Defining Clergy in Religions - The Art of World Building
Dec 072020
 
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Some religions accept anyone as potential priests while others might have strict requirements. Prerequisites could include being beautiful, a virgin, or having taken a life. Some professions might be desired, like warriors, while others are forbidden. The ability to read and write is likely mandatory if the religion uses holy texts, but not if they don’t exist. Some religions might require an experience like an out-of-body one, or a demonstration of the ability to communicate with the divine. Perhaps a priest must reach out to a god and receive reciprocal contact, implying that the deity has chosen them to serve. Someone might need to heal with their touch. Consider what role you’d like priests to play in the story and don’t give them more demanding requirements than is necessary; if they don’t need to heal, for example, then don’t make that required.

A religion must typically accept a priest into it. Imagine a Catholic person declaring themselves a priest without the blessing of the church. Such a person won’t be allowed to do sermons or other behaviors in a holy location and might be shunned or even imprisoned, but very informal religions can exist, with someone declaring themselves a priest. In remote areas, this can happen, and if a sovereign power’s people arrive, their formal religion might declare that person a fraud. We don’t need to work out how a priest gets accepted unless the detail matters, but a governing body will interview and investigate the person. A candidate may be accepted on probation.

Once accepted, most will undergo training that we don’t need to develop unless featuring this in our tale. Much of it will involve administrative functions or theological interpretations that this religion teaches about a holy text, to ensure a consistent message from priests. Most religions are a bureaucracy and people start at the bottom and work their way up, meeting new requirements and gaining approval to advance. Keep it simple:

  • Someone died or was transferred, and a position opened up, and they’re promoted
  • They reached a service requirement, such as two years in a previous role
  • They performed a deed (on purpose or not) that warrants recognition/promotion

Are all genders and species treated equally as either clergy or practitioners? Are some not accepted at all, or with a reduced role? A female goddess might turn the tables and insist that males cannot attain higher positions in the priesthood. Adding this detail can cause a reputation among that religion, its followers, and those who dislike it. If a religion condemns us as bad for gender, sexuality, race, or anything else that we feel is not a choice, we’re likely to disrespect the faith. Decide if your characters can benefit from the tension this adds.

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