1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Religion vs. Magic

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Schwarzseher, Jan 13, 2021.

  1. Schwarzseher

    Schwarzseher Acolyte

    9
    7
    3
    For my world building I have a problem with respect to above mentioned subjects. To illustrate my point, maybe an example from a probably familiar setting: World of Warcraft.

    It always annoyed me that Nightelves had druids and priests, Trolls shamans and priests and Tauren shamans and druids. Alright, in World of Warcraft they function as different kinds of spell casters, thus playstyles; so it is understandable. However, priests, druids and shamans “in reality” are members of a spiritual caste, i.e. keepers of knowledge and wisdom, observers of sky and stars, responsible for religious rituals, sacrifices, etc.
    Now let us just assume the leading principle of druids is nature, of shamans it is spirits, of priests it is light: How could these principles coexist? Mind: principles not rites or customs. I think it is reasonable to assume that (within respective cultures) there would be a conflict of these principles and only one would succeed. Yes, Paganism and Christianity, i.e. Monotheisim somehow were both practiced in Europe. However, this was a transition phase and in the end Christianity came on top while Paganism is no more – experts in this matter shall feel free to correct me.

    In a nutshell: If two contrary principles exist, either one will prevail or followers of the different principles will split; and therefore just delay the conflict or shift it to another level.

    Back to my world building. In mentioned context, I want to implement the following:

    §1 Realism
    Yes, in a fantasy world realism must be “bent” to a certain extent. However, I hope to create a setting with main features that can be explained reasonably and where something like “fantasy: it is as it is” remains a rare occasion.

    §2 Magic
    Supposed to be a science albeit a mystical one.
    There are only few mages (maybe similar to the setting in The Witcher) and using magic is risky.
    Mages are overall respected or feared, but eyed with mistrust.
    Elemental magic: based on the elements water, air, fire and earth – i.e. full cliché mode.
    Necromancy: rising the dead. Unsure about death’s counterpart life (Biomancy, Zoomancy?!?!). I fear it can too easily get out of control (world building perspective). Perhaps there will be some form of limited control over living beings, like plants or animals, almost certainly not over humans.

    §3 – Religion
    It shall remain faith. No healing “magic”. Obviously, law and order will be connected to Zeus, thunder and lightning to Thor and love to Venus, but there won’t be a God appearing in a scene giving a protagonist advice or smiting an antagonist. Same with demons and other forms. They might be in the consciousness of the people and also feared, but demons will neither roam the streets at night to hunt people down nor will they have some beers with mortals or Gods after work.
    Religion will neither be to be shown as a scam nor will priests seen as charlatans.
    Priests are also respected or feared, but unlike mages trusted.

    The problem:
    It does not seem reasonable. Let us just think about the following scenarios: There is a priest of Poseidon pleading and sacrificing to his God, but without predictable result. At the same time there is a mage which is able to control the waves. We have an elder priest, wielder of the holy hammer of Vulcan which is slain by a junior tramp, while one stone’s throw away a young sorceress within a blink of an eye burns a bunch of veteran cutthroats to ashes.
    Both examples are extreme, and according to my ideas such magic shall be only possible for grandmasters of the arcane art. Still, my point should be clear: For everyone it is obvious that mages have control over elements, while priests have not. For what reason should people trust and follow the priest caste? Certainly a conflict would arise between mages and priests. Isn’t it realistic to assume that people (including mages and priests themselves) would think that the mages are closer to the Gods than the priests. Result: Mages would either replace the priest caste or at least be placed above the priests.

    I considered to connect priests exclusively to abstract principles like law, order and justice. Would anyone buy that? I do not think so. Priests as a caste of healers in the sense of doctors? Guess, such a pantheon could be created, but appears too mundane, more like a lame excuse and not really believable. Obviously, life and death are the classic domains for priests. Well, a scheming necromancer can raise the dead but the Grandpriest of Hel, i.e. the highest authority of knowledge about the dead, the first servant of the Goddess of Death, cannot? Doesn’t make sense, don’t like that…

    Well, this is the bind I found myself into. Though I wonder: Are my assumptions and conclusions correct? Do I miss something? Admittedly, I noticed that I listed contras, but no pros. Did I lose track and get bogged down into details?
    Has anyone had similar thoughts about the relation religion-magic?
     
