Tag Archives: faith

Suddenly, Mother Teresa: Writing Religion with Comedic Insight


Mother TheresaPart of our 18 days of Tesseracts, “Mom and Mother Teresa” by Candas Jane Dorsey was published in Tesseracts 9 and plays with religion in a comedic–and yet still poignant–way.  I’m chatting with Candas about her story here as we each take turns talking about the story.


By Jerome Stueart and Candas Jane Dorsey

Jerome: I’m revisiting “Mom and Mother Teresa” in Tesseracts 9 and laughing.  In the story, the narrator’s mother is often asking for more time with her daughter, specifically lifts to this place or that place, and her ear in order to complain about her life. It’s too much for the narrator.  But into the mom’s house walks Mother Teresa and the story takes a left turn, as her home becomes HQ for Mother Teresa’s simple plan to do the most good with all these things the Mom already has. In Dorsey’s story, Mother Teresa helps everyone take seriously the things we all believe but in ways we don’t push ourselves to actually do.  It’s like Pope Francis—actually taking seriously the Church’s stance on the poor, the needy, and ridding himself of extravagance—coming to America and telling Congress and Christians here that they need to, um, actually make the poor and the needy their priority.

Candas Jane Dorsey’s story is absurdist humour, an imaginative take on the appearance of a Real Religion, and a Real Religious Figure, in your fiction.  What would you do if Mother Teresa stopped by?  If she asked you what you were doing with all that ROOM in your house—a place that she can house 25 orphans, women with children, and single men, as well as a few nuns—what would you do?

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Researching and Writing Faith: Inspired by Tesseracts 18 Wrestling With Gods

Tesnim Sayar is a Muslim punk. She wears both the headscarf and a mohawk and dreams of living of her own design. And like other supporters of the Muslim punk movement Taqwacore, she sees no contradiction between punk and Islam

“Tesnim Sayar is a Muslim punk. She wears both the headscarf and a mohawk and dreams of living of her own design. And like other supporters of the Muslim punk movement Taqwacore, she sees no contradiction between punk and Islam.”–PostModernismRuinedMe Tumbr.

This is fifth in a series of guestblogposts for the 18 days of Tesseracts.  Janet K. Nicolson wrote “A Cut and a Prayer” included in Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts 18.


by Janet K. Nicolson

I have talked in a few places about my experience writing “A Cut and a Prayer” for Tesseracts 18: Wrestling with Gods, so I don’t want to delve into too much detail about how the story came about.

For those of you who haven’t read the story, it follows the tale of Samar, a doctoral candidate in sociology and religious studies who feels she has lost her once strong connection with Allah. She seeks futuristic medical intervention to try and tackle her depression. The story contains many references to Samar’s Islamic faith, and explores how Samar and her mother tackle their faith differently.

This August, I attended When Words Collide in Calgary for the first time, and presented on a panel about Faith in SF and Fantasy. One of the topics I discussed was the process of writing about a faith that is different from my own. How, someone asked, do you approach the research?

I want to share a few of the things I learned, so that hopefully if you, the reader, ever want to write a story about faith, you don’t feel scared about tackling the research!

Tips to researching/writing about faith:

