Religion & Spirits

Having started to read GURPS Spirits and then GURPS Religion, I realised that these books’ opening questions form the basis for the most interesting topics surrounding the creation of new fantastic Worlds.

Spirits come in many different types, and every human culture has some beliefs about them. They point toward realms beyond the physical and to the possibility of a much larger universe.

GURPS Spirits (2001), page 5

The realm of Spirit and the role of it within the Worlds we create for roleplaying are for most people an addition. I suspect that while many traditional fantasy games would certainly include spirit beings – such as ghosts, wraiths, and wights (just to name three) – the majority of gamers view them as little more than incorporeal monsters to slay.

To me, the realm of the spiritual is a vital root in much of human experience. As the book states in the first chapter, while discussing the role of spirit as an animating force:

In most belief systems throughout history there is an extra “something,” an integral component of living things, that is the difference between living and non-living matter. It is an intangible force that gives life to all things.

GURPS Spirits (2001), page 6

Which leads us to the close relationship between spirit, religious belief and practice. For me, the label “religion” is a false category for separating spiritual, intangible human experience from the physical, tangible and observable world around us. However you look at, the reality is that human beings have been expressing spiritual experiences in religious terms since the beginning of civilisation.

In that context, it seems odd to me that spirit and religious belief are treated by so many of us as an add-on, an embellishment for our fantastic Worlds. My feeling is that, on the contrary, many interesting possibilities open up when the traditional GM begins with these questions and builds the World on the answers that seem to fit best.

As the introduction to GURPS Religion says:

Questions about who we are, where we come from, how the world works, and so on, are the source of myth. Stories about gods and heroes, monsters darker and more fearful than any that might crawl out of the night – myths fascinated, entertained and comforted our ancestors. These stories provided explanations for the workings of things, for each person’s place in the world, and even for disasters and good fortune.

GURPS Religion (2002), page 4

In the Fantasy genre, surely questions about gods, heroes, and monsters are the very fabric of the stories that emerge? In any genre the questions of who we are, where we come from, and how the world works are fundamental, aren’t they? These are the basic questions that religious people seek to answer just as much as does the scientist or the philosopher.

The Worlds I am interesting in creating are deep enough for the kind of exploration that seeks to uncover these kinds of rich answers. The Worlds I am writing and describing are deep enough for the kind of Otherworld-immersion that I seek to offer players who enter them. It seems logical and reasonable to me that beginning with questions of Spirit and Religion is therefore basic to creating those Worlds.

I knew this all along, of course.

Ever since I first visited classic RuneQuest‘s Glorantha, back in 1980, I was fascinated by the God and Goddesses of that world. The stories which fascinated me most from our own world have always been the ones from the myriad religious and spiritual traditions.

From the earliest inklings of animism, humanity has believed in spirit and personified it. I have made my life from the study and teaching of such ancient wisdom (or folly, depending on your perspective).

This time, I am going to begin with at least sketching some answers to those big questions which lie at the heart of all human culture: who are we and where do we come from?

I rather suspect that answers around which spiritual belief and practice arise, of the realisation of the divine and its interactions with the people of our fantastic Worlds, will prove the more interesting to roleplay.

Game on!

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