Thursday, August 6, 2009

World-building, Religion

World-building: Religion
by Sabrina Klein

Religion is a funny thing that can, but doesn’t have to, influence EVERYTHING. Most people have no idea how much of a culture is rooted in religion. For instance, our own country came into existence partially because of religious persecution in England. Many of our laws and why they came about are solidly rooted from those religious ideals. That’s one of the major reasons people came here in droves, but it’s also the reason we separate church and state. That sense of equality we always toot about came about because the British outcasts living here all wanted to be free of persecution, the first amendment covers that. Other things in our culture came from the influence of religion. Our love of peace is partly due to the Quaker’s heavy belief in ‘turn the other cheek’.

Another example of a small thing influenced by religion is kosher foods. Why are the Jews not allowed to eat meat mixed with dairy products? It’s rooted in prevention of disease, but to make sure people did it Religious specialists (A.K.A. priests) and their leaders made it a religious law. The Islamic practice of woman only showing their hands and face is directly from their religious laws called the Sharia. Why don’t the Hindus eat beef? Cattle are holy creatures in some places their slaughter and consumption is forbidden. Religion can affect anything. Keep that in mind when you make one.

All faiths have certain commonalities such as; Prayer taboos, and who can and can’t be a priest/priestess. There are more, but I recommend seeing Anthony Wallace (1966; Religion: An Anthropological View; ISBN-10: 0394442717) for the full list. About his list though, you don’t have to include all of them in fact you shouldn’t. You should, however, include some way of communication between mortals and the gods. It’s the one essential thing in my opinion though a lack of it is an interesting problem in of itself. Religion covers those things which we as mortals cannot define; how the world was created, who controls those things beyond our reach, and why those things are the way they are. The more science that enters a culture to explain the world around them causes one of two things happens. Either the religion becomes more complex or it fades from lack of faith, and both of these things can be dangerous. Possibilities abound from it. Does the religion impress control to decrease its lack of validation, make threats, and/or grasp at anything to create a sense of presence from the god(s)? All these things carry consequences in plot and individual definitions of character.

All faiths have a way of connecting with the gods-what is it? Who are the gods? Are the nature based or aspect based-are they gods of emotion, actions, or things. For instance, Neptune (AKA Poseidon to the Greeks) was god of the sea and horses. Thousands of miles away in Ireland Mannon mac Llyr and or Llyr was god of the sea yet several deities were associated with horses. The sea is a gateway to the underworld for them both. Similar aspects but not, and this can be used to create strife or bring different cultures together. The Romans acculturated many religions to make their own.

Creating gods is part of creating a cosmology. It’s an important question. In answering that question it brings up another. Which I have found is the nature of this thing-creating a cosmology- answer one question and it creates a zillion more. Wherever your god(s) live can a mortal get there? And if the answer is yes then there must be a gateway from the mortal world to the immortal universe. Or do the gods walk among mortals as they do in White Wolf’s Scarred Lands setting. If they do what form do they take? The Greek gods did this often, but they took forms to hide their identity. Do your gods hide their identity from mortals when they visit them? What is their purpose to their followers, and do your followers even know their true purpose?

There are three principles that are agreed upon in the anthropological world for why the gods exist. To explain earthly occurrences such as how nature works; Zeus is the god of thunder and rain his contemporaneous counterpart for the Mesoamericans was Chaac is god of rain. They help define the same thing almost exactly but developed independently, and have some differences and their overall personalities are different. They serve to explain the emotions or desires of humanity such as Aphrodite Greek goddess of love and Bridget goddess of Justice. Giving comfort to those who believe in them , whether they be mortal or not, some gods follow other gods-faith from their own could be essential, possibly by offering an alternative to oblivion at death, reincarnation is a favorite of the Hindus or the Elysian fields for the Romans.

There are a lot of questions that need answers when you create a religion. Here are some of the ones I’ve asked and answered…

Who are the religious specialists between the mortals and their gods, what are their powers and limitations, and how do they work?

How do you become a priest? When you create rules for this you MUST obey them, or you better come up with a darned good explanation for breaking the rule…don’t be cheesy and use this as an out for backing yourself in a corner...

Where do your gods reside?

How do your gods behave?

Where is the ‘other world’? How does time pass? How do you get there?

Do your gods get along? (immortal strife is one of the best known plots- IE: Yahweh & Lucifer)

What and who is considered good and evil?

What are the rules and tenants of your religion? What can mortals do to get in trouble with the gods, and what can the gods do to get in trouble with each other?

Creation of the world. How was physical world created, and how is it related to the realm of the gods. (See various creation myths to get an idea… there are some more fun than others.)

What does the realm of the gods look like? How is it arranged, and are the same laws of physics obeyed there?

What do your gods look like? …they don’t have to look the same as their believers or each other.

Who follows this religion and how is it practiced. Each aspect of a religion is practiced in a certain way for a REASON. Think this through.

Religion and cosmology go hand in hand and often times when you create one you will find you are also creating the other. Consistency is a must when doing this everything doesn’t have to make scientific sense just don’t violate and rules you create without making an explanation for it. You don’t need reason to have faith. Faith is the act of belief, but spirituality is about bringing faith to live and breathe within and acting on it. Remember faith is just that, faith, and not everything has to make sense to believe. The follower must make the choice to dismiss doubt.

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