Writing How? Realistic Religion and Magical Fantasy Settings

Yorda

Villainess Yorda the Elegant Flower of Evil
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Main Question: How does one create a realistic religion in a magical fantasy setting?

Oftentimes people want to include religion in their magical fantasy settings. I am one such person. However, I do not know how to do this in a convincing and serious way. If anyone understands how to craft religions, give religious backstories, or has expansive knowledge about the history religions on Earth that could be useful please help out with a post.

I like making general posts about specific topics that are a bit broad/vague so that they can help out more people rather than just me. I think that this could help out a lot of people. In many stories and even really famous anime/manga/LNs details about magic systems and religion are really left out! It's surprising how much they avoid details despite religion being integral to the main story at times.
 

Yorda

Villainess Yorda the Elegant Flower of Evil
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Specifically for my story I have spirits that govern over many different magical elements. The religion for one of my countries would be based around an elemental spirit based religion.

In my story some world-building elements are still under thought. My understanding is that spirits are created/born under special conditions. Ego/consciousness/memories needs to be provided and there needs to be an area of highly condensed mana. Mana is an ambient force of nature that permeates the atmosphere sorta like EM fields and radiation.

Since spirits are ego and mana (which is like a field) they do not have corporeal bodies. Instead I believe that they need what I will call "anchors". Something physical to bind their existence to and to physically manifest themselves or their powers they need energy in the form of mana.

In some ways there are naturally occurring spirits in my story similar to the religious beliefs of North American First Nations people who believed in spirits dwelling within nature. But these naturally occurring spirits are a minority and are actually a localized event somewhat unique to my country due to ... spoilers. Over time the country has developed a unique culture and religion based around these spirits, but has also changed it's fundamental outlook on having a more harmonious relationship with nature, their land, and the spirits. Instead, spirits have been militarized and become something of another symbol of rank/status in the country.

Unique to my story and the country is the fact that there is a lot of socio-economic class distinction based on magic power. The minority with strong magic power rule and the masses without are of a subservient class in a unfair feudal system.
 

Suryae

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Just a question, is there any seperation between the nobility and the clergy or are they the one and the same?
 

Yorda

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Just a question, is there any seperation between the nobility and the clergy or are they the one and the same?
I was thinking that there needed to be a separation and politics between the two. The reason is that in Earth's history there were often power politics between the state, the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the clergy. The degree of antagonism between the different groups can be adjusted, but I can't imagine that there aren't struggles over power and influence.
 

Suryae

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I don't think separation between the church and the state would work here because having another power in the state with similar military power and supported by many commoners and nobles alike is a good recipe for civil war. Either the church will be absorbed by the state or the state will. Or they would be locked in a bloody stalemate
 

Walk

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Religion itself isn't difficult. All one needs is to have a collection of people share the same belief in nature, a cause or social standing. Have those views be the means in which they consider their lives to be worth value ... and say it was gifted by a figure (diety).

For example:
In the unspoiled places of the world, the essence of nature creates a "spirit" that helps to maintain the purity of said location, allowing for cleaner air/water or richer soil. If man wishes to partake in said lands, they must give back (to the spirit) enough to maintain a balance. The spirit provides man with rich harvest so long as they don't plunder too much of the land, thereby killing the spirit.

Now, a powerful entity might value the expansion of their lands for other reasons that aren't aligned with the spirit's purpose. They could wish for the minerals underneath or want said land for a strategic military position etc,

The only thing you would need to establish is a consequence of killing the spirits. If your world creates them for whatever reason, then killing them or forcing them out could result in the thing they protect to die much quicker. "No matter how much we water the grass, it keeps dying." etc.,
 

Yorda

Villainess Yorda the Elegant Flower of Evil
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I don't think separation between the church and the state would work here because having another power in the state with similar military power and supported by many commoners and nobles alike is a good recipe for civil war. Either the church will be absorbed by the state or the state will. Or they would be locked in a bloody stalemate
Ehehehe.

Civil war is part of my story's plot. :blob_evil_two:
I was also thinking of making the religion a little bit self-serving for the ruling class. So it actually supports class-distinction and social strata like the divine right of kings.

Divine Right of Kings Definition
The divine right of kings, or divine-right theory of kingship, is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God.

Magic ability is going to be viewed as a blessing in my world and tied with religion. I think it would make the most sense if I make magic ability something like a genetically inheritable trait or think of it as inheritable with some epigenetics or something. Basically, it is like a mutation in the populace, but if you breed two people together with high magic power it is likely (not guaranteed) that you would have magically gifted offspring. Somehow the breeding needs to create just the right amount of people with and without magic power to statistically maintain an unbalanced ratio of the ruling class and lower class.

I will admit that it's a bit fucked up and I want it that way. It forces aristocratic families to attempt to maintain their bloodlines and promotes discrimination due to biological superiority. It really creates societal problems and even problems internally within families that I can take advantage of.
 

Walk

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What would be a really cool twist is if that doctrine is rubbish and was written by people who feared losing their "right to rule" ...
 

