I’m part of several different online fantasy writing communities. One topic that comes up periodically in worldbuilding discussions is how to handle religion in our imaginary worlds. I’ve always answered that I’m not the least bit interested in any sort of divine reality behind the stories—keep the story focused on the human characters, not whatever gods/goddesses there might be behind the scenes. And leave that unresolved, behind a veil of uncertainty. What does interest me, though, and is part of making a believable world is what the characters within it believe and how that affects the actions they take.
If you look over all my writing, you’d see a wide range of religious ideas and a wide range of character interactions to those ideas (from largely ignoring them to them being a character’s driving force).
Among the people of Eghsal Valley there are three main religions, all three of which place fire as the central source of reality.
The most powerful of these is the pantheonic religion with its powerful, high-caste priests and its temples. This is the state religion, as much as there is one. While it views the fire of reality as central and all powerful, its primary focus is on the gods and goddesses who influence how the fire affects the world as humans know it. There are many deities, some particular to a geographical feature or location, but here are some of the main ones:
- Tiespetre - son of fire, god of physical laws of the cosmos
- Ryo - step brother of Tiespetre, god of customs, social laws, marriage, healing
- Perkwom - son of Tiespetre, thunderer, god of protection and just war; stubborn, strong
- Tiessen - twin sons of Tiespietre so alike they share a name; one is god of horses, one of cattle; guides of sailors, farmers, wanderers, dancers, rescuers
- Kwomnep - son of Tiespetre, god of water (not the sea) offending this god leads to flooding
- Shemo and Humo - brothers, sons of Perkwom; Shemo is lord of death since he was sacrificed to save the world from the sea; Humo performed the rite, making him the first priest
- Paxu - son of Ryo, god of drinks (wine, mate, fire liquor) & music & wild spaces
- Kwona - horse goddess (wild); also the sea sometimes
- Gouwind - cow goddess (tame)
- Aoso - dawn; ambiguous--neither light nor dark; order
- Saeldagtre - Tiespetre's daughter, conducts sun through the sky
- Deni - river goddess (specific to the Eghsal River)
- Little Fire - hearth goddess--proves ownership; associated with the circle
- Deghmedre - Tiespetre's wife; earth goddess
- Koly - goddess of death (itself, not the afterlife)
- Torjid, Lokjid, Paljid - goddesses of mountains (each a specific peak, together of all peaks)
- Brilith - goddess of the sea
- Teja, Kiela, Maela - goddesses of lava beds, chaos
Gauran - human hero who led the first settlers to Eghsal Valley (not a god, but the story of his interactions with the deities form a part of the religious stories)
The priests of this religion exert their influence over the whole valley, well beyond their numbers.
The second religion is the Enshi religion. It is looked down on by the priests and their followers as heretical, as it values the fire itself but has no use for any deities between the world and the fire. In the capital city of Romnai, where the priests are strong and the temple powerful, the Enshi religion is especially discriminated against. To the west, especially among the fishing families of Jarnur, it is much more accepted, and those of the two religions live at peace. The followers of the Enshi religion have no temples or priests but take a more mystical view of the fire. Using their cord-like belts and a series of ritualized movements, they attempt to be united with the fire.
The third religion is a mystery religion of the soldiers, especially the wolf jati soldiers who wander the valley far from the cities to keep the people safe. For them the fire is central, but not as something to be venerated. Instead, the fire is their rival. They challenge themselves, measure themselves against the fire in feats of strength. They worship those who triumph within their sacred rites. And when they succeed, they worship themselves.
The characters of The Silk Betrayal come from all of these religions. Some are deeply influenced by their beliefs in how to approach the fire of reality. Some are largely indifferent. But these three religions and the interactions among them form a significant part of the backdrop to the novel’s story.