5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #4): Religions
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is religions. You can read more in Chapter 4, “Creating Religions,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Start with History”
Religions are more tied to history than anything else in world building. Invent a prophet and his story which can give us artifacts, holidays, traditions, and more. Virtually everything springs from this, making it the obvious starting point.
Tip #2: “The Control Factor”
Religions exercise control over practitioner’s lives to one degree or another, from how often to pray, when, where, and what words to say, even what actions to perform before, during, and after. These manifestations of faith are critical to how believers and non-believers view the religion. Is it too strict? Not strict enough?
Tip #3: “Create Symbols”
What’s a religion without symbols? We create these using our prophet’s story. If he first spoke to a god while wearing a cloak, eating an apple, and standing beside a tree type, we have three symbols right there. It’s that easy to create them because we’re just associating trivial things with momentous occasions.
Tip #4: “Invent Clergy”
Priests can be viewed in specific ways depending on how they act or restrictions that are placed on them. This reflects on an entire religion and how the populace view it. Are there scandals that affect them, or do they fear that one will emerge? Power is held by those in high regard, so how can the clergy fall from grace based on inappropriate behavior by wayward members? What defines “wayward?”
Tip #5: “Do They Convert?”
Are there missionaries in this religion or do they let people come to them? The former is significant because it makes them active, rather than passive, characters who might upset people, including our characters, whom they try to convert. The religion will have a reputation for this if so. Use it to personalize them.
Summary of Chapter 4—Creating Religions
While some items we create have history as a minor element, history is crucial with religions, so first we look at where and how the religion formed, including a prophetic figure and the role of a god, should one exist. Creation and end of world myths, and the afterlife, are important elements that potential followers consider, along with the requirements for worship and the penalty for failing to follow the rules. How someone joins and leaves a religion can be trivial or significant and includes the possibility of expulsion. We’ll need holy sites, too, and a decision on holidays, languages, customs, sects, relationships with everyone from species to other religions, and what members of the clergy are like and their role in society. Most importantly, we need the symbols and beliefs of this religion.