In an earlier article, I mentioned that the world of The Star-Runner Chronicles has several different deities (the eleven original gods of Heaven, the seven Hell Lords, and their various children), who are in turn served by their own team of either angels (for the Heavenly gods) or devils (for the Lords of the Seven Hells). But, how do people relate to these various supernatural beings in day-to-day life? How do they worship? How do they pray? And do other, radically different religious beliefs exist in this world? Keep reading to find out!
A God for Every Lifestyle
When you have a full pantheon of gods, there is pretty much a god that suits every people and lifestyle. For races of beings who live in subterranean or nocturnal lifestyles, Umbra, God of Darkness, has always been an important deity—if not the primary deity—in their lives. For those who live close to nature, Floria the Goddess of Plant Life and the fertility goddess Mollan usually take the prime slots. However, for every race Origia—Goddess of Creation—and Shogga—Goddess of Fate—are generally extremely important. In fact, they are so important that the majority of the time someone utters such phrases as “Oh my Goddess!” or “Goddess dammit!”, they are referring to one or the other.
Though some gods are more important than others depending on cultural and regional differences in lifestyle between peoples and nations, the time is long past when worship of any of the Heavenly gods is actually banned or seen as a mark of immorality. The worship of the Lords of the Seven Hells, however, is an entirely different matter. Because these seven deities represent the absolute worst qualities and urges that a person can have—Lust, Gluttony, Envy, Greed, Wrath, Sloth, and Arrogance—those who worship them are thought, at best, to simply glory in being assholes or, at worst, are sadistic psychopaths.
Most people pray only during special ceremonies and holy days and on an as-needed basis throughout the year. No one, not even the priests and priestesses, see anything wrong with that, however. It is generally believed that petitioning the gods on a constant basis actually makes it less likely that those prayers will be answered because constantly talking the gods’ ears off will make them tune you out like white noise. There are even some legends and parables of people who prayed too much deliberately being tormented and punished by one or more gods just to make them shut up and leave them alone (in essence, the very opposite of the Biblical tale of Job)!
Mortals and Gods
It is believed that in the early days, when the gods had first created the world and the mortal races, they played a very active role in people’s lives. There are many stories if the gods and their angels or the Hell Lords and their devils coming to Earth, either in their true forms or in disguise, and having all sorts of interactions with mortals. Some of these interactions were tests, others were calls to action or temptations into darkness or romantic trysts.
Angered gods would destroy cities and cause famines, plagues, and wars. Pleased gods would bless their favorite people. Bored gods would cause natural disasters or create and release horrifying monsters or drop an object of great Heavenly or Hellish power on Earth just to see how the mortals would react to them! Even some of the blessings that the gods would give people would be so overpowered that they threw off the natural balance of things and did more harm than good.
In the end, with mortals crying out for more blessings, or for their enemies to be smitten, or asking why they’re not getting blessed even though they’re good and pray all the time while their rotten neighbor or lord is living large, or asking why this plague or disaster had to come along and kill their family and/or destroy their livelihood…Well, everyone had had enough—especially Origia! So, she brought all of the gods and Hell Lords together and made them sign an agreement that 1) they would never bring down any insane disasters or work any flashy miracles on mortals ever again, 2) they would limit their and their Heavenly/Hellish servants’ interactions with mortals to the subtle and barely noticeable unless in case of emergency, 3) if they or their angels/devils had to go to Earth to interact with mortals, then they had to take on a mortal guise or only contact them through their dreams unless it’s super urgent, and 4) no more dropping Heavenly or Hellish magic for mortals to find, period. It didn’t mean that the gods and their servants could no longer meddle in mortal lives at all…just that they had to be a lot more subtle and stealthy about it all.
Then, when everyone had signed, Origia projected her image so that every mortal—no matter who or where they were—could see and hear her and plainly explained to them all about the agreement, and also what she expected for them. She told the mortals, every last one of them, that from that day forward they were to bring about their own fortunes by their own efforts. Origia assured them that the gods had not abandoned them, and would always be there when the need was greatest, but that it was time for mortals to recognize their own strength and stop helplessly leaning on or fearing the gods all the time and start being interesting already! That was the end of the Age of the Gods and the beginning of the Age of Mortals.
Since then, the general attitude has been that asking the gods for help is for the big things, the things that you can’t do by yourself and no Earthly person or group is able or willing to help you with. The little, everyday things like having enough food to eat or having the courage to get through another day are all on the person and those around them. This has created a religious culture which is focused much more on people, their inner strength, their goals, and their responsibility to each other than one focused entirely around earning the favor and rewards of the gods. This, in turn, has led to more flexible and practical religious teachings and traditions overall.
