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.
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.