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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    So most fantasy I'm familiar with, including what I am working with, is loosely based on real world medieval history. Modern values often override medieval values in these settings. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes this is a bad thing and many times it's in between and subjective to the eye of the beholder (which may or may not have an anti-magic ray).

    Rather than go over all modern values. I realized my nature god and the clerics and druids that serve him kind of looks like a modern environmentalist more than a nature god.

    I heard it stated that modern environmentalism was born in the 1960s and took off in the 1970s. Before then the idea of humans having a large potentially negative impact on the Earth as a whole was not something political leaders thought about.

    Perhaps I'm wrong, but I believe the core of modern environmentalism is that "We need to be good custodians of the natural world so he natural world will be there for future generations to enjoy."

    I don't think pre-industrial people were generally upset if a species went extinct. If the species was a dangerous predator, they probably celebrated their extinction.

    I noticed there were aspects of being a good steward of nature in my ancient religious texts, but it's not something the leaders of antiquity seemed to care about or maybe it was the result of a poor modern translation of ancient words.

    I notice that the followers of my nature god in my setting and the local rulers that have to negotiate with tend to fall back on two paradigms.

    1) We should be a good steward of nature so future generations can enjoy nature's bounty.

    2) We should respect nature because while Korus, god of nature is not likely to engage in divine smiting, when he does smite, he smites HARD via either massive crop failure of horrific monsters emerging from the wilds.


    I'm not sure if these views have historical verisimilitude. Maybe it doesn't need to. Maybe a modern view makes a better setting.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    WhiteWizardGirl

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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    {Scrubbed}

    Based on a brief look at your worldforge page, your setting does not seem to take that same approach. Korus didn't create all life, he gained custodianship over it after overthrowing the God who did, then spent tens of thousands of years tweaking things and getting the ecosystem running exactly how he likes it. So he's probably very much willing to answer a Divination asking why he let the glarax go extinct, but kept the wolves around. In fact, there's probably entire books written by the clergy with answers to that sort of inquiry, where a cleric spends a few years investigating the subject and asking Korus for instructions and explanations and then publishes a hadith explaining exactly why this particular river has the fish that it has and why a dam here, here or here is okay, but not anywhere else, exactly who benefits from this arrangement and why everything would go wrong if you ignored the Divine Plan and built your dams in the wrong spots regardless.

    Likewise with any agricultural practices that Korus have commanded people to avoid. Is slash and burn agriculture unsustainable and threatening to drive a particularly delicious sort of berry extinct? Then Korus probably has a sub-section in one of his Big Tomes of How to be a Good Steward of Nature explaining that exact problem. And the clergy, who realistically are probably tired of people having to go yell at people who broke something without knowing that it was even there, have probably gone ahead and set up something very much like modern planning permits, where whenever you want to do something new agriculturally - be it cut down a forest to make a farm, introduce a new species to an area or increase fishing quotas to match demand - you have to first check in with the Temple of Korus to make sure that this isn't against some sort of divine prohibition intended to protect a genus of sea turtles that Zarthus loves and will become very angry over should anything happen to them.
    Last edited by truemane; 2021-04-27 at 09:54 AM. Reason: Scrubbed

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    From what I've read and heard (and not sure of the accuracy of it), most medieval or early colonial times attitudes towards nature was somewhat adversial. It was the "out there" and dangerous. So clearing nature to make land for homesteads or farming was a good thing. It, in a sense, was stewardship of nature in that you are shifting it to more productive and usable and safer modes of existence. Just a very anthropcentric sense of 'stewardship'.

    Part of the reason this "worked" is because our ability to destroy nature was limited to some degree. We didn't have the tech to wipe out acres of rain forest or ancient woodland as quickly as we do now. If something went extinct, we probably didn't realize the cause-and-effect (unless it was killing off a predator, which, yeah, considered good work.)

