Viewers familiar with Game of Thrones (and its source material, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire) may recognize the names of swords, in much the same way they might recognize the show’s human characters. Blackfyre; Brightroar; Hearteater – the legendary (and terrifying) names of these swords are partly there to inspire fear in the enemies of those who wield them, and partly because each sword is believed to have its own unique properties, that were brought on by its history and material makeup. In a sense, these swords are “possessed” by the very bloodshed they have caused. However, the topic of possessed weapons is a recurring theme in fantasy, and it’s one that has worked its way into many modern fantasy novels.
The mythological concept of the possessed weapon dates back to the ancient cultures who first forged steel and iron weapons. Many cultures, including the Polynesian people of the South Pacific, and Vikings of Scandinavia, saw spirits in everyday objects. As a result, some peoples saw the creation of weapons from a mere hunks of metal a something supernatural, and a few even believed they could be imbued with spirits.
One of the earliest written accounts of possessed weapons comes from Beowulf, the 1200-year-old epic poem known as one of the oldest pieces of English literature in existence. Hrunting and Nægling, the two swords Beowulf uses to fight the dragon Grendel, are both notable for their special powers, which are never fully explained but hint at a supernatural influence. Another can be found in the ancient legend of King Arthur, wherein a sword known as Excalibur, which only a rightful king can wield, is described as having magical properties.
Ultimately, possessed weapons worked their way into modern fiction, with the some of the most popular examples being J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and of course George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. In each series, possessed weapons often decide the fate of the people who wield them – and can either serve as a force for good, or evil.