This article is by J. W. Barlament.
Religion plays a major part in many of our lives, and for some of us, is a crucial part of our identities. It finds itself in the center of ideologies and controversies, and so it makes sense that many authors avoid writing about it in their fiction.
Some fantasy authors are hesitant to put religion into their word-building process, as religions are too complicated to conjure out of thin air. However, creating a fictional religion is by no means an impossible endeavor. For those who are willing to try, there are great rewards.
Complexity and Believability
The first thing to remember when creating a fantasy religion is to have it make sense within the world you create. If the religion is true within its world, such as in the works of Tolkien, then the entirety of that world should be a product of the religious events that occurred at its creation. To have a world barely changed from our world, but as a product of events far different than those that birthed our planet, is something that would make very little sense. The world must feel as if it was created in the way that you, as the author, say it was created.
This usually entails leaving many of the details of creation out of the story, as they may prove to weaken the believability of your world. To have more specifics in your creation story is to have more logical fallacies open up for you to unwittingly make in your writing. Building a consistent world is hard, and for first-timers, it shouldn’t be made too complex to handle.
Origins and Fluidity of Religions
It is imperative for writers that the religions they create are molded by those who practice them. Religions change over time, as the needs and standards of societies also tend to change. They are not aspects of our cultures that remain in one shape or form throughout all of time. They are fluid things, and for writers creating religions that last over many ages, their religions should change to reflect the times in which they exist. To have a culture worship the exact same god or gods in the exact same ways over great lengths of time just doesn’t make sense unless the explicit purpose is to show a culture in stagnation and without growth or change.
Consistency is by no means a necessity for fictional religions. Even religions that are true within their fictional worlds do not have to be consistent in their stories. Religion has always been intertwined with mystery throughout its history, and there is little reason for authors to eliminate that in their fiction.
Rather, subtle or great differences in the same religious stories can aid literature in many ways, such as contributing to humor, mystique, or other general impressions from the reader. Thus, it is a beneficial thing to sprinkle subtle inconsistencies into religious stories, but it is also important to make evident the source of these inconsistencies.
A Sense of Belonging
To create a religion for one’s fiction is not simply to create gods and goddesses and the stories behind them. It is to create a critical part of the culture in which the story takes place. Whatever role religions may play, only one thing is truly imperative: religions must be consistent with the rest of the world in which they reside.
Above all else, fictional religions must enhance the illusion that the reader has been whisked away into a living world that is not their own. They must instill into the reader’s heart a sense of belonging, just like the religions of our own world.
Have you created a fictional religion for your stories? How does it differ from real-world religions?
When worldbuilding, how much time do you spend on belief systems?
How would a religion based off of fact differ from one based off of falsehoods?
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