View Full Version : Dealing with the Divine
April 2nd, 2006, 10:42 PM
It's ironic, really. When I started writing, I swore not include gods and other supernatural beings. But what we plan and what happens are so rarely the same thing. Given the set of metaphysical laws I established in constructing magic, gods and other supernatual entities evolved naturally out of the structure of the world. Now I have quite the pantheon of beings, both high and low, to contend with, and its a tricky balance -- keeping everything from becoming one giant deus ex machina. In the end, I think the story will be better for it.
So I'm curious to see how many other writers have had to deal with a god or two in their fiction. In this case, I'm thinking of gods that have a real presence in the world, whose existence is undeniable. What are yours like? How do the interact with mortals? Most importantly, what problems have you run into while writing them?
I mentioned one potential problem already, having the protagonists miraculously saved by divine intervention whenever things get rough. More specifically, I had to figure out why battles weren't always settled by clashing gods. Settled that by incorporating a metaphysical law that a god requires x% of its faithful to be gathered in a battle before it'll even consider putting itself in harms way. The results are that a small religion going to war might frequently be aided by their relatively minor god, while the large religion would have to field a massive army of believers to conjure up the full force of their deity of preference.
There have been a host of other problems, and I'm still working the kinks out in some places.
April 3rd, 2006, 07:55 AM
I deal with divine mattters by not dealing with it at all. :) In my WIP the metaphysical is impersonal, with the forces shaping the universe referred to in rather generic terms, Light, Dark, Will. In other words, there are no personifications of gods, no Thor, no Ra, and no God. The impersonal universe just is not going to interfere in worldly matters, that is, aside from being the ultimate source of those matters. Well, that is the metaphysical philosophy of the main race of people. There are tertiary races, and species, that have beliefs more theocentric in naure, although animistic and primitive; even so, there will be no divine interference in my story.
April 3rd, 2006, 09:53 AM
Seems like we could make the case that Light, Dark, and Will are personifications of power; that naming them infers they have intention, and with intention, impact. If a heroine is fighting for the Light against the Dark by exercising her free will, then those entitites exist in her mind and have consequences for her.
I'd venture an opinion that fantasy more often invokes such tropes than sf but that is probably a bias on my part. Homer pulled it off pretty well; so did Gaiman in American Gods. Treatment matters more than topic.
April 3rd, 2006, 04:51 PM
My WIPs have gods but No divine intervention like yours. Each race has its own god(s). Other species have no gods at all. The relationships between the gods have shaped the politics between races. Divine influences are mainly through clerics and shamans, whose prayers carry power from their respective gods as long as they believe. A cleric strong in his faith could resurrect someone, or wield war magic during wartimes. A cleric might even pray to his god and foresee a possible future (which is where the scribbling of prophecies comes into play). A cleric could even make the dead rise and do his/her bidding if their faith is to a darker god. A cleric who has lost faith in his god would most likely lose his powers.
I currently have no direct divine characters but I intentionally designed my world to handle them if/when I decide to do so. My basic rule is BALANCE and FLEXIBILITY. How much divine intervene MUST be in proportion to the worldbending consequences of the story. For instance, if there is a war, a god might infuse a cleric, or many clerics, with greater powers, in hopes of holding back the annihilation of his people. But, if the war is over a crown, or territory, where the majority of the people are not at risk of iminent death, then there would be no greater powers. If, however, the cleric's people are in danger from the new ruler's delving into vile forces, then visions might be sent to clerics in warning so they can try and stop it from happening. A god directly resurrecting a character ... no way, unless that person is a pawn to that particular god. Such pawns are very, very rare. So rare, I have no intention of writing about one, at least not yet.
When things get rough, people die. It is the inevitable fact of mortal life. If you have the problem where divine intervention must save your characters, then they are not yet ready for that particular situation. Think of your story as a video game. Your characters start out a certain level and, therefore, must face challenges appropriate for that level. Too easy, and the game is boring. Too tough, and frustration and disbelief will cause you (and everyone else) to give up. If a situation is really cool and you want to use it the way it is, save it for a time when your characters are better able to handle it. Maybe they need to find a magical item, solve a riddle of the ages, assemble a mystic puzzlebox, or go to the oracle of delphi (for example) for an answer. With all this divine intervention to save them, there is no fear your characters will die. No one cheers for the hero wrapped in an indestructable bubble. Its the little guy who everyone knows has a 99.99% chance to die yet still strives to try that we cheer for. Did he manage that 0.01% chance to succeed? Turn the page.
April 3rd, 2006, 04:52 PM
The important thing in creating a pantheon is balance. Good traits must balance against bad traits. While you can upset this balance, things must work to bring it back.
April 3rd, 2006, 06:01 PM
When I set about creating my world, from the start I knew their would be no gods, magic or anything like that in my story - I wanted it to be gritty and realistic.
There is none of this nonsense in the 'modern' world my characters live in... but many thousands of years ago there was, to an extent. Here it is summarised for you in bullet points.
1. When the world was created, it came with a 'guardian spirit'. Just a sort of life force.
2. When man developed, the spirit realised how man would come to conquer the world, so took the form on a man and revealed itself, was then worshipped as a god. Lived a reclusive life free from man, but was respected and reverred.
