In fiction, religious people are often portrayed in one of two ways: they are either stupid and ignorant, or they are manipulative and using religion to exploit others. But there are so many other dimensions to faith, with people who believe in a god (or gods) for a variety of different reasons. Organizations, governments, whole countries, some of the greatest atrocities and some of the greatest acts of mercy spring from religious beliefs, and there is much to be explored in science fiction and fantasy that can deepen your worldbuilding.
- Allison’s example: Dragon Age (video game)
- Kyle’s example: ThresholdRPG (video game)
- Emma’s example: Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Welcome to the Wayfarer’s Guide to Worldbuilding a podcast by Mythos Ink Publishing, where we build worlds one story at a time. I’m Kyle, I’m Emma, and I’m Allison. Today’s topic is religion and special thanks to our patrons, comradversaries and Zachary S for making this episode possible. If you want to help out, with the WGTWB, you can do so at patreon.com/mythosandink
We’ll take it. In fiction religious people are often portrayed in one of two ways they are either stupid and ignorant, or they’re manipulative and using religion to exploit others. But there’s so many other dimensions to faith. People, many who are smarter than you or I, who believe in Gods or God, for a variety of different reasons. Organizations, governments, whole countries, some of the greatest atrocities and some of the greatest acts of mercy have all sprung from religious beliefs. And there is much to be explored in science fiction and fantasy that can deepen your worldbuilding.
Hold on to your hats, folks, I got Okay, I got a big example. So I’ve been replaying the Dragon Age games, which I’m such a big fan of I replay them every couple years because I like them so much. And I appreciate the world of Dragon Age, which is called Thetas. Because it is filled with so many different religions and spiritual beliefs. Like there’s so many I’ve replayed these games several times and I still don’t understand everything or know everything about them. So, in Thetas, there are several main religions tied to all these different groups of people and the most powerful organized religion in the world is monotheistic, known as the andrassy. I’m gonna butcher this the Andrastian Chantry,
Hey if I got Comradversaries you can get this.
So they believe in one God called the Maker. And there’s a lot of parallels between this religion and Christianity. I feel like so there was an original sin similar to Christianity’s Adam and Eve were a few people challenged the Maker’s authority and caused everyone to be cut off from him. And then a profit and heroine named undress, de intervene, became the bride of the Maker and reconnected the people of status with their God.
Yeah, that’s that’s pretty much like Christianity.
Yeah. So that’s the Chantry then there are, which is a mostly human religion. And then there are the elves who have a polytheistic, religion involving nine deities. And then there’s Qunari, who are this giant people with horns, whose original religion is completely tied to their culture. It’s just like, completely embedded, like, at first when I was playing it, I thought Qunari was a race, but it’s also like a set of beliefs. It’s kind of confusing.
So it’s more of a set of moral codes than a belief in a particular God. And so, like, it’s just this code that they’re like, No, I have to follow this thing, above all, everything else, and it puts the group ahead of the individual. And then there’s the dwarves who mostly refuse to believe in Gods and they idolize their own ancestors. And then there are also people who believe in these ancient gods, aka dragons, who legend has it initially taught mages how to use magic, and they show up in the present as these arch demons who have been tainted by dark spawn and so that’s a big part of all the stories in Dragon Age, like the very first game is all about this Arch-demon coming back that you have to destroy. And so all of this culminates in what I think is good worldbuilding, because Dragon Age presents religion as neither wholly good, or wholly bad. It’s complex, there are characters who have faith, there are characters who doubt, there are characters who are hypocrites, and you in typical Bioware faction, are able to choose what your character believes you can choose to be a person of faith or not. And you have different dialogue options, depending on what you say. And so it’s a very customized experience, depending on that and I just find it fascinating and I think it’s great worldbuilding.
Well, my question for you first, I want you to not answer right away because I want Emma to weigh in on the question too. Because I know that Dragon Age games you can play in multiple different paths and you get to choose you kind of hinted that you’ve played this over a few times and made several different choices. So I’m wondering which religion Do you think Alli chose first?
I think he went with the elf the elf religion first.
Okay, I was thinking she would have went to the dragons even though it’s kind of evil ask because she loves dragons. All right Alli. Which one did you choose?
Oh, when I played through first I didn’t know dragons was an option. So I believe I picked the main and drosten So in the first game, you have a character who is part of the Chantry and who’s very religious and you talk to her and she kind of like asks you what believe what you believe. And I was like, Yeah, yeah, I believe in the Maker. Yeah, that that sounds fine. This playthrough I’m playing dalish elf in Dragon Age Inquisition. And so I like she’s gonna believe her Elvish she’s gonna believe in the Elvish polytheistic deities, which is super interesting. While you’re it’s not really the Chantry that you’re a part of but you have definite ties with people from the Chantry in Inquisition. And so you’re almost fighting for this and Andastrian faith but you don’t really believe it yourself. You’re kind of doing it because you just want the world to not end.
