I’m behind writing for World Building Month, and as such, I thought I’d take a stab at one of the more difficult subjects for the next few posts: creating religion.
First, I should mention, I’m not a planner. World building to me is 90% observation, 10% creation. That is, I don’t write every detail down in a notebook, I don’t spend hours planning. It just kind of happens. Not to say that’s the best approach, just the only way I know how!
Religion is a sticky subject, real or imagined. When you’re dealing with belief, you’re walking into extremely difficult territory, because belief really can’t be quantified. It’s a factor that for some, has nothing to do with logic or reason or proof, and everything to do with emotion, intuition, and experience.
The most important question to answer when you’re writing a novel that includes religion is to what extent society is involved with religion. That said, is there an official religion? Is there separation of Church and State? Are certain religions banned/restricted/forbidden?
You may, however, find yourself asking a different question: how is religion in general treated by the State? For instance, in my own novel, religion is highly discouraged by the Monarchy. In a word, according to them there is no religion. After a long “golden age” of the Church, a set of beliefs that included an original pantheon of seven gods, there was an upheaval headed by a woman named Drana, who was a high advisor to the Queen. To use an excerpt to elaborate:
Kaythra had many theories. But very few the Queen would like. As her mother before her, Maelys was a staunch Dranist—a philosophy which regarded the belief in gods, or God, as the instrument of weaker minds in desperate times. Dranists believed that they, not gods, were capable of the greatest accomplishments, through science, medicine, and technology. So, the arts had flourished in the last two-hundred years as the Dranists held the throne. Temples were destroyed, and all mention of religion was expunged from the law. Practice was not forbidden, but over the decades it was continually associated with thieves, the lowerclass, and outcasts.
“You recall when Drana the Philosopher decreed far and wide that if she could find one man or woman with proof of the gods, with absolute proof, that she would forever lay down her ways and convert—become a cleric, or somesuch?”
“Of course,” Maelys said, her lips twitching into a tight-lipped smile. “You know very well I have studied the Dranist texts all of my life. It was called the Calling—and no one who came to court provided any insight into the mind of the gods other than garden variety magic, superstition, and parlor tricks.”
“It is said,” Kaythra continued, slowly. “That the shaman among the Soderon thought long and hard about whom to send to Queensland, to prove the Queen and Drana the Philosopher wrong. They were prepared to send their greatest shaman, a woman by the name of Me’san, to Queensland, when a vision was granted to their shamans—a vision of a future. There they saw the shores of Queensland dry and empty of fish, and the deserts of Soderon teeming with life.”
Maelys made a disgusted face, but did not interrupt Kaythra.
The High Counselor took a deep breath, measuring her friend’s patience. “Me’san did not go visit Drana the Philosopher; she convinced the king of the time, Alsanir, that if she were to do so, the vision of the future—a future victory for the Soderons, would be lost.”
“And they believed her,” Maelys said.
“And they still do,” Kaythra continued. “I know your opinion of the Soderons is… lacking, to say the least. But they are a deeply religious people, who believe their long suffering difficulty in siring females has come to an end, through some ritual I could not understand for the life of me.”
“Ritual?” Maelys said. “They aren’t sacrificing people, are they?’
Kaythra, though brought up as a Dranist (and the current Counselor to Queen Maelys herself) has her own understanding of the people of Soderon, whom she has just returned from visiting. Maelys, however, cannot remove herself from her vantage point, and so, there’s a bit of tension.
I try not to make judgements based on my own opinions of religion, but rather let the story tell the opinions of the character. I think if done correctly, the right combination of elaboration and sensitivity can bring about religion in a very complete, very convincing way.