern day, the fear is of “radicals”.
The struggle against ISIS has changed the western perception of radical Islam as a singularly external threat, to an internal threat as well.

No longer is radical Islam a threat posed singularly by people of foreign nations, but from the people within western nations as well. It has been a shocking revelation that 2500 people from western nations are fighting along side ISIS. In light of this, many westerners are examining the local sphere, trying to identify why, what has so long seemed an external threat, has become so acutely internal as well. This national introspection has brought to light some very shocking events.

As noted in The Telegraph, a UK newspaper, the kind of religiously motivated crime within western nations is evolving as well. Liberal immigration policies with next to no structure for integration has given fundamentalist Islamic ideology a foothold to evolve into radicalism within these nations.
            Though western nations of the modern day do reflect some of the medieval trends in perception, the context, very fortunately, could not be more different.  In the modern world we are moving away from the confines of race towards national identity founded in ideological unity. Greatly freed from the prejudices present in medieval literature, western nations of the modern day no longer condemn Islam as a whole, but radical ideology stemming from fundamentalism.

MJ Did(n't Do) it First

 So the Sultan converts to Christianity for his beautiful bride, The Princess of Tars, and their miraculously cured (former) lump child. What happens? His skin turns from black to white. Because Christians have white skin, of course. Or is it that white skin makes a Christian, one who is chosen and favored by God? So many shaky points are staring me in the face right now. Skin doesn’t just turn from black to white. And why is white skin so great in the first place, it’s not.

I’m assuming that everyone reading this has a solid realization that the color of your sin doesn’t make you prettier, cooler, wealthier, classier or give you a better sense of fashion. But based on trends around the world my assumption might prove wrong.

Have you heard of skin bleaching?

Michael Jackson may or may not have had vitiligo, a skin disease that causes blotches of skin that lose their pigmentation. He may have bleached his skin in order to cover up these. However, he may have been preemptively doing what people are now doing all over the world. Because for some reason “light-skin” has been a thing sought after for a very long time.

In the Renaissance and Victorian era the snow-white look was the highest form of the beauty a woman could hold. It meant she was rich, and lived a life of leisure, not having to slave, I said it, in the hot sun, but rather was taking strolls with her umbrella as shade, or just lounging the day away – having her portrait done. And in Asian culture, let’s think the Japanese Geisha, with her skin painted, literally, snow white. She was a prize and a beauty to behold, albeit a whore. But the cultural preference was based on the same notion, the wealthy, privileged and “beautiful” women didn’t have to work outside for long hours. The poor urban women did, and got a tan along with their meager paycheck..

Skip to.. well, now… and you’ll see that the light skin love was far but a passing phase. I’ll reiterate, have you heard of skin bleaching - the use of chemical substances to lighten ones skin tone – many of which have been found to be toxic? If not, Google it. I did, and expected to find articles about how it’s happening all over the world. Instead, I found ads.

It’s a phenomenon facing many cultures around the world. And even Michael Jackson famously sings, “it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case. And whether your talking medieval representations of beauty of modern ones the impact is, well, visible.

There’s been rumors of course that Beyonce has lightened her skin for certain campaigns using Photoshop. But the problem doesn’t (lay) with her or MJ. Its true abhorrence can be seen in the women who use these lightening products, destroying heir beautiful skin and health, because they want to fit this fair beauty standard.

D. Channsin Berry and Bill Duke recently released a documentary called Dark Girls, which speaks on this very problem. Many African Amerian women come to the interviews ready to tell their stories about their experiences with skin bleaching, by their own choice or froced on them by their mothers. It includes candid interviews with black men saying "a dark woman just looks weird at my side." And one woman will tell you how her family, when she gave birth to a light skinned baby girl, was told "you are so lucky she didn't come out dark."

The light skin issue in King of Tars is extremely relevant today. In the story it seems to be used to an extreme, where mixing between races is unacceptable.  To even be truly accepted as a Christian the Sultan’s skin had to change completely. Now, mixing is even encouraged, so as to lighten the skin of a family. It’s a problem  that needs to be addressed, but one that’s rooted so far back in human history I’m not sure when people will finally come to there senses. We all know these days that you can be Christian with any skin tone. But have we realized that you can also be stunning?

Boys and Their Toys: The Impact of Arthur and Caliburn on Pop Culture Storytelling

The legacies of King Arthur and his sword, Caliburn (or Excalibur), have become intertwined so much that they're basically a buddy cop duo at this point.  Most people with a cursory knowledge of Arthurian legend will be able to tell you the name of the sword Arthur used, and Caliburn itself endures as one of the most famous weapons in all of popular culture.  Even in a new world of modernized weaponry, the public at large still remembers that one really cool sword that King Arthur had.  

Looks even cooler mounted on the wall above the desktop computer in my stepmom's basement.

