LESSON Building a Religion: Part 1 - Overview of Religious Aspects

Discussion in 'DEVELOPING CHARACTERS & CULTURES' started by Peregrine, Aug 28, 2014.

  1. As human beings, religion is an instinct within us, and it is an instinct that is transferred over to our stories. Almost any fantasy story will have a religion in it. Sometimes, the story will be built around the religion. Other times, the religion will serve to enhance the story.

    While it is not necessary to work out all of the details of your religion to begin a story, there are certain key elements that should be at least briefly considered to bring out a well-rounded religion. These can be divided broadly into the actual religious aspects, and the cultural aspects.

    But, for my own entertainment and your edification, I’ve decided to go ahead and break it down a little bit further. This will be a quick, handy guide that you can use as you please. I did manage to write a part two, before my life got seriously busy. Maybe someday I'll be able to finish the rest.

    Please note that, because of the incredibly broad number of possibilities that can be put into religion, it is impossible for me to suggest what will work and what will not work. It is possible to make anything “work.” In this guide I will simply be giving a list of a variety of things you could consider to fill out your religion. In later articles, I will look to try and explain the significance of some of the common choices, and how it may affect your world and the people in your world.

    The Deity

    They key piece of any religion, no system of worship can truly be put into place without a deity. Please note that I use the term deity very loosely. This can mean a god or gods, but it could also reference a mindset, a goal in life, a sense of connection or “oneness,” or an individual or individuals physically present in the world.

    A few key things to consider:

    • Type: Is your religion monotheistic, polytheistic, or something else? Does it change? Is there a “god”? Is it separate from the people, or a part of them?
    • Direction: Does the Deity create an inwards or outwards focus? Those with an inward focus will prioritize themselves, whether this is for betterment or otherwise, while those with an outward focus will want to affect others, either for the benefit or detriment of the others.
    • Focus: A further narrowing of the Direction. What exactly is the primary focus of the Deity. Is it spiritual awakening? Positive relationships? Spreading word of salvation?
    • Divine Interaction: How is a connection with the Deity achieved? Can anyone do it? Is it only through the clergy? Does it only come during certain circumstances, such as war or famine? Does it take a ritual?
    • Involves: What is a key aspect of the religion? Is it most known for stringent prayer? Does it involve astrology? Does it have a strict dietary code? This does not necessarily have to be the most important part of the religion, but it is something that will have an effect on every person who worships this Deity, and it is something that will, most likely, play into their everyday lives.
    • The Afterlife: As an afterlife is often considered a reward for a lifetime of servitude to the deity, it can have a large impact on the general impression of the deity. A place that welcomes all will likely have a more forgiving Deity, while one that can only be reached by the most pure will be more strict. Don’t forget to include whether or not the Afterlife can ever be reached by those still living.


    The Worshipers

    Now that you have a Deity, there needs to be people to worship it. While worshipers can be a very broad category, I am going to focus in, almost exclusively, on the Clergy. This is because every religion needs a group of people dedicated to spreading and serving that Deity, or else the religion will quickly run out of people. That does not mean that everyone can’t be a member of Clergy, they most certainly can. But that still falls into the category.

    • Sociology: Are the priests only male or female? Does one gender have a larger representation? This can often be directly affected by whether or not the Deity is male or female. This sociological stance will often be reflected in other parts of the culture, such as government and business.
    • Function: What are the duties of the clergy? Are they supposed to tend the shrines, or be record keepers for their Deity, or care for the poor, or those who cannot care for themselves? Almost all clergy are expected to spread their religion, but are they only expected to do it locally, or do they roam the world as missionaries? Their functions do not always have to be benevolent. Priests can make great inquisitioners.
    • Lifestyle: This can range from completely ascetic, to luxurious. Do priests live a life of luxury, so as to be prepared to spread the word of their Deity whenever necessary, or are they only supposed to live off of what they need to survive, in order to not be distracted by the temptations of the flesh. This does not need to be extreme. Many priests can just be average citizens.
    • Family: Are priests allowed to marry? Have children? Could they even be encouraged to have children?
    • Chosen: How does one become a member of the Clergy? Do they need to be appointed, or born, to the position? Or can anyone with the right religious zeal enter? Is there some mission or task they need to accomplish first? Do they need to do anything to remain a priest?
    • Distinguished By: The Clergy almost always needs to be distinguished from the regular population so that people know of their Divine duty. This can be as simple as a sash, to full formal clothing, tattoos, hair color or cuts, or even disfigurement. It is also possible that there is no way to distinguish priests at a glance, but this would be making a very bold statement about your religion.


    Methods of Worship


    Worship is used by those who are a part of the religion to show their devotion to their Deity Individual people can always adopt their own methods of worship, but I’m going to be looking at broader and more cultural forms of worship.

