Heroes in a God’s World: Religion in D&D

The classic Western-fantasy adventuring party, appearing across a wide variety of media and baked into what Dungeons and Dragons in particular expects adventuring groups to be capable of, consists of four very different characters. By default, there is a “fighter,” who wears armor and specializes in swordplay or another close-range martial art; a “wizard,” who is a combination mobile artillery piece, library, and miscellaneous magical toolkit; a “rogue” or “thief,” whose specialty is stealth, lock-picking, smooth-talking, acrobatics, and similar skills; and a “cleric” or “priest,” who provides the favor of the gods to their allies, usually in the form of magical healing and defensive magic.

That last person raises difficult questions about the overall shape of the fantasy universe, which every D&D setting tries to answer one way or another. It’s not difficult to imagine a fantasy world where the term “cleric” means something more like what it means in our world, and refers to someone an adventuring party might visit afterward for wound-tending and soul-cleansing rather than a steadfast and magical battlefield ally. Ivanhoe is probably the work of fiction most famously within this tradition. But most Western fantasy assigns clerics and other agents of the divine power well in excess of the demonstrated abilities of real-world religious figures, including the power to raise the dead on demand, instantly heal deadly injuries multiple times a day, and brandish holy symbols to disperse zombies. The deities of a fantasy world that is home to this kind of priest are, thereby, much more powerful than the god of Ivanhoe and any deity associated with real-world religious practice, and have far more direct and overt effects on the world at large.

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Heroes in a God’s World: Religion in D&D
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Vino Para Mí

Hay una banda sonora especial para la matanza moderna. La mayoría no son envenenando a la gente en un sueño permanente. Cuando un asesino moderno con un arma moderna asesina a 50 personas y hiere a 53 más, hay un sonido que sigue el carillón del último casquillo cuando cae al piso. Mucho tiempo después de los gritos y llantos y sirenas se colocan por otro lado, hay otro sonido, nos dicen.

Teléfonos móviles.

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Vino Para Mí

He Came For Me

CN: 11 June 2016 Orlando murders.

There’s a special soundtrack to a modern massacre. Most of them aren’t poisoning people into too-long sleep. When a modern killer with a modern gun murders 50 people and injures 53 more, there’s a sound that follows the last shell casing’s floor-bound chime. Long after the shrieking and crying and sirens are diverted elsewhere, there’s another sound, they say.

Mobile phones.

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He Came For Me

Art and the Robot

A few years ago, I attended an art museum with Ania and one of her friends from her hometown.  There was friction between the three of us.  Ania hadn’t been in much contact with this friend for years at this time, and importantly, had come into her atheism and become involved with me in that gap.  Her friend, in turn, was still religious.  I earned some of her friend’s future antipathy to me by being a little too insistently flirtatious, which is not a good thing for a perceived cis straight man in a relationship to be toward a woman who is clearly uninterested, but most of it preceded that unfortunate buildup.  A lot of it coalesced into a rather unfortunate turn of phrase she used during that art museum trip:

“[S]he’s not one of those atheists, is [s]he?”

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Art and the Robot

Apocalypse of the Week 12: Thrust In Thy Sharp Sickle

Tribulation.  The Rapture.  The Second Coming.  For many, these terms are synonymous with the end of the world.  Indeed, the terms “apocalypse” and “Armageddon” both entered the public consciousness because of their appearances in the Bible, and have since become synonymous with the more general term “eschaton.”  But what’s actually involved in the Christian vision of the end of the world?  One could be forgiven for forgetting that the original story bears little resemblance to the modern-day, politics-themed reimagining lampooned in a previous installment.  Rather, here be dragons.  And enough gruesome torture to make Mortal Kombat cutscenes feel like Sesame Street.

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Apocalypse of the Week 12: Thrust In Thy Sharp Sickle

Apocalypse of the Week 11: This Magic Skull Goes All the Way to…Zero

The giant earth crocodile with mouths at all of her joints.

Giant ape-men with backward feet and hanging intestines that waylay travelers.

The plumed serpent of the sun, wind, and mercy, who raped his human-shaped sister while divinely hammered and still got to keep the “mercy” portfolio, and is also the planet Venus for some reason.

Feeding the sun with the beating hearts of thousands of sacrifices.

And you thought Revelation was sick.

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Apocalypse of the Week 11: This Magic Skull Goes All the Way to…Zero

Apocalypse of the Week 10: Unspecified Event at Unknown Time with Voluptuous Edith

Of all the figures to get famous making predictions about the future, none stands taller than Michel de Nostredame, better known as Nostradamus.  This French (no relationship to Claude “Raël” Vorilhon, probably) almanac writer, medical assistant, and amateur astronomer wrote 1,013 prophetic verses that have not ceased, in the 450+ years since his death, to inspire credulous grandfalloons to align events to them after they’ve happened.
One would expect prophecies to be useful before things happen, but whatever.  If one has read Nostradamus’s incoherent ramblings, one knows that getting useful information out of them is kind of like squeezing apple juice out of oranges.  It’s just not in there, and one is liable to burn out one’s eyes and start laughing at oneself if one tries.
Here’s one chosen at random, since the 1,013 verses are presented in no particular order and were meant to be 1200 before some publisher errors cut out most of the last two sets:

Amongst several transported to the isles, 
One to be born with two teeth in his mouth 
They will die of famine the trees stripped, 
For them a new King issues a new edict. 
(Century 2, Quatrain 7)

Which isles?  There are thousands.  Which king?  It’d have to be one who still has decree power, which does narrow it down.  Which edict?  This king will, presumably, make more than one.  More importantly, Nostradamus obeyed the One Rule of Pretending to Know the Future: don’t tell people when.

