Making Gods & Religions > Holidays, Rites, and Rituals

Holidays-Rites-Rituals-RedRaggedFiend

Through slow toil and struggle we’ve come back around to the World Building Process. If you need a refresher (I did!) check out the last post: Making Gods & Religions > Organization & Worship. This time we’re cementing the important holidays, rites, and rituals for the religions. But where do we start?

Circles, Lines, and Points

Holidays-Rites-Rituals-Circles-Lines-Points

Now imagine the ink of those circles, lines, and points are time. It’s all simple if we break it down this way. The circle represents the seasonal cycle, a year. Holidays happen every year. Rites are represented by lines, the lifespan of the people. It has a definitive start and end. The religious rites should hit the important beats as followers of our religions progress through their lives. That leaves points. Points are triggered events. They happen only sometimes and not on a strict schedule. This represents specific rituals.

Annual Holidays

The easiest way to get started with annual holidays is by looking at a basic calendar of the seasons and understanding the observable important dates. There are eight.

  • Winter transition to Spring
  • High Spring (Vernal Equinox)
  • Spring transition to Summer
  • High Summer (Summer Solstice)
  • Summer transition to Autumn
  • High Autumn (Autumnal Equinox)
  • Autumn transition to Winter
  • High Winter (Winter Solstice)

In truth, we only want to focus on the four celestial events. The passing of seasons are important and fit well with some deities, but we also don’t want to invent holidays just to invent them. We already have some info from our gods to fill in the blanks. We can also use this handy 1d20 table to generate ideas of how people commemorate the occasion.

1d20 Holiday Commemorations

  1. Court Entertainment: Food, drink, and entertainment provided by powerful to common folk
  2. Public Punishment
  3. Song & Dance
  4. Fasting
  5. Storytelling
  6. Games (Board/Card/Dice/Logic/Puzzles/Sudoku)
  7. Sport (Combat/Ball/Child Play/Hopscotch/Olympics
  8. Specific Food or Drink
  9. Gambling
  10. Bacchanal
  11. Reading (Poetry/Prose)
  12. Comedy (Verbal/Slapstick) Buffoon, Jester, Mime
  13. Theatre
  14. Animals (Circus/Combat/Racing/Zoo)
  15. Magic (Conjuring/Fireworks/Fortuneteller/Parlor Tricks/Sleight of Hand)
  16. Parade (Court/Funeral/Holiday/Religion/Triumph)
  17. Sermon
  18. Philosophy (Debate/Salon)
  19. Sacrifice
  20. Roll twice, Ignore 20

Pantheon One Holidays

Winter Transition to Spring

Celebrates the cyclical return of natural life (The Phoenix). The holiday features a symbolic period of fasting that culminates in a feast.

High Spring

Celebration of the vernal equinox that focuses on romantic love and procreation. Young, eligible persons share aphrodisiac seafood (The Naiad).

High Summer

Flame Night, celebration of the summer solstice with candlelight parade to mark the shortest night of the year (The Phoenix).

High Fall

Ember Eve, a harvest moon bonfire to celebrate the autumnal equinox. Worshipers labor through the night to collect the autumn harvest (Night Swan, The Phoenix).

Fall Transition to Winter

To mark the start of the crafting season, the rich and powerful bestow gifts of crafting materials to the common folk (The Maker).

High Winter

Ash Night marks the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. The evening is spent around the hearth telling stories and communing rituals to ward off blight and sickness (The Phoenix, Void).

The Phoenix is featured heavily in the annual holidays both as a deity of sunlight and seasonal change. I noted specific names of the holidays if they jumped to mind.

Pantheon Two Holidays

High Spring

Observed leading up to the vernal equinox. People build wooden monuments of boughs and colorful, flowing cloth to celebrate the returning bounty of the land after winter. (Verdant Lady).

High Summer

The rich and powerful throw grand picnics for the common folk. A day of feasting, games, and relaxation to celebrate the summer solstice (Shrouded One).

High Fall

The preceding days are spent cleaning, airing, and preparing food storage areas for the new harvest. The sunset of the autumnal equinox is observed by burning spoiled food stores. The ashes are then scattered on the fallow fields (Wasted One).