  1. Assume everything you read is biased from one direction or another. Articles written by people of a faith will be different than articles written by someone of a different faith, someone who is a religious scholar, someone who is an atheist, etc. Also, don’t assume that bias invalidates information! Faith is a people based thing, and is necessarily a grey, complicated area where everyone has different viewpoints.
  1. Start with the Wikipedia article. I say this a bit tongue in cheek because Wikipedia can be as biased as anything, but it is also a great starting point. Wikipedia articles provide you with information about the history of a religion (from a non-faith standpoint), common cultural practices, geographic distribution, etc. It will help you root the religion in the real world.
  1. Pay particular attention to the pages about rituals, practices, if there are any. Most of the time, we base our perception of a religion on what we see on TV or in a book, because we don’t see what happens directly in a house of worship. In my instance, I knew Muslims prayed several times a day, but I didn’t know they had a religious “creed” commonly known as the 5 Pillars that they try to uphold as part of their faith.
  1. Check the links at the bottom of the Wikipedia article. Where do they go? Try and find a good combination of material, from other research articles, to interviews, to news articles. Start to branch out this way.
  1. Find an online forum for the faith and read what people are discussing. I found a great forum (the name escapes me now) for modern Muslims, and they had a thread where they were discussing the most inspirational quotes in the Qur’an. Many of the people were younger, and so after sampling quite a few conversations I had an idea of how Samar might be inspired by her religion’s teachings. Researching real people is an absolute must, especially if your protagonist is of the faith you are studying. It’s one thing to know the history of the religion; it’s another to know how people currently engage with it.
  1. Do a Google Image search! You can learn a lot about how people of a given faith dress/look in North America and around the world. You might be surprised by the variety of what you see.
  1. Read people’s opposing arguments to items of faith, whether they are from that religion or not. It’s important to understand the social environment around a faith, so you can either write an accurate present or extrapolate into the future. For example, I researched anti-Muslim bias in the USA, as well as modern Muslim discussions of Qur’an interpretations while working on my story. This helped me understand the world, and the racism, that Samar might live in.
  1. Talk to someone of that faith. In my case, I was lucky because I had previously taught three Muslim students (all women) who in the context of the class had discussed their faith and/or their lifestyles. They were all very different in attitude and dress (as we should expect of any 3 human beings, realistically), and so helped me understand Samar from various angles. If you don’t have this kind of opportunity, contact a local house of worship and ask if you can join a service. My local university does this as part of its religious studies classes and from what I’ve heard, no one has ever been turned away from any place when they’ve requested to attend and learn more. (You might learn about faith, you might also learn about new and tasty foods post-service!)
  1. Be open to understanding your own biases. We all have them. We are a social species and we develop opinions based on what we see and read. Look at your biases closely, and be aware of them so that when you write, you aren’t unconsciously writing your faith character from those prejudices.
  1. Check the spelling. Some words have different English spellings depending on how they are translated. Do your due diligence and triple check everything from multiple sources. And make sure words are spelled consistently throughout your story!

Finally, the most important point:

  1. Don’t be afraid to research or write about faith. My faith is complicated, but I’m not scared to write about faith in general because it is a fundamental and unavoidable part of the human condition. We all have faith in something, whether it is a religion or a science. Bringing faith into a story doesn’t make something a proselytizing creed. It just makes it realistic.

Happy writing!


photo-nicolson-j-110x110Janet K. Nicolson was born in Regina and has lived in the ice and cold ever since. She currently works as a technical writer for a telecommunications firm. When she’s not watching her border collie herd her cat and husband around the house, she can be found searching the local book store for novels about Big Dumb Objects, rocking video games, or subjecting audiences to her piano compositions.

Nicholson’s work has previously appeared in On Spec Magazine, and will be appearing in two forthcoming issues.

Faith and Knowledge: How Can We Know?

The Awakening, Autumn Skye Morrison http://www.autumnskyemorrison.com/

The Awakening, Autumn Skye Morrison

Mary-Jean Harris writes our fourth guest blogpost for the 18 days of Tesseracts.  Her Story, “The Shadow of Gods,” appears in Wrestling with Gods: Tesseracts 18.


Questions of knowledge and faith have occupied the thoughts of philosophers since the Ancient Greeks, and still, we struggle to have a grasp of what it really is to “know” something.

In my short story, “The Shadows of Gods,” in the Tesseracts 18 anthology, Toulouse, a young man in the seventeenth century, is grappling with ideas of knowledge of higher worlds and magic. He wants to experience these for himself so he might come to truly know about God, about what lies at the foundation of our existence. He has learned about many different religions and gods, but, until the end of the story, has not experienced the truth of any of them himself. This involves an element of faith, for how is it that we can come to know something, and how, when we experience it, do we know it’s true? First, let’s think about faith (faith in a religion, or in any power beyond the physical world).

Having faith in something is to believe in it without having a logical reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfounded. It can be believing in something on an intuitive level that cannot be explained by reason. It is something we experience with an inner sense, and so it is not something you can point to or describe as you would describe a physical object.

Yet even without considering spiritual experiences, can we really know anything? Of course, we can doubt that our senses give us reliable information, but most people take for granted that what they experience is a real physical world. Even if they don’t have perfectly accurate perceptions of it, they still believe that these have some sort of correspondence to the world around them.

Many philosophers have debated such issues. In particular, Descartes concluded that the only thing we know that exists is our mind, which is, in essence, a thinking thing. Everything else that we can perceive, from our own body to the planet Pluto, can be doubted. In his Meditations of First Philosophy he said, “Whatever I have accepted until now as most true has come to me through my senses. But occasionally I have found that they have deceived me, and it is unwise to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.” So if we submit to this standard of knowledge, that knowledge must be from something which we can never be deceived about, how can we know anything?

