Friday, December 10, 2010

Religion -- the Light, Part 1

Let's use the ARTT (I added a T, for "twist") method on our predominant religion, The Light.

Archetype: The powerful, monolithic church has a long and storied history in fantasy fiction. This is, of course, because most fantasy fiction is heavily modeled on medieval Europe, where/when the Catholic Church held amazing sway (though, interestingly enough, the ur-example of the modern fantasy genre, The Lord of the Rings has very little religion in it and no organized religion at all). In the various D&D settings, most of the religions have the flavor of medieval Catholicism -- priests as intercessories between God and man, Gothic architecture, Knights Templar-type church soldiers -- despite worshiping a large pantheon rather than the historical monotheism. 

On the other hand, there's an archetype I am definitely avoiding. There is a type of miracle-slinging priest, curing with one hand and banishing zombies with the other, popularized by D&D and appearing -- if not in most actual fantasy literature and media -- in virtually every fantasy tabletop RPG and video game for the last thirty years. This kind of priest has no place in The City of Lives, given the non-interventionist nature of the Light [and my desire to keep the number of different magic systems to one]. Priests may wield magic in the City -- counseling parishioners with Soulsharing, for example -- but it is not directly related to their faith. Magic is seen neither as related to their god nor opposed to it. That said, Lightshaping, due to its association with, well, light, is seen by fervent believers as their deity's power manifest -- but their argument loses weight when one sees the massive numbers of Lightshapers who worship another god, or none at all.

Real-Life Inspiration: Obviously, like the classical fantasy archetype, the main real-life inspiration for the Light is the medieval Catholic Church. However, the Light also has inspiration from Catholicism's own roots -- Judaism.

Catholic influences:
  • The Light is an evangelical religion, dedicated to spreading the Light's message. This is mostly because I want the Light to feel Christian, and there's nothing more Christian than proselytizing. 
  • Priests are seen as intercessories between the Light and Man -- you can't be saved by praying on your own. Again, this is fundamentally Catholic.
  • Non-violence is a big deal. I want there to be a divide between the religious and the violent in the City -- mostly because I've always hated the hypocrisy of "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and "Crusades." So no violence is tolerated by the Light, no matter who it's against or why.
Judaic influences:
  • The priests of the Light, known as Lightspeakers, are expected to take a spouse and continue the Light in a procreative fashion as well as proselytizing -- in the fashion of Judaism, Islam, and most Protestant traditions. This is mostly to make the Light distinct from Catholicism in a very fundamental way -- and it helps that it ties it to the Judaic tradition from which the Leovites are so definitively inspired.
  • Lightspeakers are born, not made -- without special dispensation, any priest of the Light must be related to another. This borrows from the Judaic tradition of kohens and the Levite caste. Pretty much the same reasons as the one before.
  • There is no single divine book, instead there are a number, with commentary from religious leaders -- again. I've never liked the idea of "One Book" (of course, the Bible isn't one book either, it's a whole bunch of them, the makeup of which varies from time to time and denomination to denomination, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish), but some fantasy religions seem to have no religious texts, relying entirely on... the Direct Word of God? Maybe? Anyway, I thought it was important to establish a small library of religious texts.
  • Death is a major taboo for the Light. There are no notions of afterlife rewards, only during-life rewards. The religion has no official stance on the afterlife, and death rites are considered unclean and not honoring the Light, so are passed on to secular funerary arrangers. This one just happens to coincide with Judaism. I like the idea that one of the only mysteries left in the City, even with all their magic, is one of our fundamentals -- nobody knows exactly what happens when you die. And the Light, choosing at this point not to be hypocritical (though it will at times, to be sure), doesn't try to.
All right, True Believers! Join me next time for the two Ts in ARTT, as we look more closely as my own additions to what I took from other writers and religions. Remember, as Wilson Mizner said, “When you take stuff from one writer it’s plagiarism, but when you take from many writers it’s called research.”