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Religion in Fantasy

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Feb. 29, 2020
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When we talk about religion in real life, assuming it's not taboo, there are a lot of different approaches. Technically, in real life there is no conclusive proof on the existence of God or non-existence of God. There can be a range of indications, evidence and anecdotal testimonials but the conditions are such that no matter what your stance when it comes to religion, spiritualism and the divine is, you will find enough ground to stand on, whether that is universally acknowledged or not, and a lot of people that will share your opinion.

When it comes to fantasy, however, things are usually very different. Unlike in real life, you, as a creator, know if God or gods exist and what they do (or don't do) in your world. Often the fantasy world's magic stems from some kind of divinity, and magic is a very tangible element in the world- objective proof, if you like, of the spiritualism/divine of the world.

So handling religion in fantasy (from high fantasy to urban) can be a bit tricky. Unlike in the real world, where religions can be claimed to be false or unfounded, a religion in fantasy often is based on objectivity, since the gods exist or the magic handled exists and works at the invocation of the clergy. Therefore, it's very hard to have atheists in such a world full of constant ‘miracle working’ when it comes to magic- but of course, not impossible. It'll all be a matter of how you handle your divine.

That said, even with a very tangible, undeniable divine, there's a lot more that can be done with religions, even when within the fantasy world it's clear and evident that it is based on truth (i.e. that the gods/divine it stems from actually exist).

The religion might be based on truth, but interpret things wrongly.

The religion might be corrupt and full of old and misguided admonitions.

The religion might be false, and the truth evade it.

The religion might be false and aware of the truth, and seek to stifle it.

The religion might be under a schism, philosophical or political or even existential, if the divine was once present but now seems to have disappeared from the world.

There may be multiple religions, based on different gods, some of which may be real and others false, or misinterpreted.

Just like everything, a big deal hinges on how present your gods or divinity will be, and how easy it will be for the mortals of the world to realize that a god has intervened/interfered in their life or situation.

How do you handle religion in your work?

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anonymous?

bravo1102 at 5:07AM, March 1, 2020

I have a few scripts where I mash up Kevin Smith Dogma, the old Heroes in Hell shared universe and my own take on Judeo Christian demonology. How did it all begin and how have mortals misinterpreted what really goes on in the world above and below?

Andreas_Helixfinger at 1:35PM, Feb. 29, 2020

To me, what would be a very dynamic way of tackling religion, true or false, and deites, real or unreal, in fantasy, would be to treat imagination as if it was a seperate reality of its own affecting the known reality, in which all deities and their realms are in fact concepts given life and form through faith and elevated counciousness via religious activity (The Hare Krishna experience it by chanting the name of their god), through the oddyesses of a character's perception, that of a monk, shaman etc, and the collective councioussness of mankind bridging the gap between the two realities through specific rituals causing disruption of the collective mind, allowing them to experience the deity and/or said deity's power. The conventions and the interventions of the two realities, the known reality and the reality of imagination, being experienced as the magic of the world. Although perhaps, that's a bit too much of a metaphysical way of going about it in a more typical fantasy tale^^

marcorossi at 12:59PM, Feb. 29, 2020

What I find most problematic is not the fantasy gods, but the fact that if you use stuff like "the evil god" you imply that there is something objectively evil, as if evil was a phlogiston-like substance. In our reality, while everyone has is own opinion and I'm not a moral relativists, but good and evil do not exist as semi-phisical things. In fantasy they might. This changes totally the perception of all the charachters in the settings, so I would never use it; on the other hand, stuff like LoTR or Star Wars totally have objectified good and evil, and they are cool.

usedbooks at 9:05AM, Feb. 29, 2020

Terry Pratchett's book Pyramids is a good one. Due to a mathematical camel, a parallel world opens where all the gods of both past and present become physically present. One of the most hilarious effects described is a group of gods fighting over who got to move the sun across the sky, turning every sunrise into a chaotic sporting event.

Ozoneocean at 6:37AM, Feb. 29, 2020

I like depictions of religion in fiction, you can do anything with it.

giovanni at 4:50AM, Feb. 29, 2020

i personnaly prefer the Dungeon and Dragon way : gods are CREATED by the beliefs and worship of the populace. that also means that an existing god can change if the beliefs change. a church schism could end up creating 2 gods out of one. of course being a game, you could fight them as super bosses.

bravo1102 at 4:34AM, Feb. 29, 2020

The gods could be very objective, but the worshippers can be very subjective. What the temple says is God's will could have all to do with the priest and nothing to do with the deity. And a deity being a transcendent numinous being is above such concerns. They'll reply to prayers only if they hear them, and there could be so much noise that the voices are indistinct. Or there could be a bureaucracy and you know how things get lost. The devil could literally be in the paper work.

bravo1102 at 4:27AM, Feb. 29, 2020

What are the things that are important to the people in the culture? That is often what they will personify with a deity. And then the stories mount atop one another and the deity gains a personality as real as a neighbor's. Or the personality is based on the elements the deity represents which can be much more iffy. Sea gods are often bipolar for example. War gods can be arbiters of excellence or revelers in blood and chaos. And sky gods all claim to be the one true god because all creation is under the sky. Read and research and find out what some deity started as and what it became. That can give you an idea about how to populate a pantheon. Read the Greek philosophers and what they said about their culture's stories. It puts a different spin on the typical Bullfinch mythology view of things.

Kou the Mad at 12:34AM, Feb. 29, 2020

My setting's response was to go crazy and throw in every Earth Religion and multiple others (Multi-Verse theory.). Went a step further and made most of the deities real. Because I am a crazy person, also because JRPGs and Anime did the whole 'Church is secretly evil, except it's not a secret because we did it so many times like 95% of the audience immediately expect that.'. I've brought it up before, but I find infuriatingly boring at this point. Anyway, building up fantasy pantheons can be fun, you can come up with some crazy stuff. I advise going buck wild, for a particularly strange example check out the Glorantha setting (King of Dragon Pass.), a setting where it's possible to sue a ghost for an illegal haunting. And Win.


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