  2. joshua mcdermott

    joshua mcdermott Troubadour

    169
    126
    43
    Perhaps you should follow that logical consequence and that is the basis of your world/story. That 'Magic' is rising/has arisen, and the follows of gods - religion - is being eclipsed and losing influence and power: Wizards or whatever you want to call them, are being revered above the clergy and the world is in turmoil.

    I mean this is one of the old central conflicts - why do you think "the church" went around killing witches and heretics even when they didn't have magic? in that mostly imagined threat they responded with ultra-violence and suppression- Inquisition etc. Now if the threat was real? would the clergy also turn to magic and call it godly work? would they use numbers to hunt and kill - discredit etc before they grew too powerful? Or do the Mages already rule and the priest caste is now in a secondary or discredited role?

    In short, I think a good book will use the book itself to answer the questions you have posed- you don't answer them before the book! if you do, then the book has not as much to say.
     
    S.T. Ockenner and Schwarzseher like this.
  3. Schwarzseher

    Schwarzseher Acolyte

    9
    7
    3
    Following §2 and §3, as stated above, not exactly the direction I am looking for, since I hope to find a reasonable justification for the spiritual (religion) and the scientific (magic) element side by side. However, this...
    ...opens an entirely new perspective I was not thinking about.
    Thank you a lot for your thoughts!
     
  4. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

    1,532
    249
    63
    Historically, shamans and druids were believed to have prophetic abilities, and practice magic, so your points about them fall flat. As for priests, it depends on what religion we're talking. Priest could technically be used to refer to any religious leader that can administer religious rites. Most ancient cultures believed their priests to be capable of magic (and, to an extent, they were correct, but that is for another day). Even with Rabbis, some of them were believed to be able to be able to create golems, and Christian priests could baptize people and pray, which is basically magic (although, they deny it sometimes, except for esoteric* Christians), and the Judeo-Christian prophets could perform miracles (basically, using themselves as a vessel for God's magic).
    Esoteric Christianity refers to the study of the occult or mystic esoteric knowledge related to the inner teachings of Christianity. The term is generally associated with the Essenes and later the Rosicrucians. In esoteric Christianity, the religion of the Christ is taught as a mystery religion.
     
    Schwarzseher likes this.
  5. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    1,131
    358
    83
    Hoo boy, there's a lot to unpack here.

    Well, if your goal is to equate magic with science then I would recommend looking up the early history of the enlightenment in real life history. That would require magic, or at least controllable magic, to be a relatively new thing, but that'd fit with the low number of users and the riskiness.
     
    Schwarzseher and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  6. Schwarzseher

    Schwarzseher Acolyte

    9
    7
    3
    I understand your point. I view it from a more abstract angle though: Wether druids, shamans or priests all of them do represent the spiritual social stratum. Like for instance Achilles, King Arthur and Gottfried von Berlichingen represent the social stratum of the nobility. Thus, I am aware about the historical mage-priest relation; magi actually meant priests in Zoroastrianism.

    Maybe I should clarify my thinking.
    Let us take a historical and still actual referrence: Hinduism.
    - Brahmins: spiritual leaders (and indeed as such magicians)
    - Kshatriyas: warriors and rulers
    - Vaishyas: farmers, craftsmen, merchants
    - Shudras: labourers

    In my (fantasy) setting one cultural group shall have this stratification:
    - Brahmins: spiritual leaders
    - Kshatriyas: warriors and rulers
    - Mages: scholars and practitioners of magic (magic considered not to be spiritual, but a science or art)
    - Vajshiyas: farmers, craftsmen, merchants
    - Shudras: labourers

    Now back to the problem of my first post:
    Wouldn't the mages question the credibility of the faith when they posses control over elements, while the priests do not have such powers? I admit that I do not exactly know, how the Greek Gods for instance were related to elements. But - see above - a priest of the God of the Oceans cannot control waves, while a mage, a profane is able to do so? Wouldn't that question the legitimacy of that priesthood? That is the essence of my problem/question.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  7. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

    1,532
    249
    63
    You're right, that makes zero sense. A priest's magic should have something to do with their god.
     
