This is the post I never got the time to write yesterday. I had the afternoon free, and I knew what I wanted to write about for once. But when a friend you don’t see very often (but wish you did) asks if you want to come with her to IKEA, and there are things you really need there, you don’t say no. I had put off a trip to IKEA for quite a while now, but I didn’t buy a single thing I didn’t need. That must be a first! But when I came home I was exhausted, so… no blogging for me.
Today’s (or yesterday’s, technically) post is about worldbuilding religion. I used to find religion quite difficult. How did I decide how many religions? Would there be a true one or not? How could I make the gods (if there were more than one) believable and logical and smart? And then I realised…
I didn’t have to. Why should gods necessarily be aloof and logical and wise when so many religions have deities that are petty, rash, rather stupid, quick to anger, quick to throw aside their people or creations and so on? Most likely the religions of my conworld would not be less so. Religions and mythologies are made by people, after all, and are as diverse and strange as people are.
Then there is the question of whether there would be a true religion or not. When I say “true religion” I mean that there would be gods that actually exist in that conworld, gods who possibly created the world and keep it going. Perhaps there is just some sort of force that kicked it into gear and then disappeared, perhaps there were gods but they disappeared, or perhaps the gods were as meddlesome and interfering as in, for example, Greek mythology. I used to love reading about Greek mythology, but you do get the impression that, as a human, if you had anything whatsoever to do with the gods, you were fucked. Sometimes literally.
But then you have another problem. How does the world keep going? If the gods are fallible, how come they have created something that works so well, when there are so many conditions that needs to be met for a world to actually work? It has to be the right distance from a star/sun, the right size with the right gravity, the right composition of the atmosphere… On the other hand, there are ways around everything, and you don’t have to really bring it up (if you’re worldbuilding for a book, that is). For example, perhaps the world was there from before and the gods just used it. Perhaps the current gods took the power from wiser gods. There are many solutions that open up to many interesting things – maybe I will write another post on worldbuilding religion in the future.
In my current conworld, I decided to go for the drama. Perhaps it is my inner Greek mythology geek that’s behind it, as the Greek gods had a flair for the dramatic, but it was also what made everything come together.
Long story short: In the beginning, two gods were created, in order to create the world. The eldest wanted to plan it properly before doing anything, while the youngest went ahead and created Ayamar behind his back. It wasn’t very thought-out, and the eldest ended up creating a new set of gods to fix the mess, before killing off himself and his brother. I have still not decided whether or not he succeeded in killing his brother.
But the new gods… had their problems too. There were at least three contenders for being the god of magic, and while one was reasonable, the other two… not so much. One of them wasn’t called The Mad God for nothing, to put it that way. And there were other problems. One thing led to another, and it ended up in the Great Wars, following a period where most magicians had god-like powers that caused quite a bit of insanity. It ended up with two gods dying and the rest (except one) withdrawing from the world (only able to influence it through their priests and temples) after making so that things would work on their own, and a LOT of bitterness and resentment. That resentment, along with misunderstandings and assumptions about which gods were on which side, has continued ever since then, leading up to quite a bit of wonderful plot.
This is why I like worldbuilding. This piece of religion/history in the previous two paragraphs enabled the plot of Rogue Sorcery (it doesn’t really have anything to do with the gods or the priests, but part of the mess that was left behind. Most things were fixed, but nothing is completely fail-safe, and magic turned out to be one of those things) and several other stories.
The moral is this: Your world and its religion doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact it might be far more interesting if it isn’t, because then there are implications of that, and you would have to know how people deal with that, which would make a more fleshed-out world. It might not cause the premise of an entire series, as it did in my case, but interesting backstories are never amiss. Don’t be afraid to veer away from the standard fantasy religions or what you consider logical or realistic enough. Read a bit about real-world religions – logical and realistic are not words I would use for very many of them.