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So, on the planet Dalia, there exists a civilization of intelligent creatures called the Dalians. The Dalians are extremely primitive (compared to most others) and have an extremely tribal, clan-oriented society. They live on a planet the harbors a creature called ”The Tayan”. The Tayan is a monstrous creature, that can eat organisms the size of bears whole. The Dalians worship the Tayan as their Dark God.

Nobles and high priests often sacrifice slaves into the Tayan’s maw, where they can expect to spend 5-30 years inside the Tayans stomach, slowly being digested in agony and pain.

I don’t want to make the Dalians seem evil and unsympathetic, so my question is: How do I make a species that sacrifices people to a dark god sympathetic?

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    $\begingroup$ What I want to know is how anything survives in the stomach for years. What are they eating and drinking? How often are people eaten? Even if only 1 person is sacrificed a year, if people live 5-30 years in there, there's between roughly 5-30 people in there alive at a time. What do they do to pass the time? I hope somebody got sacrificed with a deck of cards in their pocket. $\endgroup$ – Shufflepants Sep 4 '18 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert Paul Sacrificing anyone to any god, dark or light, is unsympathetic. Such actions show that one considers the minor benefits they expect to get from the god to be more important than the death of whoever is sacrificed. So you better give the Dalians have good, strong, reasons to believe that that the Tayan will exterminate them unless they sacrifice people to it. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Sep 4 '18 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ where they can expect to spend 5-30 years inside the Tayans stomach, slowly being digested in agony and pain. That sounds pretty derivative of one of Star Wars' more preposterous lines, which is saying something. If you're going to riff off of pop culture, you should probably use the good parts, not the eye-rolling ones. $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b Sep 4 '18 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ @M.A.Golding Half the world worships a religion whose God had to say "OK, no more human sacrifice now that we have a Covenant", and even centuries after that, a great leader sacrificing his daughter is painted not as evil but as a warning to not be too rash with vows because God has a keen sense of irony. Half of that half believes God himself sacrificed his son. Sure, reading the Bible or Quran isn't quite as immediate as watching the Starry Wisdomers grind a baby on the big black stone every month, but still, only atheists and heretics find Abraham to be unsympathetic… $\endgroup$ – abarnert Sep 4 '18 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ The amount of corrosive damage that such an environment can put out would be far lower than the regeneration capability of our skin. Not to mention, such a low rate of digestion would make it so it couldn't even be perceived, much less result in agony. Without some serious hand-waving, you would never die in something so mild that it would take 5-30 years to digest you. $\endgroup$ – forest Sep 5 '18 at 3:04

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They do it because they have to

You just need to show what happens when they don't feed this creature - i.e. it is strong, burrows, and prefers meat to other means of sustaining itself. This can range from more people die when it is not fed: it eats several birds (whose eggs are used as sustainable food) and destroys crops with its burrowing to get them which causes villages to have "hard winters". Or, on the far end of the range: its worse when it eats as animals tend to prefer weak or smaller prey - which in this case means children. Enemy solider/deathrow inmate vs. child is a pretty easy sell.

Have remembrance ceremonies after

Now these people still gave themselves for the tribe so you should have some honor or remembrance given after. This is a time where you can write of people's responses - a small child asking her parent "Mommy, why do we have to do this?" (add tears in the eyes and have the parent give a response which paints this as "because we have no choice") can go a long way to building sympathy for these people.

They really don't want to question it

If I were to do this, I might move towards them being glad this creature basically acts as their executioner - "We are good people. We would never do this, its all the creatures fault." - to the point of not really questioning it. So in this case they actually had a choice, could probably kill the creature if they really wanted to, but then they'd have to ask some hard questions they don't want to face. Though less sympathetic as the first and second methods, this has a note of realism that might let it be easier to believe.

BIG Note on this: I would do some research into certain cults and religions which worship animals which can kill humans - the leopard and cobra have some historical worship like this. Even with these, the animals don't kill people so regularly. It can still be hard to sell "we just can't kill it" or "we've never tried" without moving into supernatural level powers (it killed my wife or father so I'm going to dose myself in poison and become the sacrifice).