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They Don’t Stand For That: Symbols, Vampires, and Faith



Our third guestblog for the 18 days of Tesseracts comes from David Jon Fuller, whose story “The Harsh Light of Morning” is part of Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts 18.  

It’s funny how an idea can get stuck in your mind and stay there.

For me, the concept of what a symbol is wasn’t something I bothered thinking about until two separate times in my life. One, watching “Fright Night” in high school. Two, trying to understand what a theatre prof in university meant when he went on a tangent about the difference between a metaphor and a symbol.

But first: some backstory.

Vampires have always creeped me out. I do enjoy the fun recent incarnations (hello Angel, Blade, et. al.) but when you get right down to it, at their core they speak to a certain dread — usually, that people are prey.

But there is always hope — folklore gives us tools to strike back at the monster. The sign of the cross is one of them. A powerful symbol of Christ, and therefore, of good; it can drive back the vampire, an incarnation of evil if there ever was one.

Cue up “Fright Night,” with Chris Sarandon’s charming creature of darkness confronting Roddy McDowall’s horror expert, who tries to ward him off with a crucifix. The vampire crushes it and declares: “You have to have faith for this to work on me!”

Hm, I thought. Would that apply to any religious symbol?

I mostly ignored that, though, as I was becoming less and less religious the older I got (I was raised Lutheran, and have attended non-denominational churches), until a few years into university, when one of my professors clarified the meaning of two words he felt, I think, that we students had been flinging around carelessly. A symbol, he said, is something that stands for another thing — but its meaning isn’t necessarily set (crucial new piece of information, for me) — whereas a metaphor is a symbol whose meaning IS set (one thing is clearly meant to stand in for another specific thing).

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Gambling with Belief: Revealing Character through Religious Advisors, Prophets and Fanatics


Game-of-Thrones-Season-5-game-of-thrones-38264756-4500-2994[SPOILERS if you have not yet seen last Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode “Dance of Dragons”]

Sunday’s Game of Thrones shocked many with its depiction of a father who decides to sacrifice his only daughter and heir to his name in order to Win the Throne.  George RR Martin may not have put it in his books yet—but he did tell the showrunners, DB Weiss and Dan Benioff, that this was definitely coming.  I don’t want to address the level of violence in the show.  I think its characters are appropriate to their world.  We have seen beheadings, slayings, burnings, stabbings, as well as rape, mutilation, etc. from good and bad characters.  This is the world Martin has written, so by those rules this is how our characters react to crisis and achieve goals.  It is profound then that level, compassionate heads are in short supply these days (and being mounted on spikes every season).  I count Tyrion, Doran, Jon, Samwell, Varys, Margeary, Olenna, and a handful of others as being the people I would listen to if I lived in Game of Thrones.  The Hound and Dario might have the most practical means of getting through this world alive, but I wouldn’t want to become them, so I wouldn’t want them as advisors.

Who one listens to—having good advisors—is a form of power, no different than a Valyrian sword, I will say.  We all cheered when Dany and Tyrion met because, frankly, Dany could use some good advisors. Her decisions have been erratic–as she seeks to maintain power in a desperately sinking cultural situation.

I want to highlight three “gods” or specifically, three “speakers” for their gods who have become either advisors or powerful people themselves, and ask questions about the ideas that Martin brings out (or the showrunners highlight).  I want to look at how an author might use religion or faith in his or her work to mirror, echo, or highlight something in our own culture.

* * *

The High Sparrow, Melissandre and Jaquen all follow their respective gods–but they also determine what messages of those gods get heard and acted upon.  Being the spokesperson for a “god” comes with advantages.  No one can question you because YOU alone have the red phone to your god–so you can interpret which sins to go after, who to confront, how to judge, and what to do.

Also the Authority for these spokespeople rests not in Kings or Queens but in the god that only you can interpret… and which has no accountability. As bad as Kings and Queens are–there are ways to get them out of power.  There are ways to make them responsible for their crimes.  (As we see in Westeros though, fair courts haven’t been invented yet.)

Gods utilise armies and weapons.  Cersei armed the Faith Militant.  We can all agree that arming the Faith Militant was a stupid move for Cersei: faith-driven people with weapons do not make a reasonable or controllable group.  Jaquen and the Faceless Men have poison–but they are hired by people.  Melissandre has fire and magic (but also Stannis’ army to back her up).  Each group has a weapon and an army to enforce their will–er, um…their god’s will–but they need outside help: High Sparrow needed Cersei to arm them; Jaquen needs to be hired; Melissandre needs Stannis’ army.