And how do all these religions interact with each other? Like? Do they think that the other religions are false? Do they think that their gods are just like weaker than the God that the other characters believe in? Is there like interfaith conflict..
There’s a lot of interfaith conflict, and specifically between different types of religions, like between the Qunari and the Andrastian. So there’s like a history and like wars between them. And then there’s also like, these two kind of sects of the andrassian faith itself. So what they’re in different areas of the world. So this one is like, No, we believe in the Maker. And we believe only women can run the Chantry, because like Andrastday was a woman. And then there’s these other this other major, these majors of tevinter, who are also kind of part of that faith, but they believe only men can be in belief, you know, and like, there’s a lot of conflict between them. So there’s all sorts of conflict between these religions what people believe, which I think is really realistic, because that’s kind of what our world looks like, as well.
I’m excited about my example. It’s similar in that it is a video game. This is an example that I have spoken about. And like every podcast that I’ve ever been in, I found a reason to bring up this video game.
So here’s the one where you do it.
Yeah. All those people who are keeping track,
If you followed me throughout history. So this particular one, this one is actually called a Threshold RPG, I played it, I started playing it in 1996. So that is like 24 years ago, this was a text based role playing game that you play online is what is called a mud a multi user dungeon. So think like Dungeons and Dragons, but are like, WoW, but only text based. That’s basically, well, this, this game had a very, a very developed religious system with it was a polytheistic system. And one of the interesting things was that it was always changing, like, the gods weren’t distant, they actively acted upon the world, and they spoke to individuals, sometimes we had to communicate to the rest of the player base, etc, etc. It was it was really fun to see a lot of that. Well, there’s one time where we knew that there was a major religious event happening. And the story of that event, I think, really highlights why I think this is good worldbuilding. So what was happening at the time was that there was the, the the goddess of love and her church and the goddess of lust in her church. And both of those goddesses were vying for the attention of the god of war. So there’s good love, lust evil, and war was neutral. And so they’re both trying to recruit for this eternal Battle of good versus evil. They’re trying to get him over there. Well, as all good stories are love wins. Nothing against lust. But the Lord of neutrality, the one who kind of wants balance of all of this is like no, not a chance. Like we can’t let this like this is going to tip things out of balance. So he works with the Lord of evil, to raise another god and they decide to raise one of the lord of evils generals to Deityship to be this god of battle kind of the antithesis of, of the god of war. And and so they decide to do that. But the challenge is is that they can’t lie to this god of neutrality is also the God of justice and and all of this they can’t lie to him, but they come up with this deceitful plan. And so what they do is they come before this, this god of neutrality is God of justice, and the Bilanx the God asks the God of evil, have you brought Belphegore your god of battle with you? And he answers yes, I have never met this general they have no idea what it looks like standing beside the lord of evil was not Belphegore it was actually a woman named Kylamane. And what the God of evil had done was he had taken this general of his, and smashed him into the womb of this woman. So when so when. So when they perform the ceremony, and they raised belphegor, he was ripped from the womb of this woman. But because of the ceremony, they were both made Gods. So we have Kylamane, who’s this new evil god, and now the balance is tipped in evil’s favor. And it was just a shocker of like, what’s going on, and everybody witnesses this real time. And then there’s people in the game that are suddenly being chosen to be clerics of this new deity, etc, etc. There’s like religious texts that are poured out. And it was like, really fun to play through, it was just this grand deception that I love. And to me, this was good worldbuilding, because the gods were not dead. And so many of the stories that we read, the gods are just ancient and distant, and so far away, that they don’t have real impact. They just have these texts that we have to interpret, and sometimes our interpretations change. But this one, the gods were active, movers and shakers in the world. And I thought that made for some really good worldbuilding and storytelling opportunities.
When you find that Gods aren’t dead in stories, do you find the gods are more human like than God like?
I think in some ways, what I’ve discovered, at least in this game, is that many of the gods are almost like, immature children, with just a lot of power. And like, they have a lot of wisdom, they’re really, really smart, but they just have this, this childlike immaturity, which I think goes back to they have these these tenants, these focus, this is everything that they are about, and they will not be deterred from these things, which can feel very childlike. Because everything else doesn’t matter. Reason, logic doesn’t matter. This is my focus. I will have a cookie. So that kind of childlike. So in a way, yes. But in a way, also, kind of No.
I think that’s common in in stories where gods are, like still living at our characters, because if you made it, if you made them like too perfect, or like, I don’t know, it would be boring. So like, you got to bring in some interesting characteristics, but still set them apart from humanity somehow.