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  • $\begingroup$ Sir your answer is basically suggesting facts about the creature, not it being as a sympathetic god. Its quite hard to answer this question though because it has so many flaws about the creature being a god. $\endgroup$ – Mr.J Sep 4 '18 at 3:48
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    $\begingroup$ The fact that the primitive locals treat the creature as a god does not make it a god in the western "all powerful being" sense. I think the suggestion that the people feel (whether correctly or not) that they HAVE to perform these sacrifices or there will be terrible consequences make them more sympathetic, which is exactly what the asker wants. The locals can be shown to worship their god out of fear. It can be shown that people regret having to do this. Sacrificing only slaves is kind of a dick move though. Hard not to consider the nobles and priests as repulsive. $\endgroup$ – Eric Nolan Sep 5 '18 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ @EricNolan that's why I said "supernatural level powers" - i.e. it can be an earth spirit makes it energy, supernatural, and demi-godish but not necessarily a god (there were plenty of gods and other supernatural beings in western religions of the past and there are a few polytheistic religions that still exist - so it doesn't have to be "all-powerful"). $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Sep 5 '18 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Mr.J yeah, the question at its core seemed to be asking "how can the people be sympathetic when its not really a god" based on how I read it and the comments the OP gave after. So I gave my thoughts on that as I've read/developed ideas like that before. Had a whole Pathfinder campaign based on the last one, which ended with party finally killing the thing and people realized what they had been doing for all these years - included both ones who begin theorizing on how it is still a god and justifying why they are still going to sacrifice to the now dead creature and ones in tears. $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Sep 5 '18 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ @EricNolan no culture can name something a god if it can be killed, no religion calls their leader a "god" if they know that its mortal. Maybe western ideas think that god is something that you describe, but eastern ideas a god is someone whos power we cannot comprehend, can control every elements at his/her whim, then add some immortality in it, then we can call it a god. $\endgroup$ – Mr.J Sep 5 '18 at 23:19
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Who is dark, the god or the religion and society?

You wrote that the priests sacrifice slaves. Well, that is evil. To make it less evil, have them sacrifice volunteers. One cannot expect informed consent by 21st century standards, but make them think that the sacrifice is necessary for the prosperity of the community.

  • No sacrifice, no crops. "In the first and only year of the reign of John Doe XIII, there was no sacrifice. A hailstorm killed the summer harvest and the fish did not migrate upriver. The next year John Doe XIII was the sacrifice and all went right. We're telling that story to would-be reformers ever since."
  • No sacrifice, no family. "In the high nobility, the firstborn son goes to The Tayan. That ensures that the second son has a long life, and that the daughters will bear many sons. The 'right to ensure continuity' is a jealously guarded privilege of certain noble families."
  • Sacrifice as penance. "That was a mortal sin, my son. 1,000 years in purgatory after your death, or 5 years in The Tayan before your death. Your call. Here is the waiting list."
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  • $\begingroup$ Alternatively, if volunteers are not an option, maybe the slaves themselves are convicted murderers or something... $\endgroup$ – colmde Sep 4 '18 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ @colmde, even then it would make the society evil by modern standards. Capital punishment is questionable, capital punishment by The Tayan is a no-go. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Sep 4 '18 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m. 1000 years in purgatory would be less painful than being digested inside a monster so naturally that would be better. $\endgroup$ – Incognito Sep 4 '18 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is about the closest you're going to get. You can't make a society that imposes extreme suffering involuntarily one some for the benefit of others sympathetic. You can make certain individuals (especially: the victims) within such a society sympathetic, but not the society as a whole and not the beneficiaries of the practice. $\endgroup$ – R.. Sep 4 '18 at 15:54
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You can make flawed societies sympathetic. In fact, you pretty much have to, unless you're writing about a utopia or writing an anarchist manifesto.

In many fantasy and historical stories, the good side has public executions and mutilations, torture, slavery, etc. And yet, we're able to see them as the good side. Sometimes, the other side is more evil; other times, there's an Evil Grand Vizier who's worse than the society as a whole. Meanwhile, we meet dozens of people who help our heroes, who are brave and kind, and painted as sympathetic even though they don't know anything better than the society they grew up in. Maybe you'll have a scene where one of the wiser good guys laments that they can't end slavery because stopping the Evil High Priest is too important to focus on a quixotic crusade to overturn a fundamental institution of their culture.

In fact, you can see all of that in the Star Wars movies—not to mention the Ewoks, who kill and eat other sentient beings—and yet nobody comes out of those movies saying, "What was the point of all that when the good guys are evil too?"