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Writing Courageously Through the Lenten Season


abstract trees grass sacred skyscapes photomanipulations 2560x1600 wallpaper_www.wallpaperhi.com_54Writing is a Sacred tradition in many cultures.  We revere the books that come from these cultures.  It’s also a very sacrificial act, one that takes a lot of courage, honesty, and time.  I’d like to talk about writing during Lent.

Traditionally, Lent gives some 46 days to prepare for Easter, a time of preparation for Christians for the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross (and the subsequent cool resurrection part).  The idea was that you were not just shocked, surprised, pleased, and quickly through Easter, but that you could think –over 46 days– about the impact this one act of self-sacrifice did for your faith.  It’s mirrored in some ways by Advent.

But whereas Advent is about preparing for joy–a baby, a baby! Lent is about preparing for death and transition.

Christians often give up something for Lent–so that whenever they crave it, they will think of what Christ gave up for them.  Chocolate and Life are not comparable; however, the idea is to be aware of the season through this sacrifice.  Call it the best mindfulness exercise the Christians have come up with yet.

That said, whether you are Christian or not, we can take the Lenten Season to think about Faith, and perhaps, write about it.  Or at least ask ourselves to write with more courage, more honesty, and more faith than we have in the past.

Writers are plagued with insecurity and negative thoughts.  Let’s put those on the altar of Lent and say, hey, no more of these.  We are afraid sometimes of writing our Truth and giving it to others.  And we often have a lack of faith in our own abilities and ideas.

Lent leads us up to celebrating Life from Death.  I don’t want to co-opt Jesus’s very big moment, but he too had a very big mission, and it got harder and harder to be honest, to be courageous and to follow through on what his mission was.

What I want to do is to ask writers to write for 46 days– science fiction, fantasy, memoir, essay, poetry–and write with more courage, more honesty and more faith than you ever have before.  I also challenge you to write a little about faith.

It’s important for us as writers to believe in ourselves and our writing, to give up negative thoughts and insecurities, preparing our hearts to more honestly talk about Life.  There is a lot of struggling that goes on in writing if we are to be honest–and struggling with being honest–and so, for 46 days, let the honesty flow.  Be yourself.  Be creative.  Be courageous. Be honest.  GIVE UP negative thoughts that question YOUR mission, and Create and GIVE something honest and courageous to the world.

Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods Cover Reveal


T-18-Cover-270x417-100dpi-C8Happy Bodhi Day!  Tesseracts 18 has a COVER!  We’re very excited to show you the new cover for Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods, the new anthology of science fiction and fantasy from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, latest in the long running, award-winning Tesseracts anthology series.

The Tesseracts Eighteen anthology is filled with speculative offerings that give readers a chance to see faith from both the believer and the skeptic point-of-view in worlds where what you believe is a matter of life, death, and afterlife.

The work is now available as an e-book download for Amazon Kindle, exclusively, until it’s available in print in March (Canada) and April (USA) and in other e-book formats.  Keep watching for more on Tesseracts 18 in the coming weeks!  Order your Amazon Kindle e-book today–just in time for some holiday reading.

We’re incredibly proud of this anthology! We think you will be too.

Click on the cover to take you to Amazon’s Tess 18 site.

Featuring works by: Derwin Mak, Robert J. Sawyer, Tony Pi, S. L. Nickerson, Janet K. Nicolson, John Park, Mary-Jean Harris, David Clink, Mary Pletsch, Jennifer Rahn, Alyxandra Harvey, Halli Lilburn, John Bell, David Jón Fuller, Carla Richards, Matthew Hughes, J. M. Frey, Steve Stanton, Erling Friis-Baastad, James Bambury, Savithri Machiraju, Jen Laface and Andrew Czarnietzki, David Fraser, Suzanne M. McNabb, and Megan Fennell.

About the Editors for Tesseracts Eighteen:
Liana Kerzner is an award-winning TV producer & writer who was also in front of the camera as co-host of the late night show Ed & Red’s Night Party, and is currently the host/writer of Liana K’s Geek Download, heard weekly on the internationally syndicated radio program Canada’s Top 20.