    I'm sure there were exceptions, and as I said no idea if that is a real view or just a parody/simplification, but I reckon that'd be a worldview that would work for a common peasant to craftsman in a lot of fantasy. (Even more than real life if wild nature is also where monsters live!) And most nobles, as long as it doesn't interfere with them getting income from their preasants and craftsmen.

    ---

    As for your setting, I really like Grek's responses. If the clerics can commune with their deity, no doubt it has been explained, and they'd be able to justify it.

    How strongly they are believed can depend on a few factors.
    I'm having a hard time typing them out systematically, but here's a couple questions to give the ideas:
    Would Korus smite a city that is using bad practices, or would the God of Commerce protect them in that case? In other words, what divine contracts and limitations are on the gods?
    If a smiting occurred, would it be obvious the cause, or could it be attributed to random plague or monster attack? In other words, how direct-interference are the gods, and how easy it is to tell what caused what?

    Another idea, to add some credibility to Korus' clergy, is if you want to keep enough nature to give the monsters space, lest they move into your territory. (well, technically it was theirs before you took it, but, 'yknow?).
    Don't wipe out the woods where the goblins or dark spirits live, or else they'll stop living there and might start living where you are! Why are there goblins or dark spirits? Er, some evil god made 'em and Korus isn't able/willing to wipe them out?
    This belief could add a sense/superstition of "We might want to wipe out wolves, but it's bad luck. Maybe some monster likes wolves, and it'll come eat us if we kill them off."

    ---

    As for versimilitude: with most gods of nature that I see in fantasy, they generally don't care about humans or don't like them. Not saying if this is good or not. But, because of this, their clergy are generally outside the normal society, kinda like classical druids in D&D. If your clergy are more in line with society and things are enforced/taught, then Grek's take on it makes a lot of sense. It also makes sense for environmental attitudes to be prevalent throughout society (still in conflict with 'money now', I'm sure, but... well, getting smote is bad for your cash flow.)
    Last edited by JeenLeen; 2021-04-26 at 10:36 AM.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Pixie in the Playground
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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    In ancient times there was no differentiation between the natural world and the world of man. The majority of people lived an agricultural lifestyle that was purely focused on growing plants that would be ready to eat EVERY day. So they were very in tune with nature. As to whether they respected nature...well...

    I find that often time in fantasy nature gets a very short/surface treatment usually as the creator wants to paint the "Man bad / Nature good" scenario. Strangely there is almost always only one diety in charge of nature. Really? A god of both grass and cows? Shouldn't plants hate herbivores?

    {Scrubbed}

    If I might make a recommendation, try watching the movie Princess Mononoke. It deals with a fantastical clash between man and nature but each side has many competing ideas.
    Last edited by truemane; 2021-04-27 at 09:56 AM. Reason: Scrubbed

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    Quote Originally Posted by Scalenex View Post
    So most fantasy I'm familiar with, including what I am working with, is loosely based on real world medieval history. Modern values often override medieval values in these settings. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes this is a bad thing and many times it's in between and subjective to the eye of the beholder (which may or may not have an anti-magic ray).

    Rather than go over all modern values. I realized my nature god and the clerics and druids that serve him kind of looks like a modern environmentalist more than a nature god.

    I heard it stated that modern environmentalism was born in the 1960s and took off in the 1970s. Before then the idea of humans having a large potentially negative impact on the Earth as a whole was not something political leaders thought about.

    Perhaps I'm wrong, but I believe the core of modern environmentalism is that "We need to be good custodians of the natural world so he natural world will be there for future generations to enjoy."

    I don't think pre-industrial people were generally upset if a species went extinct. If the species was a dangerous predator, they probably celebrated their extinction.

    I noticed there were aspects of being a good steward of nature in my ancient religious texts, but it's not something the leaders of antiquity seemed to care about or maybe it was the result of a poor modern translation of ancient words.

    I notice that the followers of my nature god in my setting and the local rulers that have to negotiate with tend to fall back on two paradigms.

    1) We should be a good steward of nature so future generations can enjoy nature's bounty.