For a more directly relevant example, see the 1964 Doctor Who story The Aztecs. Aztec society is painted as in many ways better than European society at the time (and one of the Doctor's companions, Barbara, directly points this out in case you miss it), with human sacrifice as the one thing that makes it worse. Most of the good guys (not counting our outsider heroes) continue to believe the religion they grew up with, but don't come across any less sympathetic. The one exception, we're pointedly told that he's not going to succeed in changing his society, and see him as a tragic hero.

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You call it a dark god, but that's you imposing your culture on the Dalians, to the Dalians it's just God.

Unfortunately it seems you've been brainwashed into thinking that human sacrifice is evil. Sacrificing the occasional person is a natural part of the cycle of life and death. People are born and people die, and all things in their time.

Perhaps your fate is to die in your bed of old age, but this slave was born to be sacrificed to the Tayan such that we may live and the crops will grow. That is his fate as decreed by the gods, and who are we to challenge fate.

The ceremony is one you might recognise until the climactic moment, the priests lead the way, swinging incense, the sacrifices dressed in white follow behind escorted by acolytes, they look like they might have been drugged but they're apparently willingly walking with the group. There's a short ceremony by the mouth of the Tayan after which each sacrifice is blessed by the high priest before stepping off into the maw. Another short ceremony follows asking the Tayan to accept the offering and bring good harvests for the coming year, along with any specific requests that those who donated slaves might have.

As secondary note on this, the Dalians wouldn't know how long it takes for a Tayan to digest its dinner unless someone had escaped. Once the sacrifice is out of sight, it's as good as dead.

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    $\begingroup$ This! I've seen Good vs Evil being debated often in the context of D&D, and I always found it interesting that the "good" guys (adventurers) often just slaughter their ways through primitive tribes. When the paladins of Tyr (Good God) "cleanse" a town infected by evil, it's not pretty. So what is Good and Evil? In D&D, it's two sides of a war between gods, and the "morale" is always clear. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Sep 4 '18 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ @MatthieuM. - Eh, well that's why having canonical alignments for non-Outsiders is a bad idea. To make a realistic, believable, purely evil society (particularly NE and CE), where are the little non-evil things like taking care of children are still carried out, you simply have to have them hate only "good" creatures, which isn't really a distinction between good and evil at all. If you have cackling evil creatures who run restaurants and nurse babies, people find it hard to believe. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Sep 5 '18 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ To properly have a Good character, they should care about the well-being of even Evil characters (not so hard). But to properly have an Evil character, they should not care about the well-being of even other Evil characters. It's hard to build a believable civilization from this. One can do this with Outsiders and so forth, because their goals, needs, and society can be completely different from humans (etc). For instance, a demon lord will happily torture their own minions for a millenium, and this won't lead to the collapse of demon society. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Sep 5 '18 at 3:33
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Its really all dependent on what they believe in and not what actually happens. Often a correlation between two things can doesn't mean they are really linked.

My proposal is that they believe that the offerings bring them good luck and blessings from their God. Its a pretty simple setup.

One day someone fell in, and that year the harvest was really good. This happens a couple of times with people falling in and good harvests. Then one year no one falls in. They are super careful, fence off the area and make sure no one falls in. The harvest is terrible and people get riled up and angry. They sacrifice someone to the Tayan and the next year the harvest is good again. After long enough many people will simply believe that having a sacrifice for the Tayan is what brings in a good harvest.

Now there doesn't need to be a strong correlation, just that the people believe its there. So maybe one year there is a sacrifice but a bad harvest. Well some local person goes, the Tayan isn't happy with the sacrifice, we need to sacrifice more people. Once enough people believe there is a correlation, they will likely carry it out regardless of opposition. (Maybe the Tayan is upset that your doubting its will, sacrifice him and his family!!)

Now the fun part for you is to decide the different factors. Maybe the Tayan likes Female Virgins, or male slaves. Maybe its about purity or strength or quality. They could also believe that the longer a person suffers for, the better the harvest and choose an unlucky person to suffer. You can spin it to be a great honor (with the top families preparing special children just to be a sacrifice, or maybe they know the truth and shield their family from it but encourage the populas).

