Anyone know about Religion in Fantasy

Janny Wurts Chat Area: Author's Corner: Anyone know about Religion in Fantasy
   By Cheryl on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 11:47 pm: Edit Post

I thought I'd ask this for Janny and the other writers here. Just wondering how you go about religion in fantasy. I know my deities and I think its Christianity here but Janny made me think about each individual's religion or groups. I don't even know real religion today. I do have some information on it so I'm not empty handed but I wonder how you go about this. Thanks so much.

   By nate on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 12:47 am: Edit Post

hey cheryl,

don't know if this helps, but have you tried looking at the religion as an extension of the world-view of the particular group? for instance:

tribal groups (hunter/gatherer, etc) often have a form of spiritism or paganism, where every living thing (and non-living, eg rocks, etc) is seen as having a spirit, and that these are all interconnected in a kind of "mother earth"... this is because they see their life inseparable from the life of the earth: the turning of the seasons, fruiting, migrations, and so on...

other religions like pantheistic ones tend to group functions, so there is a god (or goddess, as the case may be) for fertility, for harvests, for the different elements, for war, etc. this could be because they see their own actions as being responsible for growth, war, etc, but notice that some portion of the outcome is out of their control (eg. the outcome of a battle between evenly matched forces)...

monotheistic religions tend to be similar to this, but they see one supreme being as responsible for all these elements, and a particular moral code responsible for blessings and cursings... perhaps because the god is supreme it isn't "inside" an element, but transcendant... so if something goes wrong, it isn't because they didn't appease the element, but because of something "moral" they have or haven't done...

so, as i mentioned, the religion could be seen as an extension of the way the social group views the world around them... this religion could then help shape the society, and vice-versa so that religion and society develop, evolve and change together...

hope this helps,



   By nate on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 12:50 am: Edit Post

...of course, wealth and fame can also become religions (or institutions) which shape society - as in the world today...

   By Cheryl on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 08:52 am: Edit Post

Thanks Nate that is interesting. I'm sure it will help. I have some reference information and I think it's similar to what you just said. I don't see much religion in the story so I wonder how much I need to go into it. I do like my deities though maybe it will grow as I develop it. Thank you.

   By Blue on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 01:05 pm: Edit Post

Nate, some great answers! Long winded me, I will add more.

Another way to look into developing religion would be not only to study different religions/philosophies, but also mythology, which I think of as a dynamic of religion at work.

In the stories I write with pantheistic deities, I usually draw from Greek mythology for inspiration as to how the deities interact with the Universe as a whole, one another, mortals, morality, etc.

A "living" polytheistic faith that is going strong is Hinduism, practiced by many people living in India. By "living" faith, I mean it is a faith that has been followed and practiced since its inception, and has not "fallen" aside into mythology, like the polytheistic faith the Greeks practiced in ancient times.

As for the nature religions Nate mentions, take a look at some of the neo-pagan movements, such as Wicca, Druidry, or even at Native American traditions.

Monotheistic faiths include Christianity [and its myriad sects], Islam, Judaism, and the faith of the Sikhs. I spent 6 years in church school, and one of the religion teachers summed up the various wars fought between the major monotheistic faiths as, "My God can beat up your God!"

There are also faiths that practice meditation to achieve enlightenment, such as Zen and Buddhism - or are they one and the same faith, because I have seen mention of Zen Buddhism.

Atheism, the belief that there is no God, and Agnosticism, which are those who are unsure, are likewise considered faiths.

Cult is a controversial term, usually derogatory in meaning, that it is a "religious" group that comes up with some plan for living or for salvation in the afterworld that is simply a means of fleecing the unsuspecting faithful. In its original meaning, I think it simply meant that it was the sect of a faith of a particular deity in a pantheistic religion. Such as referring to the cult of Athena, the Greek goddess of War, Wisdom and the Arts, versus the cult of Aphrodite, the goddess of Love and Beauty. Each goddess had her particular following of devoted worshippers, but they did pay their respects to all of the gods.

