World Building Pt. 4 – Religion

At this point in the creation of your world, there’s a lot of different directions you can go. In fact, the whole project is a pretty open one — perhaps the map isn’t nearly as important for you as the people, and a lot of the ideas come all at once, or in no particular order. By this point, you have the basics, you have a general idea of what your world might be like. It’s time to start getting into specifics: history, religion, mythology, technology, specific locations and people, etc.

Since it’s an important part of my story, I’m now going to focus on religion.

General Overview

Before you can delve into a topic like religion, you need some basic concepts to work with. What kinds of religion are there in the world? Is there a dominant monotheism? A pantheon of gods that has spread across the whole world, like in the Roman Empire (and many fantasy worlds)? Is there more focus on Powers or on spirituality? Does each nation or culture have its own religion, or have they melded together over time?

If you’re writing any kind of fantasy, do the gods physically manifest on the world? Do they walk among the people? Do they have real power, and use it? Or are they distant, unknowable? Do some people believe they don’t exist, because there is no proof? Maybe it’s science fiction, and what people believe to be gods are actually just powerful mortals. Or aliens. Or AIs.

If there are gods, who might they be? Heroes from myth? Family-pantheons, like the Greek deities? Maybe they are the Greek deities, like in Battlestar Galactica. Are they gods from our world, or will you create entirely new pantheons and religions?

These are important questions, even if your story takes place in our world. If it’s an alternate-universe Earth, perhaps different religions became dominant through history. Even if it’s completely our reality, which real-world religions will be important in the story?

Because of my background with D&D, my instinct when creating a fantasy world is to have a pantheon of gods — the god of love, the god of war, the god of nature, the god of death. In the world of Shadow of Death, though, I also knew I wanted to have a lot of different cultures that formed around unique religions. But the world is also one in which there’s a lot of trade and more of a sense of globalization than a typical medieval fantasy world would have, so I figured there would be scholars that would collect all the gods from all the cultures into one big pantheon (and figure out which gods from two different religions are similar enough to be considered the same god, just with a different name), much like in the Roman Empire. Therefore, as long as I kept in mind some of my ideas for the religions of different cultures, I could actually just create one big pantheon of gods that most people in the world would have at least heard of, if not worship.

Along those lines, I determined that while some people might recognize the whole pantheon as deserving worship, rituals, etc., most people in the world would have their family or cultural religion/god, and follow only those rites, without really acknowledging any other gods. Different people, different cultures, would look at the plethora of deities in different ways. This way, I could have some people be very stringent to a particular cultural religion, and others able to discuss all of the gods. I could have a sense of religious freedom in some places, and strict ideology in others.

I like having my cake and eating it, too.

Inspiration

If you’re really into real-world religion like I am, there’s nothing wrong with taking some inspiration from the real world. There is no possible way that you could come up with a religion as complex and historically-rooted as, say, Judaism or Buddhism, all by yourself. It’s just not possible. Not that the religions of your world need to be as complicated as all that — or, more to the point, you don’t need to know every complicated bit of information about the religions of your world.

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