Fire, Blood, and Magic
Skinchaging is the one form of magic that defies the rules, so far. Up to now, it doesn't appear to be tied to training or even awareness of its existence. It's use is unconscious for many of those who have it, though training and awareness does improve the user's abilities.
All other magical powers require a source or focus. Skinchanging appears to defy this requirement. The power to skinchange appears to come entirely from the skinchanger and has no connection to their geographical location. The most likely explanation is that those who are able to skinchange have a natural affinity for magic and are therefore a magic focus. What differs them from other foci is that their power may only be used by them and is not affected by belief, either their own or others.
We only have the examples of the Stark children for those who have the potential but fail to use it. Robb definitely lacks the confidence to utilize skinchanging and it costs him.
Sansa also fails to skinchange anything as of yet.
The most confident Starks, Arya, Bran, and Jon, are much better at skinchanging.
We have no way of judging the mental contribution of the direwolves to this process. Rickon's direwolf Shaggydog appears to have greater confidence than he does and it shows. Perhaps the better term of use would be willpower, not confidence.
We have nothing to judge the mental abilities of the dragons, but it is likely they too have some effect on the ability. Skinchanging does offer the possibility of bonding with dragons even without Valyrian blood. Confidence is key, in both skinchanging and bonding with dragons.
What needs to be remembered is that skinchangers are NOT magic users. That is not to say they are incapable of becoming magic users. But the act of skinchanging is different from any other form of magic and may be strictly an intrinsic trait.
Visions also operate differently from other forms of magic. Anyone can be the recipient of visions, though it is magic users who are most likely to receive them. The origins of visions is more questionable. It appears that all visions must originate with some greater power. But what is this greater power? I'll discuss this in a moment.
A user is able to cast spells to see visions. But the user has no control over the vision. The accuracy of visions is questionable and very open to interpretation. Some appear to be of the past, others of the future. Most involve current events.
They are never straightforward. All involve some level of consideration.
As best we can interpret the information in the story, all visions originate with some higher power. Whether that means one power or dozens is not explained. What defines a higher power is also unexplained. They are perhaps beings, conscious beings, who are the focus of tremendous power and possess the awareness of it. Some might describe these as gods.
Regardless, these higher powers choose who and when to send visions. Any user who asks for one has no control of what or even if they receive one. It is possible the higher power may not have any control over them either.
Prophecies are a kind of vision and, as a result, obey the same rules. Those that speak prophecies don't necessarily know or understand what they mean. Nor are prophets necessarily magic users in any other way.
Many people could be the recipients of visions without even knowing it. Littlefinger, for example, might be such a recipient.
He frequently behaves as if he is more knowledgeable than he should be. This has led at least one youtuber, Order of the Green Hand, to believe that he is himself a user. It is more likely that he is being used as the catspaw of a greater power without his knowing it.
Use of dragonglass, or obsidian, can improve the ability to see visions. Obsidian formed into a glass candle is optimal for this purpose. Glass candles acquire their magic powers the same way as any other artifact, though dragonglass seems to be particularly good as a focus.
It has been speculated that other magical artifacts that incorporate dragonglass are especially magical. Notably the Catspaw Dagger is believed to contain a dragonglass gem.
Dragonglass is not a requirement for an artifact, but it does appear to help in creating one. Various other kinds of gemstones might also serve this purpose.
The fact that dragonglass absorbs magic makes them very effective as a weapon against magical creatures. This would explain how in the show merely stabbing a wight with dragonglass will kill the wight. It needs to be pointed out that in the books dragonglass is not shown to have any effect on wights. Dragonglass is lethal to the Others. It is possible that other creatures created with the Other's magic might also be susceptible.
This is just a personal opinion of my own, but I believe the Catspaw Dagger was created by Visenya specifically to combat the Others and their creations.
Greenseers are users just like any other kind save they are all skinchangers. Because all greenseers with the exception of Bran and Bloodraven are Children of the Forest they use their magic strictly in line with the beliefs of those people. Theoretically there is nothing preventing them from using magic in other ways.
Greenseers seem to be particularly prone to the receipt of visions. This is probably because greenseers are linked to the weirwoods.
