B is for Bibles (and Other Holy Texts) – Worldbuilding Religions

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Before we delve too deeply into this topic, I just want to say one thing first: it is absolutely possible to create a religion without having some sort of sacred text or scriptures to go with it.

We’ll discuss some other aspects of religious doctrines and creeds later in this series, though, so if you are worldbuilding your religion and discover that it doesn’t have any specific set of scriptures, don’t worry about it and just move on.

If you do have some sort of sacred text that guides your fictional religion, though, there are a few aspects you need to consider.

Divine Inspiration

Since we’re looking at this from a fantasy writing aspect, anything is possible. Literally. Anything. So don’t box yourself in, especially with traditions from your own religious beliefs. Those beliefs can guide you, but take advantage of the ‘what if’ scenarios that writing the fantasy genre can allow.

Divine inspiration can mean that a deity guided a writer as they worked, but the actual words were left to the writer’s discretion. But what if there was a sacred text actually written by the hand of the deity? How would that affect the religious beliefs of your world/cultures?

The Author’s Intentions

Whether the person knew they were writing for posterity, and that future generations would refer to their records for doctrinal purposes, will possibly affect the tone and wording of the content, and it will definitely influence the content itself.

Sacred texts can also be private, though. I doubt, at the time he was writing them, that the Apostle Paul anticipated his letters to the local churches in the Middle East would end up as part of the sacred texts of Christianity and spread around the entire world.

What Makes it Sacred?

This might be anything from sacred texts needing to be in agreement on certain tenets of faith, to being written on a certain holy day, or even simply mentioning a particular deity.

The criteria for this type of decision can also open up a lot of story conflict potential, though. The history of the Christian church is rife with these sorts of decisions, and it’s not uncommon for faith communities to be torn apart because of it.

Worldbuilding Exercises

  1. Does your fictional religion have any sort of sacred text, or more than one? What are they called? If not, why not, and how are the traditions of the faith passed on to others?
  2. Who wrote these sacred texts, and why? If they were discovered and the writer is unknown, what were the circumstances behind that discovery?
  3. What qualifications must a text meet to be considered a sacred one?
  4. How much of a role does the text play in defining the parameters of the religion associated with it?
  5. Are contradictions or disagreement with what the sacred text contains considered to be heresy?

Leave a comment below if you have any questions! Thanks for stopping by!

2 Comments

  1. The entire plot of one of the books in my high fantasy series revolves around holy text: an earlier version has been discovered by an archaeologist and there are some small but significant differences between that version and the version that is considered definitive. Much conflict ensues… You can say “it’s just words,” but for the people who wrestle with it, it’s beyond life-and-death important; it’s life and death of the soul.
    Black and White (Words and Pictures)

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