Jerome Stueart has taught creative writing for 20 years, teaches a workshop called Writing Faith and has been published in Fantasy,
Geist, Joyland, Geez, Strange Horizons, Ice-Floe, Redivider, OnSpec, Tesseracts Nine, Tesseracts Eleven, Tesseracts Fourteen,
and Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead. His novel,One Nation Under Gods, will be published in Nov 2015 from ChiZine.


For more on Bodhi Day–the Day Buddhists commemorate the Enlightenment of Buddha– see this link.

Bajorans and the Evolving Trek View of Faith


Kai WinnI have to admire Star Trek for the way they evolved on matters of faith, by showing the complexity and the cultural aspects of faith, and how religion impacted society, at least in one series.

Star Trek hasn’t always been like this. Faith and Religion seem to be the target of early Gene Roddenberry design. In TOS and STNG, faith and spirituality were often shown to be merely a way to manipulate the masses (hello, Karl Marx). Both Kirk and Picard showed the natives that their gods were machines (“The Return of the Archons”) and (“The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”), usually, or fickle higher powers prone to jealousy (“Who Mourns for Adonis”, and “The Apple” come to mind from TOS), or merely keeping people young and stupid for the whim of the gods (STNG “Who Watches the Watchers?” ) or (VOY: “The Caretaker”). Worse was when a believer realized that his/her faith was empty (VOY: “This Mortal Coil”, or VOY: “Emanations”).

In STNG, Q also represented the gods at their most amoral and irresponsible. A whole slew of gods that were bored but fascinated with humans (HUMANS are the object of everyone’s curiosity… what, no god wanted to explore Betazoid culture? ) What a scary concept for a higher power.

But Deep Space Nine seemed to want to explore religion and faith a bit more deeply. True, the requisite aliens were present in the Wormhole next to Bajor, but Roddenberry wasn’t beyond saying that gods could be higher forms of life that we don’t understand. Certainly I agree.  My concept of God is that he is a much higher form of life—which would be classified as an “alien”, yes, but still God. But unlike Q, the gods of Bajor, the Prophets, care for the people of Bajor. They are higher life inside the wormhole and emotionally attached to a humanoid species.

Bajorans themselves are almost all religious, having to deal with the reality of gods who live in the wormhole. The gods intervene in history; they send little Orbs that light up and give you prophecies, and Bajoran faith has completely mixed with politics in a way that is eerily similar and yet very different than American culture today. The US may not have preachers as politicians, but they have politicians who think they are preachers, and who create laws as if God himself were speaking to them. At least Bajor is up front: it’s the Pope in charge of the world, thank you very much.

I can give DS9 a lot of stones for making this faith and religion complex.

What I think is useful for our purposes here at Tess 18: Wrestling with Gods are the following ideas, I humbly submit to you for your thoughts:

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Only the Insane Believed There Were No Gods: Ed Greenwood Speaks of Religion and Belief in Forgotten Realms


As you are world-building, how integral to your design should a culture’s religion or faith be?  How do you craft fantasy world religions? In our first interview of the Tesseracts 18 blog, co-editor Liana K asks ED GREENWOOD to chat with us about how he integrated religion—and whether or not one could call it “faith”— in the shared world he created, Forgotten Realms.


edgreenwoodED GREENWOOD is an amiable, bearded Canadian writer, game designer, and librarian best known as the creator of The Forgotten Realms® fantasy world. He sold his first fiction at age six, and has since published more than 200 books that have sold millions of copies worldwide in over two dozen languages, and won dozens of writing and gaming awards. Ed has judged the World Fantasy Awards and the Sunburst Awards, hosted radio shows, acted onstage, explored caves, jousted, and been Santa Claus (but not all on the same day). His upcoming books include The Herald from Wizards of the Coast, and The Iron Assassin, a steampunk novel from Tor Books.


TESS 18: At what stage in the development of Forgotten Realms did the pantheon of gods begin to take shape?  Did you create it in a deliberate, organized way, or did it grow as you told more and more stories?

A: Both (that is, it grew for a tiny bit at the outset, story by story, then I sat down and organized everything, then it went along for some years until I adopted the D&D® game for use in the Realms (1978), and then got redeveloped in light of the game needs. The story of how I redeveloped the pantheon is told in issue #54 of DRAGON Magazine (or “The Dragon,” as it was back then). So I began with my story needs for deities (I needed good, bad, and neutral, plus portfolios; that is, a god of the forest, a god of storms, a god of war, and so on) and later added game needs (I needed a balanced pantheon of deities representing all of the D&D® game alignments of the time “equally,” so greater gods, lesser gods, and demigods of every alignment flavour). I needed alliances and enmities among the gods, and I needed TOO MANY gods in the setting for every game player to memorize everything about them, to encourage roleplaying (and not metagaming based in what players had memorized).