So maybe the next Sheikh of Bahrain, facing a famine in one of the world’s wealthiest archipelagos for some reason, will issue an edict that all non-synthetic pants are to be confiscated for food?  Perhaps the Sultan of Brunei will drive his also fabulously wealthy people to starvation by replacing his agriculture ministry with a new body devoted to pinning even more medals on his uniform?  Will the Tongans finally descend into theocracy and proceed to starve within a few years on their tropical, nigh-unfarmable paradise?  Which is it, Michel?  Which is it?

Except, of course, when he totally did put in a time reference:

The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror:
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.
(Century 10, Quatrain 72)

This verse is the standard one trotted out to “prove” that Nostradamus was able to predict the future, since John. F. Kennedy, Jr. was on a plane that crashed in July 1999.  Also, a space shuttle exploded in August 1999, which is close to September 1999, which might be what “seventh month” means if Nostradamus’s guiding stars are using the old Roman calendar.  Either way, Zombie Genghis Khan didn’t rise from his grave and lead a renewed Golden Horde to kneeling before the Red Planet, which is apparently also a king now, so I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

But what does this have to do with the end of the world?

Well, after learning of the significance of 21 December 2012 to the Maya, some enterprising conspiracy loons decided to poke through the quatrains and found this:

Sun twentieth of Taurus the earth will tremble very mightily,
It will ruin the great theater filled:
To darken and trouble air, sky and land,
Then the infidel will call upon God and saints.
(Century 9, Quatrain 83)

Also this:
For the pleasure of the voluptuous edict,
One will mix poison in the faith:
Venus will be in a course so virtuous
As to becloud the whole quality of the Sun.
(Century 5, Quatrain 72)

Apparently keeping in mind that the quatrains are in no particular order, these hooligans turned that mess of random phrases into an apocalypse of earthquakes (“earth will tremble”) apparently slated for later in the same year that Venus transited (“as to becloud”) the sun, a rare and amazing astronomical event that took place earlier this year.  And then turned “later that same year” into 21 December 2012.  Even though nothing whatsoever links the two quatrains and they are based ultimately on the ramblings of a 16th-century amateur astrologer and an equally spurious eschaton from a culture that fell from its prime around that time.

I, for one, am more interested in this Voluptuous Edith…oh.  Edict.  Allow me to compose myself.  Apparently, in Nostradamus World, edicts can be voluptuous and are pleased by “mixing poison in the faith,” whatever the heck that means, and also a few cheap shots at non-Christians counts as predicting the future.  Maybe Michel got a little stoned on Revelation before he wrote those two.

Allow me to close with another random quatrain:

“Meysnier, Manthi” and the third one that will come, 
Plague and new affront, to tourble the enclosure: 
The fury will bite in Aix and the places thereabout, 
Then those of Marseilles will want to double their evil. 
(Century 11, Quatrain 91)

Remind me to be in Marseilles when the world ends.  A two-for-one special on extra-sinful Voluptuous Ediths is not something to be missed.  Especially when the tourbling starts.
Apocalypse of the Week 10: Unspecified Event at Unknown Time with Voluptuous Edith

Apocalypse of the Week 9: Romania Will Rise Again

It’s easy to forget about Romania.  For many North Americans, it’s just another former Communist country in Eastern Europe, and most of what they know about it actually applies to the various countries around it more accurately.  For starters, Romanian is a Romance rather than a Slavic language, so the Romanian people have a lot more in common with Western Europe than most North Americans realize.  Also like Western Europe, Romania’s history is marked by the unification of a number of separate principalities that shared a language, and by a split engineered by the Soviet Union (which created the Republic of Moldova).
What an alarming number of Westerners are apparently certain of when it comes to Romania is that it will bring forth the Antichrist and from there, the end of the world as we know it.
Apocalypse of the Week 9: Romania Will Rise Again

Apocalypse of the Week 7: Wolves and Snakes and Eyjafjallajökull, Oh My!

Some end times scenarios are important not because of their modern adherents, but because of their pop-culture relevance.  With the Norse mythos’s return to people’s minds via the Thor and Avengers movies of recent memory, and the sheer cinematic splendor of the Nordic eschaton, let us examine how the pagans of Scandinavia imagined the world would end: Ragnarok.

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Apocalypse of the Week 7: Wolves and Snakes and Eyjafjallajökull, Oh My!

Apocalypse of the Week 4: Hot, Sticky Justice

Veterans of the atheosphere might recognize Zoroastrianism as the ancient Persian religion whose Mithraic component is the best-attested antecedent for many Christian traditions, such as celebrating the birth of Jesus on 25 December.  What I didn’t know is that Zoroastrianism is a living religion, with active fire temples singing the praises of the god Ahura Mazda and a world membership of over 200,000, a surprising fraction of which live in Canada.  I can only imagine how they feel about freethinkers using their history as one of many disproofs of Christianity.  My guess?  Weirdly flattered.

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Apocalypse of the Week 4: Hot, Sticky Justice