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[SYSTEMS] RELIGION - AL EWING/JONATHAN HICKMAN, PART 2
Believe in me.
Okay, so, onto deities and such.
No surprise that Al does great here as well, but you may have noticed that we’re using a bastardized Esperanto for all our naming conventions -- which Al obviously does not.
I’m going to abstain from renaming gods here (as some of these names are unassailably cool), but keep it in the back of your head that we might have to as it expands out.
I mean, there’s definitely a thing we could do where the names in the pantheon precede the current cycle while the language does not (not a new thing), but what Al wasn’t working with was how all of that is actually going to play out (again, in the spirit of the experiment, this is a rough idea as the point of the exercise is you get to watch as this happens).
All right, with that in mind, let’s go...
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BUILDING A PANTHEON
Why a pantheon?
This is a Manichean story. It’s a story of good and evil, magic and science, creativity and corruption. There are opposing forces at work – more than one god.
Now, obviously, you can have monotheistic religions with Manichean tendencies – all you need for that is a Satan. God has the Devil, Ahura Mazda has Angra Mainyu…
…or so I assumed. Looking that up to check the spelling, I find a Brittanica entry that tells me that Angra Mainyu, the destructive spirit, was actually created by Ahura Mazda along with their twin, Spenta Mainyu. Two creations of one larger deity – like two moons of one planet. This is the kind of synchronicity I like to file away for later.
Anyway, we could do a simple God/Devil dichotomy in our religion, but we’ve got all these lovely planets – one of which is quite literally the source of all energy in the system. The idea of not building something with that seems perverse. Sometimes the simplest route is the best one.
So, this is the first big choice that Al is making. A rejection of monotheism and a desire to play with a pantheon. Which I like a lot. And for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s culturally alien right now. And warring single belief systems and a one-true-thing to believe in is kinda boring.
And second, and this is probably where the real juice is at, it’s much more helpful narratively. There’s a well-known Schiller quote regarding what happened culturally when monotheism replaced religious pantheons that goes something like this: “When gods were human, man was more divine.”
That’s a propellant that feels appropriate and ascendent. I say, why not?
So – basing deities off the planets, what have we got? And what do we want?
The Sun – came first. It seems very weird to have gods based on the habitable planets and not one based on the sun. But worshipping the sun feels a little dull, so this would be more of a Titan figure – an Ur-Deity, an Old God or Proto-God.
Which brings us to a want, or rather a do not want. I don’t want to do a pantheon if we’re just doing the Greek Gods in new hats. That extends to the Titans, too. So whatever role the Sun plays in all this, it probably shouldn’t be a Chronos – Father to the Father of Gods. I’ll think on that and come back to it.
Agreed. And there’s something here about cycles, related to circular orbits, and a central axis...
Water – this is the Father of Gods, or if we don’t want to do family structure – and more on that in a second - the Chief God, the First God. This is who gave us KHOR. On this planet is the seat of the system-wide religion – or the seats of the two of them, rather. The Holy See, if you want to get punny with it. Which suggests that our Water-God, giver of KHOR, might be common to both sects – after all, they both live in his depths.
Either that, or - what if one of the sects is enjoying their god’s life-giving bounty and the other is conquering the hated enemy god and stealing his shit? The same entity is god to one, devil to the other. That’s got possibilities. Again, we’ll leave that to simmer.
Love this bit.
(Just to remind myself – part of the bedrock is that the two sects are NOT at war. So we should factor that in.)
So in this context, water is deep, deadly, dangerous, but also the provider of food and, um, water. Early man’s first glimpse of a reflection – some ghostly spirit-self – would be in water. And, at some point in the primordial past, our man-like aliens found a water planet that provided for their every need. The water-god is the oldest, most dangerous, most powerful god.
Gods need names. The Russian for “Water” is VODA. That’s got a ring to it. (Though, let me check… hmm, the god in Morrison’s ANNIHILATOR was “Vada”. I think that’s from Polari, though, so it’s a different enough kettle of fish.)
So, I know that this is basically just a naming section on top of a sketch of how the pantheon functions, but I want to add a few things in here.
Al is making an assumption that life began in all these places simultaneously, or separately then all at once when they could connect. But what if cycle after cycle over thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of years, life crawled forwards then backwards in each magic/science cycle...each time getting a little bit further along (on both fronts).
At some point, barring an extinction level event, they would achieve flight, wouldn’t they? And then eventually space travel, then exploration of their local system. They might even reach a new world, maybe just in time for the flipping of a cycle and then they would suddenly be stranded. Their technology made useless in a magic cycle. And this could also be true of a magic cycle, using supernatural means to travel between worlds.