    2) We should respect nature because while Korus, god of nature is not likely to engage in divine smiting, when he does smite, he smites HARD via either massive crop failure of horrific monsters emerging from the wilds.


    I'm not sure if these views have historical verisimilitude. Maybe it doesn't need to. Maybe a modern view makes a better setting.
    Verisimilitude to where and when?

    Apathy and fear of wild environments is a feature of urbanized, sedentary populations that become acclimated to controlled spaces and the weather patterns of their single location, and environmental destruction is rooted in assumptions that come from specific base assumptions--the most important across history being that the supreme being created everything to be used by humans, and that all things should be turned into capital or have their value extracted within a market framework.

    Throughout history there are many versions of "this places or these things do not belong to us" or "there is a kind of sacred transaction to using this land, or hunting this animal" that aren't simply twee philosophizing, they're cultural understanding of the limits of what people should do to survive long-term. People who live partly in cultivated land but also gather wild resources understand seasonality of what can be gathered and hunted, but also have specific knowledge of what local areas are genuinely dangerous and just shouldn't be pressed into. Lots of foraging people had and have an idea of "if I take too much, this plant or animal will go away or lessen in number and that's bad for my survival"--and engage(d) in biomanipulation to increase the natural features they wanted (prescribed burns being the most ubiquitous example).

    (This applies even to predators. Foragers tend to view something that can kill a guy or easily take prey as something to be respected and avoided, because humans are just squishy things embedded in their settings that achieve with great effort what predators do with little effort. Furthermore, a predator is an index of the health of the hunting environment; if the former is suddenly gone, it's a warning sign that's something changing or awry. To people who assume that they're the apex of divine creation, predators are monsters to be defeated)

    These perspectives were viewed as unintelligent by people whose base assumption was that their food and survival needs could be met by enormous logistical chains that they simply did not question the viability of, but whose even deeper base assumption was that nature simply did not matter because all places and all things could be transformed into something useful to their existing way of life. The unitary and simplistic notion of "civilization" as a one-size-fits-all chain of progress and applied-science positivism have a big hand in environmental degradation, too: the assumption the Superior Knowledge and The Right Equipment could convert everything into a narrow band of physical environments that could produce market-valuable resources is big part of why first conservation and environmentalism had to be developed as ethical concerns.

    In a fictional setting, is any of this automatically present? No.

    The priests and god you're describing isn't articulating an anachronistic position at all.
    Last edited by Yanagi; 2021-04-26 at 04:45 PM.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Lizardfolk

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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    Quote Originally Posted by OldCouch View Post
    In ancient times there was no differentiation between the natural world and the world of man. The majority of people lived an agricultural lifestyle that was purely focused on growing plants that would be ready to eat EVERY day. So they were very in tune with nature. As to whether they respected nature...well...

    I find that often time in fantasy nature gets a very short/surface treatment usually as the creator wants to paint the "Man bad / Nature good" scenario. Strangely there is almost always only one diety in charge of nature. Really? A god of both grass and cows? Shouldn't plants hate herbivores?

    {Scrub the post, scrub the quote}

    If I might make a recommendation, try watching the movie Princess Mononoke. It deals with a fantastical clash between man and nature but each side has many competing ideas.
    In some cultures maybe, not in all. {Scrubbed} The Greeks likewise made a major distinction between nature and civilization, with Greek authors arguing about whether they should embrace civilization or attempt to reclaim a wilder lifestyle.
    Last edited by truemane; 2021-04-27 at 10:02 AM. Reason: Scrubbed
    Quote Originally Posted by The Glyphstone View Post
    Vibranium: If it was on the periodic table, its chemical symbol would be "Bs".

