In my last post in the worldbuilding series I looked at the creation of magic systems. When I moved on to develop my own specific magic system, I found it lead naturally into the consideration of religion. So, I thought it would be helpful to look at the creation of a religious system.
What is a religious system?
Good old Wikipedia tells us the following:
“A religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that aim to explain the meaning of life, the origin of life, or the Universe.”
A good place to start when creating your own religion is to review the current world religious systems and see the aspects which differentiate one from the other. A lot of fantasy religions have their basis in particular world religions or certain schools of thought. The following websites may be useful for research purposes:
Religion Facts – a wealth of factual information on world religions
Beliefnet – facts, resources and religious/spiritual inspiration
BBC Religion page – information on world religions
Adherents.com – lots of useful, geographical and other information on world religions
There is, of course, plenty more factual information out there on the internet, which you can easily find with a quick Google.
Next, we’re going to break down the different aspects of religion to see what elements you need to consider.
Does your religion have a God/Goddess/gods?
Monotheism – religions that follow one God – examples: Christianity, Judaism, Islam
Dualism – religions that follow two gods, often in a good/evil capacity or yin/yang – example: Zoroastrianism
Polytheism – many gods – example: Hinduism
Pantheism – God is everywhere/the universe encompasses God – elements appear in many religions
God is female – example: Moon Goddess in Wicca
Spirituality but no personal God – example: Buddhism – based on path to enlightenment
What is the nature of the God(s)?
Is God omniscient – all knowing?
Is God omnipotent – all powerful?
Is God omnipresent – present everywhere?
Is God fallible – can God lie?
Is God a spirit being or corporeal being?
Is God the creator of the world?
Does God have an origin?
What power does God have, and how does it manifest?
Does God have other supernatural beings to do his will, i.e. angels?
Is there a force opposing God, i.e. a devil/demon figure?
How do the God(s) interact with your population?
Direct revelation to prophets/leaders
Direct communication with everyone
Chanelled through the use of certain physical objects
Directly to your heart
Sending a Messiah or chosen one to proclaim their word
Does God exist but shows no interest in the population?
Does God play games with the lives of the population?
Does God care for the population?
What is God’s message for people, and how does he want them to behave?
What afterlife is promised – examples: heaven, hell, paradise, nirvana, reincarnation?
What other rewards do the faithful gain, either in life or after death?
Do certain rituals please God?
Do good deeds please God?
Does love for others please God?
How is family life dictated by religion – examples: permitted relationships, professions, marriage, sex?
What behaviours are prohibited by your religion?
Is the reward at the end of life based on behaviour during life?
Is God a harsh God, or a forgiving God, or an indifferent God?
Does God enforce the concept of karma?
Is God real in your world?
God could be real and have true believers and non-believers
God could be a false belief set up by those in power
God could be real but his followers do not really believe in him – they follow for lip service or status
There could be no God, but people choose to create their own God to believe in
God could be based on explanations for natural processes – examples: the Sun God, Mother Nature
People could consider the spirits of their ancestors to be Gods
What worship protocols are there?
Reading the sacred scriptures
Listening to prophets or direct revelation
Social rituals – example: weddings
Schools of learning and education
Is there a hierarchy of religious leaders or lay clergy?
Are there special religious days or holidays for worship or celebration?
Rituals such as animal sacrifice
What religious buildings are used?
What stories exist about the Gods?
Do stories tell about the origin of the Gods?
Do stories tell about the lives and relationships of the Gods
Are stories written down, or are they oral traditions?
Do the stories have lessons for the population to learn?
Is there a creation story or myth?
What symbols does the religion use?
How are the symbols used – displayed in churches, worn on the body, etc?
Are the symbols public or secret?
Do the symbols have specific spiritual meanings?
Do the symbols indicate the status of the wearer?
Other aspects of religion – consider the following:
Is anything considered sacred in your religion – examples: animals, certain objects, the scriptures
Are there any specific spiritual experiences that your religion causes, or has as part of ceremonial worship?
Are there hierarchies in your religion, where certain aspects of the religion are hidden from the lower levels?
Does your religion link with magic?
Does your religion link with witchcraft?
Does your religion link with necromancy?
Does your religion link with herb lore?
Does your society have the equivalent of agnostics and atheists?
What is the penalty for non belief or non observance of rituals?
Does your society consist of one religion or two or more opposing religions. What tensions does this lead to?
Do other countries in your world have different religions?
Are there countries in your world with no religion at all?
Are the countries in your world familiar with, or comfortable with, opposing religions?
Do your religions encourage peace to non-believers, conversion of non-believers, or destruction of non-believers?
Those are probably enough points to consider to start with! You may find that if religion is not a huge part of your story, you don’t need to consider all the aspects above. It may be enough to know that you have a God so that people can refer to the God in everyday life, or to certain rituals or holy days that they may need to attend.
I hope that’s helpful! Keep an eye out for the next post in the worldbuilding series. I haven’t decided what it’s going to be on, yet.