Experiences of Writing, World Building

Character Focus: The Priest

It’s going to be a weird week. My better half is currently somewhere over the Pacific ocean on work business for the week, and I’m left in an empty house that still doesn’t quite feel like a permanent home yet. A weird feeling, but not an inherently bad one.

Upside, I have plenty to be working on and to my own surprise more than anyone else’s, I have managed to be very good about keeping my resolutions so far this year, and maintaining something much closer to a regular schedule for myself.
The Compendium is now sitting at 43 pages, which puts me firmly in the two pages per day bracket, and I expect to have done more by nightfall.

So! On to today’s wittering topic!
It’s been a while since I talked about any of my characters, but having done The Adventurer, The Scholar, The Emperor, The Commoner, The Idealist, and The Animal Companion, I thought I might spend some time talking about one of the archetypes I find hard: The Priest.

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The Trouble with Texts

I’ve stated in some of my other Focus pieces that I am a woman of the sciences, fascinated by the world, and curious about all kinds of things. And for me, this has brought with it a troubling issue when it comes to matters of faith.

Mostly that I have none.

This is to say, I have very little faith of any regard than an ordained priest of any given religion would consider pertinent.
I do not believe in God, Allah, or even little spirits in the beautiful and special places of the world. I do not believe in a higher purpose, or in divine destiny. I don’t believe the world was ever saved by one person, or that anyone hearing voices in their head is spirit-touched, rather than in need of psychiatric help.
But I do believe religion has caused an inordinate amount of human suffering and stupidity, as my short story ‘Fickle’ showed, back in November.

 

I am aware that in saying those things, I may upset some people. I know a lot of the people who swing by my little corner of the net are themselves religious, and my views might be a turn-off. I hope that is not the case, as for all I do not consider myself to be a believer in many ways, I still consider myself agnostic and genuinely respect other people’s rights to their beliefs, especially if it brings them comfort and peace.

All I can know for sure is how I perceive the world inside my own head. I like facts. I like provable truths. I like replicable results, tangible evidence, critical thinking. I like answers, predictable patterns, and reasoning.
And these things aren’t always in line with how faith works.

Solace in the Past

Thankfully for me, I write in a technology period and social standard period that is non-contiguous with our own.
History is a lovely place to visit, and if one chances to dig into the realms of the past with science in mind, one might be surprised to learn that a lot of the sciences were birthed in religion.

Monks of old England delighted in observations, experimentations and research alongside the many other things monasteries achieved and can be credited with the first understandings of scientific principles we foolishly attribute to later scholars.
(For example, the monk Roger Bacon described splitting light through a glass vase of water long before Isaac Newton wrote about it. Bacon stated that ‘light has an unchanging geometry’ back in the 1200’s.)
There was once a feeling that understanding the world, especially through what would one day be called Science instead of Natural Philosophy, was simply a way of understanding God. And getting closer to God was what life was all about.

This then, for me, has been the basis on which I have built my major religions of Hevna and the priests who follow them.

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The faith of the Lights

When it comes to Lodaism, and the Faith of the Hyronsi, observation of the natural world and biological studies inform easily on how I should build the priests of such.
Both are very natural, observation-based religions that deal with ‘simple’ things like the life cycle, and handling joy, loss, love, and grief.

Things become a tad more complicated with the Lights, though.
It’s not unwarranted to say my basis for the Lights church is based around a mix of my own religious experiences as a child, and what I have learned of more formal religions as I have grown up.
In some ways, the Lights are the more grounded religious figures to follow, as their movement in the Heavens and the effects on the ground are tangible and provable things, unlike some of the concepts in Lodaism.
Yet, at the same time, the concepts being held in the heads of the faithful make Light’s worship far more esoteric and ephemeral than the other faiths. Very high minded ideas surround Light’s worship and its teachings.

Any priest of such a faith would be far harder to empathize and understand, for me, than his cousins, because he would need to be versed not only in geography but also astronomy, history, timekeeping, advanced mathematics, and a broad theology overarching it all to join it together.
Light’s Priests are experts in multiple fields before one even gets to those capable of Weaving, and I am far from an expert in even a single thing myself. (Least of all math!)

Grand Magus

It took multiple drafts and character sheets and exercises, but I did write my priest character.
While he indeed embodies the archetype of a caring, older man with wise grey hair and an ineffable grasp on the world and his place in it… my ultimate success came in making him human first.

Yes, he is the most powerful religious figure in the world.
But he also sleeps in a tiny, secluded bed at night, racked with worries.

Yes, he is a brother to potentially the most powerful monarch on Hevna.
But he worries for his brothers’ soul and wishes he did not have such blue blood.

Yes, he knows the motions of all the stars in the sky and the portents they bring.
But he also knows the stars are far away, and the children the church takes in are here and now, and there isn’t enough money and love in the world.

I wanted him to be a realist. To be deeply invested in his faith, and his own belief, but to also see the flaws of the system around him, and have a capacity for personal reflection. I wanted him to find peace in the Lights he so trusts and believes in, while also actively working to bring that peace to other people, less fortunate or well-grounded than himself.
I wanted him to both have a personal investment in the nature of the human condition and his own set of flaws that come directly from being only human himself.

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Ultimately, I think that’s what it all comes down to. The difference between a Religion which over time may come to act as a dispassionate and removed Corporation, versus the genuine and personally true faith an Individual might have, that is a touching thing to behold.

Hopefully, Grand Magus Clarence Rutherford shows a lot more of the latter camp, than the former.

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