    • Daily Worship: The frequent form of worship for the deity could be done individually, or in a group. It could be a very joyous affair, or solemn and serious. “Daily” worship also does not need to happen once a day. It could be an hourly affair, or it could only happen once a week.
    • Holidays: Holidays are a break from the standard forms of worship, and can celebrate a wide variety of historical, natural, or cultural events. Births and deaths of great messiahs, the phase of the moon, almost anything can be turned into a cause for celebration in a religion. Holidays can also happen frequently, or hardly at all.
    • Holy Tradition: How is the tradition of worship for your deity passed from individual to individual? Is there one book? Is it an oral tradition? Are there many books? Is it expected to be delivered only by the Clergy, or do parents have a responsibility to teach their children as well?


    Cultural Rights

    Cultural rights, in this case, mark the monumental moments in an individual’s life, from birth to death. These are the “transitional periods” of an individual, where they change from one thing to another.

    • Birth: The celebration of a new life. This can include some sort of baptism, or indoctrination, or it could be possible that a newborn and its family are supposed to be isolated, so as to protect them from sin. New life is almost always a cherished thing, and the things that happen around their birth will often mirror the things that will happen around them for the rest of their life. This can also include birthdays, and the celebrations around reaching another year of life.
    • Coming of Age: The transition from childhood to adulthood. This could happen at a young age, or at an age where the child is able to start directly contributing to the society. It is also possible that a “Coming of age” is not linked to any specific age, but rather a quest or mission or action that shows that the individual is ready to take on the responsibilities of an adult.
    • Marriage: The linking of two lovers who wish to belong together. Marriage rights can be exclusive, only between a man and a woman, or only between people of the same gender. It does not have to do with the right to bear children, although it certainly can. Marriage can be a long, public celebration, it could be the swearing over of rights or possession, it could be a private, intimate affair between the two lovers. Don’t forget to figure out how, or if, people can revoke a marriage right.
    • Death: Death rights are often connected to the transition from living to the afterlife. It is possible that death rights can aim to equip a soul for their journey, while sometimes it is a celebration of their life, or a deep mourning for their death. It can be something conducted only by family and close friends, or it can be a widespread event.


    Myths and Legends

    Myths and legends serve to create connections between the Deity and the Worshipers, and can actually serve to make up the greater portion of any religious tradition. Here are a few key examples, although any messiah or adventurer could easily be turned into a legend.
    Creation Myth: How did the world, or the whole universe, come to be? Did the Deity create it? If so, how? Or was the Deity birthed with the creation of the world? If that is the case, where did the Universe come from?

    • Origin of Humanity: Did the deity create humanity? If so, did it do it out of love, or out of spite, or out of boredom? Did it even do it on purpose, or was it an accident? Did humanity come from somewhere else? Was it then embraced by the Deity? Are humans elemental? Did they come from plants, or metal, or lava, or salt water, or earth?
    • Sins and Virtues: What actions are promoted or despised by the religion? Is it possible to avoid sin altogether, or is it something to minimize? Can one truly obtain a life of virtue? This may also be a good point to consider exactly how harshly sin is punished, and whether or not virtuous acts are rewarded in any way, either during life or death. Sins and Virtues can be very distinct things, like self-injury and charity, or more abstract concepts, like responsibility and indifference. Note that there do not have to be either sins or virtues in your religion.
    • Major Myths: Like the Apple and the Flood in Christianity, these are a few things that hold deep symbolic significance for the people who know the religion. These myths will be known by everyone who hears them, and will be the aspects most commonly used to represent the religion to people who do not follow it.
    • Major Taboo: The thing or things that, when done, are always considered reprehensible by any true follower of the religion. These can be extreme versions of the Sins, or can be completely unrelated. Again, there does not need to be a major taboo, as it will have a great effect on everyday life.


    Other Relevant Pieces


    These do not fall into any specific category, and are less relevant in establishing the religion and the effects it has on the people who follow your religion. But they will come in handy for adding another level of depth to your religion.

    • The Supernatural: Most of the time, there are going to be elements to the religion other than the Deity itself. Sometimes, like Angels, these supernatural are considered servants of the Deity. At other times, they will be tricksters, designed to guide you off the path of purity. There can also be many different types of supernatural, each with a different impression put upon them. You can make some very bold impressions with the supernatural, don’t forget to use them.
    • Symbols: Symbols are methods of identification for a Deity and the Clergy, to distinguish them from other religions. This can include a color or colors as well.
    • Tolerance: How do the people who follow this religion treat people who do not follow it? Are they accepted? Ignored? Immediately put to death?


    That was a quick list of many of the things I consider very significant when planning a religion. Please, feel free to give me any more suggestions, and I will gladly try and fit them in.
     
    #1 Peregrine, Aug 28, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2014
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  2. This is great; thanks for posting! Can't wait for part II
     
  3. Err, uh... Okay. I'm happy to hear any comment you may have. That is a part of the Worldbuilding guild. I don't get upset easy, promise!