Okay, to be honest, R and S are going to be kind of backwards, so if you want to wait to read R is for Relics until after tomorrow’s post goes out, feel free to do so.
For most of us, the first thing that comes to mind when we see the word ‘relics’ is… old stuff. Antiques. The leftovers of lives lived in the past. But what does this have to do with religion?
Well, in a way, it’s very similar to being an avid fan of someone. If there’s a celebrity that you really, really like—no, I mean REALLY REALLY like, in a fanatical way—then you want to get as close to them as possible. You want to be around them, and touch them, and even acquire something that they’ve worn for a long time. Perhaps you even want a piece of their hair.
And that, worldbuilders, is what a relic is, in religious terms. An item that someone of religious significance (usually a saint—which we’ll talk about saints for tomorrow’s post) wore or used during their life. Sometimes, if said saint or holy person, is deceased, relics can even include parts of their body (fingerbones, for example.) Less often, even places could be considered to be relics, such as the Pool of Bethesda mentioned in the New Testament in the Bible.
Why would anyone want these things, you wonder? Because to some extent, belief in the supernatural is naturally followed by superstition. When someone becomes venerated either for their strong faith or for their ability to work miracles, then religious people who are desperate to either be like those people or who are desperate for a life-changing miracle will seek those things out. Essentially, they want the same blessings that they perceived as being granted to that particular person, and believe that by possessing something that they once did, they will also come under that blessing.
What relics are purported to do for those who acquire them will be somewhat dependent on what the saint (or location) is known for.
Now, whether or not any of this actually works in the worlds and religions you’re creating is up to you!
Particularly in fantasy stories, the potential for utilizing relics within religious practice are very rich, since between magic and belief, you can have so many things that can happen. If magic is real in the world you’re building, then inevitably some sort of religious belief will crop up around it. Suddenly you may have saints who are venerated for their magical abilities, and if magic is a part of nature, then you may have locations that become frequented because they are natural reservoirs that contain magic.
- Is it possible for items, the physical remains of the deceased, or locations to become imbued with supernatural powers in your world?
- If it is possible, what was the first instance where this happened? How was it discovered, and is it now a phenomena that is sought after?
- Are there any religious doctrines surrounding the use of relics? Are they encouraged or forbidden?
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.