  8. Schwarzseher

    Schwarzseher Acolyte

    9
    7
    3
    Not necessarily:

    Controllability
    Magic can be leant like craftsmanship or like wielding a sword. Thus it can be ancient too. Thing is, bricklaying and fencing are visible. Everyone can see a mason's apprentice learning his prefession, everyone can see a squire swinging a wooden stick. A mage weaving his hands and mumbling would be connected to something spiritual, with a possible result as shown above.
    At least I guess so...

    Riskiness
    I did not go deeper into it, and it is also not the issue here, but maybe as an explanation: The elemental mage needs the element as a the source. Magic shall be controllable, but as mightyer the spell, as more source is available as higher the risk to lose control.
    Back to our exampale of the mage, the God of the Ocean and the waves: Although I brought this example for illustration, the event itself should be rather seldom, for there is so much of the source. Hence, the risk of "overdosing" is high. Same with an earth mage standing on a mountain and trying to cause the eruption of a volcano: excessive amout of the source, risk is high to kill himself - unless he is a master of his art. (Leaving the power of the spell aside.)
    That is the rough idea, with the simple goal: I do not want to overpower mages and risk problems in the plot.

    Thinking about it, your objection is insofar valid, as "regular science", "ancient" and "not entirely controllable" (thus not understood) are not exactly an ideal combination...
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  9. Don Coyote

    Don Coyote Scribe

    29
    21
    3
    You have to give the priesthood something to work with. If it's faith, faith has to work. If someone comes to a priest for a blessing, they have faith the blessing will work. If faith doesn't work, why would anyone go to a priest? If priests tell people faith works and it doesn't, there will be no trust.

    How does healing work in this world? Does magic heal? Or is healing mundane, like our own world?

    Why not let your priests at least heal diseases by faith? Or let them be more effective mundane or magical healers because they have faith their gods guide and bless them. Of course, not all priests need to be healers.

    You need to figure out why folks don't trust magic users. Do they think the powers have bad side affects? Do the powers actually have bad side affects? Are the MUs themselves untrustworthy? Does the priesthood preach against magic? Do the gods forbid the study and use of magic? How powerful is the priesthood?

    Is there any reason priests cannot study and learn magic? Perhaps they can, but keep it to themselves because of the mistrust for MUs. Perhaps the magic they study is commanded by their god.
     
    Schwarzseher and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  10. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Troubadour

    108
    110
    43
    The reason multiple "Types" of faith/faith-based magic exist in Wow is because....they all exist. They're all "right." In the modern world, we pretty much all think that our religion is the "right" one and everyone else is "wrong." But remember, old testament/jewish God said "Yes, your (egyptian) gods exist, but I am more powerful than them, watch what I can do." Ergo, you worship God with a capital G because he is the most powerful one.

    In WoW, there is space satan, there are cthulu monsters, there's the emerald dream. There's nature spirits, there's dragon gods. And that's not even considering pandaria and draenor and all that other stuff. Someone drawing power from ysera is just as valid as someone drawing power from the light, since they both exist and they are both powerful. There is 0 question whether or not the god(s)/spirits of any given faith on azeroth exist because we can physically interact with them.

    But in the real world, God doesn't walk around and we can't ask him if he's mormon god or jewish god or that one flavor of christianity where Jesus didn't die on the cross, it was his brother, no Jesus went to Japan and retired and became a rice farmer and married a Japanese woman. But most cultures say that there is one (1) correct religion and everything else is wrong. I am sure there are people on azeroth who think that way, too, but there's also probably flat earthers on azeroth, too, doesn't make them right.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,563
    4,526
    313
    I deal with this a bit in Altearth. Dwarves don't have a priesthood and elves are weird in a variety of ways, so we'll leave them aside. Humans follow the old Roman state religion. That religion did indeed have priests, though not like Christian ones (Christianity is a tiny cult in Altearth). Roman priests did perform some key functions; the one closest to magic would be taking auspices, though that could also be done by a head of household. Anyway, there was a supernatural angle there, and that's what exists in Altearth.

