Today’s post is about a cultural element of world-building: Religion.
First of all, I have to say this is one of the most headache-inducing things I have ever tried or wanted to post about. I must have rewritten this post about five times, debating what to say and how about real-world religion.
And I think that’s a good starting point. Why has this been so tricky? Why have I been so concerned about how I phrase my opinions on this topic when I’m generally unconcerned about everything else?
Well, simply because religion is one topic (in real life) that people get very intense about, regardless of where you fall on the religious spectrum (or off of it if you are atheist or agnostic)
And that is exactly why Hevna needed to have religion. I write for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to put the world into perspective through the filter of Hevna. I cannot portray a sentient species, therefore, without paying due respect to said species’ capacity for faith.
So, What’s the Point of Religion?
This question is where I stated for making my own beliefs for Hevna’s people. I am not going to begin to touch on this question for real life, only about fantasy. Fantasy lets us explore the realms of possibility and ‘what if?’ questions, even in regards to matters of belief.
What do the characters of my world want from religion?
- Primarily, hope in death
- An understanding of their origins
- Moral behavioral guidelines
These were my core facets of religion I decided to focus on for my characters, and I read various creation myths from the real world to begin getting an idea of the ‘shape’ of different religions and beliefs. Several basic ideas began to coalesce, but it was all very vague without a core framework to hang the ideas on. Which leads to…
Choosing your Gods
Earth has had an incredible range of gods and goddesses throughout history, some of whom have been insanely weird and wonderful.
So the question became, am I going to go multi-god pantheon or monotheism? Or a mix, with multiple religions, especially as I had multiple ideas?
I chose the latter, especially as the number seven seemed to be becoming a recurring theme on the planet as I fleshed it out. If there was a palpable connection between things coming in sevens on the planet, it seemed natural that gods would likely come in sevens too, and there would be multiple religions also.
I decided to start out with just two religions to build up, both of whom would have seven deities they followed. One would turn their eyes to the sky, the other to the earth. I also put in the back of my mind that I wanted to have a monotheistic religion somewhere in the mix, but that I would worry about where it fits in after I organized the first two.
Ancient civilizations looked to the stars for everything from portents to navigation to their gods. So too, then, would the followers of the Seven Lights, a pantheon of gods named in conjunction with the major celestial bodies of Hevna’s sky (the six other planets in the system, and its moon). The Seven represent the major areas of human development (wisdom, forging, death, harvest etc) and heaven may be found in the stars.
- The Faithful believe that humanity was created from stardust by the seven gods. People come from the stars.
- Light’s followers believe in life after death among the stars, where their gods reside (heaven)
- ‘Good’ behavior such as helping your fellow man lightens the soul, allowing the dead to ascend into the sky. Bad behavior weights the soul and ties it to the earth for some coming doomsday at the end of time (hell).
You can find out more about the Lights here.
In other parts of the world, older civilizations placed their faith in the earth itself – it’s rivers, mountains, rocks, and springs. This then was where my second Pantheon would come in, related to the seven Lodestones in the planet’s crust, and an origin story of seven dragons, representing elements rather than human development. Fire, wind, sea, storm… and heaven may be found through reincarnation to enjoy the abundance of the world again, part of an eternal cycle.
- Lodaists believe they were created by the Dragons to guard the world until the end times.
- Most followers believe death returns one to the cycle of life unless you have truly sinned and the seven Hells take your essence out of the cycle
- ‘Good’ deeds and behavior allow a soul to pass into the care of the Dragon’s faster, until the day they rise to reform the world once more.
Just as with the Lights, you can find out more about Lodaism here.
With these two major religions conceptually in mind, seven gods each, I sat down and worked out the names and dominions for each, detailed on the religions page linked above.
Most religions in the real world have texts associated with them, and even those where word of mouth and oral tradition may have formed the backbone of the spread and participation in the faith, there is usually some form of written document somewhere, even if only for reference.
For the Lights, my ordered, sensible and structured religion, I knew it would be most sensible to have something akin to the Bible or Quran. In setting, I named it The Testament as in a testimony of fact, or events, the book of proof so far as the Children of the Stars see it.
The Testament ranges from the creation mythos of the Lights (based on a much older Helzetian text from antiquity), through the rites dedicated to each God, and into the divine rewards and punishments awaiting a soul upon death. All one might need to know to practice the faith may be found in this book, distributed to all priests. As The Testament and the Lights are based very much on the stars, the book is also one of the most comprehensive and scientific of books, at least in terms of Astronomy.
For Lodaism, with its more scattered and individualistic approach to belief, one book would not cut it. Realizing many of the Nagan races would follow Lodaism, and have spun it to the unique body structures of each, I knew there would be at least five variants of the rites in Rasaal alone. This means that where Lodaism is concerned, the title of the book of rites will change by region, as will some of its contents, and would be best handled situationally in my books as I wrote them.
