A look at how I created the religion of Ryuhon Falleya in The Sword of Kaigen.
With 2019 coming to a close, I realized that I’ve actually written far more Theonite-related content for other people’s blogs than my own. This isn’t something I regret; I don’t believe I’ve ever mistaken myself for a blogger or led anyone else to do so. However, I do want all of these posts to be easy to find, here on this site where people are most likely to be searching for them. So, what I’m going to do over the remainder of 2019 is post introductory samples of all my guest posts, one at a time. These samples should be just long enough to give you an idea of whether you’re interested in clicking through to the full post on the host’s blog. The content is easy to find, the hosts still get the traffic, everybody wins!
The following is tone of the guest posts I wrote for The Sword of Kaigen Blog Tour, hosted by Karina at Afire Pages from 11/11 – 11/29/19. This one, hosted by A Cat, a Book, and a Cup of Tea is a look at one way to develop a fantasy religion.
Ryuhon Falleya: Creating a Fantasy Religion
Religion is uniquely difficult to write in fantasy, especially while trying to avoid one-to-one comparisons to real-world religions. A fictional religion has to gel with the beliefs, values, morals, and motivations of the characters who practice it, while also feeling bigger and more ancient than the believers themselves. You can’t have characters with a Christian-like moral compass practicing a religion that doesn’t support that system of ethics. If you want your fantasy characters to hold certain values and worldviews those ideas should be baked into their religion if not accounted for elsewhere in their culture or personality.
There are two approaches to creating this gel. One way is to create the religion first and then adjust your characters’ values to fit into it. The second is to start with the characters and then build a plausible religion around their values. I think that realistically, a writer ends up doing some of both. Certainly, with the Ryuhon Falleya religion of The Sword of Kaigen, I did a lot of both.
The characters, in this case, pre-existed the religion; their personalities and character arcs were established through my previous works, though the finer points of their motivations remained malleable. The religion of Ryuhon Falleya (which we will hereafter call by its shorter name, Ryuhonya) began with the values and motivations of the characters. Then, once the religion had developed enough to take on a life of its own, Ryuhonya, in turn, influenced the characters, the way they experienced the world, thought in metaphor, and rationalized their lives.
I originally planned to have the people of Shirojima practice Nagino Falleya (hereafter referred to as Naginoya), the dominant religion in the Kaigenese Empire. Naginoya is a loose adaptation of the original Yammanka Falleya, a West African-inspired polytheistic religion brought to Kaigen by missionaries from the Empire of Yamma. Practitioners of this original Falleya worship a primary God called Kiye, a primary Goddess called Nyaare, and their sixteen demigod children, from whom all humans descended. Ultimately, Kaigenese Naginoya accepts the gods and narrative of Yammanka Falleya, with the story adjusted to place more importance on the human ancestors, Nami and Nagi (thought to be the ancestors of the Kaigenese), elevating them from the status of demigods to gods in their own right.
I wasn’t far into the first draft of The Sword of Kaigen when Naginoya started to feel wrong on the story. It still made sense as an Empire-standard religion, but it was just that: standard, distant, and very much of the Empire. The people of Shirojima, secluded on their islands, were removed from the heart of the Empire and deeply connected to their mountain home in a way that felt like it should affect their spirituality. Their local identity as warriors, water elementals, and children of the ocean, was so strong that I felt like the half-imported Naginoya, with its foreign gods, was insufficient to express it.
My own father grew up in a tiny village in rural China, which practiced a local religion centered on ancestors, spirits, the community, and the land that had supported the village’s existence since the Ming Dynasty.