    There was also a wide range of individuals who claimed magical powers. They gave you love potions, poisons, handed out curses, removed curses, all that sort of thing. Note that all these things were very much believed, all through the ancient and medieval world. A high rate of success doesn't seem to be a vital criterion.

    But also in Altearth, my orcs are monotheists and they have an elaborate priestly structure. Only priests can work miracles (magic). Since this does indeed sometimes, frequently, work, the people believe.

    Underlying all this is that magic requires phlogiston, which operates through the aether. So it's a real thing, but it's poorly understood and widely misunderstood. Nobody even uses the word for many centuries. So there are many competing theories about how the world works, each of which is mostly wrong but which gets enough right to provide credence for those who hold to it.

    You might consider something similar. Your priests aren't completely ineffectual. And maybe your mages aren't 100% effective. Give enough room for fudging and people will believe whatever suits their world view. Only you as author know what's *really* going on.
     
    Schwarzseher and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  12. Schwarzseher

    Schwarzseher Acolyte

    9
    7
    3
    You are probably right here.
    Maybe fleshing out a credible "split of work" between religion and magic could help as well.

    Maybe that I am somehow blocking myself; won't deny that. The thing is, I am very reluctant with healing, because I fear it can take out too much of the danger of life and I also do not want to be nailed down by a "hard religion" system.

    Helpful considerations, though I feel it stands and falls with the present issue, while the details are the next step.


    This is easily forgotten. Thank you for emphasising it.
    Although I fear this tightens the sling around my neck. ;)

    I sincerely wish you were right... :D
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,563
    4,526
    313
    >I sincerely wish you were right... :D
    Oh, I didn't mean we *actually* know what's going on. We just tell our readers that! (the difference between "really" and "actually" is left as an exercise for the student)
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  14. Don Coyote

    Don Coyote Scribe

    29
    21
    3
    I wouldn't suggest a D&D or video game type of healing that takes a character from the brink of death back to full health and vitality with the touch of a hand or a swig of a potion. Just that wounds tended by a priest takes days instead of weeks with fewer complications, less scarring and fewer deaths. It doesn't have to be a hard religious system either. Obtaining the powers of the priesthood can be as simple as dedicating oneself to spiritual matters. Maybe taking a vow, such as giving up earthly possessions or greeting the sun every morning or dedication to a monastery or whatever. Priests who take up healing have the ability to heal better as long as they follow the rituals of their vows. If they fall away, they still keep the ability of normal healing, cleaning and stitching wounds, use of healing herbs, diagnosis, prognosis and so on. You could even create a priesthood that is essentially a healers guild. As long as they follow their medical rituals and thereby increasing and fortifying their faith, they have miraculous ability (compared to normal healing) to treat and heal.

    Not all priests are healers. Those that don't study healing can only bless someone so that normal healing at the hands of others tends to work better.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  15. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    1,131
    358
    83
    Video game style healing can be a good challenge for writers. It forces you to think up lose conditions other than just having one side kill the other and requires you to focus the tension on that.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  16. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    4,487
    1,540
    163
    People in the ancient world believed in a plethora of spirits, many associated with 'place,' others with everything from emotions to success in commerce or battle. The most potent of these spirits were effectively Gods. Ancient magicians were obsessed with learning the 'true names' of spirits as that was believed to convey a measure of control over said entity. However, it was also possible for the spirit to 'possess' a person. (examples of both are found in the bible). Wizards who did not control a spirit were regarded as one notch above fakes.

    This might give you a revamped starting point: Priests gain their power through pacts with powerful spirits, and are required to do the spirits bidding from time to time as a condition of retaining that power. Said spirits are mercurial, and will often deny the priest their power.