High Winter

The winter solstice is celebrated with jokes, parables, close-up magic, and fortune telling. The holiday’s moral being to keep good cheer and get along in tight indoor quarters (The Shrewd).

Pantheon Two’s annual holidays showcase more variety in the deities. The holidays also carry more serious undertones. High Spring reminding people to be thankful and thoughtful for the bounty of nature. In the next season, High Summer serves as a distraction for the masses to keep them mollified. High Fall shows some connection to mold or other blight wiping out food stores. And High Winter is spent reminding people they have to put in effort to get along and avoid cabin fever.

Rites of Passage

If annual holidays were the circle, cyclical events, rites are the lines. Each member of the faith will have a line (their life) and may observe many rites of passage, they will only participate in a few. These rites mark the passage of an individual’s life.

  • Birth
  • Coming of Age
  • Marriage
  • Death

Depending on your world you might include things like graduation and retirement as rites of passage. Since I’m building a more traditional, trope-standard fantasy world they don’t fit. I don’t imagine dwarves celebrating a long service of mining with gold watch, pension, and a Boca Raton condo.

Again, we’ll look at what details make sense from fleshing out the deities. We also have some helpful tables to springboard ideas. First, let’s look at some birth rites.

1d10 Birth Rites

No sense in starting anywhere but the beginning. Below are ten example birth rites. Mix, match, and augment the birth rites as make sense to align a birth rite to the relevant deity(s). My suggestion would be to pick two and detail how the two rites are connected to each other and the faith.

  1. Symbolic Anointing/Bathing (christening, baptism)
  2. Claiming (family/godparents publicly claim child and undertake responsibility)
  3. Baby Shower (Gifts from friends and family to help provide for the newborn)
  4. Body alteration (circumcision, shaving head, piercing ears)
  5. Good fortune donation to poor/religion
  6. Medical Examination (Health review of child to determine if it should be kept or discarded)
  7. Naming Ceremony (record of birth date and official name)
  8. Return to the Land (Planting placenta/umbilical cord with a tree)
  9. Sacred Blessing (first words a newborn hears)
  10. Temple Presentation (Guardians present newborn to religious leaders and request their blessing and protection)

Newborns are swaddled in a thin shroud and presented to shrine keepers with a request for protection (Shrouded One).

1d8 Coming of Age Rites

There are two different ways someone comes of age. The first is by timing. Coming of age determined by timing could be bodily functions, an arbitrary age, like 13 or 18, by completing an ‘adult’ activity for the first time. Might be the first kill, or sexual pairing, or taking part in responsibilities of citizenship.

The second way to determine someone has come of age is by voluntarily submitting to a trial. This may be a performance, recitation of important lore, trial of endurance, or living outside the group for some time.

For simplicity and equality sake I did not create different coming of age rites for males and females. You may want to create gender-specific rites if it fits your world.

  1. Accomplishment (First kill, graduate school, successful voyage)
  2. Biological First (Body hair, menstruation, voice break)
  3. Community Donation (Equipment, land, money)
  4. Defined Age (Between approximate human ages of 12 and 21)
  5. Endurance Trial (Body mutilation, exposure, poisoning)
  6. Isolated Reflection (Fasting, vision quest, vow of silence)
  7. Performance (Dance, recitation, song)
  8. Travel Abroad (Gap year, pilgrimmage, Rumspringa)

Because Coming of Age has something the participant does they usually come with some form of celebration. Below is a quick list to roll on to determine how your Coming of Age rites are celebrated. Conversely, depending on the culture you want to showcase there may be no celebration.

1d6 Coming of Age Celebrations

  1. Adult Fashion (Clothing, haircut, shaving of puberty beard)
  2. Adult Name (Community or self-ascribed)
  3. Feast with Speeches and Stories
  4. First… (Drunk, election vote, sexual experience)
  5. Gifts from Friends and Family
  6. Societal Introduction (Cotillion, debutante ball, quinceaƱera)

After the celebration the new adults of the society have some new responsibilities they must fulfill. The way our world requires persons of some age the responsibility as voter and to serve as jurors, to be tried as legal adults, pay taxes, and be conscripted into the armed forces. Here are 1d8 quick responsibilities that set adults apart from children.