3. The big fantastic event in the mythology - met a beautiful woman and fell in love. Seduced her and took her to be his wife in the wilderness. They lived for hundreds of years, happy, away from man, the woman unknowing of her lover's identity.
4. The woman gives birth to ten children, the idendity of her lover is revealed. She dies.
5. The spirit suffers from what is basically really bad grief. Gets very angry and mad. Departs for the 'heavens'.
6. Spirit left behind a fragment of itself, a fragment of spirit of hate, anger and destruction, formed from its grief. Takes a perverse human form like the spirit did, evil and stuff enter the world and nearly destroy mankind. Basically the spirit's 'personality' is split in two and the bad part remains on earth.
7. The spirit, being really unhappy, ignores mankind's plea for help until a woman standing atop the great temple to the spirit dies in the fire, her child lays there alone crying to the heavens. The spirit hears, and sends down his ten sons to save mankind.
8. Sons of the guardian spirit, known as saints, come and drive back the evil. They are basically angels/gods. Lead mankind to recovery. They are just essence of the spirit in the form of men.
9. Hundreds of years later, they have a dispute (stemming from one of the saints regarding himself as a god to be worshipped), they fight among themselves and mankind goes to war. It all ends when one saint slays his brother.
10. Eight of the surviving saints return to heaven, the murderer is not let back and stays on earth (in hiding).
11. Mankind develops by itself until the modern day.
Basically, in my world, the only bits of 'magic' or 'gods' were the guardian spirit, who is now gone, and his sons, who have now gone as well. The saints were essentially part of him though, as was the 'evil', so he/it was the only 'magic' on earth.
I have no wizards, dragons, undead, etc...
The only thing of 'magic' on the entire globe is the one saint who remained hidden on earth, and thats what the plot revolves. He doesnt go around casting spells though, he effectively has no power, and the conflicts of the story and fought by men alone.
April 3rd, 2006, 08:00 PM
Holy cow Bethelamon, how are you ever going to pull all of that off?
April 3rd, 2006, 09:10 PM
Seems like we have a nice assortment of deities in the works.
Dazzlinkat, are your gods concrete entities with lives and agendas of their own? What are they up to while the clerics are away?
That's another problem I have with my gods. At times, I'm concerned they get a little too esoteric. Pragmatically, the gods in my setting are real and can, if conditions are right, tremendous impact on the world; however, in an objective sense, they're not real at all. They're the figments of the collective conscious, conjured by the wayward thoughts of their believers. Expectations of normal people shape the gods which shape the world.
This is another mechanism in place to keep the gods from running wild. As their religions grow, there are inevitable schisms. Gods reproduce like bacteria, splitting off into two nearly identical gods. In the batch of stories I'm working on now, I'm exploring the consequences of this. The gods are one being, trying to reassemble itself, but its believers are constantly pulling it apart. The god in question alternatively known as the One Lord, the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of Lords, and the Waning Lord -- but these are epithets for single god, and I'm worried its going to cause confused down the line. All in the execution, I suppose. (I picked this god to be the focus of the first batch of stories because he'd be the one most recognizable to the audience -- its a very Judeo-Christian view of the divine and a good way, I think, to introduce the setting with something familiar).
Of these, only the Lord of Lords is a main character in a story. The One Lord is mentioned throughout, but appears only once to converse with his head priest. In other stories, lesser divinites associated with this god appear, his mistress, his angelic sons, the foreign gods-turned-demons that he supplanted. All these beings will appear real, but (somehow) in the background will be the objective distinction that they're all in the heads of the human characters involved.
It'll be a tricky manuever to pull off... hopefully I won't crash and burn.
April 3rd, 2006, 09:44 PM
Worldbuilder. Yes, my gods are actual entities. For instance, the pantheon for my humans is as follows: Nevuir - Gold of Valor, Kavolion - God of the Sun, Tarba, Goddess of Strength, Villinsia - Goddess of Death & Magic, Dabbar - God of Nature, Japalash - God of Rogues, Falied - God of War, Habbati - Goddess of the Unknown & Lost and Bartak - God of slaughter. (For some reason my humans have the most gods). I have a basic theological history of the gods, showing how the half-brothers Nevuir and Falied came to hate each other, how Habbati became a goddess (she was born a human, became a lich, and 'discovered' divinity within long forgotten (unknown and lost) magics. Kingdoms rise and fall based on their beliefs.
As for your own religion, it sounds really cool. Tough, but cool. So your gods are really Aspects of the One god. Do they know they are? Or, does each Aspect think of itself as the One true god and the others are the copies?
April 3rd, 2006, 11:39 PM
Religion played a major part in one of my Sci-Fi novels, but I kept it on a personal level, only showing what it meant to individual characters. There was a hint of divine intervention at the end, but it was an abstract thing.
My main reason for including the religious aspect was to show how easily people could be manipulated. I didn't want the story swamped by the religion, but instead made it one of several factors that influenced the characters and the plot.
There were a couple of scenes where one of the characters read from the fictitious holy book I'd created, and I enjoyed writing the text for those. It was full of thee and thy type language, and very Old Testament, with the main deity smiting his enemies and punishing the heathens.
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