Friday, 11 May 2018

Guest Blogger - Amanda Witow - How To Create Multiple Religions

How to Create Multiple Religions, Easily

Among the tutorials and discussions on world building, there are a subset that discuss creating fictional religions. Some are good, some are bad, and some are amazing. Very few discuss the fact that it isn’t very realistic for there to only be a single religion within your fictional world. And no, creating a polytheistic religion isn’t enough (most of the time).

Who am I to discuss the realism of fictional religions? Well, I’m the author of the Legend’s Legacy series, I got a BA in psychology and classical studies, and I’m very passionate about world building. Whether that’s enough qualifications for you or not, please at least consider my argument.

Except for very isolated or closed-off locations, there is a regular exchange of ideas between people from different backgrounds. This exchange influences culture, fashion, art, and religion (among other things). Even within a polytheistic religion, there are going to be different ways the gods are worshipped. Back in my university days, I remember there was one time we were talking about how two neighbouring city-states got into an argument over how to make proper sacrifices to Poseidon.

One city sacrificed a bull, while the other sacrificed fish.

“How could you sacrifice a bull—an animal of Zeus, and the land—to Poseidon?” one city cried.

“We honour Poseidon with our offerings, but you insult him by sacrificing the wild creatures of his realm!” the other responded.

Neither city could accept how the other worshipped Poseidon, and thus they refused to trade with each other.

Nos, this is not historically accurate (I believe we were discussing a fragment of a comedy), but it does illustrate how two groups that are geographically close, worship the same deity, and have the same basic culture, can still have fundamental religious differences.

Which is why I have trouble buying it whenever I read a story where there is a single religion (polytheistic or not) with no variation worshipped by everyone.

Before we go any further, I want to cover some terminology that I’ll be using throughout the rest of this tutorial.

When I say “religion” I’m using it as a generic term to refer to distinct religions, as well as sects, denominations, schools, and cults.

I will be differentiating between religions as Main, Major, Brother, Common, Minor, or Secret.

Main refers to whichever religions has the most followers, money, power, and/or public approval in your fictional world.

Major religion refers to any religion that 20%, or more, of the population follows. In almost every instance, a main religion will also be a major one.

Brother religion refers to a religion that is distinct from, but still shares core beliefs of the main religion. In real world religions, this could be like Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Common religion refers to any religion that 5-20% of the population follows. A main religion should never be worshipped by less than the common religions of a region.

Minor religion refers to any religion that 1-5% of the population follows. While there could be religions with less than 1% of population following them, for our purposes we won’t worry about creating them.

Secret religion refers to any religion that cannot be openly worshipped, for whatever reason. A secret religion could be followed by any percentage of the population, but cannot be a main religion. The reasons a religion might be secret could be due to oppression, governmental changes, a military defeat, or an influx of immigrants. Be careful that you don’t automatically equate ‘secret’ with ‘evil,’ as many religions are forced into the shadows due to circumstances that have little to do with the morality of the religion itself.

To decide how many religions you will actually need to come up with, you need to consider many different things. The physical size of the area you’re creating, the governmental and cultural landscapes, whether magic is real or not, and how the area interacts with its neighbours.

You can download a worksheet to help you work out these details, and then figure out how many religions you will need to create. Unless there are some story specific reasons, you should be creating at least 4 different religions, and could create up to 26!
For each religion there are several questions we need to answer.

Who follows it?
What influence does the religion have on/in the community?
What are the core and secondary beliefs?
What prohibitions does the religion have?

Now, regardless of whether your main religion is a major or common one, you should always start by creating it first. The details of your main religion will influence the details of your other religions.

Sects/denominations should share between 50% and 90% of the same core beliefs of your main religion, while brother religions should share between 20% and 50% of the core and secondary beliefs, as well as the prohibitions. Any other religion shouldn’t have more than 30% of their core beliefs in common with the main religion. Finally, secret religions should have around 20% of their core beliefs directly contradict some of the main religion’s prohibitions.

Once you’ve created the outline of all your religions, it’s time to take a look at how they interact with each other and your fictional society. To do this, create a list of the major and minor holidays your society celebrates. Major holidays would be any celebrations or observances where it isn’t expected for people to work or go about their day normally. Minor holidays are those that don’t disrupt a normal day—though they could be considered a major holiday by one or more of the non-main religions.

With the holidays decided, you should look at what laws and customs are influenced by the main and major religions. Some laws may be influenced by common and minor religions, but there will be less of them.

Finally, think about what stereotypes the religions might have for each other. You should also think about why the stereotypes exist, and what the truth is.

Once you have all of that done, it’s time for you to review your religions. Take a look at al the details and think about how it will affect the characters and plot of your story. If needed, make changes. Keep in mind the relationship between all religions and the society they exist in, and you’ll do fine.

Use the provided worksheet to create your religions, and always feel free to send me a Tumblr ask (on or off anon) if you need a bit of help figuring out any details.

You can follow Amanda on her website, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

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