   By nate on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 05:33 pm: Edit Post

hey blue,

i forgot all about myth... legends developing over time and being added to by each new generation until a pantheon of mythological gods and goddesses have developed from legendary (and perhaps mundane) historical events...

speaking of cults - isn't this the root word for "culture"? it gives an interesting perspective to how mindsets shape semantics... someone does something different to me, they are obviously "cultic"... hmmm... i have to agree, the word today carries a stigma which i don't think was in the original meaning...

just some musings...



   By Róisín on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 06:55 am: Edit Post

Nice thread of conversation! I enjoyed the writing on religions & mythologies. Couple of questions:

Is Zen Buddhism a faith, strictly speaking? I always thought of it more as a philosophy of living.

'democracy' 'socialism' 'communisim' - these have the same sorts of elements as religions - except that there's no deity? Faith in a system, rather than a god?

Corporate/Academic culture is very cult-like! Either fit in with our mission statement, or you're fired? *grin*

   By Cheryl on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 07:30 am: Edit Post

Thanks for the help Blue that is so interesting all you said. I will remember this and it's difficult for me to even contribute in this part of it. I know so little about it for fantasy. Thanks so much.

   By Memory on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 08:11 am: Edit Post

Hah! Communism as the 'opiate of the masses'? That's ironic ;)


   By Memory on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 08:15 am: Edit Post

Sorry for the two posts, but back to the thread:

I'm quite keen to write a story where religion is present, but so is atheism. There are so many novels where the religion is obviously 'true' - there's no issue with believing because it's blatantly obvious. It'd like one a bit more like our world.


   By Blue on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 05:37 pm: Edit Post

Nate, I think, was more help than I was, Cheryl.

Some of the points mentioned above I gleaned from either reading on my own, or even asking folks of different faiths about their philosophy/philosophies. I had a political science teacher during my first attempt at college who was a Muslim. One day, after class, I asked him what the differences were between Islam and Christianity, and he answered me honestly, without any attempt to either patronize or convert me.

Don't be afraid to talk to someone of a different faith - just keep an open mind, be frank about your curiosity, and ask. Many times, people of other faiths might be just as curious about your own world view as well. Many appreciate that you are asking them, instead of making assumptions based on error, and are pleased to elucidate.

   By Cheryl on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 06:45 pm: Edit Post

Thanks Nate and Blue for the help all of you here more help is always good.

   By joshua bruce law on Friday, May 22, 2009 - 08:00 pm: Edit Post

Hi Cheryl here is an idea that may solve the "blatantly true" issue when it comes to gods that exist within a fantasy world framework.

There was a concept I got from a cartoon series called gargoyles. Within this universe which is a reimagined version of our own, and set in our time there were three races, humans, gargoyles and oberon's children. Oberons children had amongst their number not only puck oberon and titania from shakespeares a midsummer nights dream, but also oberon from scandanavian mythology, and some from native american mythology, and the Banshee from celtic mythology (though that should have been Baensidhe but lets not split hairs). This third race was bound by the rules of oberon their collective father against direct influence on human events.

I have used this concept of gods or mythological beings being bound by their progenator or the universe from direct actions on mortal events. A binding on direct influence was also used by tolkien in regards to the wizards whom were actually heavenly beings disguised as mortals, they were there to guide instead of directly interfere.

   By Susan C on Saturday, May 23, 2009 - 11:06 am: Edit Post

Many authors use their own beliefs as a basis for religion in fantasy such CS Lewis and Tolkien using their Christian beliefs. I'd recommend checking out Pullman who wrote The Golden Compass and its sequels. He is an atheist.

I can't speak for Janny, but I see elements of Eastern philosophies in her books as well as ceremonial magick and Neo-Paganism. But maybe I see that because I follow those paths.

   By joshua bruce law on Tuesday, May 26, 2009 - 06:39 pm: Edit Post

Susan i agree with you about that, that many authors do use thier own religious beliefs to base those of the worlds they create. There are some like the Eddings who intentionally write stories set in pantheistic worlds very different from their own christian beliefs.

As for Athera, i agree with you there as well. The concept of the compact, (with it's rules preventing magic or action on a person or even the enviroment against the will of the enviroment or person), has a very strong bhuddist tone in my opinion.

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