Looking to the Stars

Such a beautiful sight.

A couple weeks back I talked about how to start building a world, and I want to keep that theme going.  Throughout history the stars have been incredibly important to human kind.  Not only do the moon and sun have significant physical effects on the world, but various cultures have believed that they could use the sky to determine everything from an individuals purpose in life, to his/her best potential mate, to the day that person would die.  Astrology is one of the oldest, and most pervasive, ‘sciences’, but it is generally ignored in fantasy literature.  I have read many fantasy novels in which the sky is almost never mentioned.  In many stories it is impossible to tell if the world even has a moon, much less what affect the moon might have.

So, how does the sky affect our fantasy worlds? Perhaps how can the sky affect our fantasy worlds?  Does your world have one moon, like earth? Does it have more than one moon? Does it have a moon at all?  How does the moon affect the world?

For instance, in the world of Avnul there is no moon, simply sun and stars.  The most obvious effect of this lack is that the night is significantly darker.  However, probably the most significant effect is upon the oceans.  No moon equals no regular tidal movement which equals significant differences in sea-travel and coastal life.  Animals that, in our world, depend on the tides as a regular part of their life cycle do not exist in Avnul, or exist in significantly different ways.  For instance a variety of small fish, various species of crab or mollusk, and some oceanic plant life simply are not present in the world of Avnul due to the lack of tidal movement.  Other types of crab are significantly more mobile in the world of Avnul because they are forced to move to and from the water, instead of the water moving to and from them.  The small fish that dwell in tidal pools are non-existent because they do not have the protection of the small ecosystem such regularly refilled pools offer.

What happens when you go away?

The lack of regular tidal movement also means that travel by ship is not hindered by the tide.  A ship does not have to wait for high tide to leave or dock at a port, for instance.  The lack of a moon also has a significant affect on the tracking of time.  Many, I can probably safely say most but I haven’t done the research necessary to back up such a statement, early calendars were based on the lunar month.  With no moon the means of tracking months generally revolves around seasons, which makes for much longer months, or religious standards.  The lack of a moon also means that months are not regular in their period of time, while one month might be only sixty to sixty five days another month might be over a hundred days.  Among the Neshelim there are two religious months that last only fifteen days each.

The stars are also very important, historically speaking, in religion and occult ritual.  For instance, medieval astrologers proposed connections between the planets and the greco-roman gods.  They also proposed mystical connections between various important constellations, the movement of the planets through said constellations, and events on earth.  Various forms of divination, such as augury (divination through studying the flight of birds) and haruspicy (divination through studying the entrails of animals) both compared their mediums to the placement of objects in the sky.  These connections are often nonsensical to the modern mind, but were intrinsic to the ancient mind.  Modern astrology still draws on many of these ancient connections to make its predictions.

Applying this to fantasy writing: in the world of Avnul the Longminjong identify thirteen important constellations in the sky, six individual stars (actually planets but the Longminjong have not yet made the distinction), and the sun.  The interaction of these celestial bodies is extremely important to their lives.

Astrology has been in practice, in one form or another, from before ancient Babylon to the modern day.

For instance the constellation named ‘The Rat’ is identified with certain days of the year, the color green, the mineral jade, the direction west, and several animals.  The Rat symbolizes cleverness, luck, ingenuity, and a mischievous nature.  Thus those individuals born on days that are associated with The Rat are expected to have a be clever, but troublemakers.  They are expected to pursue certain careers (such as thievery, politics, or engineering), to have a natural aptitude for certain tasks (public speaking, debate, or invention), and to be compatible with certain people.  The constellation is also called upon, and directs, a variety of magical techniques.  For instance The Rat might be called upon in the creation of a talisman intended to bring an individual good luck.  Such a talisman would be made from the tail of a rat or ferret (two animals associated with The Rat), it would be created while the maker was facing west, and require the use of jade implements to craft the amulet.  Alternatively such a talisman might be made in the west, with the pattern of the rat carved into a small jade tablet.

