One large question I’ve had lately is that of how to handle the question of religion in a secondary world. The setting I’m working with at the moment doesn’t have the most obvious approach, that of having a religion based on magic or supernatural elements that are true within the world. In my world, there really aren’t any directly supernatural or magic sources of power to draw upon as inspiration for the religion.
The other somewhat obvious approach would be to directly base things on an existing religion. The problem there is that this sort of defeats the whole point of my reason for using a secondary world setting in the first place, which is that it avoids using (and thus vilifying) real nations.
The final option, just not having religion at all, is almost my preference mostly for the sake of simplicity, but that runs into the problem that it just doesn’t feel real, even in a more modern and secular world.
Are there any other good sources of inspiration for a secondary world religion? Would it really be reasonable to just not have any?
Hey Adam, great to hear from you again!
The good news is that I think you’ll be fine either making up a religion from scratch or just not having one, whichever makes more sense to you.
If you want to make one from scratch, it’s fairly easy to use real religions as inspiration without importing them wholesale. For example, many different religions have gods associated with various aspects of human society: child rearing, war, farming, knowledge, etc. So long as your god of war isn’t the son of a thunder god and a hearth goddess, with a sister who’s the goddess of wisdom but also war somehow (thanks Ancient Greeks), you should be good.
That’s just one option, of course.
- You can also have an animalistic religion based on the creatures commonly found in the area. Wolf god, boar god, etc.
- Or a religion where the divine figures represent natural forces. Storm god, fire god, ocean god, etc.
- You can also have a fairly generic monotheistic god if you want one. Just call them “the Creator” or “the Redeemer” and readers will generally accept it.
So long as the things your gods represent feel roughly equivalent, you won’t have to go into too much detail. You can of course also have different ranks of gods but that’s getting more complex.
It’ll also help if you mention that not everyone follows the same religion, but readers won’t expect a comparative theology course unless that’s part of the plot. This approach will work just fine whether you want religion to play a part in the story or just be a background part of the world. Unless you intentionally create religious conflict, readers will usually accept it as part of the background.
Alternatively, you’ll probably also be fine with no religion, even if it is less realistic. A lot of fantasy worlds completely lack any form of organized church, and most readers didn’t notice. Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time, The Name of the Wind, Star Wars, none of them have commonly observed religion the way we think of them.
- Star Wars has the Jedi, which are sometimes described as a religion, but it’s pretty clear most people aren’t adherents. Even the Jedi mostly meditate for super powers.
- Lord of the Rings just doesn’t have religion at all, despite the presence of a literal creator god.
- The Name of the Wind has a creator figure but he’s just around. No one seems to worship him in any meaningful way. Or have religious institutions built around him.
- Just don’t do what Wheel of Time does, which is try to have its cake and eat it too.
- In WoT, there’s no church or any other kind of religious organization, except the Children of the Light. Who act like the militant arm of a church which doesn’t exist. Where do they get their recruits from???
- Everyone in WoT knows that the “creator” is a thing but no one practices particularly religious acts.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!