Dealing with cultural mythology/different cultures in your story?

I’m currently writing a game that is a mix of high/low fantasy. It’s set in the modern world, but involves two different undersea societies that are derived (in the story) from real life societies.

To explain briefly, the story involves two sea creatures that are capable of terraforming their environments and creating symbiotic bonds with other creatures. Some of these creatures are human beings that were stranded or shipwrecked in various times and places (for example, refugees, immigrants, pirates, sailors, and others).

One creature has been bonded with humans for generations, so much so that a new Atlantis-like kingdom has been formed around it. The humans living there have incorporated various mythologies and cultural artifacts from their origins into the kingdom. While most of them have lost any conscious connection to the Earth’s continents, they retain some elements of Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Old Norse, and other cultural artifacts. The mythology that has built up around the creature is intentionally supposed to mimic the mythologies of people who may have encountered it and become assimilated into its society, so these include Abrahamic, Norse, and Greek myths.

The other creature has more recent symbiotic bonds with humans, which makes things more sticky. The humans who may have found themselves stranded or shipwrecked in the later centuries (like, 17th century onward) could have been slaves, refugees, or immigrants, or involved in more recent world events. I want to write the characters respectfully, but I’m afraid of misportraying historical events that may have led to their place in the story, and I also don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable if they feel that I’m misportraying their cultures.

The point of the societies is that they themselves have absorbed and incorporated a range of different beliefs and turned them into their own sort of mythology, but I don’t know if that comes across as disrespectful. Does anyone have any advice?


I think you’d be fine, so long as you don’t overly-stereotype and generally treat things with respect. It seems pretty clear that it’s a fantastical setting, which’ll allow for some suspension of disbelief. As long as it isn’t portrayed as markedly superior to anything contemporary I think you’d be fine. Personally, I feel it’s quite a novel idea and an interesting starting-point to get people looking into events or cultures which aren’t touched upon so in the mainstream.

Cultural mixing is seen again and again throughout history. One of the most notable around are Louisiana Creole, which result from the mixing of French, Spanish, Native American and West African cultures. Sicilian is influenced by everyone who’s conquered that island, from the Carthaginians to the Greeks to the Romans to the Arabs to the Byzantines to the Normans to the Spanish. Bactria is extinct, but there was a time where it was a melting pot of Iranian, Indian and Greek influences.

Religious mixing is just as prevalent. The Hellenistic/Roman religion is famously syncretic, adopting local deities into their pantheon as minor gods or aspects of more senior ones. Many early Christian missionaries and theologians syncretised their faith with others as they tried to convert them, though later there were substantial attempts to crack down impose orthodoxy either by religious or secular authorities. Voodoo is the syncretisation of West African religions with Catholicism.

I think just about anything can work, so long as it makes sense from the point of view of the adherents. That it does seem like it’s the result of these faiths mixing and not just picking-and-choosing, a surface-level thing. Jupiter = Zeus = Ba’al = Tyr = Abrahamic God as top god makes some degree of sense, as does Jesus = Baldr = Mithras as some saviour figure. But a sort of Imperial Cult a la Rome doesn’t really make sense, though I suppose they could venerate the symbiotic creature as an incarnation of a deity. Things that don’t really fit won’t be as likely to be kept around or remembered.

What might help is if the “melting pot” isn’t evident at first glance – that the various figures and practices aren’t named exactly the same as their inspirations. Presumably these people have developed a language of their own, or their main tongue has diverged somewhat from extant languages. So the top god isn’t outright called Zeus or Odin etc but if you look at the mythology and it takes aspects of Zeus and Odin etc. If you add enough all the disparate influences won’t be clear cut, which might make it more palatable to some.

All of this really comes down to research, to avoid giving the wrong impression about things or perpetuating misconceptions; it’ll probably help with ideas too. The more modern stuff – the more widespread contemporary religions, references to early modern/modern history – has probably a greater likelihood to stir up controversy. But again, I think the divergences from real life will be a good enough justification for most. Of course there’ll be people who’d get wound up, but that would be the case for anything.

Anyhow, best of luck.