  But when did our heroes become so linked with the weapons they used?  The literary device of giving a character an "ace in the hole" accessory has been popular since stories were first being told, and remains a stalwart device to this day.  We know the name of Beowulf's sword (Hrunting), Hercules' sword (Anaklusmos), and I'm sure that non-famous characters within oral tradition and mythology have names for their accessories as well.  Even today it's not uncommon.  As a culture, we cherish some of our own objects to the point of characterization, and this blatant material worship will continue until we collectively stop thinking that cars and guns and children are cool enough to warrant a name and personality.


"This is Rosie.  She's fast as hell and antisemitic." 

Giving a hero or villain a legendary weapon makes sense within the genre of science-fiction and fantasy because characters within these genres are often given impossible tasks that can only be completed if they're gifted an item that imbues them with larger-than-life qualities.  Video games, especially role-playing games, make item collecting a central component of gameplay, and most games will include at least one one of a kind weapon that gives the player a significant leg up on their enemies.  It's the closest that modern man will come to feeling what Arthur felt when he slayed thousands of Saxons without trying very hard.

Pictured: Man murdering vicariously through virtual man

There are multitudes of characters within popular culture that possess a legendary weapon, and the legacies behind these weapons are sometimes as in-depth or more in-depth than the characters' themselves.  The most sterling example of this phenomenon is present in the game Doom.  The game's protagonist is an unnamed space marine that no one really knows anything about (a tradition that remains throughout the entire series), but one of his guns, the BFG (or Big Fucking Gun), has become one of the most well-known weapons in popular gaming culture.

Looks even better on the bookshelf in my bedroom where I get laid a bunch.

One of the most popular game series of all time, The Legend of Zelda, has made finding a powerful sword a central component of every one of its titles.  Sure, the plot of every Zelda may differ, but since the first entry on the Super Nintendo console (A Link to the Past) was released, every subsequent Zelda game has revolved around the main character (Link) trying to attain the Master Sword to defeat whatever antagonist he's currently being threatened by.  The Master Sword itself is an homage to Excalibur and Arthurian myth, because Link usually finds it within a stone pedestal and spends a significant portion of the game figuring out how to remove it.


Master Sword with natural spotlight

The materialism present in our culture could explain why the trend of legendary objects in media persists to this day, but this may be too cynical of a viewpoint.  Legendary objects have become an almost unbreakable trope in modern science-fiction and fantasy storytelling, and I don't see the trope stopping anytime soon.  The escapist/wish-fulfillment element of genre storytelling will keep legendary objects present for as long as these genres are popular, because everyone who reads/views/plays these stories would really like to find a glowing mace in their backyard.  If the people like it, and it ain't broke, there's not really a reason to fix it. 


Pictured: A contemporary epic hero


Re:mixed people (pun intended)

In this course we have looked at a few different stories that discuss what people in the Middle Ages may have thought about children born of interracial couples and the reflection skin color has on character. In The King of Tars the child that is born of a Christian mother and a Saracen (Muslim) father is literally a formless, monster baby. In the Man of Laws tale the child magically becomes pure white after being baptized.

One story we haven't read in class, though Professor Blake has mentioned it several times, is Wolfram Von Eschenbach's Parzival. Eschenbach takes a contrarian stance on the issue of interracial marriage in the form of Parzival's half brother Feirfiz. Feirfiz is the product of Parzival's Father's first marriage to the Moorish Queen Belecane. Because he has a European father and a Middle Eastern mother Feirfiz is said to have been born spotted. Eschenbach describes Feirfiz's complexion as being made up of white and black patches. His appearance is also compared to that of a magpie which sort of makes sense.

Despite Feirfiz's unusual complexion, he is never treated differently and is said to be quite handsome. He goes on to win a reputation for himself as the best knight in his land. He eventually takes his knighting skills over to Europe and unknowingly engages in a duel with his half brother. After Parzival breaks his sword over Feirfiz's helmet, the speckled knight refuses to continue because he would be forced to fight an unarmed man. The duel is declared a tie and the the combatants realize that they are half-brothers and become close friends. 

So, if Feiriz was so great despite being born of interracial marriage and not being a miraculous convert, why would Eschenbach create a speckled character? Perhaps the inspiration for his character really did have uneven pigmentation. There is a condition known as vitiligo that causes depigmentation of parts of the skin. This condition is fairly rare, affecting less than 1%, of the world's population. But, it is not uncommon and can affect people of any race. 

In 1986 Michael Jackson was diagnosed with vitiligo, a rare non-contagious disease characterized by pale patches on the skin. The causes are not known, but a range of genetic, auto-immune, and environmental causes are suspected.

Over the years Michael Jackson evolved from a charming, young, obviously African American performer into a different looking sort of personal altogether. It is thought that Jackson's case of vitiligo was a result of his use of skin bleaching products and a general lifetime effort of "beautification." Vitiligo is not always or caused by skin bleaching but it may be a contributing factor in some cases.

