Creating religions part 1
For better or worse, religion is a driving force in our world. From art and philosophy, to war and politics, religion inspires both beauty and ugliness in humanity.
The Karnak Temple Complex is an ancient religious site.
Writers can tap into this potency for their own stories by creating fictional gods and religions. Creating believable religions was difficult for me, so I’ll share the tips I’ve accumulated. This is going to be a multi-part post to keep things short and readable.
Religion is closely tied to at least three things:
Religion is used to justify certain cultural beliefs. Human sacrifice among the Aztecs is well-known. They believed that sacrifice was necessary to perpetuate the existence of the world. What cultural beliefs do your characters have that are rationalized by their religion?
The history of a people contributes to how they view themselves. History here also refers to “mythic” history – tales we tell ourselves that may not actually be true. What is the history of your characters’ culture? Were they invaders, slaves, nomads, outcasts? How do they perceive themselves and what explanation do they give for their history?
The connection between culture, history, and religion is obvious, but remember that the environment also plays a role in how people perceive the divine. The ancient Egyptians saw god in the yearly flooding of the Nile and the much-needed nutrients it brought to the parched landscape. The Norse lived in a harsh realm and their mythology reflected this. How does the environment interact with your characters’ beliefs?
Use the interplay of these three points to create a believable religion with a past that influences the characters’ present – and be on the look out for the next part of this post where I go further into the nuances of creating a religion for your story world.
Religion usually attempts to connect us with something greater than ourselves
For some people, super senses are an everyday unwanted occurrence. Imagine:
- Bright lights sting your eyes
- Feather-light touches sear your flesh
- The low whine of the refrigerator is like a drill in your brain that splits your head into a migraine
- A sweet dessert might as well be rotten garbage because of the way it makes your stomach churn
Sometimes, my senses overwhelm me – and it’s because I’m autistic. Sensory sensitivities are common to those who are on the autism spectrum, but they often decrease with age. Would I tone down my super senses if I had the chance? Non-autistics often only see the agony of being super-sensitive, but it is so much more than that:
Much like Concetta Antico, an artist who can literally see more colors than the average human, my super senses allow me to perceive the world in a unique way.
Smooth and colorful – perfect! Image from neuro-not-so-typical.tumblr.com
I may not be a tetrachromat like Ms. Antico, but my sensitivity to light, color, and touch mean that when the input is good, the feeling I get is indescribably divine. Nothing feels better than running my hands through super-soft resplendent Kinetic Sand after a stressful day: it’s a relaxing, fun feast for the senses!
My sensitivity to taste means sometimes I can actually detect the different ingredients in something – this is a serious benefit when I’m trying to cook a recipe similar to one from a restaurant.
Music, especially when it has several layers of sound, becomes an aural orgasm.
I couldn’t give that up – I’ll keep my super senses!
Temple of Hathor | Dendera Temple Complex:
From the world of Harry Potter to the Marvel cinematic universe, mythology is all around us. No wonder: these ancient tales encompass the whole range of human experience – stories of vengeful deities, epic tales of adventure, terrifying monsters, romance, and plenty of poignancy.
To draw upon this rich well of inspiration, learn about the stories and the characters, then put your own twist on it. Authors frequently use Greek or Roman myth as this is what Western readers would be most familiar with, but the world of mythology is vast. Look for inspiration within other ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians, Hattians, or Norse. You can even find ideas within a modern religion’s ancient mythology: Neon Genesis Evangelion is an example of an anime/manga series that uses a lot of Christian symbolism. To avoid cultural appropriation, it is probably best to steer away from drawing directly from closed religions, and sensitivity is a must if you wish to use ideas from a living religion or culture that is not your own.
There are a few ways you can incorporate mythology into your writing:
- create a retelling of a myth
- create characters inspired by deities or monsters
- use allusions: a subtle way to incorporate mythology into your story.
Using mythology in your writing is a great way to add realism and depth. They are a rich source of inspiration, just remember to be polite to living cultures that are not your own.