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It's stated that the afterlife in the Discworld depends on the belief of the each person, thus the people in Hell are there because they believe they deserve it (similar to Gaiman's Sandman universe). In Discworld gods are very real so it's true that you don't need a lot of faith, but Gods are rather unconcerned by mortals and there is no true knowledge of what comes after dying.

My question is if you don't believe in the afterlife in the Discworld do you go to nothingness? I don't remember such an event being described, but then again it's a large series.

Keep in mind that in Small Gods, the character Iam Fri'it was a member of Omnianism but deep inside he believed that if a man acted in accord to his honest beliefs everything turned right. His afterlife was not the default Omnian but depended in his deep belief.

What would happen to someone who truly believed that there is nothing coming after life? Can someone provide an explanation please?

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  • I think this is explicitly addressed at some point, though I can't recall which book it's in. Jun 25, 2016 at 1:45

4 Answers 4

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+50

Probably not. They may be reincarnated.

Mr. Tulip is one half of the New Firm in The Truth (the other is Mr. Pin). He is known for his belief that everything will be fine, so long as he has a potato is his possession. When Mr. Tulip dies, Death interrogates him on his beliefs:

Some of the darkness opened its eyes, and two blue glows looked down at him.

'The --ing bastard stole my potato. Are you --ing Death?'

JUST DEATH WILL SUFFICE, I THINK. WHO WERE YOU EXPECTING?

'Eh? For what?'

TO CLAIM YOU AS ONE OF THEIRS.

'Dunno, really. I never --ing thought...'

YOU NEVER SPECULATED?

'All I know is, you got to have your potato, and then it will be all right.' Mr Tulip parroted the sentence without thinking, but it was coming back now in the total recall of the dead, from a vantage point of two feet off the ground and three years of age. Old men mumbling. Old women weeping. Shafts of light through holy windows. The sound of wind under the doors, and every ear straining to hear the soldiers. Us or theirs didn't matter, when a war had gone on this long . . .

Death gave the shade of Mr Tulip a long, cool stare.

AND THAT'S IT?

'Right.'

YOU DON'T THINK THERE WERE ANY BITS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED?

. . . the sound of wind under the doors, the smell of the oil lamps, the fresh acid smell of snow, blowing in through the . . . 'And . . . if I'm sorry for everything . . .' he mumbled. He was lost in a world of darkness, without a potato to his name. ...candlesticks...they'd been made of gold, hundreds of years ago...there were only ever potatoes to eat, grubbed up from under the snow, but the candlesticks were of gold...and some old woman, she'd said: 'It'll all turn out right if you've got a potato.

WAS ANY GOD OF SOME SORT MENTIONED TO YOU AT ANY POINT?

'No...'

DAMN. I WISH THEY DIDN'T LEAVE ME TO DEAL WITH THIS SORT OF THING, Death sighed. YOU BELIEVE, BUT YOU DON'T BELIEVE IN ANYTHING.

Discworld: The Truth

Note that in Mr. Tulip's religious views, such as there are, there does not seem to be anything about an afterlife. According to Death, Tulip "does not believe in anything." The entire extent of his belief system seems to be that possessing a potato will make things "all right," without any clear explanation as to what that might be. As such, I think it would fair to say that Mr. Tulip does not believe in the afterlife.

Death deals with this situation by showing Mr. Tulip the lives of the people he murdered, so that Mr. Tulip does indeed feel sorry for everything. Note that Mr. Tulip also has his potato, after a fashion. As such, Death seems to be doing his best to respect whatever belief Mr. Tulip does have.

Afterwards, Mr. Tulip is offered reincarnation as a chance to atone for his misdeeds.

Death placed the final hourglass back on to the air, where it faded away.

THERE, he said, WASN'T THAT INTERESTING? WHAT NEXT, MR. TULIP? ARE YOU READY TO GO?

The figure sat on the cold sand, staring at nothing.

MR. TULIP? Death repeated. The wind flapped his robe, so that it streamed out a long ribbon of darkness.

'I . . . got to be really sorry . . . ?'

OH YES. IT IS SUCH A SIMPLE WORD. BUT HERE...IT HAS MEANING. IT HAS...SUBSTANCE.

'Yeah. I know.' Mr Tulip looked up, his eyes red-rimmed, his face puffy. 'I reckon . . . to be that sorry, you got to take a --ing good run at it.'

YES.

'So . . . how long have I got?'

Death looked up at the strange stars.

ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD.

'Yeah . . . well, maybe that'll --ing do it. Maybe there won't be no more world to go back to by then.'

I BELIEVE IT DOES NOT WORK LIKE THAT. I UNDERSTAND REINCARNATION CAN TAKE PLACE ANYWHEN. AND WHO SAYS LIVES ARE SERIAL?

Discworld: The Truth

Note that reincarnation is seems to be framed as Death respecting Mr. Tulip's stated philosophy to the best of his ability. Also note that Death is taking a great deal of latitude here—Mr. Tulip did not at all believe in reincarnation, nor that being sorry would affect his final dispensation, nor apparently in an afterlife at all. Death is simply doing the best he can (as illustrated by his put-upon attitude earlier).


Mr. Tulip did not believe in the afterlife, and had not even speculated on what awaited him after he died. It is possible that a non-believer who nonetheless speculated who receive some sort of afterlife, but we cannot say for sure. Regardless, the impression I get from the case of Mr. Tulip is that

  1. Death can determine someone's fate if they do not express a preference. Death, or perhaps the process of reincarnation itself, seems to determine one's new form. For example, Mr. Pin (who lacked contrition) was reincarnated as a potato, whereas Mr. Tulip was reincarnated as a woodworm.
  2. Reincarnation may be a sort of default for people who do not have an afterlife.
  3. Unbelievers certainly do not face oblivion as a default!