For rituals, I studied some of Earth’s older religions, in particular looking at pagan and ancient Egyptian beliefs. This was as I knew that Lodaism would have the most rituals, tailored to each community celebrating it.
I wanted to bring the ancient belief that a ritual would have a demonstrable effect to the fore for Lodaism, twisted with a little flare of what was once thought of as ‘sympathetic magic’. Rituals for the Children of the Stones are therefore very visual and interactive such as consecrating wine each year or casting bones to judge the favor of the Dragons.
Meanwhile, the Lights were to take on something of a Catholic ideal to their rituals – no less important, no less revered, but much more orderly and prescribed. From the austere treatment of the Testament to the litany in spring and at the harvest, some rituals were easy to write down, while I look forward to showing those of Lodaism best in my works, surrounded by the context of the moment.
Ultimately, this was, therefore, the first bit of world building where I did not wish to go too overboard on pre-planning my world, as these rituals would feel best if they came ot be organically as I wrote.
Well, if you have rituals and texts, surely you must have priests to know and deliver them!
My next task for rounding out religion on Hevna was considering priests and their roles.
I started with Lodaism, for its simplicity. From wise women to shaman, Lodaism with its more aged bloodlines felt like it should have a more earthy and simplistic feel, with the wisdom of age acting as the face of the religion and its practices. Be it a senior official of the town, or a man most versed in the local rites, Lodaism felt to me to be a religion of the people and its priests chosen organically.
Contrastingly, I knew the Lights would have a much more specific requirement of their priests, even at the lowest rungs. While Lodaism looks to nature and life cycles for its inspirations, the Lights are dictated from the Heavens, and ultimately very maths based.
Today, we have incredibly intelligent, studied and expert scientists studying the sky to help us understand the universe… and on Hevna, these people would be priests.
The night sky not only dictates various festivals for Hevna and the Children of the Stars but has an actually appreciable effect on the world for all to see when the movements of the stars correlate to movements of aether storms on the surface.
As the medieval Christian church kick-started science in real life, so does science live inside the churches of the Lights, and the study of these motions require a certain academic ability in even lay priests.
Add on a favorite trend to take in Weavers, and I decided the Lights priests would be select, scholarly, and with a strict dress code. Lay priests, for example, may be found in a simple habit with a cord displaying rank. As an example, click here for Leona’s garb as an apprentice in Arlatene.
Of course, the top priest of the Lights, the Grand Magus, would need something much more striking… and I hope to detail that in the future, for my character page.
Church & State
Isn’t it a good thing we’re only talking about fantasy religion here?
Church controlling State, or simply being the Government is not something unheard of in reality, and there is no reason why the two should not be closely conjoined in Hevna, where that suits. One of the final considerations I put to myself was to think about how religion has perhaps affected the development of governing practices in each country.
The biggest example I have to hand, all fleshed out, concerns Arlatene, cream of Hevnan development. Already home to the Grand Cathedral and Grand Magus of all Lights worship, I was not going to ignore the connotations of power and control, and how that may have been used, or even created, by the ruling family of Arlatene.
Here, at the very least, we have a country in which the Church may not actually control the Government in an official capacity, but where also the upper priesthood is often populated by the descendants and children of the King. Church and State are very closely linked, helped by the formal nature of Light Worship in the first place.
Compare and contrast, then, to Rasaal. A country run by a Lodaist, but in which faith is a much more personal concern, to the point that even when political enemies launch smear campaigns against the rulers’ behavior, there is no ability to launch a purely religious inquisition into the matter.
This is not to say religion doesn’t have as much importance in Rasaal – indeed, the current regime has inaugurated advisers on religious matters, it is simply that Church and State are removed from each other, separate.
Both of these examples pale, however, in comparison to other areas where Church has created State. The Nation of Quto is the youngest on Hevna’s surface, a country generated by splitting away from its parent nation of Keque over religious zealotry and persecution. The Church is the State here, having formed a radial off-shoot of Lodaism with extreme views about Nagu and their place in the world, and the desperate raids of the Quto pirates legitimized in scripture as attacks against enemies of the Gods.
The question of Church vs State can take just a small number of belief systems and generate extreme variance, and thus… depth to the world.
The final step is to simply decide… are the gods real?
Again, no comment on the real world here, I’m really not qualified to make those comparisons.
But, for Hevna, are the Gods I made, the Gods the people believe in, real?
I don’t know. I do know that the Gods, even if they are definitively there, do not casually interfere in the affairs of Men (or Nagu). A day may come where one of my stories needs this question to be clearly answered, and maybe I’ll have to come back and edit this post… but for now, I think I prefer it for the answer to be as ambiguous to me as to the people looking to the Stars and Stones for answers.
If nothing else, I know the Gods are exactly as real as they need to be, for the people who believe in them.
And that’s really all that matters 🙂