Mm hmm. I just Yeah, I love the story of like, how things change in real time? What was it like to be there in that moment?
How powerful are the gods in this world? Like, are they all powerful? Are they more limited? What’s their scope?
I would say they are technically all powerful. But I put all in quotation marks, like in terms in terms of the Mortal Realm, they could vaporize somebody with a blink of an eye, there’s, there’s no challenge to that. However, amongst each other, they will fight there were gods that have died, there were gods that have been raised again, there have been like, all of these things. But they’re all devoted around their tenants. So I in this game, there was also a God of fate. And there was a God of luck. And they kind of were like, nope, we don’t get along very well together. But eventually, it was believed that Oh, fate doesn’t exist. And this God just fades away. Oh, because the tenant doesn’t exist, and there’s nobody to believe so. So they’re not really all powerful in that because they require mortals to empower them, but at the same time, they can vaporize mortals at the blink of an eye should they choose.
I am going to talk about a different religion. And I’m talking about religions in the world of Game of Thrones. So I’m sure most of our listeners will be very familiar with Game of Thrones. It’s one of the most popular fantasy TV shows of recent years. And I am interested in the religions in Game of Thrones, not for the religions themselves, but just because of the way they interact with the world. So like Ali’s example, I like this because there are multiple religions in the One World You’ve got the Faith of the Seven. So that seems to be the most common religion throughout Westeros. But you’ve also got the old gods, of course, in the north, you’ve got the drowned Gods on the Isle, the iron, iron folk, I think that’s what they’re called the Greyjoys, Iron Islands, that’s it, worship the drowned God. And then there’s other religions in Essos of, you know, the Dothraki and various people. But I find this really interesting because it just feels very realistic. There’s also a lot of different use of religion in the world. So there’s everything from you know, zealots to atheists. There’s power being used in or religion to use in rather abusive ways. And you have the whole saga with the sparrow and taking power, and an almost sort of Spanish Inquisition type scenario, where it’s being used, you know, very much to further his own agenda. But they also have religion that’s very personally convicting. So you’ve got Ned who puts a lot of stock in the old gods, and for him, it’s very personally significant and culturally significant. And it has a lot to do with his culture and his family. You’ve got people who do terrible things in the name of religion. So like, Melisandre, she’s murdering people, she’s killing people for it. But they’ve also got kind of good things in the name of religion. So you’ve got the Brotherhood without banners whose leader keeps being revived by you know, they presume God, and they’re doing things that are good trying to stick up for some of the small folk. So I just like that there’s a really wide spectrum, you’ve also got various prophecies that are interpreted different ways by different people. And it all just lends a very organic feel to religion, and makes it feel very real. So that’s why I think it’s really good worldbuilding, I always find it very unrealistic when I’m reading something, or I’m watching a show or I’m playing a video game. And everybody has one religion, because that’s not that’s not gonna happen. Even within one culture.
And they all agree and there’s no conflict.
Even within single faiths, you’ve got different denomination in different sects, and all this sort of thing. So for everybody in one nation, let alone like an entire world to believe the same thing just feels very unrealistic. So I like that feeling of very realness and showing the scope of what religion means to different characters and how it’s used.
I can’t remember, do any of the gods and Game of Thrones turn out to be real,
There is no like objective thing that we’ve seen. There are like miracles. So the leader of the band without brothers, or sorry, brotherhood without banners, his name escapes me at the moment. But he’s brought back to life several times. You know, that seems like it might be a thing. Melisandre is certainly able to do various things that she claims is because of the Lord of Light. But there’s no instance where a God appears and you’ve got quote, unquote, proof. From the sounds of it. George RR Martin likes to leave it like that.
That’s really fitting for Game of Thrones, because it’s very much like Patrick is unclear, not entirely sure what it can do. Yeah, it
It would feel really weird if like the drowned God, just like it would just not fit the world whatsoever.
I think. Yeah. And that was that was linked to my question was, do each of these deities and these religious systems, did they essentially evolve in a vacuum? And then suddenly, we come into the story where they start to interact? Or is there a history of interaction? And maybe some, like ancient texts that are shared amongst various religions?
I don’t think so. At least, I mean, obviously, the series not done to the you know, sighs of fantasy lovers around the globe. If George RR Martin, if you’re listening to this, we would love that next book.
You know what he can take his time he owes no one.
As much as we would like it, feel free to just relax. Yeah. But as far as I know, there’s no sort of initial route to any of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in his world building, you know, Martin has that. But I don’t think from what I can recall, there is like there’s a history like so for example, when people came over to Westeros, and sort of first, quote, unquote, settled it, the Faith of the Seven sort of pushed out the faith of the old gods for faith in the old gods was primarily the religion of the children of the forest. They kind of got beaten back. So their religion kind of faded away. So there’s that sort of intersection between their religious beliefs, but I don’t think any of them really overlap very much.