Among the Nemmi the common belief is that their gods live among the stars.  So the Nemmi identify certain groupings of stars with a particular god or spirit and will often create dances that mimic that pattern of stars as a part of their prayers.  A Nemmi who wished to draw the attention of a particular god might build a fire in the shape of that god’s constellation, and then dance in a pattern that mimics said constellation.  The Neshelim, on the other hand, generally look down on such astrological connections.  They do, however, use the stars to navigate through the desert, much as a sailor might use the stars to navigate through the sea.

These are just a few examples, from the world of Avnul, of how the sky can be used to great effect in your fantasy worlds.  So, what impact does the sky have on your world? Does it have an impact at all? Is this something you have thought about?

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About noothergods

I hate writing these things. Ok, a little bit about me. I split my time between this world and other worlds so I'm only here about 25% to 50% of the time. Other times my body might be here (or you never know it might not) but I am off somewhere else having strange and usually pretty horrible adventures. I consider myself a scholar of Christian Theology and of Religion in general, I love learning about other people's belief systems. I think that Shinto is fascinating and I'm obsessed with the theology of sin...and with monkeys...I don't know why I'm obsessed with monkeys but I blame Gus...if you know him you'll understand that, if you don't then...well...I blame Gus. Anyway, I'm the one of the blog that needs to be censored the most so if there's anything posted that you find offensive it was probably me. I think that my brain doesn't really work the way it's supposed to but that's an issue for a whole other time. I have two degrees, a B.S. in Religion and an M.Div. in leadership. I enjoy a great many things some of which include writing (gee, what a surprise), martial arts, anything media that has a good story to tell, cooking, discussing/reading/occasionally writing about Christian theology, General theology, religious belief systems, philosophy, etc. I also enjoy reading medieval and previous magical texts and studying the history, practice, and beliefs about magic from around the world. I don't practice magic and if you want to know my personal beliefs on the subject you can email me, however the intersection of magic and religion is a very interesting topic.

Posted on April 16, 2011, in Fantasy, Tobias Mastgrave, World Creation, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Here’s a Star Wars question that has always bugged me. Could you really have an earth-like moon orbiting a gas giant, a la the Rebel Base? Wouldn’t the gas giant cut you off from the sun an awful lot, and thus hinder the growth of the earth-like forest you see when the x-wings take off? And wouldn’t the gravity of the gas giant create so much stress on your planetary (er, moonetary) core that you would be too unstable to support an advanced civilization (much less a complicated biosphere)? I’ve seen lots of scifi stories with either planets with multiple moons or civilizations on moons orbiting gas giants, etc., but rarely are they thought out on the level suggested here. They should be.

  2. Yavin 4 could not, to my understanding, exist. I don’t think the gravitational stresses would cause as many problems as you’re thinking (though I could be wrong about that if anyone more versed can comment). I also think that Yavin 4 was assumed to have a solid core, in which case there would not be a large amount of tectonic activity. Although the civilization that built the temples (according to Star Wars history) did not develop on Yavin 4, it was a remnant transplanted there by the Sith.
    A ‘moon world’ could potentially have an ecosystem (what little hard sci-fi I have seen on this actually views the Gas Giant as a miniature sun for its moons as it would provide light, heat, etc) but it would have to be a vastly different ecosystem than anything on earth. You could potentially have a large number of plants that do not rely on photosynthesis (like fungi) and appropriate animals, or plants that rely on a different spectrum of light.
    However, all of this comes from my somewhat limited understanding of the science behind varying ecosystems so, take it with a grain of salt.

  3. Our gas giants’ gravity wreak havoc on their own moons. If you had a solid (not molten) core, you would not have a magnetic field, and the sun’s radiation would fry all your life forms. Or thus saith my limited understanding.

  4. True, I hadn’t thought of that…unless you have something else in the atmosphere that filters out radiation…not entirely sure what that would be.

    • Yes, the rotating liquid core is what generates the magnetic field that protects us from a majority of nasty things from space, including radiation. I’m not entirely sure about earth-type moons being possible as you describe, but your reasoning seems sound to me- a moon with an appropriately dense atmosphere could potentially retain enough heat to sustain life if it were orbiting a gas giant that acted in the way Dr. Williams (gandalf30598) describes.

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