Still, there are many festivals held in honor of the gods—some regional, and some universal. The most widely celebrated ones are Luminmas (the new year’s celebration held in honor of the creation of the world) and the Starlight Festival, which is held in honor of Stellora, Goddess of the Stars and of Wishes and Hope. Every year at the end of Octbare, people dress up in costumes and gorge themselves on junk food and sweets. They also leave offerings at a shrine or temple of Stellora which represent the hopes and wishes of theirs which have come true over the past year in thanks. Finally, once night falls, people construct colorful paper lanterns, write their fondest hopes and wishes on them, and send them up in the air with a burning candle like a mini hot air balloon. The belief is that the flames of the lanterns with wishes and hopes that will come true are given their own place in the sky among the stars by Stellora herself.
Of course, as with any religion, there is a belief in the afterlife. Basically, the accepted knowledge is that when one dies Anbisel—Judge of the Dead—reviews your life history and weighs your evil actions against your good ones. She does take into account such situations as killing another for the sake of your own survival or to protect or save the life of another and stealing to preserve your life or the life of another…but a kill for the sake of killing or a theft for the sake of riches is always weighed on the bad side of her scales.
If your good deeds outweigh your evil deeds, you are admitted into Paradise. There, you get to enjoy all of the pleasures that you enjoyed (or wished you could have enjoyed) in life. There is no ban on pleasures of the flesh like food, alcohol, sex, or even drugs (in fact, in Paradise, drugs are non-addictive and have no undesirable side-effects)! In Paradise, it’s all about having a good time after a life well lived, not about coming into the bosom of a deity to spend eternity in worship and praise or being stripped of your mortal flaws and desires. (And, really, what are we without those flaws and desires? They’re part of what makes us whole and interesting individuals, after all…)
If your evil deeds outweigh your good deeds, then you are sent to an area in one of the Seven Hells set aside especially to torment and punish you according to just how evil you really were. If you were just kind of a dick, you go to the First Hell, ruled by Complasa, Lord of Sloth. Since he’s a lazy guy, he hasn’t put much thought into his punishments. Basically, your punishment under him is to live all of the most annoying, boring, and inconvenient parts of mortal life all day, every day, for the rest of eternity. Lines are longer, the food’s always burnt or bland or just plain messed up, you never have an umbrella when it suddenly starts raining, the water pressure dies or something breaks whenever you turn on a faucet, etc. He basically takes the suck in life and makes it suckier and constant.
The Second Hell is ruled by Jeloza, Lord of Envy. Here, she has constructed the Hell of High Waters, a realm which is constantly flooding with filthy-looking salt water. Here, you begin on what seems to be the roof of a house or a sinking ship and you spend eternity scrambling to find higher ground, feeling constantly envious of those who appear safer than you. And should you fall into the water? You spend eternity sinking and deathlessly drowning, constantly feeling envious of the people who are still above the waves and those who haven’t sunk as far as you yet.
The Third Hell—ruled by Smugothd, Lord of Arrogance—traps you in an eternal whirlwind. There, you are pushed and tossed about, periodically being hit with and smashed between pieces of speeding debris. Some of it is small stuff like pebbles or nails, while others are big things like boulders, houses, ships, wardrobes, book cases, giant spiked balls, mountains, etc. The safer you feel at the time, the bigger and more painful the thing you get hit with, and there will often be long lulls to give you a false sense of security just to set you up to be hit with something extra painful. The worst thing is that Smugothd himself likes to sit there and watch like it’s a comedy show every evening…and you get to hear him laugh the whole time.
The Fourth Hell is the realm of Avarsus, Lord of Greed. Here, she had set up an endless cavern filled with falling rocks, metal spikes, bottomless pits, stone beasts, acid pools, and the classic giant-rolling-stone-bolder-down-the-narrow-hallway trap. She claims that the place is filled with treasure and that at the end there will be cake. The truth? No one is sure about the cake, but all of the treasures are just lures to spring off the next horrible trap. Even if you know it’s a trap, the atmosphere of the place will not let you resist the bait. It makes you greedy enough to take it. And you can’t even stop because the promise of cake keeps you going!
