Gender in Westeros: Moon Tea

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This gorgeous piece showing a teenage Lysa, Cat and Baelish came from here 

One of the things that’s awesome about GRRM’s work is that, although he’s an older bloke, he does a pretty good job of deconstructing and accurately representing the experiences of women living in a misogynistic society.

This comes up in lots of different ways, but one of the big ones is the knowledge (or lack thereof) of contraceptives and ways to overcome the expectation of noble women that they’re nothing more than brood mares for the noble MALE lines of Westeros.

I do plan to do a lot more essays/rants about gender issues in ASOIAF, but for now I want to focus on two things that were revealed in ASOS/AFFC that I thought were really obvious but, based on the surprise of various redditors on /r/asoiaf whenever these two things come up, were apparently not that obvious. Maybe it’s like Jenny dying of AIDS in Forrest Gump, which isn’t explicitly stated but is pretty obvious – but apparently not to many.

These two cases involve the use of “moon tea” – Westeros’ version of a herbal abortifacient. Firstly by Jeyne Westerling, forced upon her by her mother, and then the case of Lysa Tully Arryn, forced upon her by her father. The connecting factor is Catelyn Tully Stark: Cat doesn’t seem to know anything about moon tea or any other birth control, because she doesn’t pick up on either incident. Apparently because Cat doesn’t figure it out (in Lysa’s case, until way too late) many readers don’t pick it up either.

Jeyne Westerling

This will be pretty quick, because I already covered it in the post about Robb’s bad decision making.

Jeyne seems to be young, pretty and a bit dim. She goes to comfort the distressed Robb Stark, who has just found out that his surrogate brother Theon Greyjoy has sacked Winterfell and (apparently) killed Bran and Rickon Stark, as well as all the much loved Winterfell staff that Robb grew up with, like Maester Luwin and Rodrick Cassell.

We aren’t told and may never know for certain if Jeyne did this of her own volition because Robb Stark was a bit dreamy, or if one or more of her parents strongly suggested she should go in there, hoping that the honourable young Stark would act predictably and marry her if he ‘despoiled’ her maiden status.

But what we are told is that the fertility tea that Jeyne tells Cat she is drinking every day, provided by her mother Sybell Westerling, is actually moon tea, given by her mother to ensure that the Westerlings do not help extend the Northern kingdom by providing an heir. (Jaime VII, AFFC)

Jeyne’s reaction at this revelation shows Jaime that the young (and dumb) former Queen in the North had no idea, and is horrified at the way her mother hedged her bets by allowing the Westerling children to ally themselves with Robb’s armies (either by fighting, as the sons did, or in Jeyne’s case, marrying the King) but also working with Tywin Lannister to ensure they would all receive pardons for their cooperation in the Red Wedding. Jaime is none too impressed with Mama Westerling’s conduct either. I can only imagine how awkward Westerling family luncheons are nowadays….

But this was an example of young teenagers and their ideals of love (fuelled by hormones) are used and abused by unscrupulous adults to work their way up the social ladder. Jaime’s reaction was spot on. When Sybell Westerlings starts whinging about the outcome of the lordships and brides she was promised for her part in Tywin’s scheming, Jaime tells her to fuck off:

 “No more than I want Joy to marry the son of some scheming turncloak bitch. Your daughter is worth ten of you, my lady.”

Lysa Tully’s forced miscarriage – and it’s consequences

One of the things that is revealed in ASOS is that Lysa Tully got pregnant as a teenager, to her lover Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish. Hoster Tully had his maester give her a huge dose of moon tea to get rid of the baby, in what was apparently a very bloody miscarriage, which may have contributed to Lysa’s later problems with bearing children to term.

Then later on, during Lysa’s Moon Door episode, we have it confirmed:

Tears ran down her athrones_612x380-game-of-thrones-first-of-his-name-recap-this-season-s-on-fireunt’s puffy red face. “I gave you my maiden’s gift. I would have given you a son too, but they murdered him with moon tea, with tansy and mint and wormwood, a spoon of honey and a drop of pennyroyal. It wasn’t me, I never knew, I only drank what Father gave me . . .”

Lysa also confirms that she and Littlefinger resumed their relationship, and that she used her marriage to help Littlefinger rise to power – first by encouraging Jon Arryn to give Baelish some work for the Vale, and then when he excelled at that, by encouraging Jon to transfer Baelish to King’s Landing. The rest is history…

The other thing that Littlefinger confirms in that explosive scene is that he never loved Lysa, “only Cat.” He used Lysa for his own advantage. We also have earlier scenes where he brags about taking both Tully girl’s maidenheads, which doesn’t seem to be true. Lysa says she came to him several times, and on the first time he was so drunk on milk of the poppy after having the shit kicked out of him by Brandon Stark after the badly thought out dual for Cat’s hand, that he thought (or wanted to believe) that it was Cat, and not Lysa, come to comfort him.