So some gods spent years of real time more or less as placeholders, and developed as I went along (the Forgotten Realms® began in 1966, when I was six years old, well before the D&D® game first appeared in 1973, as a setting for my fantasy stories). Some of the non-human pantheon gods were developed after the Realms was a published game setting, and other designers introduced new gods (Cyric) and killed off existing ones (notably during the Time of Troubles).

TESS 18: Did the gods come first, or were their Chosen your focus?  ie: did you come up with Elminster first, then create Mystra?

 A: Mortal characters first, always, then the flavor of the world determined the nature/“character” of individual gods of the various portfolios (i.e. magic was all pervasive in the Realms, so Mystra was, too). For game reasons I needed clerics/priests of every god, but from the start every mortal in all of the Realms “believed in” ALL of the gods. They might primarily venerate one, especially if they were clergy or paladins, but only the insane believed there were no gods, or that there was only one god and all others were false. (I tell real-world players who are strong in their faith that all of the deities are aspects of one true deity that mortals cannot perceive, if that makes the Realms more comfortable for them.)

Although many players seem to prefer having one god for their character, in the Realms all intelligent beings believe in all the gods, and pray to many. For instance, Larendrelle the Jeweler will pray and make offerings to Waukeen for mercantile prosperity and Tymora for good luck often, but if she must make a sea voyage, she’ll pray to Umberlee the sea goddess, Talos the god of storms, Shaundakul the god of wayfarers, and so on.

In my original Realms, only Mystra had Chosen who had any of her divine power (the “silver fire”). All other Chosen were mortals given one or two limited powers (like the ability to fly, or become invisible, or blast things, all for short periods/limited “shots”) in order to fulfill a task important to the god endowing them with those powers. When other designers and fiction writers started working in the Realms, they decided to make full-fledged “Chosen” of every deity (something I regard as something of an unfortunate “arms race”). Mystra’s Chosen were severely limited by the deity in what they were allowed to do; in the hands of other writers, other Chosen became superhero-like brawlers. (Not necessarily inferior to my original concept of the Realms, just different.)

TESS 18: How deeply did you study the religions of our world to create your pantheons?  From which traditions beyond Tolkien did you draw?

A: I read voraciously from a very early age, devouring EVERYTHING in my father’s den, from highly technical radar physics manuals to cheesy pulp adventure yarns. It all became grist for my mill. Modern fantasy is rooted in Tolkien, but Lin Carter was republishing all of the elder fantasy classics at the time (Lord Dunsany, William Morris, Beckford, et al) and Howard, Seabury Quinn, Lovecraft, Harold Lamb, Talbot Mundy, and Edgar Rice Burroughs were all being republished, too, not to mention being pastiched by younger writers. I read it all. I have also worked in public libraries from a young age to date, and dipped in to everything. Philosophy and comparative religion were party of my university studies, and I’d already waded through both, not to mention many books on folklore, fairy tales, apocrypha, and the like, in my father’s endless library.

The Realms actually began as a setting for fantasy short stories starring the wheezing, fat old Mirt the Moneylender, a character rooted in Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Guy Gilpatrick’s Glencannon, and Poul Anderson’s Nicholas van Rijn; I was inspired to do such episodic stories by reading Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & Mouser tales in FANTASTIC magazine, not Tolkien. Reading The Lord of the Rings inspired me to create a vast and deeply detailed world in which adventures mattered (changed things within the world), so I knew “the Sword Coast” (which I was developing story by story, as Mirt fled one port city a step ahead of rivals or the authorities and journeyed to the next one, destined to do such flits all over again) was part of a larger world I would detail in time. Forty-eight years later, I’m still hard at work on exploring and detailing the Realms.


TESS 18:  A centerpiece of Forgotten Realms Dungeons and Dragons is that male and female characters are equal in skills.  How do the balances of power among the gods and goddess you created support that?