The Fifth Hell, run by Vorason, Lord of Gluttony, is a huge barbeque…of pain. All of the food is scalding hot (if not on fire), all of the drinks are bubbling magma or molten metal, and everything around you is searing hot to the touch or engulfed in flames. When you arrive, you are immediately very hungry and thirsty, driving you toward the impossibly hot food and drink. Eating and drinking it burns your mouth, burns you from the inside out, but the more you eat and drink, the hungrier you get, so you just keep eating more and more…ever in agony…for eternity.
The Sixth Hell is ruled by Lothairo, Lord of Lust. Here he has built a never-ending gauntlet of striking lightning, electrified floors, electric fences, sadistic timed puzzles…and “friendly” cephalopods which chase you through it. It’s his favorite “show.” I’ll leave the rest up to your imaginations.
The Seventh and worst Hell is ruled by Irata, Lord of Wrath. Here, she takes the concept of “may the punishment fit the crime” and takes it up to eleven. She finds out what your worst crimes were, looks up what an “equal” punishment would be, and then warps and distorts it to the point where the term “disproportionate retribution” isn’t even fit to be an understatement. Was the worst thing you did to kill someone? Forget just being executed every day for eternity. Nope. You’re going to be ripped to shreds from the extremities inward, sewn back together with a dull needle, and ripped apart again over and over every hour for the rest of eternity. Enjoy that, buddy-boy! I’d go into other crimes, but that would make this article NSFW (Not Safe For Work).
As stated above, most peoples believe in the existence of every god and goddess and worship (or ignore) each one as deemed necessary by lifestyle and custom. Strict monotheistic religions—the type which acknowledge the existence of one God and one God only—have cropped up here and there, but they never really catch on and tend to die out in three to four centuries. Mostly it is because these religions tend to be extremely rigid and riddled with hundreds of rules, provisions, and quid pro quos that make remaining “righteous” and “ritually clean” incredibly difficult for even the most devout. This rigidity makes it impossible for the religion to withstand huge cultural shifts created by new magical and technological discoveries or broadened understandings of lifestyles branded by the religion’s rules as “unclean” and “sinful.”
Another reason why strict monotheistic religions tend not to last long is because they tend to get very uppity or pushy. The uppity ones tend toward a snotty sort of exclusivism and elitism due to the belief that those who follow that path are a special chosen people about whom the world, the universe, and a deity’s entire life’s work ultimately revolves around. This has often led to societies which have followed such religions to create a social hierarchy which always puts those who worship differently at the bottom and customs which ban intermarriage with people with different religious beliefs. Ultimately, this snootiness has ended up costing these peoples valuable trade partners and caused quite a few wars when the folks with the religion-induced superiority complex ended up offending the wrong “heathens.”
The pushy monotheists are just as bad…if not worse. The pushy monotheistic religions have had a very bad habit of believing that their religion and way of life is the only way to go and that everyone else needs to kneel before their God and follow their doctrines or die. Often, these religions have relied first on threats of eternal damnation versus promises eternal bliss or immortal life to convince people to convert. When those tactics failed, slavery, torture, executions, and bloody warfare have been used to attempt to force conversions. These religions have usually met their demise because they tried their B.S. on the wrong nation, tribe, or race and got curb-stomped.
Finally, the last reason why strict monotheism has not caught on is that—unlike the more mainstream polytheistic belief systems—these religions have a bad habit of becoming obsessed with the end of the world. The End of Days line is used as yet another tool to frighten people into conversion, usually with a claim that the righteous will be saved and live in eternal happiness while everyone else will die or suffer for eternity. The signs of “the end” are often vague happenings that occur cyclically and regularly in the natural order of things anyway, which is meant to keep followers paranoid, jumpy, and unquestioningly devout. After a few centuries of jumping at apocalypse scares, however, many folks simply get tired and convert to another religion, leaving those who still believe in that one God fewer and older until that religion ultimately dies out.
Well, that’s it for this week! Join us next week for…well, I’ll figure it out by Wednesday. Let’s just call it a surprise for now. Until then, be sure to check out the Star-Runner Chronicles on Amazon.com (and all international variants, print and Kindle ebook versions available) or drop a quick review on Amazon, Goodreads, or Shelfari if you’ve already read one or both (even if all you can do is give a star rating, it really does help). You can also poke around my Pintrest page, check me out on Twitter at @DanielleVFreman, or check out my Fan Works Spot for stories and sprites (constructive criticism encouraged). And, as always, if you like my blog or my books, be sure to spread the word to your friends in real life and online!