I have no doubt that Littlefinger knows deep down that he never, ever slept with Cat, but the fact he keeps bragging about his sexual adventures as a fostered ward with the Tullys shows that it was really important to him to have “claimed” high born girls like Lysa and Cat. It also explains his increasingly creepy interest in Sansa, who we are repeatedly told looks so much like her mother. In AFFC, Littlefinger’s behaviour towards Sansa gets more and more predatory. He’s clearly grooming her to be open to more sexual behaviour, ostensibly to improve her role as a “player” in the game of thrones, but I wonder if he also plans to benefit from it too 😦

On a political level, Littlefinger’s obsession with being rejected as a suitor for Cat by Hoster Tully comes down to why he was rejected: he was consider too low born to wed the daughter of the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands. All that Littlefinger has done since has been aimed at climbing the social ladder, so that he can call the shots. What else he is aiming to do, I don’t know.

Anyway, back to Cat’s discoveries…

Cat takes ages to figure out why her dying father Hoster is crying out for Lysa in his last days. Hoster rambles about “the blood…. so much blood” and “tansy… I’m sorry Lysa…”

Nearly every character in Westeros seems to have some idea about moon tea, except Cat. It takes her pages and pages of asking the Riverrun maester whether there arhouse-tullye any village women named Tansy, wondering if Hoster is referring to a lover or bastard child, before the penny(royal – heh) drops, and she works out what happened.

Catelyn rose, threw on a robe, and descended the steps to the darkened solar to stand over her father. A sense of helpless dread filled her. “Father,” she said, “Father, I know what you did.” She was no longer an innocent bride with a head full of dreams. She was a widow, a traitor, a grieving mother, and wise, wise in the ways of the world. “You made him take her,” she whispered. “Lysa was the price Jon Arryn had to pay for the swords and spears of House Tully.”

What are the inferences I’ve reached from those pieces of exposition?

  1. Cat has no clue about moon tea.

    GRRM has confirmed that he based Westeros’ moon tea on real world herbal abortifacients, but has been vague on the details because he knows that these herbs are very dangerous, and he doesn’t want to risk someone making it themselves.

    But every other character, even other highborn ladies like Cersei or Margaery, know what moon tea is and how it works. Cat’s ignorance is fascinating.

    Is it just that she grew up without a mother as Lady Tully died young? Or is there some other reason why Cat is so clueless, when others know what this stuff is?

  2. I don’t know if Hoster got cold feet about the Rebellion, or if he just saw an opportunity to force his ‘soiled’ younger daughter on a great Lord, but Lysa was sold off just as Dany was 😦
  3. Hoster forced Lysa to lose her teenage baby late term.

    Why am I so sure? Both Hoster and Lysa refer to all the blood she lost. This suggests a traumatic miscarriage, beyond the norm of an early first trimester miscarriage. Also I highly doubt Lysa was running around bragging that she was pregnant as an unwed teenager, so she wasn’t forced to lose her baby until Hoster figured it out. Everyone’s different, but most women don’t show much until after the first trimester.

    Lysa also says in her Moon Door exposition dump that she was forced to bury Littlefinger’s son. This might just be her hoping it was a boy, because Westeros does love a first born son. But it could be that the pregnancy was terminated when the foetus was developed enough to determine the gender?

  4. It’s possible that in forcing Lysa to undergo a traumatic miscarriage, Hoster contributed to Lysa’s later problems in getting pregnant and bearing living children. I’m not a doctor, but there seems to be a narrative connection between the things, noted by Cat while she works it out.

 

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5 thoughts on “Gender in Westeros: Moon Tea

  1. I actually wrote a bit about Lysa… I doubt she knew about moon tea when she begged to be allowed to marry Petyr, but she is the one who told her Dad.

    Moon tea seems to have two variations, the kind maesters make, the kind woods witches/maegi make. At least, it doesn’t seem likely that wildlings make it the same way as Pycelle!

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    1. LadyKnitsALot says:

      I read the blog you had – nice point.

      I can totally see Lysa doing a big “but you HAVE to let me marry my lover Petyr – I’m pregnant!” to Hoster, and then that news backfiring on her.

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  2. […] House Westerling. Ostensibly traitors to the Crown, and more importantly to their Westerland liege lord Tywin Lannister, for marrying Jeyne off to DAKINGINDANORF, the Westerlings get some pardons and a good marriage or two out of Lady Sybell Spicer Westerling’s deal with Tywin Lannister, that she is very keen to ensure that Jaime knows about when he comes to Riverrun. (Covered in a different blog.) […]

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