Eons ago, there was a war among gods that came close to destroying humanity and the mortal realm. Gods depend on humanity, and their destruction would inevitably hurt them as well. At the conclusion of this war, a pact was signed among the gods to prevent this cataclysm from happening again. Gods can no longer interfere with the realm directly, but they can influence it by using proxies, people who act on their behalf in the function of priests, holy warriors, etc, and are the basis of world religions.

Despite this, there are many dangers to the mortal world. Other realms exist, such as the fae and demon realms, each with creatures hostile to humanity. Invasions occur rarely, but are devastating when they do. Sometimes the invaders are just too powerful or numerous for mortals to handle them.

There exists an ancient spell that is used in times of need. Functionaries of the gods can summon a powerful deity to fight on behalf of humans to help fend off these supernatural creatures. Unfortunately this ritual is so powerful that it takes the lives of the users, and requires hundreds of people to work. They pay with their lives to power the spell and bring a god into the world, and are seen as noble heroes who sacrificed themselves to protect the planet.

The point of making the ritual like this is to show how extreme and serious the situation is and that a high cost must be paid to summon a being like a god to a realm that they shouldn't inhabit. This is an end of world kind of scenario when things have gotten as bad as they can get. However, it brings to mind occurrences like Jonestown or heavens gate, and may come across as cultish. Can it be portrayed in a "noble" light or would this be too problematic?

3 Answers 3


Don't think of what you're describing as "ritual suicide" - that has negative connotations. At least, it does for you, since you're not confident about the topic. Instead, think of what you're describing as giving up one's life for a cause. I mean, that's what they're doing, right? A character gives up their life, so something can happen to save everybody else. Framed like that, it's a noble sacrifice.

Let's use Buffy as an example.

End of Season 1, Buffy goes to face the Master. She knows (prophecy) that she's going to die. She accepts death, in the hope that she might take the Master with her. She gives up her life so that she might save those she holds dear.
Then, end of Season 5, she does it again, jumping off a tall tower to her death, effectively committing suicide, to close a world-eating portal thing.

You could look at those examples as suicide - a character willingly letting themselves be killed, or actively taking their own life. Or you could look at them the way the story frames them - as a noble ultimate sacrifice, a necessary price paid for saving the world.

In a similar manner, when soldiers go off to battle, is it ritual suicide? When they hold their ground, hold off the enemy, letting those behind them escape, are they committing ritual suicide? No - they are being heroes.

In the setting you describe, the kind of ritual sacrifice you propose is not a futile attempt to do I don't know what, as it would have been in our world. It is a known price paid for a known, very real result. It might well be the only way to save the world. It is thus a necessary action, not a painful pointless waste as it would have been in RL.


In my opinion you already have your answer. As Galastel was pointing it out, this hasn't the connotation of ritual suicide, or cultism.

Can it be portrayed in a "noble" light or would this be too problematic?

You already are. In this world, were magic is real, the lives of an hundred of priests spent to cast the spell aren't different from the lives of an hundred soldiers on the fae-demon battlefields.

The only issue I see is about the spell being "ancient", and seldomly used. As you mention:

Invasions occur rarely


There exists an ancient spell that is used in times of need.

Now, how rare are those times of need? Are we talking once in a decade? Once in half a century? Once every two centuries? If 100 years pass without anyone casting the spell, it's possible that people will start questioning its effectivness.

Priest A: We need to cast the once-in-a-century ritual.

Priest B: But most of the information we have on it has been lost in the great fires of year 234, and what's left is mostly unreliable records, since a lot of the kingdom population died at the time.

Priest A: Alas, only a deity can help us now.

Priest B: But we aren't sure the spell even works!

It's reasonable to think that people will be skeptical, at least some people. But of course, if the spell is actually performed correctly, those deaths will be regarded as noble sacrifice.


In my view, the way to do this is to find a real-world example that we accept. Then weave in that example (better yet, multiple examples) through metaphor, direct reference, in dialog, in action, through scenes observing these actions, and so on.

I'd recommend research into any group of animals that seem to kill themselves. Groups of whales that beach themselves for unknown reasons, lemmings, pea aphids, birds that down themselves in large numbers, tarsiers, and so on.

You can branch out to include plants, or fungi. Work it into your world.

There will be problems with any individual example, but if you research every example you can find of non-humans committing some form of altruistic death, you can use what you learn to work the ritual--and the reader will buy in, if done well.

Perhaps the priests burn myxobacterial fruiting bodies in preparation for the ritual. Perhaps your heroes see a group of beached dolphins early on. Tuck it everywhere, any example that 'this is normal in the natural world.'

I'd also think about creating a proscription to cults in your world, and have a character explain directly why this ritual is not cultish. Call it out. this sort of acknowledgment can work well.

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