Okay, I want to talk about religion for a bit. I know, there’s that whole thing about not talking about religion or politics in polite company. So, I guess we’re not polite company. Great, glad we got that out of the way. Religion is a big deal, and when you’re making a fictional world, it’s not the best idea to just leave it out, ignoring how it would work in your world. People need something to believe in, and they will disagree with each other on what that means. That said, there will likely be multiple religious views in whatever world you make. In fact, I don’t really see how a world without religion, or a world with just one religion, would happen. If there’s a single, dominating religion, there will be people step up and make their own, for whatever reasons sincere or insincere.
For right now, I’m just going to talk about the different ways of viewing divinity. One god, many gods, all god. This isn’t just about the cosmology of the world and what is actually there, but what the people of that religion believe. You can certainly apply these to how your world actually is, but remember that, because people will disagree on what god means, there will be people who view it incorrectly.
The belief that only one god exists and the rejection of the claim that other gods of equal power exist. The Abrahamic religions are the most obvious to people today as being monotheistic, but that doesn’t mean that they are the only religions that have ever been, or even are, focused on the belief in only one god. It certainly doesn’t mean that, in making your world, you have to base a monotheistic religion on one of the Abrahamic religions.
It’s up to you, but there are a number of ways to view monotheism, and a key thing to remember is that, even if the deity in your world isn’t a real being, approach making the religion by delineating the deity of the religion as being a character in your story with a personality, however large or small you want to make it.
The belief that there are two gods, but no more. Dualistic religions can claim that the two gods are opposed to each other, as in the good and evil deities of Zoroastrianism, or that they are complementary to each other, as in the Horned God and Triple Goddess of Wicca. Dualism can also flavor other religions, as some aspects of Christianity involve a sort of dualism between St. Michael the Archangel and Lucifer while maintaining the primary monotheism.
Polytheism is, simply put, a belief in and worship of multiple gods. Simply believing that other gods exist doesn’t make a religion polytheistic, but if they are all worshiped, at least at some point, then it is. Greco-Roman, Norse, and Celtic religions would be most common to Westerners, but it is one of the most common religious types out there. This one can not only lend the most variety with the gods you include, with each god have a different domain, but also be a great example of how the culture works. Greek culture, for example, included Dionysus, god of wine, revelry, and women who tear your head off, as well as Athena, goddess of wisdom as well as war.
Henotheism is something between polytheism and monotheism. It’s essentially the worship of a single god while believing that other gods not only exist, but can be worshiped. Say your culture is predominantly polytheistic, but you have temple sects where the priests, and some of the worshipers, only follow the god of that temple. Those sects would be henotheistic aspects of the greater polytheistic religion. It’s not a big deal to get the terms down in whatever story you write, but just try to remember that, just because your culture has thirty different gods, that doesn’t mean that people will worship all thirty, or even more than one.
Monolatry, or monolatrism, is a pretty interesting case here. Like monotheism and henotheism, it involves the worship of only one god. At the same time, it doesn’t dispute that other gods or divine spirits exist; it just rejects the possibility of worshiping them. Essentially, monolatry claims, “Yes, these spirits you call gods exist, but my god is the only one that should be worshiped.” Take the Thirty-God culture I mentioned before and add a sect that doesn’t just only worship its one god, but rejects the other twenty-nine gods as being worthy of worship.
Pantheism is the belief that the Divine is not simply transcendent or in Heaven, but is everything. In pantheism, God is not just in the world, but is the world. Plants, animals, rocks, rivers, and even people are all divine. There are elements of pantheism in a lot of the world’s religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Gnosticism. If you’re including pantheism in your world’s religions, take note that you can make it pantheistic while still including elements of other pantheon types.
Unlike pantheism, panentheism doesn’t believe that God is all things, but rather that God is transcendent and exists in everything, but separate from it. Instead of being all things, God is in all things. It’s a fine point to make, but fine points are what make your world interesting. The devil is in the details, but the god can be found there too.
Like pantheism, animism believes that everything is divine, but instead of all being part of a single divine entity, the spirits are differentiated from each other. It’s not all as simple as that, either. Perhaps in your world all animals have divine natures, or animals and plants have divine nature.
I realize that you’d be unlikely to have an atheistic religion, but there is such a thing as non-theistic religions, where they have the philosophy and even ritual of a religion, but they don’t focus on a divine nature at all. At the same time, consider that you might have cultures and traditions that are atheistic in nature. After all, you want your fictional world to be realistic in some sense, right?
Anyway, that’s all the religious types I have for you for now. I’ll be going deeper into crafting religions in later posts.