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Goblin

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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    Tough subject. The core of modern environmentalism (from your 1960's date) is more about making sure the world can still be inhabited by humans in the future rather than simple enjoyment of it as was the goal of earlier environmentalists (e.g. Teddy Roosevelt) who were protecting areas of the environment from the prevailing view that it was a free resource to be exploited by those who could purchase the rights to it and prevent others from using it. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance laws were enacted to protect the common lands from destructive exploitation. Forest laws prevented people from cutting down trees for firewood, limiting them to collecting fallen and dead wood (which also protected the forests from fires). Trees were managed with prime specimens being protected for use in ships and large architectural projects (cathedrals, castles, and etc...). Other tree species were protected because they could harbor bees. Game laws were put in place to conserve animals deemed valuable, sometimes to the benefit of all and sometimes to the benefit of a few (the famous King's Deer of Robinhood tales). While people were allowed to run pigs in the forests goats (which destroyed forests) were forbidden as were cattle in some places. But this still didn't prevent abuse of the environment. Stands of yew in Austria were largely wiped out by the demand for longbows. The forests of central Germany were largely decimated by the 16th century demands for maritime trade-ships and from the 16th-18th centuries historians speak of holznot - a severe shortage of wood caused by large scale industrial exploitation coupled with the removal of traditional protections and forest rights. See also the tragedy of the commons.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    It should be noted that while modern views of environmentalism are, well, modern, throughout history cultures tended to have some vague understanding of "preservation", and when they didn't or didn't care it usually went poorly for them. Think of the Dust Bowl, or how in the Middle Ages Europe adopted three-field crop rotation, and crop rotation in general was something understood since Antiquity.

    We also usually don't want to drive animal populations into extinction. It happened before, but when it comes to animals that are hunted by humans for food (or are generally perceived to be beneficial), depleting the local population is a bad thing. People are still able to do it, but if it happens a priest of a nature god would be obviously able to use this as an example of "I told you so" when preaching to other communities.

    Forests and woods also often held religious significance in the past, so there definitely were places that were ok to urbanise or turn into farmable land, and places that were divinely preserved and off-limits. Same goes for certain animals, sometimes there being a blanket ban on harming any animal of a given species, or the ban having some geographical limitation.

    One thing I like to do when working on this aspect is for there to be a separation between gods of Wild and gods of Nature. Gods who represent and protect nature unspoiled and free, mighty and dangerous, more concerned with preservation of forests and animals than with how Man should handle them, and gods who teach good stewardship of the land, to respect the natural world and how to stay in balance between civilisation and nature.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    Quote Originally Posted by Scalenex View Post
    1) We should be a good steward of nature so future generations can enjoy nature's bounty.

    2) We should respect nature because while Korus, god of nature is not likely to engage in divine smiting, when he does smite, he smites HARD via either massive crop failure of horrific monsters emerging from the wilds.

    I'm not sure if these views have historical verisimilitude. Maybe it doesn't need to. Maybe a modern view makes a better setting.
    Ok, lots of scrubbing so I better tread lightly.

    Enviromentalism as a movement or philosophy doesn't really exist per se in pre-modern times. There are musings on nature by all sorts of scholars, secular and religious alike, but they tend to be in the abstract, philosophical sense. Going into them will get us scrubbed, and they are only tangentially relevant.

    Where you do have some of what we would consider enviromental considerations is crafts. Ordinary carpenters, miners, vintners and so on, and especially farmers, need to know their land well, and need to not destroy it. Overlogging, overfishing, overhunting, regulating predator populations, making sure there are new trees planted so that your mining and smelting industry doesn't collapse and so on.

    These are all tasks that look pretty enviromental in nature, but are done piecemeal by those that need them. There is no organized oversight, or some grander philosophy, but people know from experience that you need to take care of the local forest, lest it withers away and you don't have wood for ships. Or for staying warm during winter.

    These do go to all levels, decrees by royalty and nobility often aim to protect a certain species to not drive it extinct (profitable fish, animals with furs and so on) - you don't ban hunting just because you can, you ban it because there is a limited amount of game in the woods. In areas that have larger forests and lower populations (e.g. Hungary vs France), hunting regulations are seen less.