The magic of the Others is unlike that of anyone else. The reason might be that they are linked permanently to the weirwoods. The power they use comes strictly from the trees. They cannot and do not draw from any other source. The symbols they are shown making in the TV show are likely meant as power points, their own version of magic reservoirs.
This is also something not in the books.
Aside from always involving ice their magic does not appear to have any restrictions on its use. The Others are expert necromancers. There is no known limit on who or what they can raise from the dead. Nor is there any limit on how old remains have to be to be raised. No explanation has yet been given on why the Others are necromancers.
The use of magic appears to be intrinsic to them. We have no indications as of yet as to how they practice magic, or even if there are any special classes of them. In the show they are able to use magic at whim, but their only power is to raise the dead. Unless you count creating a storm. Their true magical abilities will only be revealed in future books.
The weirwoods are special even for Planatos, unless Gemma's speculations about ironwood/ebony are true. Weirwoods are the most powerful natural collectors of magic on Planatos. They absorb magic even when there is no one focusing on them. Even when they have been cut down. The stumps and roots continue to act as foci. The cut wood itself absorbs magic. Anything made of weirwood is automatically an artifact regardless of what it is made into.
The weirwood net is the greatest reservoir of magic on the planet. It needs to be remembered, the weirwoods are not just the trees, but all the intertwined roots that are buried throughout Westeros. If all the stored magic within them were to go off at once it is not unreasonable to think that the entire continent might disappear.
As related in a previous article, the weirwood net is not only alive, but aware. It has a mind of its own. If anything could be described as godlike in ASOIAF the weirwood net would be it. More importantly, it is also aware of its power. The only thing preventing it from using that power to more destructive purpose is its inherent nature. Its mind is that of a tree, or maybe a forest would be a better analogy. It does not comprehend the use of power the same way men do.
The weirwoods are limited in being unable to move on their own, lacking the means for independent mobility. They also lack hands. They are dependent on shorter lived bipeds to serve those purposes. But they don't need us. Being trees, they do not need animals to live at all.
All that being said their power is not infinite. They must by necessity use some of the power they absorb to maintain the existence of the Others. They do not have the ability to cut off this flow even if they wanted to. Because they are plants their mode of thinking, not to mention their ability to act on their thoughts is restrained in ways different than ours. They cannot prevent others from tapping into their network or prevent them from using their stored power. It is one of the great ironies that the most powerful beings in the story are also the most helpless.
The trees themselves cannot move magic energy, only absorb it. Their thought processes are too different from animals. As mentioned in the weirwood article, the trees are responsible for the screwed up seasons. The trees have to absorb magic during the summers, while they expend it during the winters. Because they are trees it is possible they are able to absorb magic through sunlight. As with the Red Comet, the sun might add magic to the world, if only in tiny increments.
From my observations most, if not all, of the visions in the story originate from the weirwoods. This might be true of the prophecies too, but there are indications that these have a different source.
Though the weirwoods absorb magic naturally, they do benefit from worship and veneration. It is another great irony that the First Men, who I think it is safe to say, chopped down the weirwoods in an effort to break their power actually made them stronger. The trees absorbed the men's fear and hate.
Taking all this into account the question becomes can the weirwoods use magic themselves? The safe answer would be no. If they could they wouldn't need servants.
It is likely that the net uses visions and suggestion to manipulate others into taking actions that the net wants. But more direct actions by the trees requires long, as in centuries or even millennia, of effort. We can therefore assume that when the trees take direct action the consequences are assuredly titanic.
How long the weirwoods have had this ability we will likely never know. That they predate all the intelligent beings we know about goes without question. Whether they were created or evolved on their own will forever remain unanswered.
This is not about greasy black stone, but the Black Stone of the Bloodstone Emperor. We have no reason to believe that the Black Stone will play any role in the story beyond the fact that Martin made such a point of mentioning it in the World Book. Nevertheless, I think it does and my book summaries are made with that assumption.
What the Black Stone looked like, or even its size, is unknown. Though it is likely the Bloodstone Emperor got his name from the Stone he worshiped.