Yorda

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I feel there is potential in my story for many different religions and cultures that stem from different interpretations of the nature of magic. A major part of what the religion would be like depends on what magic can do and how powerful it is. I was thinking that magic in my story would be fairly simple and elemental. No overly complex abilities. Just forces of nature like generating flames, moving earth, absorbing light, generating luminescence, etc.
 

Suryae

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Also, is the religion in the country have a leader or is it decentralized?

I would imagine either way there would be schism in the church with each faction and their agenda. Perhaps there would be religious extremist like Al-Qaeda or Taborite that would attempt to abolish a certain societal norms with violence. Perhaps there's also something like Protestant movement in the church and it would cause everyone to kill each other of because they view their religion a bit differently.

Also , another question, do members of the clergy allowed to hold lands like nobles do? I don't think there is anything would stop them from doing that.
 

Walk

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So then where would the conflict arise? Or do all the religions accept each other?
 

Yorda

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Also, is the religion in the country have a leader or is it decentralized?
Damn. That is one crazy good question to answer.

Historically, I would think decentralized religions are an idealistic minority. Somebody or some group with vested interests always seems to be in control and regulating religions. It could take the form of a figure like a pope or it could be a monarch who leads their church and religion. In Rome there was a lot of regulation at times concerning various religions like Christianity. No matter the denomination or location there always seems to be somebody or some group ...

Also , another question, do members of the clergy allowed to hold lands like nobles do? I don't think there is anything would stop them from doing that.
Probably. I can imagine that there would be a mixing between the aristocracy and clergy to some degree.
 

Walk

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do members of the clergy allowed to hold lands like nobles do? I don't think there is anything would stop them from doing that.
Wouldn't this simply be a consequence of being influential? I feel gifting clergyman materialistic goods almost tarnishes the religion ... good material for grifters tho.
 

Suryae

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It would be interesting to see if there is more than one popes each backed by various nobles and thus splitting the country apart.

Maybe there's one person attempted to unify the church, only to become another pope. Or they were burned on the spot, thus enraging their followers.

Also, did you mentioned that many noble houses tried to make their blood pure? I would imagined the MC would have something like Habsburg chin or insane like Game of Thrones characters, if her family practiced this.
 

Walk

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Historically, I would think decentralized religions are an idealistic minority. Somebody or some group with vested interests always seems to be in control and regulating religions. It could take the form of a figure like a pope or it could be a monarch who leads their church and religion. In Rome there was a lot of regulation at times concerning various religions like Christianity. No matter the denomination or location there always seems to be somebody or some group ...
What about establishing people with the eyes (and ears) to see and interpret with words of the spirits?
 

Yorda

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So then where would the conflict arise? Or do all the religions accept each other?
The main conflict in my story's world does not come about due to religious war.

It is actually more of a opportunistic economic war between two countries. The enemy country sees an opportunity to attack due to natural disasters, and domestic problems in their opponent.

One of my main characters is going to act as a false prophet. They genuinely know about major events in the future due to reincarnation. They are desperate, vengeful, expedient, a bit righteous, and amoral. An anti-hero. They are sort of responsible for creating rebellion and insurgency among the lower caste. I will also use them to give a casus belli to the enemy nation. They want the war as a means of purging corruption in their home country at any cost. They see inciting revolution as an opportunity to improve the lives of the common folk. Even if they have to sacrifice human life they will commit to changing their country. Generally, they have spent their whole life crafting their righteous reputation for the sole purpose of that war.

They are my favourite character because they have the absolute worst life of all my main characters. They are the sneakiest and most cunning. They are the weakest (have no magical power and was born the child of a family of serfs). They had no social status and they were on the brink of death at the start of their life. Their hatred towards the world and the gods runs deep.
 

Suryae

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Interesting.

Are both countries practices the same religion?
Is nationalism a thing yet in the realm?
 

Walk

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The main conflict in my story's world does not come about due to religious war.
Then the potential for many religions that are based on various elements would work just fine. It would work well as a means of showing cultural diversity and would otherwise create a situation where it becomes a rarity for two religions to be in conflict ... not impossible ... just rare.
 

Yorda

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Interesting.

Are both country practices the same religion?
I don't know, but there might need to be some difference between them. I think they need to reconcile somewhat though, otherwise my prophet character will have difficulty gaining asylum in the neighbouring country.

The actual casus belli I was planning is kinda complex. The current king of the the country assassinated their brother's family to ascend to throne with absolute unchallenged power. However, the the child of that family managed to escape. Thus the prophet finds that child with royal blood through fate, develops a romantic relationship with them, and then they both plan their vengeance on the country that spurned them. So, the man with royal blood seeks asylum in the enemy nation and together with the prophet they create a justification for the war against a despotic and fratricidal king. It's quite the doozy. There are other things going on with them too. They are both really pessimistic and cynical.

The general populace, which was oppressed due to plot, will be more receptive of the enemy nation. The prophet who cultivated a reputation of charity and righteousness endorsing the war will have a major effect on the common people of her country. The enemy nation just loves the justification that they received since they were planning war anyways.
 

Suryae

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I don't think this casus belli would work, unless the enemy country is a republic that respects freedom or Mongolian style horde Khanate that don't care about what their vassal believes in.

Or for all I knew it's something like Dutch Indies Company that uses this kind of tactics against the natives.
 
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