Well, we’d like to ask some questions that we give to you as you’re creating your religion and your religions, in your book and in your worldbuilding. So, Allison, what question do you have that you think is important for people to ask when they go about their worldbuilding?
How do the religions in your world not just impact individual people, but whole societies and cultures? Which ties into just what we were talking about, religions generally are not do not exist in a vacuum, they have big impacts and tend to affect a large group.
And I think there’s shared histories, right? Like that’s one of the things that I love about religion is that there could be a celestial event, right? There’s a, a comet that goes across the sky, and different religions will report on that differently.
Yes. And there’s often conflict between the different religions about what the comet meant that and another one says, No, no, you got that wrong.
My question is, how does your religion its beliefs and worshipers evolve? Like, do the gods change? Or do the beliefs of the people and how they interpret these ancient texts ever change or both? Because I think that’s exciting to see a world that isn’t just stagnant, like you can’t just have it. These are the beliefs they’re set through. But everything changes we grow as people and therefore our beliefs also change. But if our beliefs change, what if the gods changed, there’s lots that you can consider there.
And you can definitely look at our own world history for inspiration. Because look at how Christianity has changed over the years and things we used to believe were like, I’d say we because I’m a Christian, but things we used to believe that were true or practices we did that we no longer do at all.
And I think that’s an interesting question, because it also ties in a different question, which is, you know, are the gods real or not? Because obviously, if the gods are changing, the gods are real. So that’s an interesting facet of that question, as well. But I have a completely separate question, which is, what is the relationship between religion and power in your world? Yeah, it’s often, you know, anything that that says, it has answers, and it has a certain way, that’s going to be good, that brings a lot of power with it. So I tend to think that religions got to have some sort of power in your world. And if it doesn’t, why not? What’s the reasoning behind that? So think about that relationship when you’re creating your next fictional religion.
Absolutely. Like power is all about control, right? The control of people and, and you could do that through money, you could do that through, you know, threats, but you can also do that through religion. And so that can be a very exciting story.
When people believe so fiercely of something, they will do a lot of things for that. Or that happen.
Absolutely. Oh, man. All right. I’m excited to see the religions that are created out of the worlds that we are discussing. Well, now time to talk about what we’ve been up to now behind the scenes at Mythos Ink things that we are doing to wrap up this crazy year called 2020. So Alli, what are you up to?
I have been participating in Twitter pitch events, which is when writers go on to Twitter and write a 280 character synopsis of their book. And then agents and editors can go on it, like those tweets. And that’s an invitation for writers to query them.
Yeah, I think we’ve talked about this before.
Yeah, we might have talked about this before. But just in case you need a refresher, or you’re not. That’s true, you don’t remember or you are listening at this episode for the first time. Because you want to learn how to build a religion. Welcome. So I was participating in that. And then we got a very large influx of queries. So I am reading queries what I’ve been doing, which is really exciting, because I love reading ideas and stories. We are looking for a few new books for 2021. So I’m hoping to find the couple in large, large piles.
It’s nice that we have an intern now. So she’s also frantically reading some of the manuscripts that we’ve got sent it now. Yeah. For me, I am up to you it’s year end. And I’m the one doing the business stuff. So your finances, you know, calculating how many books have we sold? How many royalties we need to pay? What are the expenses against each of the books? It’s fun. It is fun. It is. I get to see you. Oh, did we make a profit? It’s so many numbers. conversion between American and Canadian dollar amounts.
And I have also been reading queries. Yeah. So yeah, I think for the next like, probably six or seven podcast episodes, Ali and I will be buried under queries.
Yeah, I don’t know if we publicly announced that Emma is now the editorial assistant of Mythos & Ink.
And now I get to also read queries.
She decided she wants to edit things. So I am taking her under my wing and showing her all the things that then she’ll be able to take on projects that I might not necessarily be interested in you like a lot of genres but I don’t think that works really well.
All the steampunk novels once I become a full editor send me all the steam punk novels.
There’s also urban fantasy. I’m not a fan of.
Yeah, so start writing it so that by the time you go, you can submit and then we’ll get that urban fantasy added There you go.
What about the the Christian romance series? Is that is that something you want there? Emma?
That’s that’s what you’re gonna edit. That will be our Christian romance Christian paranormal romance.
You’re the one who liked Twilight, you could have the paranormal.
Twilight gets a bad rap but I liked it when I was a teenager.
It was a good teenager book yeah.
We need to end this episode. Until next time fellow wayfarers go build worlds.