Music producer Quincy Jones, who worked with Jackson at the beginning of his transformation said, "It's ridiculous, man! Chemical peels and all of it. And I don't understand it. But he obviously didn't want to be black." Jackson's transformation is closest modern comparison to some of the stories we have read in which babies become white due to baptism (rebirth in Anglo-Christian culture). 

Maybe Feirfiz was a real person and Eschenbach assumed that their skin was that way due to mixed heritage. Maybe Eschenbach knew someone who had vitiligo and wanted to write a story in which someone who had speckled skin was as awesome as someone who was white. One thing is for sure though, the myths that people believe about character being a product or reflection of skin color still exist and in real life transformations aren't miraculous. 

Medieval Menstruation

Stories such as The King of Tars—where a Saracen sultan’s skin turns white upon being baptized—and The Man of Law’s Tale—in which a pale princess is held up as the epitome of virtue—make clear the contemporary audience’s desire for tangible, corporeal proof of faith.  This desire stems in part from medieval anxieties concerning false conversion, and the moral ambiguity of miscegenation; if a person was not “pure” of body—having pale skin, uncircumcised genitalia, and modest dress—then could they truly be pure of soul?  It seems plausible that the concern for corporeal piety was perpetuated by the Church and Christian authors alike as a way to establish the place of white Christian men at the top of the socioreligious hierarchy.  Like the moral threat posed by race, the visible functions of a woman’s body—predominantly, menstruation—raised questions of moral contamination that could not be ignored.
In terms of worth, women’s bodies were valuable bartering tools: A girl’s hand in marriage could end wars, unite countries, and ensure the legitimacy of male heirs.  However, none of these procedures could be put fully in motion until the marriage could be consummated—which meant that a woman couldn’t reach her full economic potential until she’d had her first period. 
having fun & syncing their cycles #blessed
Thought to be a form of divine punishment for Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, medieval medicine was ambivalent about the physical nature of menstruation.  While some believed it to be a sickness, it seems that most sources thought that a woman’s monthly courses served to cleanse her insides of the filth that they were constantly accruing as a result of impure thoughts and an inherently weak, susceptible nature.  For this reason, menstrual blood was thought to be toxic, capable of polluting men and killing crops; the use of herbal remedies, such as crudely-made tampons dipped in honey or moss-stuffed wool pads, were used to enhance the cleaning process. 
Significantly, many holy women did not menstruate regularly, which seemed to confirm medieval notions of the dirtiness of lay women.  It is likely that the extremely sparse diets of pious women, and the fact that many who turned to monasticism were menopausal widows, were the underlying causes of this phenomenon (or lack thereof)—not their piety.  Either way, it was believed that menstruation was proof of the inherently sinful nature of women; clearly, like the racial origins of men, the physical functions of women held heavy religious implications.

Transformation: Creating a "Perfect" Race.

      In King of Tars we see transformation occurring quite a bit. It's interesting that despite the princess coming to the sultans land, and being involved in a completely different world, the story ends with her altering the lives of not only her "husband" and baby, but an entire group of people. Religious conversion and exterior transformation seem to go hand and hand in this story. So here is my question. If the princess is able to come to this pagan land, sleep with the sultan, bear his child (before his conversion) why does she not go through some kind of transformation. I understand that she is still Christian upon her arrival, and she maintains her faith through out, (despite claiming she's converted after the sultan threatens to kill her parents) but how is it that she is able to lay with a pagan man and see no consequence? Unless you count the lump baby as consequence, she sees none.
     In the story it is also implied that the child is born that way because the sultan's religious stance was not correct. The first sign of transformation we see is when the princess has the dream. A mere hound turns into a white knight after a bite.

Obviously this is a dream, and dreams are weird sometimes, but the foreshadowing in his section says a lot about how the transformation of the sultan is necessary. But why? What makes the Christians superior? Is this only about the color of ones skin? Or is it all about religious stand point? In the dream, the fact that the sultan is represented as a hound implies that his race is lesser than the princess'.
     The reading leads me to believe that it is both. Not only is the sultan "impure" or "incorrect" in his beliefs, but he is also dark skinned. This becomes relevant because during the sultans baptism, his skin becomes white..... Does white skin truly show purity? I would challenge this. I think if the princess is willing to marry and have sex with an "impure" man, wouldn't that make her impure as well? I believe so. Yet during his literary period,varying religious stances were shunned, therefore it makes sense that the story has such implications about race and religion. From a modern perspective, impurity is something that is occurring more in this story than just with the sultan.