And it had to be large enough that the Emperor was able to use a piece of it to make a sword. His 'worshiping' it takes on new meaning with this current analysis. Quinn of Ideas of Ice and Fire has speculated that it is the spirit of the Bloodstone Emperor which has taken possession of Euron's body. At first I was skeptical, but now I am not so sure.
How might the Stone enter into the story and how will it affect it?
I have long figured that the Stone it what is hidden in the crypts at Winterfell and that Bran the Builder used the Stone to create the Wall. The Stone is obviously a focus of great power. Perhaps even a piece of the Red Comet as LML has speculated. Maybe even as great as the weirwoods. Acquiring the Stone could easily be the (an) objective of the Others. Doing so would free them from dependence on the trees. Destroying the Stone is therefore a critical goal in defeating the Others.
Here is what I think will happen in A Dream of Spring:
After the Wall comes down with the eruption of Hardhome Bran will go to Jon and tell him that he has to travel to Winterfell. The North will have long since fallen to the Others by this point. It is also possible that Bran will also have 'died' and become a Force ghost. Jon has to take with him the horn that Sam has been carrying around - the Horn of Joramun. He has to go to the very heart of the crypts and blow the Horn. Jon, Dany, and Arya will fly on their dragons to Winterfell. Once there they make their way to the very heart of the crypts and find the Black Stone. Bran tells them that the Stone cannot be destroyed by conventional means, kind of like the One Ring. They have to prevent the Stone from falling into the hands of the Others and only the Horn can do that. Jon will blow the Horn, which will shatter the Stone. It will also incidentally collapse the crypts from which the three will barely escape. Once out in the open they will be attacked by the Others and it is here that Drogon will take the wound that eventually kills him. It will also be the end of Winterfell. Thus the Horn will fulfill its purpose albeit in a rather backhanded way, because it is the Stone which maintains the Wall. But the Wall will be gone by then so it won't matter.
What separates blood magic from any other kind? The answer is - nothing. The term suggest the use of blood, but Mel's shadow baby, which is referred to as blood magic, doesn't involve blood. It might also be used to refer to magic used specifically to kill. But Mirri Maz Duur's magic is referred to as blood magic. The term isn't exclusive to Westeros, yet there is no clear definition for it.
Blood magic, as the term is used in the story, appears to be any time magic is used for nefarious purposes. More specifically, spells involving life and death. We don't really have any examples of other kinds of magic. We can assume that among Westerosi at least the blessings of the Seven might count as magic. 'Blood magic' might also be their term for sorcery. The term appears to be less of a description than a form of derision, like calling something 'black magic' or 'voodoo'. The Westerosi seem to use the term to refer to anything supernatural that does not involve the Seven.
The Blood of Valyria
When talking about magic we have to talk about blood. And when we talk about blood we talk about Targaryens.
Blood does appear to be involved in the casting of magic to some extent. When discussing foci blood plays a role, likely because it features in the imaginations of people. It represents life and death. And is the one part of you which can get onto other people, sex or sickness excepted.
That blood carries magic energy is beyond question. A great many spells use blood. But does that mean that it is blood itself which holds the magic or is it because of the human obsession with blood? Most likely the latter. Everything we know so far shows that anything can contain magic. However, the Children of the Forest also used blood in their magic. So it is possible that blood absorbs magic more readily. Or maybe vampires have it right - 'the blood is the life'.
Some blood though works better than others. We might describe it as magic blood. The Children of the Forest had magic blood. This means the Children had a stronger affinity for magic than humans have. The ancestors of the Valyrians did too. We don't know who the ancestors of the Valyrians are, though I have put my speculations in my previous articles. What we can know for certain is that these ancestors had the power to alter their world. It is probable that it was these ancestors who created the dragons. This is what gave the Valyrians the power to control dragons.
What do we know of this blood? The magic within the Valyrian blood was not just a triviality. The absorbing of magic could reasonably be expected to have some kind of effect on the one possessing it, even if they never become a magic user. It needs to be remembered that bonding with a dragon is NOT the same as casting spells.