 A: Although my own preferred approach to divine beings is to keep them as mysterious as possible, with cryptic altar utterances and “dream visions” and manifestations (apparitions visible to all that can involve vocal utterances and the movement or even appearance and disappearance of items, e.g. offerings “fade away” from an altar and an item is left in their place), many D&D® gamers want to fight the gods, become gods, and treat the gods very much as the Greeks regarded theirs in “classical” times: super-humans, with exaggerated human emotions, foibles, and behaviors. As designer after designer handled the gods of the Realms in this way, I found it vital to emphasize aspects of the gods I wanted to see reflected in the setting: that sex, crying, and judgment by achievement and ideas rather than gender are all more open in the Realms than in, say, modern-day real-world North America. Certain designers have, consciously or subconsciously, killed off strong female characters in positions of power and replaced them with male ones; I often work to counter that with my own substitutions. What’s become most clear to me is that nothing, the gods in particular, should be or seem frozen and unchanging; everything should be dynamic and evershifting, with marriages, alliances, the rearing of progeny, and the like occurring all the time among the gods. So I have worked to have dynamic female deities “on the move” in the movers-and-shakers sense, rather than relegating them to nurturing mother roles (aside from Chauntea and Eldath, who ARE nurturing mothers). So we have Sune and Sharess and Loviatar and Red Knight and Eilistraee and and Tymora and Sêlune and Shar very much expressing (varying aspects of) femininity, and being very “active” goddesses. I set things up so that the female deities are vital to the pantheon and are always in the thick of things, so they just can’t be ignored or easily or casually sidelined.


TESS 18: Since the gods and goddesses of Toril directly interact with humans, do you consider belief to still be a part of the religions of Forgotten Realms?

 A: Certainly. However, there’s a difference between “belief” and “faith.” Faith is what we need in real-world situations where the gods and goddesses don’t personally appear in front of us and do things; we have to believe in them without direct empirical evidence, and that’s “faith.”

Belief in a deity is dead easy when deities walk among us (or we hear amid the “current clack” of passing news and rumors of their deeds, manifestations, and decrees, daily), but belief is more than just accepting that something divine exists. It’s believing in the ethos and aims of a deity, that living one’s mortal life as the deity prefers (or making the right moral choices when balancing between the various desires of different deities in the Realms, because every mortal believes in all of them, but chooses their own path through life, in an endless drifting closer to or farther from this or that deity) is desirable and “right.”

Unthinking obedience, or obedience out of abject fear, may well exist for some individuals in the Realms, but in fictional protagonists and Player Characters (and major NPCs) in the game, I want life to be that endless series of moral choices – – just as, ideally, real lives are lived. So there’s belief in causes, greater goods/benefits, moral codes and decisions that are “right” (and I want fiction and game experiences to focus on them), not mere belief in the existence of a god.

TESS 18: The worship of a dead god whose power still has influence is pretty complex from a theological perspective.  In Forgotten Realms, the Dead Three are directly associated with evil.  What does it say about a character when they worship a dead god?

A: From the outset, I postulated that the divine strength of a deity (their “blasting power,” if you will) is directly linked to the amount of influence they have in the mortal world. In other words, the more worshippers you as a god have, and what you have those worshippers do (and therefore how fully and in what manner you exploit your divine portfolio as god of war or god of cheese or whatever), determines your strength.

This makes mortals, mortal worship and belief (and here I mean belief as in how utterly loyal mortals will be to you; how much they trust you) vitally important to all deities; it forces them to interact with mortals rather than aloofly ignoring them.

Moreover, gods may be killed, but they are never really dead as long as at least one mortal worships them (and a murmured prayer or even an oath, and a “sign to ward off evil” when entering the ruins of a temple to a dead god, are all worship; it doesn’t require organized clergy with lots of temples and offerings and a detailed creed).

As longtime game designer Jeff Grubb once put it, “In the Realms, death is not necessarily a career-ender; it’s more often a career-changer.”

Moreover, when gods “go down,” other deities may step in, overtly or in the guise of the dead god, to continue to provide spells to priests of the dead god and give them guidance – – so as to gain influence in the mortal world by controlling the clergy and devout faithful of the dead god (in the same way that a real-world general commands their army but may hire mercenaries to acquire greater battlefield strength). Most of the human dead gods are associated with evil (Moander as well as the Dead Three), but not all, and in truth the history of deities in the Realms is a continual flux of interloper gods arriving from other settings, gods rising and falling in power and redefining their portfolios, dying and coming back, and so on. Some of the gods (Jergal, Lathander/Aumanator) are meant to be mysterious in their actions, so mortals (even priests who directly serve these deities) argue heatedly about why the god did thus and so, and “what they’re up to.” So a character worshipping a dead god might be a nihilist, but not necessarily. One could view them as having the strongest faith of all, because they believe the god will “return to life and power,” even if not in their own lifetime, and are willing to support them.

