Sunday, September 6, 2015

Tips for Creating a Religion for Your World

Friday, I mentioned I’d do this, so, here it is:

I’d like to skip past formality and assume you want to create a religion (or two or nineteen) for your world. That’s great. However, how does one go about such a thing?
So today, I want to give you a bullet list of questions you can ask yourself, and then provide an example with a religion of my own devising which plays an important role in my most recent project.

-Before you begin constructing a religion, you need to decide what sort of religion it is. Is it:
1. Monotheistic? (one god or deity)
2. Polytheistic? (many gods/deities)
3. Atheistic/Agnostic? (A form of no gods, lack of gods, or hatred of gods?)
4. Other? (Pantheistic, etc.)

-Once you answer that question, you can ask further, more in-depth questions about each type of religion. I’ll post a few examples below, in short lists:

Who is the deity? What is s/he like?
What is the defining attribute of this god? (Kindness, Rage, etc.)
Why do his/her followers believe in him/her?
Is the 'will' of this deity revealed in a religious text? If so, what sort of book is it?
What sort of beliefs are there surrounding the future/afterlife?
How do the followers worship? Why?
What rituals, myths, and rites surround this worship?

Who are the main gods? What are they like? 
Are there less-significant deities? 
What one attribute describes each deity? (War, peace, mercy, etc.) 
Which (if any) is the highest of the gods? Why? 
Are these gods related in any way?
Why are they worshipped?
What rituals and customs are followed in this worship?

Why does this people group choose to believe in no god? 
Do they hate gods, or just simply not believe in them? 
Do they consider religious people less intelligent?
How do they treat those who turned to religion after once believing there were no gods?

What sort of deity (ies) do your people group worship/follow/obey? 
What sort of practices do they follow?

But you can’t just ask those questions. Ask the broad questions, like “what kind of holidays do these people observe?” “Are there any dietary restrictions?” “When did this religion first come to be?” “What does this religion think of the after-life?”
Don’t be afraid to create schisms. Disagreements within a religious body are more common than you’d think. What sorts of things might your religious group disagree about? What might make some of them leave to form their own group? How do their practices differ from the original religion?
Finally, here’s a very important question: how does this religious group view other religions/heretics/non-believers?
That question can and will define how characters who aren’t of this religion will view it. If this religion views outsiders with hostility, your character probably won’t view it with favor.

Now. I’d like to do a brief summary example, by answering the questions I’ve given as examples. I’ll be using a religion from my Epic Fantasy, Agram Awakens:

This religion’s name is Tubrim, so you have some context.

Tubrim is a Monotheistic religion. I’ll repost the monotheism questions and then answer them in bolded text:

Who is the deity? What is s/he like?
 The deity is Tubrim (such a nice, original name hm?). He is considered the creator, sustainer, and source of life. He is generally considered to be the only spiritual being beyond the souls of the intelligent races.

What is the defining attribute of this god? (Kindness, Rage, etc.)
 Tubrim is known for his desire for harmony. It is the key word of the religion, and what most peoples think when they hear that name.

Why do his/her followers believe in him/her?
 The main beliefs of this religion are almost deistic. The Citadel (this religion’s name for the church) teaches that when Tubrim made the races, he realized that they were not in harmony with themselves, each other, nor with the earth. So, he left, commanding the races to come into harmony with everything. Once they do so, he supposedly will return and dwell among his creation in a physical form. Thus, his followers believe in him because they desire his presence and for harmony and peace.

Is the 'will' of this deity revealed in a religious text? If so, what sort of book is it?
It is, in fact. This information is found in a collection of teachings known as the Tubron, this religion’s only religious text. The book is small, perhaps two hundred pages in total (considering the size of an average, modern day Bible that is very small), and contains proverbs, warnings, promises, and guides to sacrifice. The first copy, supposedly, came directly from the hand of Tubrim. In addition, the book includes customs regarding rituals such as marriage, conversion, divorce, childbirth, and death.

What sort of beliefs are there surrounding the future/afterlife?
At death, a person is to be either buried or set adrift at sea. Customs involve speaking of blessings, mourning, music, and later a celebration of the deceased person’s life. Death in battle is considered the most honorable death, suicide the least honorable.
The afterlife is generally viewed as and called after-travels. In fact, the blessing for a dead person goes as follows:
“Peace of the Ever-Father be with you, may your after-travels be safe and the roads beyond easy." - A blessing from an Oacamen burial (has its origins in Tubrim, which often calls its deity [Tubrim] the Ever-Father)
Life after death is considered a constant journey toward something. Toward harmony, as is generally believe, and once the living achieve harmony the dead can rest from their after-travels. The ease or difficulty of the after-travels is believed to depend on how harmonious a life the deceased lived.

How do the followers worship? Why?
The followers of this religion attend Citadel whenever they can/feel like it. Citadels are places of refuge, and if anyone enters a Citadel with a weapon he is considered defiled. Supposedly, Tubrim will crush his soul.
Worship can include song, prayer, confession to a priest, or even outside the citadel bringing harmony in some form. Every act of harmony is said to be worship to Tubrim.
Lastly, sacrifices are to be made at the start of every New Year, the morning after parties, gatherings, and festivals, when a child is born, when someone is converted, and at a few other times. The sacrifice is to consist of a genetically perfect ram (bought from a priest whose sole job is to raise these ‘genetically perfect’ animals), the heart of a crow, and a bottle of wine. These sacrifices are to be burnt (except for one glass of the wine, which is to be consumed by the priest overseeing the sacrifice) on an altar at a citadel.

What rituals, myths, and rites surround this religion?
Marriages are presided over by a priest of the Citadel, and involve such customary rituals as binding of the hands (of the couple), lighting of candles, exchanged oaths, dowry presents, and lots of music and dancing. 

Divorces can only be approved by the Citadel when a spouse is unfaithful, and proven so by four witnesses. (couples can be divorced via the government, but these are not recognized by the Citadel until both spouses have remarried, thus declaring both parties unfaithful to the other and making the divorce complete. These are, however, frowned upon because of the disharmony created by said divorce.)
   ● The birth of a child is marked by sacrifice, as mentioned above. For seven weeks after the child is born, the mother and father are forbidden to see each other in any fashion. This is supposed to make sure the child is, in fact, wanted by both of them. If neither wants it, the child is given to an orphanage. If only one wants it, then the child is kept, but is never supposed to be seen by the parent which does not want the child. Illegitimate children are nearly always abandoned, although some nobles keep them around.

I could go into further detail about myths, rituals, priests, etc.
But I think you get the idea.
It’s not hard to create a religion. And it’s not hard to create it well. I create nineteen of them (most of them with less detail than the one above) in a few hours. I’d like to think that my world is better off for it.

Good luck with your world, and I’ll be back on Friday to discuss yet another aspect of world building!

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