As with skinchanging, dragon bonding appears to be an intrinsic characteristic. Unlike skinchanging, bonding requires conscious effort. The dragon also has to be willing.
One point of similarity is self-confidence. Dragons only bond with those who have the strength of will to control themselves. The youngest dragonrider mentioned is Rhaenyra at seven. No other riders are mentioned younger than ten. We are not given the age of the youngest person to bond with a dragon, but the youngest Targaryen to have a bonded dragon is Jaehaera, who is six at the start of the Dance of the Dragons. We do not know how long she had it before then.
Strength of will is vitally important. Aerea bonds with Balerion, but his willpower far exceeds hers. She is unable to control him. Lack of control does not mean lack of concern. It is entirely reasonable to believe that Belarion returns to Kings Landing specifically in an effort to try and save her life.
Hatching dragon eggs is also not a spell. Sometimes however magic is needed. There is no limit on how old a dragon egg can be to hatch. But age does affect their viability. The older an egg is the more likely it turns to stone. Once an egg becomes petrified only magic can hatch it. This magic must include both blood and fire. I will get more into this later.
Another thing to think about is that having magic blood is not all it’s cracked up to be. Because magic blood is not natural to the human anatomy it can have serious side effects. Most notably when it comes to childbirth. Exactly how this works is still a mystery, but it appears to have something to do with power absorption. This is one occasion where more is definitely bad. If the fetus absorbs too much magic while in the womb it will be deformed. Also, if something should cause the death of the fetus the magic will run out of control which can cause the death of the mother. This effect can have horrific consequences, often resulting in the baby taking on dragon-like characteristics, such as scales or wings.
It’s an irony in the lore that Maegor denies parentage of his babies because they are born twisted. But this is actually proof of his fatherhood. This is one instance where incest actually seems to be beneficial. When Valyrian blood mates with Valyrian blood it looks like this helps the fetus to survive absorbing magic in-utero. Other problems found in the Targaryen family, such as simple-mindedness is more likely caused by incest.
The Valyrian obsession with pure bloodedness is not misplaced. The more pure the Valyrian blood the more likely the person is to be able to bond with a dragon. Mating outside Valyrian blood lessens the problems of incest, but it also weakens the magic blood.
Aegon and Visenya
A far more tragic irony is that too much magic in the blood can make mating difficult to impossible. Of all the Targaryens in the lore the only one who's magic level comes close to Daenerys' is Aegon the Conqueror himself. Yet despite having two Targaryen wives he was barely able to have two sons. The more we study the lore the more it seems probable that magic was involved.
Aegon's sister-wife Visenya was a magic user. Much of what we know about Aegon's life, specifically his conquest of Westeros and his marrying of both his sisters, was more likely than not at her instigation. We don't know how much prophecy and such affected Aegon's decisions. But if visions and prophecies did influence him it was almost certainly because of Visenya. The birth of both his sons is also attributable to her. Her magic was what made it possible for him to have sons. As for why she did this we will come to shortly. But it is not beyond credibility that he wouldn't have had sons at all without her.
What is most noteworthy about his sons is that they were strong reflections of their mothers' psyches. This is not an accident or a happenstance of genetics. The magic used to aid their conception meant that they both inherited the most dominant characteristics of their mother's personalities.
In Maegor's case Visenya made a serious mistake. Maegor had some of the most powerful blood of any Targaryen. But that very power was too much for his wives. Mayhaps his niece might have born him a viable child. Fortunately for her she didn't have too.
The question of why Visenya felt the need to have a son is actually important. She aided her sister and brother to have a child. And she did not feel the need to have one of her own until several years later. The motive might have been her disappointment with her nephew.
But there is another possibility, which requires a great deal of speculation. It has long been suspected that Rhaenys survived the death of her dragon. How she died is also speculated on, but what seems most likely is that she became the mother of another child, willingly or not. She died in childbirth. The prince of Dorne, Nymor, gave the child to Aegon in return for peace. That is what the letter he received was about. How close Aegon was to this child we will never know. But the possibility that he might adopt it as his heir, despite it not being of his blood, was something Visenya could not allow. It's highly probable that this child was the ancestor of Nettles, the Dragonseed.
