Saturday, May 8, 2010

World Building: Sources & Influences

The other day, a priest friend of mine, knowing of my passing interest in all things Welsh, gave to me an article about the Holy Wells of Wales. Something that many of us forget is that Britain was conquered by the Romans in A.D. 41 and was Christian very early on. St. Aristobulus, one of the 70 Apostles and mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:10, went to Britain and became its first bishop. When the Church gathered at the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325, bishops from Britain were in attendance. When Rome abandoned its colonies in the 5th century, pagan Goths invaded the island and drove the Christians west into modern day Wales and Cornwall.

In Wales, it being a mountainous country, water supply was an acute problem. Thus, wells and springs have been central to both the pagan and Christian inhabitants (see the resting place of Excalibur, for example). When the Christians arrived, these wells and springs came to be associated with various saints and some were even supposed to have healing properties. This struck me because I have been meditating upon the Scriptural metaphor of God as a fountain, as understood by St. Athanasius, and its potential for use in an RPG fantasy setting.

Athanasius was at that First Ecumenical Council at the beginning of the fourth century and spent his life defending that council and the position that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are of one essence. In defending this position in a letter to his friend Serapion, he points out that the Father is equated to a fountain (Jer 2;13; Bar 3:12). In turn the Son is called a river (Psalm 65:10) and we are told that we drink of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:13).

This metaphor accomplishes two things. Firstly, it gives us a working image to help us understand the Trinity. All three elements make up a functioning fountain — the fountain, the flow of water, and the ability to drink of it. Although these elements are distinct, they are also all a working fountain and it is impossible to conceive of a working fountain without one or more of these three. It is a practical way of understanding the dogmatic formula "One Godhead in Three Persons."

Secondly, it demonstrates that we are to participate in the Trinity. We drink of the Holy Spirit, which brings us into contact with the Son through whom we may do the will of the Father. This, ultimately, is the entire purpose of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension — to make it possible for us to drink of the Holy Spirit.

Taking this metaphor and running with it in context of a fantasy setting led me to consider these names for the persons of the Trinity:

  • Ffynnon, which means Spring or Origin [Father]
  • Afon(oes) which means River (of Life) [Son]
  • Diod which means Drink [Holy Spirit]

This conception of the Trinity is wonderfully suggestive. They imply the "crucifixion" of Afon(oes) would be by drowning with the delectable divine irony of the River of Life dying in a river. Temples would be centered around living water — springs and rivers. There would be the liturgical action of blessing and drinking this living water. Initiation would by immersion in living water. In addition, these names are derived from Welsh — which dovetails beautifully into the concept of Holy Wells of Wales.

Thus, when deciding on geography for my map, I naturally looked to Wales — specifically where one can find Holy Wells. There are several in the NW part of Wales, especially on and around the island of Angelsey. Considering how interesting it looks, I decided that it would be the basis for my map.

Thus, via an article on the Holy Wells of Wales and St. Athanasius the Great and his Letter to Serapion on the Holy Spirit, I've come to having a good outline and sketch of the geography, the history, the culture and the religion of this fantasy setting.


  1. I think, on the basis of this, you'll be interested in my recent post on gonzo vs. naturalism vs. myth as sources of meaning in adventure design.

    Although I give examples of the heroic and horror genres under the mythic meanings, religious imagery of course can also provide meaning to a campaign. I anticipate that in yours, there will be an additional layer of meaning to the strange properties of the usual underground fountains and rivers ...

    Keep us posted on the developments!

  2. I get good imagery from that Church. It woudl be both familiar and also strange, which is quite effective.