As such, if someone died who (like Mr. Tulip) did not believe in the afterlife, and who had no god or other such preference to guide their choice, Death would presumably try to accommodate them as best he could, possibly by offering them reincarnation as an option.

As for someone who wanted a final end, who can say? I'm not sure that would be within Death's power, but I suspect he would grant it if it were.

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  • 4
    Mr Pin was reincarnated as a potato because he kept saying "I wasn't born to fry" so in his next life he was born to fry.
    – Separatrix
    Jun 28, 2016 at 9:41
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    As far as I can remember they can still choose after they have died. Which is why Death asked is he has ever speculated about the Gods. You can choose to believe and then go to whatever afterlife you want. Including being Reincarnated if you want. It is all very chill-laxted over there.
    – Rincewind
    Jun 28, 2016 at 10:33
  • @Rincewind - Yes, that's the theory I was working under. Tulip was a particularly hard case, since he had never even thought about an afterlife!
    – Adamant
    Jun 28, 2016 at 10:35
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    I'm a afraid that Death's lines are unreadable on the Android app.
    – TRiG
    Jul 24, 2016 at 21:15
  • @TriG - I would change it if I had an Android readable small caps font.
    – Adamant
    Jul 24, 2016 at 21:27
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I assume you're referring to this quote from Eric:

Interestingly enough, the gods of the Disc have never bothered much about judging the souls of the dead, and so people only go to hell if that’s where they think they deserve to go. Which they won’t do if they don’t know about it. This explains why it is important to shoot missionaries on sight.

However, that's for people who don't know about Hell. On the Disc, everyone knows about the gods and so would probably look at an afterlife associated with the specific god. If you don't believe in the gods of the Disc, then things will go badly for you (as raised in Hogfather):

The Quirmian philosopher Ventre put forward the suggestion that "Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it's all true you'll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn't then you've lost nothing, right?"

When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said "We're going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts..."


On a different note, witches and wizards don't "believe" in gods and so wouldn't be looking at an afterlife associated with a specific god.

From Witches Abroad

Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.

From Reaper Man

Wizards don't believe in gods in the same way that most people don't find it necessary to believe in, say, tables. They know they're there, they know they're there for a purpose, they'd probably agree that they have a place in a well-organised universe, but they wouldn't see the point of believing, of going around saying "O great table, without whom we are as naught." Anyway, either the gods are there whether you believe in them or not, or exist only as a function of the belief, so either way you might as well ignore the whole business and, as it were, eat off your knees.”

Although sometimes, if Death isn't around to do his job properly (as in Reaper Man) you may not end up getting to your afterlife at all (see the wizard Windle Poons). Alternatively, you may end up being undead which doesn't appear to have any bearing on what you believe.

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  • Check out Mr. Tulip's fate in The Truth. I think that may be of relevance.
    – Adamant
    Jun 25, 2016 at 7:27
  • Yep, that's all about reincarnation. See discworld.wikia.com/wiki/Religions_of_the_Discworld for more afterlife-types
    – Katdragon
    Jun 25, 2016 at 7:32
  • True. It appears that Mr. Tulip got reincarnation as a sort of default due to his lack of any solid belief.
    – Adamant
    Jun 25, 2016 at 7:33
  • @Katdragon Yes I was refering to that Eric quote but also I was thinking in Small Gods character Iam Fri'it who was a member of Omnianism but deep inside he believed that if a man acted in accord to his honest beliefs everything turned right. His afterlife depended in his deep belief.
    – Ram
    Jun 25, 2016 at 14:42
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    Ventre didn't face that fate after death because he didn't believe in the Gods, but because he pretended to believe in them 'just in case'. Jul 24, 2016 at 18:43
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When Rincewind fell over the edge of the disc a "death" (some other guy acting in deaths place) accidentally tells Rincewind that reincarnation is what is waiting for him...

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. You could make this a better answer if you could dig up the relevant quote, as demonstrated by the existing answers.
    – DavidW
    May 31 at 4:25
  • Yes, but Rincewind isn't an unbeliever. He quite clearly does believe in the Gods (having met a couple of them) and makes regular offerings.
    – Valorum
    May 31 at 8:04
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The implication is that atheists might not believe in gods, but the gods themselves do very firmly believe in atheists (and that atheism is to be discouraged, both pre-death and post-facto).

He spent years researching it, said Didactylos. "Went out into the desert, talked to the small gods. Talked to some of our gods, too. Brave man. He says gods like to see an atheist around. Gives them something to aim at." Brutha unrolled a bit more of the scroll. Five minutes ago he would have admitted that he couldn't read. Now the best efforts of the inquisitors couldn't have forced it out of him. He held it up in what he hoped was a familiar fashion.

Small Gods

and

Rincewind shivered. He was not, of course, an atheist; on the Disc the gods dealt severely with atheists. On the few occasions when he had some spare change he had always made a point of dropping a few coppers into a temple coffer, somewhere, on the principle that a man needed all the friends he could get. But usually he didn’t bother the gods, and he hoped the gods wouldn’t bother him. Life was quite complicated enough.

The Colour of Magic

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  • This is a running gag that anyone who declares themselves an atheist is immediately struck by lightning. These passages don't say anything about the afterlife (only that atheists may get there rather quicker than they'd like).
    – OrangeDog
    May 31 at 8:32

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