In the first set of A-Zs of Worldbuilding posts, one of the topics covered is D is for Death. One of the aspects we touched on was that beliefs about the afterlife have almost everything to do with how funeral and burial customs evolve within a culture.
If you’ve already started your worldbuilding, then you might need to go back and look at the religious beliefs you’ve established for your characters, and then look at any customs and traditions you’ve created surrounding death and burial. Make sure that they’re able to mesh together in a logical way, even if it isn’t immediately obvious.
One example of this would be during the Middle Ages when religious heretics were burned at the stake. When Christianity became the ‘default’ religion, of sorts, in Europe, the burning of heretics became a symbolic attempt to deny heretics any hope of the resurrection of the body.
There are, even now, many orthodox and liturgical denominations that will not perform funeral services for those who have been cremated. Often, they say that since we are Imago Dei, we should not desecrate our bodies in death, to honor the hope of resurrection.
In these two scenarios, the common factor is clearly the belief in a bodily resurrection after death, and how it might be deterred or aided.
Now, how might this play out in your world(s)?
The main factors you should consider are:
- The afterlife itself. Regardless of what your characters believe (and hopefully there will be many varied beliefs about life after death), you should have some idea of what is actually True in your world, especially if religion plays any major role in your story.
- How one is granted access to a favorable afterlife (if an afterlife exists.) and/or how one ends up in an unfavorable afterlife, and whether or not there is any hope of escape.
- How beliefs surrounding the afterlife, whether accurate or terribly inaccurate, came about.
- If an afterlife exists, what is it like? Are there multiple destinations, or just one thing that happens to everyone (such as reincarnation)?
- How does one end up in a particular afterlife? Is it a matter of belief, actions, or random chance?
- Has anyone ever come back to life from the dead, and if so, have they retained memories of the afterlife? Are those memories accurate or not?
- How have the peoples of your world learned of the afterlife? Have they been instructed by deities? Been told of near-death experiences by other people?
- Has there ever been an occurrence of someone ending up in the wrong afterlife?
Leave a comment below if you have any questions! Thanks for stopping by!
Rebekah Loper began creating epic worlds and stories as a child and never stopped. She is the author of The A-Zs of Worldbuilding series, and has a fantasy novella published in Beatitudes and Woes: A Speculative Fiction Anthology.
She lives in Tulsa, OK with her husband, dog, two formerly feral cats, a small flock of feathered dragons (…ok, ok, they’re chickens), and an extensive tea collection. When she is not writing, she can be found battling the elements in an effort to create a productive, permaculture urban homestead.