Chapter 2 – Creating Gods
Whether we write fantasy or science fiction, chances are sooner or later we’ll need a god or gods. At the least, our characters might want to pray, swear, threaten damnation, or utter thanks. And when someone is born, dies, or reaches a milestone, gods are often praised.
Gods are typically credited with the reason for everything existing, but starting our world building with them is optional. Our gods can be real or wishful thinking, but in fantasy and SF, they are typically portrayed as real and taking an active role in the lives of the world’s residents. Different religions spring up from different beliefs about even a single shared god, so before we can create religions, decide on deities.
Did the gods create our world on purpose or was it a byproduct of a “big bang” origin, and they stumbled upon it? Did they shape the land a certain way or just let it do its thing over millennia? Are they active, causing the seasons, night and day, and the winds, or do they just manipulate these forces?
Appendix 1 is a template for creating a god. It includes more comments and advice, and an editable Microsoft Word file can be downloaded for free by signing up for the newsletter.
In Science Fiction
In SF, characters may travel between many worlds, each having a pantheon, which is not to say that we need an extensively developed pantheon for each world. Rather, a general feel for the presence of religion and actual gods appearing can be all that we need, plus a few names.
There’s an idea that science kills religion, the premise being that the more scientific discoveries are made, the less need we have of religion to explain things. While there’s some truth to this, religion shouldn’t be ignored. People still often believe in deities. Some might say that less educated, more rural people fall into this category, but many of our greatest scientists believe in God. Writing SF on possibly highly-developed worlds doesn’t absolve us from inventing religion, which will never really go away. Our characters can live/arrive on a world dominated by religion despite science.
One way to work religion into SF is to consider world view issues. Planet-hopping characters may believe that gods created the universe and therefore these deities will also rule other planets. Discovering on arrival that no one’s heard of those gods will cause distress. They may try to claim the new planet’s god X is really their home planet’s god Y. Or they may be so incensed that they try to wipe out the inhabitants of this wayward planet. Or convert them. Christian missionaries tried to spread God’s word around Earth, so why not do the same on a planetary level?
Whether the gods are real or not is another matter to consider. If real, are they happy with a species gaining so much power that they can leave the world the gods created for them? If they created the universe, maybe they’re okay with it because those gods rule the other planets as well. If the gods didn’t create the universe and only rule their area of it, maybe they encourage our characters to colonize other worlds and galaxies, or the peaceful lives they live are shattered by alien invaders coming to convert them. Is there a proxy war going on between these gods and those of other worlds? Our gods could provide the technologies being used to travel.
In SF, sometimes the gods are actually advanced aliens masquerading as gods, as in Stargate SG-1. This can be useful for having “gods” that can be killed, perhaps to the surprise of the mortals they rule. The discovery of the truth can be psychologically powerful. We’ll need to figure out where the aliens came from and why they’re doing this.
In fantasy, gods often put in appearances that leave little doubt that they exist. In antiquity, there are numerous myths of Norse and Greek gods being jealous of humans, tormenting, killing, and having children with us. The Christian god is the one who keeps quiet. We can choose either approach, but gods who affect events are more useful. Their followers can be the ones impacting life, whether these are your main characters or their enemies. A common use for gods is to have a priest lay hands on wounded people and ask their god to heal them. We need deities for this. A developed pantheon helps us flesh out the priest character’s personality as we decide who they pray to.
If our world has multiple humanoid species, do we want each species to have their own gods or to share all of them? The latter reduces the numbers we must create, but the former allows for more variety. Each species can have their own creation and end-of-world myths, for example. We might invent gods that are tailored to a species, rather than all gods being universal and therefore less specific. To minimize the quantity invented, we can decide each species only has a few gods, not twenty each. We might also decide that some gods are universal while others are more tailored to a species. This works well if a subgroup of gods invented that species, their combined attributes influencing the result. That species can worship all the gods but have more allegiance for their creators.