P is for Prophecy – Worldbuilding Religions

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This topic is going to loop back around to F is for Fate. Fate and prophecy are interconnected because you can’t really have one without the other. This topic is also going to touch on some concepts from V is for Visions in Worldbuilding Magic Systems.

So, what is prophecy? Prophecy is a prediction of future events. In religious terms, prophecy differs from divination (magical attempts to foretell the future) in that divination is usually sought after by an individual and they seek out someone who specializes in the practice of divination, but prophecy can be given by anyone who is so moved or influenced by the divine. Those who practice divination are not exempt from having the ability to prophesy.

Prophecy is rarely sought after. Usually those who become the subject of a prophetic word never wanted to know in the first place, especially when that prophecy is contrary to their own goals or will require some sort of sacrifice from them. Fantasy stories utilizing the trope of chosen ones almost always incorporate some sort of prophecy aspect.

Depending on the doctrine and theology you have established for your fictional religion so far, there may also be restrictions on the use of divination by believers.

Forms of Prophecy

Prophecy can take different forms depending on its purpose, and the actual way a prophecy is received may differ from how it is shared. For example, an individual may receive a vision, and then either verbally share that vision with others (whether a small group or a large crowd), or may write it down and hide it somewhere to be discovered later, or send it as a letter.

Prophecy may also be given on an individual basis. Perhaps one of your characters visits a religious institution and one of the people there starts giving them warnings and directions for the future with no provocation.

There may even be an item or ritual that triggers personal viewings of events that will come to pass when someone comes into contact with it or participates in a religious ceremony.

Prophetic meanings can also be ascribed to dreams.

Fulfillment of Prophecy

There are several ways that you can bring about the fulfillment of prophecy within your stories, and there are some fun ways that you can play with the concept of free will for you characters through prophetic fulfillment.

A prophecy can be literal, outlining exactly what will happen, and no matter how much your characters push or pull against it, it will come to pass. In these cases, you can pit divine omniscience against free will for your story conflict.

A prophecy may also be vague, and when one is looking for guidance from a prophecy this is the most confusing, and in some ways it makes for the most story conflict potential since your characters can end up on multiple dead ends thinking they’re fulfilling a prophecy (or not fulfilling it) when they’re actually doing the opposite.

Worldbuilding Exercises

  1. Is prophecy a part of the religious experience and expectations in your fictional world?
  2. Are there criteria for determining whether a prophecy is true or false? What are they?
  3. If your religion has a holy book, are prophetic scripture a part of that?
  4. Are there any known prophets currently in existence, or who have existed, within your world? Have any of their predictions come true?

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

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