Worldbuilding: Fantasy Religions

Religions:

“Religion is the opiate of the people.” -Karl Marx

Religions are important in creating your fantasy world. To some characters, this religion will impact every aspect of their lives. Just like with people in the real world. It shapes the family and societal structure of the followers. There are some people who only associate with people from their faith. Religion impacts the nonreligious as well through pop culture, legislation, and even what businesses are open on certain days.

There are two strategies I used for creating my fictional religions. One is to take inspiration from existing religions, and the other is to create a religion organically. I took inspiration from mythologies that were interesting to me like Aztec, Sumerian, Christian, Hindu, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Lakota- Sioux, Irish, and German mythologies. I used aspects from these religions like traditions for marriage or funerals. I based some of my gods personalities based on gods from the old world.

This strategy involves research. There are hundreds of deities out there to choose from. When choosing a religion to use as a basis, I researched a variety of mythologies until I found some that I enjoyed reading their myths. I used some mythologies from my own ancestry, but others were purely because I was interested in their concepts of gods.

Be careful that you are not appropriating someone else’s culture when building your fictional religion.

Or you can build a religion organically.

One thing to consider before you begin to brainstorm, is whether your religions are universal, meaning there is one religion in your world, or not. Sometimes a religion is overlapping, and there is one god or group of gods that are called different things in different cultures. Other times, there are many religions in a world, and all the gods live and interact with each other in whatever world the gods live in. Some gods create the world and leave to go on to do other godly things, and others are more active in the world.

 There are many different kinds of religious classifications. When designing a fantasy religion, it is important to know what type of religion it is going to be. Will you have one god or many? Are there competing religions?

Religious ClassificationWhat/Who Is Divine
PolytheismMultiple gods
MonotheismSingle god
AtheismNo deities
AnimismNonhuman beings (animals, plants, natural world)
TotemismHuman-natural being connection

(https://courses.lumenlearning.com/alamo-sociology/chapter/reading-world-religions/)

If there are multiple religions in your world, you might want to consider how these followers interact with one another. In the world we live in, catastrophic wars have been fought over whose god is the true god. Sometimes followers of a religion are persecuted, and other times religious followers persecute non-believers. In your world, consider whether the predominant religion is at odds with science.

Next it would be good to decide the purpose of the religion. Was it thought up to explain natural phenomenon that they couldn’t explain any other way? Was it designed to provide hope to the hopeless? Most religions fall under one of those two categories, but perhaps a religion could be formed strictly with the goal of consolidating power.

How is your religion organized? Some religions are based on a family structure. Some gods are based on heroes, elements, and natural phenomena. Other gods represent ideas like love, war, and fertility.

For polytheistic religions, it would be helpful to assign a domain to each god. For example, Poseidon is the god of the sea. Osiris is the god of the Underworld. This is essential in my worldbuilding journey. When I create a god, I begin with their domain. I began with a water goddess. From her domain, I was able to develop her personality based on properties of water. You can get creative here. For me, she can be both nurturing and destructive.

What myths do your people have for their gods? Do the gods have their own holidays? Where and how to their followers practice? What type of rituals (birth, marriage, death, ect) do your people practice? Do your people perform sacrifices (human, animals, or other)?

It may be helpful to outline core beliefs of your fantasy religion. For example, Illios, the Underling god of power, tells his followers to go out an put the land to good use. This has been taken to mean that the Underlings should conquer as much territory as possible in order for the ruler to use it efficiently. So it is with that holy purpose in mind that the empire enslaves the people of their provinces.

What type of values do the followers of this religion uphold? What are the gender roles? What type of family structure is there? Are there symbols associated with your religion?

Maybe your religion has been around for a long time. It may have evolved from its origins. Maybe a passage of a sacred text is taken literally when it was meant to be figurative. Maybe a passage is being taken out of context.

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when creating a fantasy religion. Have fun with it. Get creative. 😊

Resources:

Some blogs I found:

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