Faith & Fantasy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Religions in Your Fictional World

Hannah Lee Kidder
NovelPad Author
Your fantasy story’s religion is an important part of world-building. Let’s go over elements of fantasy religions and questions you can ask yourself to build your own.

Elements of a Fantasy Religion

Here are some elements you can expect to see/create in a fantasy religion.

1. Beliefs & Tenets

The whole idea of religion revolves around believing in something, so what are the core beliefs of your religion? What do its followers believe? What values and principles do they hold? Are there sacred practices? Is there room for interpretation, or are the rules hard and fast?
Think about how these beliefs may shape your characters’ worldview and influence their choices and behavior. For example, a character of one faith that believes all life is equal and sacred would probably have conflict with someone of another faith sacrificing an animal.

2. Conflict & Evolution

With religion comes conflict. Different religions often war with one another, and even members within the same religion. Think about how your religion has changed over time, what conflict it has seen or created in its history, and conflicts or tensions that still exist in the present day of your story. How does the religion adapt to social, political and cultural changes? How do those things change because of the religion?

3. Symbols & Iconography

Religious symbols and iconography can bring richness and depth to your fantasy religion. What sacred imagery is associated with your religion? They could include religious symbols, sacred animals, holy relics, statues and other representations of your deities.
Some real-life examples of religious symbols include Catholicism’s crucified Jesus, representing core tenants like penance, guilt, and self-flagellation. You’ll see the Yin and Yang in Asian philosophy, symbolizing balance and harmony—neither side exists without the other. The Star of David is common in the Jewish faith—two threaded triangles representing Judah and Benjamin.
Think of your religion's history, origin, and core beliefs to create your symbols.

4. Hierarchy & Leaders

Religion often comes with hierarchy, with figures like priests, prophets, pastors, and gurus. How are these leaders chosen and appointed? What are their responsibilities? What roles do they play, both within the religion and within society as a whole? Do they have political power? Were they created FOR political power?
Consider the power hierarchy. For example, Catholicism's hierarchy looks something like: Pope > Cardinal > Archbishop > Bishop > Priest > Deacon. Each has someone they report to, and each has their own responsibilities and expectations.

5. Sacred Texts

If your society is learned, they will probably have sacred texts accompanying their religion. They might contain myths, origin stories, teachings, moral codes, prophecies, and religious laws or rules. How seriously are these texts taken socially? Can anyone read them, or only certain religious figureheads? What language are they written in? Who wrote them? Who do the members of the religion believe wrote them?

6. Magic System

In fantasy, $ magic systems are important$ . If you have a religion, it makes sense that it would in some way be tied to your magic system. Consider if your magic has a religious or spiritual origin. How aware are the practicers of the religion that there is magic involved? Who can invoke that magic? What are its limitations and consequences?

7. Origin, Lore, & Dogma

Consider the origin and lore of your religion. Whether the religion is "real" or "fake," both should have some kind of origin and history.
In The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the lion is our Jesus figure. While he also stands in as God (creating the world in The Magician's Nephew), he goes through a Jesus arc in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, choosing to die for Edmund's "sin," then resurrecting.
There are allusions to his "father" in several books, suggesting the Christian God, but you never see this figure as more than a passing comment. This is the religious origin of the series—Aslan was born to be the Jesus figure.

 aslan is jesus
Perhaps your deity created the world, or maybe the world has always been. Maybe there was once a small pond, and a rock was thrown from an unknown hand, the splash creating your religious figures. It's fantasy! It's whatever you'd like.

How to Develop a Fantasy Religion

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to expand upon your fantasy religion.

1. Is your religion "real"?

In your universe, is this religion something that actually exists? If it is, then what does its existence mean? Does it give people certain powers? And can they "level up" in the religion?
If the religion is not real and it’s just something people believe in—why do they believe in it? Does everyone believe? Is it mandatory for religious practices? What are the origins? Are there multiple?
Do your main characters believe in it? If so, why? If not, why not?

2. Does it incorporate magic?

Can your characters take power from the religion? Is it incorporated with your magic system? Do they interact, and how, and what does that mean for your main characters?

3. Are there deities?

If there are, are they tangible like a Pharoah, or are they something people believe in, sight unseen? How do they manifest, if they do? Is it something physical and real, but inanimate—like the sun or moon? Are the deities invisible? What do they look like and why? Can characters communicate with them? If so, is it true communication, or just a faith they choose to believe in?

4. Are there multiple religions and denominations?

In the real world, religion is regional. If your story takes place in a sprawling world, they are likely many religions. Some of the religions might be "fake". Some might be "real," perhaps tied to your magic system.

5. What are the customs?

Are there sacrifices or rituals or rules to follow? Does everyone follow them? Is it required? What are the consequences of not following these customs? Are there religious holidays? Are there non-mystical figureheads like a pope or a rabbi or a guru or a human demigod?
Basically, how does it affect day-to-day living?

6. What does it mean for your story?

Your world should interact with your story in many ways, and through religion is one option. What do your characters think of it? What do believers vs non-believers think of it? How does the religion affect your characters and plot? Maybe it reflects in some internal struggle within your character. Maybe there's conflict with the law or nature.

As you can see, there are many aspects to consider when creating your own religion—and that's only one small part of building a fantasy world. Learn how to$  plan a fantasy novel$ , start to finish!
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