Targaryen blood absorbs magic more readily than most, even by the standards of magical creatures. As a result the veneration in which they are held after the conquest has very real effects on the family. It boosts the number of dragons that are born. It also influences how they die. If one were to subscribe to higher powers being at work one could almost imagine a great plan unfolding designed specifically to bring about the birth of Daenerys and/or Jon.
One of the biggest mistakes made by both fans and the characters of the story themselves is the belief that it is dragons that cause magic. It is in fact the Targaryens who are responsible for the birth of the dragons and not the other way around.
We see the effects of the dragon blood in the Dance of the Dragons very well. How much power is in Targaryen bloods effects not only the viability of dragon eggs, but also their subsequent growth. Aegon II had very powerful blood. His dragon Sunfyre was one of the largest and strongest that were alive during the Dance, and yet Sunfyre was actually a fairly young dragon. Meleys was stronger and perhaps larger, but not by much. Yet she was almost half a century older than Sunfyre.
We can see how physical changes affect the power of blood too. In a lot of ways, magic in ASOIAF is a lot like the Force. Aegon II's power diminishes substantially after the Battle at Rook's Rest. He can no longer hatch an egg after Sunfyre's death.
Also mentally. Aegon III hatched and bonded with a dragon. Yet after his dragon dies saving him he is unable to hatch any more. And his rejection of the creatures with the death of his mother affects them too.
It might very well be that it was the rejection of dragons and the loss of faith among the people towards the Targaryens which really caused the death of the dragons and not mythical maester conspiracies. Not as interesting I know, but more plausible.
Magic is like electricity in more ways than one. When several foci are within close proximity to one another they amplify each other. The total can build to incredible heights. The best example of this is during the life of Jaehaerys the Conciliator. The combination of all those magical Targaryens living at the same time led directly to the birth of multiple dragons even without riders to bond with them.
The Dance of the Dragons destroyed this concentrated foci. There simply wasn't enough magic energy left to birth more dragons. Now, it needs to be understood, dragons don't need magic to stay alive once they are born. But the more magic they can absorb affects how fast they can grow and how big they become. Belarion became the largest dragon in the story because he was bonded to Aegon. Although all three of her dragons are 'bonded' to her, Daenerys favors Drogon and as a result Drogon grows bigger than his brothers. Captivity had nothing to do with it.
The power in Dany's blood is also connected with veneration. Illyrio is almost certainly lying to Viserys about the people of Westeros praying for a Targaryen restoration. But it isn't all lies. At least some degree of longing must exist for Dany keeps becoming more powerful. Some of it may just be having a cool name - Stormborn. But it is probable that there is at least some desire for a Targaryen return fueling Dany's blood.
Magical blood is not inherited automatically. According to observations, magic blood is passed along genetically, just as with any other trait. If we use dragonriding as a guide it becomes possible to see how this trait is passed from parent to child. What is most significant is that the dragonrider trait, if we can call it that, appears to be linked to the X chromosome. Thus, mothers are twice as likely to pass it on as fathers. Note, this doesn't mean it is twice as powerful in girls as boys. If anything, having only one X chromosome seems to strengthen the effect. See Aegon the Conqueror, Aegon II, Maegor, and Aegon V.
Having both parents with the trait does increase the chance of having it, but does not guarantee it. In addition, having two parents with the trait increases the chance that their power will be higher. This does not make them a better dragonrider. But it does affect the size of their dragon and their children. The power exhibited by Aegon II means that the speculation of Order of the Green Hand that Alicent Hightower is actually the bastard daughter of Saera Targaryen and Otto Hightower is almost certainly true.
What it does mean is that dragonriding is most likely to pass down through the female line. This actually helps to explain the Valyrian obsession with incest. If the trait were primarily passed down through the father than it wouldn't matter who they married. By the same token, if the Valyrians had been a matrilineal people then they also would likely never have adopted incest.
What other effects of magic blood may be, beneficial or otherwise, we don't yet know. Nor whether they are connected or separate from dragonriding. But the Targaryens high resistance to heat certainly is one of them.