Creating Culture: Religion: Festivals and Feasts
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Now that we've covered the less fun aspects of how religions impact cultures, let's talk about the visible, vibrant way religions impact cultures. Namely, let's talk about festivals, feasts, and religious organizations.
This post will focus on feasts and festivals, next week will focus on religious organizations, and that will wrap up this section of the "Creating Culture" blog posts. Have other culture related questions you want me to cover? Put them in the comments or send me a note on the contact page, and I'll do my best to discuss them!
Alright. Let's start with a basic question: Why do festivals and feasts exist?
Like most things from a religious standpoint, festivals and feasts exist for one of two main purposes:
(1) To celebrate and remember something the god or gods did in the past, or
(2) To appease the god/gods and either stop their judgement or keep their judgement at bay.
The first section is easier and more fun to discuss and brainstorm, so we'll start there.
Depending on the particular god being worshipped and remembered, the festival will look different. If, say, it was a festival for the Greek god Apollo, there would likely be decorations resembling the sun and there would be many creative arts being practiced: music, poetry, writing, artwork, anything the muses could have attributed to them.
Regardless, you should ask yourself:
(1) What symbols of the god/gods should be present?
(2) How does this god prefer to be worshipped?
And finally, if the festival or feast is in remembrance of something attributed to the god, it's likely there will be a reenactment of some sort, the story will be told again, and so on.
A useful example of this comes from the Bible, looking at the Passover Feast. This feast is done in remembrance of how the Hebrew God rescued the people from slavery in Egypt. They recreate the meal, each part of the meal holding symbolic significance in how they remember the event.
How can you use food, music, decorations, reenactments, and members of the religious system (i.e. priests, priestesses, shamans, and so on) in the celebration of this feast/festival?
This will make the festival realistic enough for your reader to believe it's been part of the culture for a long time.
A less happy example from fiction is the Hunger Games. This is a recurring event in the culture of Panem as a reminder of how peace was achieved and the cost of the prosperity they enjoy. At least, that's the official story. That story impacts the entirety of the culture--children grow up afraid of being reaped, parents have children knowing they may lose them to a government sanctioned slaughter, those districts that can afford to prepare and train their children to win, and the Capitol looks forward to it as the entertainment of the year.
If you can create a festival that has an effect like the Hunger Games, you're doing something right.
But what about the other option?
Assuming that in your world there is a god or gods who need appeasing, what does that look like? How does that impact the culture?
Are sacrifices made? What kind of sacrifices? Who makes the sacrifices?
Is there a certain set of rules the religious organization must follow in order to do the ceremony right? Can anyone take part in the ceremony, or must they be ritually cleansed? What does that process entail?
Which god are they trying to appease? What happens if they fail? Do they try again?
There is a story of a society in South America in which the society was struggling through numerous earthquakes that killed many children. Desperate to appease the gods who shook the earth, the elders and surviving adults began dancing day and night until the earthquakes stopped.
When the aftershocks began, they danced again.
That was what they knew to do to appease the gods they'd angered. How does your culture respond to angry gods? Can the gods be appeased? If you have a pantheon, could calling out to a different god help calm the angry god? (i.e. could your characters beg Artemis to calm Apollo?)
I've included another flow chart to help you think through these options.
Come back next week for a discussion on creating religious systems and organizations.
J. J. Hanna is a Professional Writing major at Taylor University. In her spare time she creates YouTube Videos and Comics, and practices Karate at a local dojo. If you have a writing question, she'd love to hear from you! She is also looking for freelancing work, so if you have editing, beta reading, or writing needs, or would simply like to chat in a consultation, please let her know. Like what you see and want to get more content like this, or have your specific questions answered? Check out how you can support her on Patreon for as little as $3 a month.
This week's video is another Book Babble video, discussing my thoughts on the impending end of Supernatural (15 seasons! Wow!) and what it was like to live without my laptop for a week.
Also, if you get a chance, go check out my review of Mike Nappa's book, Annabel Lee. I really enjoyed this thriller.