H2WOAH: Miracles and Baptism

In the picture above, it may look like a man in a dress is getting ready to boil a baby for supper. But do not fret- this man is just a priest performing a paedobaptism (or infant baptism). What is baptism exactly? According to Christian belief, a baptism is a holy ceremony in which a Priest blesses a person using water. The person being baptized professes Jesus as his or her savior, and in return, that person is cleansed of his or her sins. The rules and rituals of baptism differ from sect to sect, but many believe that one must be baptized in order to enter Heaven.

(Click this link to watch a baptism.)

Aside from opening the pearly gates and washing away sins, there have been many stories of baptisms aiding in the performance of healing miracles. One of these stories is called The King of Tars which tells of a Christian princess and a Saracen king producing a blob baby. This baby lacks blood, bones, and basically all the parts that a normal, healthy baby would have. However, the blob is baptized, and it miraculously turns into an actual baby. 

--->  --->  
While The King of Tars was written long ago, there are modern day stories of healing through baptism. For instance, an article from 2011 tells the story of a girl who suffered a brain hemorrhage. She was taken off life support and expected to die shortly thereafter, but her family opted to have her baptized before she passed. Instead of dying after her baptism, she made a miraculous recovery. Another example can be seen in this video which shows a woman claiming her cancerous tumor disappeared after being baptized.

Despite the validity of any of these stories, people still believe in the power of baptism. This continuous belief is just one aspect that connects The King of Tars to the present day. Even though this story was told years before our time, the ideas and morals referring to baptism or religious conversion portrayed in The King of Tars are still significant today. By simply Googling "baptism miracles" or watching a live-action baptism at a local church, one can see that this ritual holds great significance in the Christian faith. The present contains residual elements from the past, so old texts such as The King of Tars are important in understanding different beliefs and practices that exist in modern society.

A Song of Religion and Literature: The Influence of Real Faith on A Song of Ice and Fire

While writing the book series A Song of Ice and Fire, author George R.R Martin was clear in his intentions.  During an interview with New Jersey monthly (Martin originates from Bayonne New Jersey) he stated, “…historical fiction, particularly the historical fiction set during the middle ages, had an excitement to it and a grittiness and a realness to it that the fantasy novels lacked, even when they were supposedly set during a quasi-medieval period. I wanted to combine the best of both worlds, to almost write a historical novel about history that never happened.”  By drawing inspiration from factual history, Martin adds realistic depth to his novels.  Some of the arms, such as wild fire, were inspired by Greek fire used during the Byzantine Empire.  In addition, several of the characters, such as Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon, were drawn by medieval kings Richard the third and Edward the fourth respectively.  However, Martin’s biggest influence on his novels may have not been in weapons or specific people from history, but in the grounded religions present in Westeros.
Old Gods of the Forest
Though Martin’s world is vast, there are only a few religions present in his novels.  There are the old gods, who are the gods of the forest, mountains and streams.  They are the oldest religion in Westeros, worshipedby the magical children of the forest before the First Men came to the continent and later adopted the religion.  Another is the faith of the seven, which is the dominant religion in the Seven Kingdoms.  Appropriate to its name, the religion is devised around the number seven, meaning to symbolize the seven facets of its one god.  R’hloor is a faith brought from the separate continent of Essos.  It holds a black and white view of the world, where R’hllor is the one true god, and other religions are false idols that must be destroyed.   In addition, there are a few minor gods, such as the Drowned God, the Storm God, the Lady of the Waves, and the Lord of the Skies.
Star of the Seven
All of these religions were created with real world religions in mind.  The old gods are similar to gods of nomadic peoples.  Westeros citizens treat followers of these gods with disdain, labelling them as archaic.  In one regard, this could relate to Judaism in medieval times, where followers of Christianity viewed the Jewish faith as outdated.  In their eyes, they could not see why Jews would continue to believe in the old religion.  Comparatively, the faith of the seven is representative of the Christian faith.  In the faith of the seven, seven different aspects (the Father, the Mother, the Maiden, the Crone, the Warrior, the Smith, and the Stranger) compromise the face of the one god.  This is symbolic of Christianity, where the holy trinity of father, son, and holy ghost are separate, but connected to each other.  Similarly, the many rituals and structure of the faith is similar to Catholic establishments in medieval times.   Churches are known as “septs”, which are seven-sided buildings, with each wall dedicated to one of the seven aspects. Followers of the Faith gather in septs for group prayer, which involves singing hymns of praise to the Seven. One such hymn dedicated to the Mother is "Gentle Mother, Font of Mercy", which was influenced by the many hymns for the Virgin Mary in Catholicism.
Sept of Baelor
While religion provides character background details in his novels, Martin refuses to acknowledge any of his religions as being right or wrong.  Similar to the real world, wars are influenced by religions, but he never puts one religion as less important than another in his novels.  Though there are miracles present, they never have the effect that Christianity has on medieval literature, such as The King of Tars.  By drawing from real religions in his writing, Martin subverts some of the tropes we are seeing in classic medieval literature.