Creating Cults and Raising Religions

 

Before you start raising hell (and gods) in your setting, you’ll need to know the difference between a religion and a cult. Here are a couple links with short articles examining the differences between the two.
Article one
Article two

Basically, it boils down to longevity; if a cult stays around long enough, it gets considered a religion.

The next thing you’ll want to consider is how many different groups are in the active setting (the area your characters go through). While it’s not always the case, it is more likely the number of these will be inversely proportional to how convincing the leaders are. That is, if the leaders aren’t effective, someone else will try to shoehorn their way into the population’s mind (and often their purses.)
>Which groups were here the longest?
>Which ones were brought here from other areas?
>Which ones are the most wide-spread?

What are the basic beliefs of each of the groups? Bare in mind the notes for each are generalizations, and are obviously not true of every religion, so don’t feel like you have to stick with what it says.
>Do they believe people are inherently good, or do they think them inherently evil?
>>A group that believes people are inherently good is more likely to encourage charity and kindness, while a group that believes people to be evil will be more likely to have strict rules and punishments.
>Do they believe in some form of afterlife?
>>If so, they will have rules and laws that must be followed to get there. If not, they will have rules that supposedly help their followers live their life to the fullest, often by converting as many people as possible.
>Do they believe in reincarnation?
>>If so, they will likely have lists of people who were supposedly reincarnated (whether this is true or not is up to you), that their followers will likely have to remember.
>Do they believe in some manner of doomsday/apocalypse/divine-end-of-the-world?
>>If so, and they believe it to be coming shortly, they are more likely to be an extremist group.
>Do they believe anyone that is not part of their religion is doomed to an eternity of suffering?
>>If so, they will likely make it their mission to convert as many people as possible.
>Do they believe their god/dess/prophet/saint/savior is going to come down to the planet directly?
>What do they think will happen at that time?
>Do they believe it is their duty to convert others?
>What are the rules and laws set forth by the religious officials?
>What are some of the most important stories from their mythos?
>Are their laws, rules, and mythos available in book form for the followers, or are the religious officials the only ones with access to them?

What symbols do they use during religious rites?
>What symbols do they use as a go-to shorthand for their religion? (Real world examples would be things like crosses for Christianity, the Star of David for Judaism, the yin yang for taoism, and the pentacle for certain pagan religions.)

Are there any articles of clothing that followers need to wear?
>Is this only during worship, or always?
>Are there adornments (such as rings or necklaces) with their symbol that followers don’t need to wear, but often like to so they can be recognized as a member of the religion while in public?

What are the relationships between the religions and cults in the area?
>Are some off-shoots of others? A real world example would be Christianity to Judaism.
>Are there different branches of one religion? (Such as the 800 billion types of Christianity.)
>Which groups directly oppose others in a sort of religious rivalry?
>Which are on surprisingly good terms?

Do any of the religions have a violent history (regardless of how peaceable they may be now)?

Are their followers given a new, religious name upon entering?

What are their funerary practices?
>Do they bury their dead? Cremate them? Something else?
>Are there services held?
>>What do those consist of?
>>>Do they state that funerals are for the living, or do they say they are for the deceased?

What are their worshiping practices?
>Do they have to go to a religious building on a regular basis to listen to a service?
>>What are the buildings called?
>>How often do they go?
>>What is the person who performs the service called?
>Are followers allowed to worship from home?
>Are followers required to both attend services and worship from home?
>Do they perform acts of charity?
>Do they have a choir?

What are their holidays?
>How are they celebrated?
>Do they have any coming-of-age ceremonies, or other rites of passage?
>>What age do they take place at?
>>What do they consist of?
>>Is it done at a fixed time of the year, with everyone who would be that age during the year having it done at once, or is there one for each individual as they turn that age?
>>Is everyone expected to attend these, or just the family?

Do/es their god/dess/s/es actually exist?
>Would the divine entity/entities in question be considered good, neutral, or evil?
>Does their god actually like them or is it more of an ‘ugh, these idiots again’ thing?

For cults: are they suicide cults, or do they aspire to become religions?

 

This post has a part two. It can be found here.