Now imagine that life began on a planet other than AKVA. How would discovering/unearthing KHOR change the what normally happened during a cycle? What happens when you gained it and then lost it? How would it change how the Sun God was viewed? How would VODA be viewed in relation to this? What would the ‘people’ of AKVA be like compared to those trapped on the other worlds?
Fire – A ruthlessly rigid world of monarchies and feudal systems. One moon. Monarchies take us back to family structure – that these three planet-gods are siblings, maybe – but I wonder if we can do something more interesting. Fire and Water are classically in opposition, but if water has commonalities with fire, too – they’re both unsolid, flowing, moving, living, powerful and destructive in concentration. You can imagine a mythology that doesn’t put them at odds, but rather in concert. And in terms of how this relates to the planet – fire is power. The furnace, the forge, the torturer’s coals. The Fire god is stern, regal, martial.
Russian for “Fire” is POZHAR. That won’t do, he was a Firestorm character. Bosnian is VATRA. That’s a stern sound.
Firestorm. Another in a long line of fantastic DC characters that are fantastically designed and woefully underused.
Al would write a great Firestorm.
Air – Moon of Fire. A hedonistic paradise under control of criminals and dissolute aristos. So if Air is a moon, that makes the Air-god a child of the Fire-god… or is that the most interesting relationship? Could it be some other form of emanation or creation? If the Water-God appears both as deity and demiurge, what if Air is some kind of Satan figure to the fire-god?
I had a feeling Satan would get involved with this sooner or later. In his collectable first appearance – in every connosieur’s favourite book of the Bible, Job – he’s basically positioned as a servant of God, but also as the Adversary of man. The tester. A kind of demonic servant who also challenges God. A necessary enemy.
Okay – so in this pantheon, let’s say each moon represents not a child of the planet-god it orbits, but a demonic necessary enemy. Maybe a servant, too, like Satan was treated almost as the servant of God. They’re related – Fire could be seen as a form of Air. But flames have purpose – flames do work – air is empty. Workshy. Air is a minor element, a lesser thing. We’ll let this simmer as we move on.
Best foreign word I’ve found is Uzbek – HAVO. Those V’s keep cropping up – I think they’re a motif at this point.
Man, I LOVE the idea of the moons being adversarial/servant gods. It ticks a lot of boxes, especially when you get to ORDO and KAOSO. I mean, gods are eternal until they’re not, right?
I’m not sure if Al’s going to get there, but there’s a lot you can do when you get to twin moons.
Earth – the political planet. Plutocratic, material. Story-wise, it’s the starting point. The safe place. Work the earth, make it a home. Earth provides.
In terms of the elements – Earth, Fire, Water, they can all go together. Earth houses fire – volcanoes, magma – and goes in partnership with water. Earth is the peacemaker between those rival elements that are the same – the politician, the mediator. Creator of systems. Maybe that’s why it has two servants/enemies – again, it’s the political planet. And it comes as ordered farmland or chaotic wilderness.
Irish for Earth is DOMHAIN. Near the knuckle. None of the languages in Google Translate has a particularly juicy word for Earth – especially not one with V in it – so let’s make something up. VODA, VATRA, VADIS, then. Dis for the lowest level.
Yep. And for those playing at home, the rule here is obey the rules until they don’t serve you anymore, then abandon them for something cooler.
It’s okay to have a naming convention, but if you find something better, then you go with the thing that’s better.
(Which, I think, closes the book on being slavish to Esperanto, doesn’t it?)
Order/Chaos – Not much in the doc to help me here, presumably because these two moons are where a lot of the story happens. We’ve talked about how order and chaos can manifest in the Earth element, and we known Order is the science moon and Chaos is the magic moon.
Telugu for Order is ARDAR. Tatar for Chaos is XAOC. That’s pretty perfect.
Going back to the Sun – Shona for sun is ZUVA.
So, that leaves us with:
ZUVA - Sun
VODA - Akva
VATRA - Fayrii
HAVO - Heir
VADIS - Therra
ARDAR - Ordo
XAOC - Kaoso
I pretty much love all of these except for the ones for Ordo and Kaoso, but that’s because I’ve something boiling about those moons in the back of my head.
Which we’ll settle later on in this system.
I think we’ve got everything we need now – let’s put it all together into a religious text. Then we’ll dive back out and see how that might affect the societies of the system.
So...I guess the actual document starts here.
Yep. We’ll get to the scared mythology next.