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  • $\begingroup$ This doesnt have to be an imagined correlation. Tayan's that dont starve are going to be living near resources that attract animals that fall in. The conclusion might be wrong but the correlation of "Tayan = food/water" is there. Tayan's could also have evolved to collect seeds from the surroundings and help grow edible one's to attract people, or make use of the mycorrhizal network to encourage edible plants in a large area to grow. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycorrhizal_network $\endgroup$ – Demigan Sep 4 '18 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ Believing that doing something evil gets you material gain doesn't make that belief or act particularly sympathetic... $\endgroup$ – R.. Sep 4 '18 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @R.. That doesn't stop people from doing it even in the modern age. There are cases where people believe something is good even if its evil. You have religious groups protecting members who have abused or raped their partners and cults who perform mass suicides to get into heaven. You also have your so called terrorists resisting the american invaders. Its all about their perspective and beliefs and how their actions appear on their moral compass, not yours $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Sep 5 '18 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Shadowzee: I didn't say it stops people from doing it. I said it's not going to be sympathetic in the reader's mind (unless the reader is a sociopath). $\endgroup$ – R.. Sep 5 '18 at 2:10
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Make the Tayan important for their survival.

For example, the Tayan relies on prey to fall in, so it needs something to attract prey. It could do this by encouraging plants that produce fruit, nuts and other edible things to grow next to it.

In comes the mycorrhizal network: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycorrhizal_network

This is a network of fungi that connect plants and trees, allowing them to share nutrients, send chemical messages such as if certain insects are eating it causing other plants to produce chemicals against such insects or even "hack" the system and killing off plants that are unfavorable, such as plants that would grow over others to take away sunlight. This is the system a Tayan could use to encourage edible things to grow next to it, attracting animals that might fall in the Tayan's mouth.

This wont go unnoticed by the society living there. The best and most (or only!!) food grows near a Tayan, and killing it disturbs the balance and the food disappears! If you block off the mouth of the Tayan it'll starve so... You are going to have to sacrifice something to keep it alive.

Tayan's would be revered as a dark God that provides you with what you need if you give a large sacrifice. It provides food for dozens more people than would normally be able to live in the area, and a sacrifice is going to be a small price to pay for all the extra people living there just above the Tayan's hungry mouth.

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"Mother, why do we sacrifice prisoners and slaves to the Tayan?"

"Well, child, before we started to sacrifice, the Tayan would become angry, and come into the village. In his anger, he'd kill our livestock, destroy our crops and eat our children. No one was safe. Children disappeared from their beds. Whole herds were killed in the fields. Families starved. The last time he entered the village, our chief, most noble Mandu, offered himself to the beast to keep it from eating a child. He took Mandu and went away satisfied. Since that day, we followed Mandu's example and offer up those who deserve death for their crimes. When criminals aren't available, the noblest of us offer their own property, their slaves bought with their own money, to assuage the anger of the Tayan. "

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Note: I am changing some of the tenets of the question here, take the points that you like.

Limited, Voluntary, Punishment, "Eugenics", Meaningful, High Ranking, Merciful

  • Limited You do not specify numbers, but those are important. A single sacrifice each decade is easier to forgive than a sacrifice each week. Also, the reduced numbers make it more likely to believe the following points:

  • Meaningful It is clear that the sacrifices are necessary; if they do not happen then very bad things happen to the tribe. By being a sacrifice, the person sacrificed helps his tribe and family.

  • Voluntary In today's individualism, the idea of killing someone against his/her will is very difficult to be received simpathetically. But still people who voluntarily risk their lives to save others are celebrated as heroes. You could try to change your system so that the sacrifice is a big honour to the victim (whose name and life is, for example, recorded in the Great Book of Deads, and his familiy is cared for) instead of chosing someone against his will only because he is defenseless. Better combined with "Meaningful".

  • Punishment If you want to keep the sacrifice mandatory, at least try to limit its randomness; the victims are not chosen just because they are slaves who cannot defend themselves, but because they are criminals and they have been judged to deserve death. Each year, of all of the criminals sentenced to death (or life in jail), the worst are selected to be send to the Tayan. Of course, that means that you need to have enough criminals for the sacrifices, but if the frequency of sacrifices is low enough maybe that is not an issue1.

  • "Eugenics" Another way to reduce randomness; only people ill and/or very old are allowed to be sacrificed. Works better with "Voluntary" and "Meaningful".

