Over the past couple weeks, we’ve explored the story behind “Tears from Iron” and how the world of Isfalinis came to be. First, I recollected the early days of world-building and then we took a closer look at how the four sentient races took shape. In keeping with this series, we’ll look next at the beliefs of the inhabitants of Isfalinis. Last week, I had promised to look at the Etyni specifically, but I’ve realized that I need to lay more groundwork for such a discussion. Thus my apologies… that will be covered next week.
Beliefs… religion, mythology, faith… I suspect these are challenges for any fantasy world-builder. In our world there are many religions, some similar and some vastly different. In most fantasy worlds, however, there is a single religion. That religion commonly involves a pantheon where individuals worship one god or another, but all gods exist within the same belief structure. Even those who worship Biff, the God of Thunder, and follow his various strictures, still believe there is a Sally, the Goddess of Trees, although they may despise those Sallyites for bowing down to firewood. Likewise, the worshipers of Sally may loath the Biffittes for their predilection toward loud noises and bright lights. Compare that with our world. Not only do most religions have different gods from each other, but in most cases the followers of one faith do not believe in the existence of the god or gods from the others.
I wanted Isfalinis to be more in line with our world, but I immediately ran into a challenge. The Aestari are ageless. They can die, yes, but they don’t get older. This makes them theoretically near-immortal. The Aestari do have their frailties and it isn’t common for one to live over two-thousand years, but that only helps the problem a little. After all, if you consider two millennia to be a lifespan, then to put it in our world’s perspective, there have been only a little over three lifespans of Aestari since human civilization first began in Ancient Sumer. Indeed, at the time of “Tears from Iron,” a handful of Aestari still live who weren’t born, but rather were shaped before time began. One of these, Dirtarnys, is the author of “A Treatise on Creation and the Lost Age” that is available for free to readers who sign up for my newsletter. You can do so here. Even more problematic, the Ie’dhae race still has its Shaper with them. Before time began, Siona, gave form to the Ie’dhae souls, creating that race. In the time of “Tears from Iron”, Siona is still alive and living with her people as almost a deity-in-residence.
Religions exist because of doubt and faith. Its many varieties derive from how humans grapple with this dilemma. As a religious person myself, I likewise have faith that the tenets of my beliefs are correct. The reality that there are no absolute proofs laid out for all to see is why it this called faith. It is why not everyone believes as I do. But if, in Isfalinis, there are Aestari who witnessed creation (or at least the latter stages of it), can they have doubt about how their world came about? They don’t need faith, they saw it happen. As for Siona, she was actually one of the creators! Thus by choosing to have one race that is unaging and another race that still has their Shaper, I removed (or at least substantially diminished) doubt, thereby hamstringing my efforts… but it didn’t fully end my ambition.
After all, in our own world, many religions have aspects in common. But even those with shared roots are often quite different. Furthermore, even when a subset of beliefs are held in common, there can still be a large variation in interpretation, philosophy, and practice to the point of being, in some cases, irreconcilable. By the term irreconcilable, I don’t mean that war between beliefs is inevitable (though war is sometimes the case), I mean the world views have a great deal of uncommon ground.
I used the methodology of shared roots when determining the religions of Isfalinis. There is a basic core belief structure most consistently promulgated by the Aestari regarding His Highest Above, the Etyni, and Cydion. But even the Aestari disagree on the various values to be ascribed to these deities while some challenge whether they should be deified at all. The other three races have expanded on that further. Indeed, while Siona and the Ie’dhae agree with the Aestari concerning the cosmological events of the Age of Creation, their perspectives and interpretations of those events are dramatically different. Furthermore, while these peoples may agree on aspects of the past, there is still plenty of doubt (and faith) about the future. The Cataclysm, which brought a host of natural disasters, was a breeding ground for the expansion to a multitude of beliefs about the world and the four races’ place within it. Some of this will be encountered in the sequel to “Tears from Iron.”
As we continue this series next week, it’s time to look at the Etyni who form the core of most belief structures of Isfalinis. This time we really will… I promise!