    If your clerics and druids are involved in these sorts of crafts in your world, they will likely be in charge of adjudicating legal issues that often tread into who hunted what and where, and if they were allowed to. Or they may even be the ones advising on passing decrees that protect certain game. Either way, they will need to have at least some knowledge of these issues.
    That which does not kill you made a tactical error.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    Quote Originally Posted by Scalenex View Post
    Perhaps I'm wrong, but I believe the core of modern environmentalism is that "We need to be good custodians of the natural world so he natural world will be there for future generations to enjoy."
    Really? I thought it was more "We need to be good custodians of the natural world so the future generations will be there to enjoy it." I guess it depends on whose projections you believe.

    Anyways, I'm no expert I think the major difference would be the local/global divide. Medieval/ancient people just didn't have the ability to do damage on a global scale the way the human race can today. Back then, you might not be able to meaningfully effect the entire forest nearby. Well overtime you could, they did have wood shortages.

    The other big thing is of course nature might not be quite the same as it is in real life. Most "monsters" are far more dangerous than any normal animal. And there are other forces that could be very unhappy with humans doing things to nature. Even if it would be environmentally sound in our world if there is something in the forest that might take offence, maybe its better not to tread there? Well for your setting that would be Korus, would could of also handed down enough visions and teachings that people figured this out earlier than people on this Earth did. In short it sounds reasonable.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    Deforestation and overpredation were known even as far back as the time of Robin Hood, which is why it was illegal to hunt or cut wood in Sherwood Forest. Not so the future peasant children of England could see a tree, but so that the Sheriff of Nottingham could bag a buck.

    The wild spaces of Europe which exist today are there because they were inaccessible or because some lord preserved them. Their motives may not have been altruistic, but they protected lands.

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Lizardfolk

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    Default Re: Medieval and ancient views on nature versus modern environmentalism in Fantasy

    Ancient people lived in closer proximity to nature's harshness than we moderns do, and so their attitudes were often more practical. Kings preserved woodlands and banned hunting so they could enjoy plentiful game themselves without pesky peasants killing all the deer, not because they care about deer populations. There were periods in England's history where wolves were such a national problem that you could get paid for bring in wolf pelts as proof you slayed them. I bet no-one was crying for the poor wolves, because they themselves feared their predations upon their own livestock. We have the luxury of not needing to worry about stuff like that, so we can more easily feel bad for wolves.

    There are some shades of environmental clash between "civilized" and "barbaric" peoples in history though. The romans were awfully efficient at cutting down trees and clearing land for cities and farms, not something the Gauls or Germans were terribly interested in at the time. Cutting all their forests down and plonking down towns and roads in their territories means trouble to a barbarian. There are accounts that the roman mob would boo the slaying of elephants in the arena because they felt pity for the animals, so its not like ancient people were all heartless. They just lived in rougher times, closer to the wilderness.

    A good place for inspiration here might be the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had strong environmentalist feelings and those come through in the story, particularly with Treebeard and Saruman. The trees are alive is a great reason for environmentalist themes to exist in a fantasy world. Druids and elves revere treants and other magical forest beings and don't want them to die.

    You can also do a cool reversal of the typical D&D tropes of orcs and other humanoids being wilderness savages. Instead these creatures are ruthless, almost industrial conquerors with no respect for life of any kind except their own, they clear-cut forests and burn down sacred groves to establish their dominance. (which, ironically, is closer to how Tolkien portrayed them).

    The only thing I would stay away from personally is a sort of "tree-hugger" hippie gloss for my fantasy environmentalists. It almost always comes across as cheesy and out of place to me whenever I encounter it (the emerald enclave in FR, the Cenarion Circle in WoW).
    Last edited by Trask; 2021-05-10 at 12:00 PM.
    What I'm Playing: D&D 5e
    What I've Played: D&D 3.5, Pathfinder, D&D 5e, B/X D&D, CoC, Delta Green

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