  • High Ranking To the "Voluntary/Meaningful/Punishment/Eugenics" points a cynical could say that the populace can be manipulated by the powerful so that the sacrifices are always slaves, poor people and the like that have been "brainwashed" by the nobles and priests who do not desire to become sacrifices themselves. You can challenge that by making the sacrifices from the most influential classes.

    Make it an opt-in; if you are the son of a noble, when he dies you can either go to live as a commoner or inherit the title and state, but in the later case you know you might eventually become the Tagan's breakfast. Similarly, anyone opting for priesthoods will know that the end of the career is perhaps your god's estomach. Works better with either "Eugenics" (give people time to enjoy their careers) and "Voluntary", or with "Punishment".

  • Merciful The part about the Tagan eating the sacrifice alive and keeping it that way in the estomach seens unnecessarily cruel. Execute the sacrifices as painlessly as it is possible before presenting them to the Tagan. If the Tagan requires living sacrifices, sedate them. If the Tagan requires living, struggling sacrifices, give them some drugs so they can take them after they have been swallowed.


1One of the big moral issues of organ donation from people sentenced to death is that it gives the society an incentive to sentence people to death in order to benefit from the harvested organs.

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  • $\begingroup$ One sacrifice at the end of each cycle (3 months) $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Sep 4 '18 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ Re voluntary, there are parts of the world where martyrdom is a big thing. And even larger parts where it was a big thing until they got enlightenment/did not take their religion quite as literally any more. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Sep 4 '18 at 13:33
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Maybe in their culture, they find a meaning in the death of some of their people.

Being selected could be seen as a favor and people wouldn't go against their fate. Maybe it's a random process, so every individual live their life as each day could be their last one, your tayan could represent "Mother nature" and its impartial selection.

My favorite is that somehow they (or the leader) know that their food supply won't stand so they need a way that every one tolerate murder for the many.

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Some men with otherwise modern sensibilities would argue Jephthah, the man in the Bible who sacrificed his own daughter to God is a heroic (or at least sympathetic) figure. Heck, the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament mark him as a great servant of God.

The reason why is he made a vow to God; he'd sacrifice the first thing he saw when he returned home from war, a war that God apparently blessed him with victory on. Stupidly specific deal terms aside, he made a vow to God, and he followed through with it.

Maybe this society believes that they have a binding vow with this God for their continued prosperity or survival, then they'd not only sacrifice people to them; they'd consider people who sacrifice others to their God.

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    $\begingroup$ how would that conversation have even went? "hi honey, I missed you. Unfortunately I made a deal with God to sacrifice the first thing I see and now you have to die. Should have slept in this morning ?" $\endgroup$ – Incognito Sep 4 '18 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Incognito, the conversation is recorded... read it for yourself in Judges 11:35-40. ( google.com/search?q=Judges+11%3A35-40&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8 ) $\endgroup$ – elliot svensson Sep 4 '18 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ "Recorded" eh, what? There's no historicity to that, you know. $\endgroup$ – forest Sep 5 '18 at 3:08
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Cure Terminal Diseases/Injuries

It is also be able to cure diseases and injuries while it's at "digesting". If you're lucky, and enough other people get eaten you can look forward to being passed after your malady has been cured by the painful digestive process.

It's worth noting that 'god' doesn't digest it's 'victims' physically, rather it feeds off of the psychic energy of their pain and agony. In fact, it provides sustenance to keep them alive, which is what provides the ability to cure, however the feeding/repair process itself is what is terribly painful.

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Honor and pride

A big dark creature eating people and needing sacrifices? Hey, it's the plot of Tim Schafer's Broken Age

Vella Tartine is a young woman living in the Badlands, a land ravaged by the Mogs, giant creatures that come from beyond a wall called the Plague Dam. They are appeased by the sacrifice of young girls at a number of Maiden's Feasts held at various villages. They appear every 14 years for those maidens. Vella is chosen to be sacrificed to Mog Chothra at the feast in her hometown of Sugar Bunting (formerly a town made up of warriors named Steel Bunting) but concludes that if the monster could be killed, the rituals could be ended.

What is interesting is that the sacrifice is festive! Maidens are dressed to be the most appetising for the creature, so families could be proud of having their daughter being eaten by Mog Chothra.

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