For me, as the creator of, and most active long-term designer in, the Realms, it’s all about providing the maximum number of moral choices for players and their characters.


TESS 18: What is the importance to you of strong factions of defined good, evil, and neutrality in fiction?

A: The presence of active factions or power groups or cabals, and the shifting relationships and conflicts between them, are among the most useful tools a storyteller (either a fiction writer or a game designer) can have at their disposal. If the purpose at hand is to tell a moral tale, identifying those factions strongly with good, evil, or neutrality is useful. If you want to smash evil, it’s very satisfying to have EVIL, bold and big and clearly labeled, for you to battle. In real-life and in most long-term roleplaying game campaign play, shades of gray to everything are more useful and more desirable, allowing more complex moral choices, and exploration of the eternal dilemmas (“Do the ends justify the means?” and “What is one life worth, balanced against X?” and “Is it better to be more efficient/brutal/trampling of liberties but achieve a goal faster?”or “Go slowly and gently and with more regard for liberties, but waste X much more because we were slow, and end up achieving the goal far more slowly or even impartially?” [debates we see in the real world regarding everything from global warming/greenhouse gases, smoking, and seat belt use]).

So the importance of factions of defined good and evil and neutrality, to me, depends on what I’m trying to achieve in a particular fiction project. Tolkien had no overt religion (no temples or priesthoods), but had a titanic clash between clearly-defined good and evil, and more close-up and personal examinations of technology and despoiling versus the good local rural life, in the Shire – – and how participating in those clashes (the Ring bearers, how Merry and Pippin were changed by “going off to foreign parts and fighting”) changes the participants.

Most of the time, my needs and preferences are for shades of gray for everyone, so we can see how power corrupts, and see villains who believe they are doing right, not just villains who twirl their mustaches and glory in the evil they’re consciously doing.


TESS 18: Apotheosis can and does happen in Toril.  How do you think the ability to become a god affects a fictional society?

A: It certainly gives Type-A individuals an overarching career path. :}

The important point for me, when creating the Realms and in maintaining it since, was to base everything in personal achievement, NOT predestiny. Otherwise, heroism and moral choice go out the window, and mortals become pawns following a script, not individuals responsible for their own actions and choices.

The foundation of any belief system is hope. That’s what underlies buying lottery tickets and season tickets to perennially losing sports franchises (hello, Maple Leaf fans) and, yes, religion. One way to foster hope is to believe in just rewards in an afterlife. Another is to cleave to the notion that one day Deity X will deliver us to the promised land, or fix Y, or cleanse Z. Yet another is “knowing” that some mortals rise to the ranks of godhood, “make it,” if you will. That on rare occasions, the lottery can be won, and the downtrodden who grumble about how they’d fix things if they just had the chance, get that chance. And that the gods have at least “one of us” among them, and therefore must understand us (and so are worthy of our worship). That underlying knowledge can’t help but have a profound effect on society. Trust in the gods is increased, powerful mortals do things to try to leave a legacy, and individuals lay down their lives for causes, their family or tribe or a dream, and so on. (Which in turn allows me to write about more magnificent moments of character sacrifice and noble actions.)


Join us as we continue the discussion about Religion and Belief in Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms below.

Jefferson’s Creative Approach to the Bible: Crafting His Own Sacred Text


Thomas Jefferson, considered one of the major “Founding Fathers” of the United States of America, created for himself a Bible, cut and pasted from the scriptures of his own Bible.  He threw out what he considered repetition and hearsay–and stuck with just the moral teachings of Jesus Christ.  He worked on this in private mostly, in his seventies.  It’s a remarkable artifact of literature, a composed text created from another text.  A personally sacred text crafted from a publicly sacred text.

This little video was created by the University of Virginia and features the Smithsonian.


Not every believer takes everything their sacred texts or churches tell them—and visually Jefferson captured what metaphorically many believers craft–their own version of their faith.  They cut and paste what’s important.

Can you think of a character who might be more eclectic in their approach to their faith, taking what they find important and extricating it from the stuff they find unimportant?  Not every representation of Faith has to be an all or nothing approach—a perfect Buddhist, a perfect Christian.  In reality, believers are all seekers, crafters, negotiators.