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Worldbuilding: Creating a religion

In speculative fiction, a good fictional religion can be a great source of conflict/magic. It also plays a big role in creating a realistic and interesting world. Here are some tips:

1. Monotheistic/Polytheistic?

  • Monotheistic religions have a single deity e.g. Christianity/Islam
  • Polytheistic religions have various deities e.g. Hinduism/Greek mythology
  • This should be your first step, since this will influence all other aspects of creating a religion.
  • If you’re looking for something a little more strict/conservative you might want to consider monotheism. If you’re going for something more mythological/fantastical I’d lean toward polytheism. (This is a tentative suggestion and definitely not a rule.)

2. Rituals/culture etc.

  • This is probably the most intriguing part of any fictional religion.
  • Think about how your characters express their religion. Are there worship gatherings, specific prayers, offerings, songs/dances, special food, offerings, sacrifices etc.
  • Do some research on real religions and mythology to get some ideas. This is where you can really get your creative juices flowing.
  • You can also think about supernatural elements like demons/possessions, witches etc. since these usually have links to religion (or sacreligion).
  • Are there certain types of people damned by the religion. Are there weird rules? What are the core values? Roll with these types of questions until you come up with some unique ideas.

3. Afterlife

  • One of the primary aspects of nearly every religion is its explanation of what happens after death.
  • This will be less important in immortal societies.
  • Is there something similar to heaven? And what does it look like? Are there angels? How do you get there?
  • Is there a Hell? How does it work?

4. Diversity

  • An entire fantasy world will very rarely have a single religion. Different groups will have different beliefs.
  • There are also different factions within one religion, who will celebrate their religion differently.
  • Tension can also arise between members of the different factions/religions, especially if the members are related/in the same community.
  • Another aspect of religious diversity is the intensity of individuals’ religious conviction. Some people are devoutly religious, whilst others are only symbolically so.

4. Don’t go down the rabbit hole

  • Religion can be an amazing aspect of spec fic, but you have to consider the role it’ll play in your story and plan accordingly.
  • If it’s something that’s only mentioned/creates context, if it won’t have a significant impact on your central characters and their journey, you shouldn’t take weeks to create it.
  • If you do, you’ll end up with a mountain of information and wasted time. And, oftentimes, when you have the info you feel compelled to share it. So, you run the risk of going off on a religion-tangent that isn’t really relevant.
  • Develop what you need. If you find yourself creating an amazing religion and enjoying the process, save it for another project where it can really shine.

Alright, that’s my advice on creating religions. I hope this can be useful.

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