    For wizards, the power comes from within - I'd suggest ditching the elemental model. Instead, they use...reason and logical methodology...to 'leverage' what power they do have. Occasionally, they might control a spirit or two through knowledge of their true names.

    Put another way, the priest is ruled by/dependent on the spirit (God), while the mage seeks to enhance himself.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  17. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,398
    1,472
    163
    WoW worries about game balance, and basically what you have is a world balance issue. It could be handled in several ways, depending on details, ranging from mundane belief systems, to sheer numbers, to adjusting power thresholds. In typical fantasy worlds, the big 4 elements aren’t all that useful to the ordinary bloke in ordinary life most of the time, but the power of priests? From healing, to fertility, to getting the crops to grow, to divination, these are the things that will bring the common folk to the gods and make them believe the mage a devil most skilled in destruction... but of course, some folks would worship the devil. And even in war, which is more powerful? The mage with a fireball, or the priestess who “inspires” 10000 soldiers to fight without fear or with just a little more strength and determination?

    Finding the balance to all things which need leveled scales is part of the joy of world building, and what often makes the world unique. Tipping them back and forth is what makes the stories fun.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  18. Schwarzseher

    Schwarzseher Acolyte

    9
    7
    3
    100% agreed!

    This is worth to be explored, indeed.
    Another way to "buff" priesthood could also be "legitimacy". The legitimacy of the priesthood itself, and its required approval which worldly rulers need.


    I did't really think about all the implications and possible upsides. But one reason I stopped reading fantasy books is, that according to my humble perception there is too much adaption of video and pen&paper game style, and I think it does not work well.
    Maybe my example in the introduction with World of Warcraft somehow suggested, that I tend towards this way, but it is exactly the opposite.


    Wouldn't I enter "hard religion" territory here? And do I really gain something, when I replace Gods with spirits? Goal is to leave religious power suggestive.

    Need to think about that. I do consider elemental magic mainly because I feel that is the easiest way to constrain magic users in a believable way.


    It is rather the realism issue which I have. Word of Warcraft can make generous concessions in this regard, since it is probably a minority which cares about immersion and a believable world.

    There is a lot of truth in this. The peasant thinks about living in the traditions of his fathers, his pregnant wife, about the next harvest, and is worried for his cow Bertha which since four days does not give as much milk as she should. He must repair the roof of the stable, but firstly needs to go to the blacksmith to get some to buy some nails, etc. And his touchy daughter... Still. Not. Married. For God's sake! Yes. he heared that somewhere, at some place there are scholars, in colourful robes and with strange hats. Travellers told him about mysterious practices and vile sorceries. But none of these people will repair that damn bloody roof. True, the Goddess of the Hearthfire also won't, but tomorrow her priestress will come to look after his wife. Gods be praised! They protect him, his family, the village and his noble lord...
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  19. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    1,131
    358
    83
    You know who would be useful to talk with about the harvest and cow? A druid. They might also have insight on the pregnant wife, though the missus might resent being handled by people mostly known for dealing with animals. I'd recommend going to a priest for that. Same with trying to talk witg the daughter about marriage.

    Or, in other words people in different situations have different requirements and different spiritual needs to be addressed. In a highly urban kingdom center there's less need for druidic nature lore, but birth and marriage remains important concerns.

    Out in the countryside it could blend as the wealth and influence from urban centers sees a priesthood spread, but the lack of focus on matters more imnediate to farmers ensure that they still turn to druids. Similarly, even further out priests may be basically unknown and druids are all there is.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  20. Schwarzseher

    Schwarzseher Acolyte

    9
    7
    3
    I respectfully disagree, thought not with what you are saying, but with the concept behind it. The difference made in RPGs by establishing druids, priests etc. as classes is to facilitate different playstyles.
    In reality, or historically priests, druids, shamans, witch doctors, magi, brahmin, etc. were basically the same: a spiritual social class, the ones in contact with the, let us say, supernatural, metaphysical, transcendental (or whatever the correct term may be). That this concept had various manifestations in different cultures and ethnicities, is another story.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
Loading...

Share This Page