First, when it comes to fantasy, religion is going to exist. Many writers create actual gods which walk among men and say “This is right, this is wrong, I do exist, and these are the curses and blessings you may expect.” If there isn’t that, there will be ancestral worship, animism, or a number of other simple religions at the least. You can even make it complex with a number of rituals, gods, and other facets.

Religion should be reflected by something which exists. These provide the best foundation, and from there it’s pretty easy to manipulate to the needs of the story. There are some obvious differences, though. Sometimes in fantasy the gods can actually exist. It’s possible in science fiction to reveal those gods as not real. Perhaps they were even killed. There are a lot of variations you can use. Just make sure it matters to your story. This could be a main plot line, a foil or parallel, or setting for what is to come.

If religion will add nothing to your story, mention it briefly from time to time, but then move on. Song of Ice and Fire had set up the the religion of R’hllor as early as the tournament when they talk about Thoros running out into the tournament with his flaming sword. We can’t even tell that this was a sign of the religion until season three. I’m only on the second book.

Why wouldn’t Martin tell us about R’hllor in the first book? It didn’t matter. Until we see Melisandre and Stanis, the religion would only detract. He simply left us enough hints so we could see that it existed already on the peripheral. The same as the Drowned God. Until we reach the second book, he really doesn’t matter. So even if you have a religion, unless it means something, hint at it lightly and otherwise ignore it. Just like R’hllor.

Old school book images.
Old school book images.

In my own story I called upon Judaism and Islam, with a point of origin and a point of extremism. The point of origin is a peaceful religion that believes in true tolerance. From there, one faith believed in the purification of blood. Only man could live (there are other races), and the soul and body must be put through fire. If one does not believe, fire will consume their doubts.

From this, another religion is created. When the Purifiers start taking land through war, some of those who were peaceful take to violence, creating the Followers. They believe they are right and pure, but in time motives are corrupted. Mimicking the Crusades, they become blood thirsty, while alienating the peaceful origin of the religion.

Religion is used to show the nature of man overall and to show the corruption of ambition. It’s also used to move along the story in ways I do not want to tell you quite yet. So use religion in your own to further the story, to show generalizations, and to give information overall. Next week I’ll talk magic.

How have you used religion and what have you come up with for your own stories?


16 thoughts on “G’desh: Using Religion

  1. Your story sounds awesome! Can’t wait to read it once it comes out.

    My ‘Big Project’, like yours, uses religion as a central pillar. How big a part it plays will be revealed later in the series. The prominent view of it thus far is the times of prayer each day, but it’s still very early days.

    Religion relies on people doing the right thing, using their words to keep them on a noble path. But, people being people, here will always be someone to whom the rules should not apply and others who would use it as a way to gain and abuse power. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be =P

      1. It’s almost a twist when people en masse use it to help others and alleviate suffering. We know that the majority do so, but we hear of the minority oppressing and brutalising with it much more often =(

  2. I may be treading a fine line in my ‘The Angels of York’ series as I try to explain Angels from a scientific viewpoint. I suggest that religion has grasped some of the facts, but has extrapolated and supposed the rest as a vast cloud of non-corporeal beings continue to surround our world, occasionally lending a hand to our struggling human race. Our departed souls nourish them whilst providing continuance for those same souls. However, any souls who have committed atrocities in their lifetime cannot rise to this cloud and sink to the centre of the Earth, to perish when the planet expires. Sound like any religion you know? 😀

    1. It sounds like it has Judaism/Islamic/Christian leanings. I like the idea, so I wouldn’t worry about it. Exploit it. Make it your own. Most religious views are best when using a foundation.

      1. Still, I don’t want a fatwa raising against me. But I’d like to stir the thoughts of the faithful and the atheists in a similar manner – intrigue them, perhaps.

        1. If you offend you’re doing it right 😛 I’ve seen far more pointed writings than this, so I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s a pretty cool idea.

  3. I’m writing a fantasy series where I’m actually leaving out religion. I’m not really a fan of fantasy where gods exist, especially when they come in and resolve all the conflicts. I like when people create their own religions, but often they are just too similar to Christianity.

    1. I have a friend who very much agrees with you. He refuses to use religion in his land because there’s so much of it in our own world. My own story ignores Christianity (since there hasn’t been a Christ figure, and even prophetically they’re not waiting on a messiah), but I know what you mean. My favorite religious system I’ve come up with has been a Norse style area that prays to their ancestors and winter. Winter has the power over life and death, and is therefore revered. Very cool though. Will have to check out your blog.

      1. I’m intrigued by your religion. The idea of them honoring ancestors and winter is something I think I can get into because it’s so naturalistic. And winter can be so harsh, it is just the type of thing people pray to, because we often try to bargain with what we fear most.

        1. Those were my hopes for it. It makes more sense, as well. While I know the Norse had a complex, riveting, and beautiful pantheon, it just seemed far too complex for the conditions my world was living in.

    1. I find that period fascinating for religion, and something that we as writers don’t explore as often as we really should (except for you’re really pulling this one by the tail, but you know, overall). There are a lot of interesting in between periods, whether it’s religion, culture, science, and so on that has so much potential for hooks. Awesome to see you’re utilizing that. And can’t figure out which of your comments is on Art of Writing, so I hope it’s this one 😛

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