1d8 Coming of Age Responsibilities

  1. Adult Purchases (Alcohol, narcotics, sex, tobacco)
  2. Civic Duties (Jury, public punishment, voting)
  3. Vocation Training (apprenticeship, higher education, receive a mentor)
  4. Eligible for Employment
  5. Eligible for Marriage
  6. Eligible/Mandatory Military Service
  7. Legal Adult (Crime/Punishment)
  8. Legal Adult (Property ownership, sign contracts)

Marriage Rites

People are born and hopefully live long enough to become adults. Traditionally, the next step is to couple with a significant other. Of course the origin of marriage has more to do with the matters of wealth, property, and producing heirs than love. Below marriage is broken down into five different aspects: administration, celebration, gifts, location, and symbolic binding.

1d6 Administration

  1. Community Approval/Witness
  2. Family Heads
  3. Formal Matchmaker
  4. Legal Authority (Governor, judge, lord)
  5. Participants
  6. Religious Leader

1d8 Celebration

  1. Consummation
  2. Dance
  3. Feast
  4. Isolation
  5. Parade
  6. Speech
  7. Theatre
  8. Vacation

1d6 Marriage Gifts

  1. Community to Wedded
  2. State Gift (Governor, lord, king)
  3. Dowry (Wedded families gift exchange)
  4. Guests to Wedded
  5. Wedded Families to Guests
  6. Wedded to Community

1d6 Ceremony Location

  1. Legal Spot (Basilica, town hall, lord’s manor)
  2. Nature Spot
  3. Public Square
  4. Religious Spot (Holy Site, shrine, temple)
  5. Wedded Home
  6. Wedded Family Home

1d6 Symbolic Binding

  1. Anoint Hearth Idol
  2. Cloth/Rope Binding
  3. Cosmetic Denotation of Marriage
  4. Exchange of Handmade Gifts
  5. Jewelry Exchange
  6. Ritual Scar/Tattoo

Death Rites

Every life has an end and death is as natural as birth. There are three aspects for the death rites: body disposal, mourning display, and mourning time period. Consider the importance of body disposal as ritual. This should be about freeing the spirit, setting it to rest, honoring the deceased, and keeping their memory alive within the community.

There are a lot of differences based on your gods and what is culturally significant to your people. So, if you dispose of bodies by cremation, and seafaring is important to your people, a viking funeral fits nicely. But, it doesn’t make so much sense if the people are landlocked mountain dwellers. Something to keep in mind.

1d10 Body Disposal

  1. Burial (Chasm, grave, at sea)
  2. Cannibalism (Food or ritual)
  3. Cremation/Pyre
  4. Dismemberment
  5. Dissolution (Acid/Lye)
  6. Entomb (Cairn, crypt, mausoleum, ossuary)
  7. Exposure (Full, or soft tissue and entomb bones)
  8. Medical Research Donation
  9. Planting (Fertilizer)
  10. Preservation (Freeze, mummify, petrify, taxidermy)

1d8 Mourning Display

  1. Color of Dress
  2. Community Gifts to Bereaved
  3. Donation to Honor Deceased
  4. Dress Decoration (Arm band, ribbon, flower, veil)
  5. Isolation from Society
  6. Residence Decoration (Sign, door symbol, garland)
  7. Temporary Shrine for the Deceased
  8. Vow (Asceticism, prayer, silence)

1d6 Mourning Time Period

  1. Days (Equal to deceased age)
  2. Weeks (Equal to deceased age)
  3. Fortnights (Equal to deceased age)
  4. One Month
  5. One Season
  6. One Year

That ends the rites section. Everything is starting to come together. Below are the rites I put together for Pantheon One and Pantheon Two.

Pantheon One Rites

Birth: Newborns have their heads shaved and anointed in protective symbols (Heirophant).
Coming of Age: Solitary firelight vigil, followed by celebratory speeches. The new adult is now eligible for employment and military service (The Cat).
Marriage: The ceremony takes place at a shrine before the community as witness. The betrothed exchange handmade gifts to symbolize their commitment. The ceremony is followed by a feast and the presentation of community gifts to the newlyweds (The Maker).
Death: The body is dismembered to the sound of magical chants. The pieces are then adorned with magical symbols and talismans to guide the deceased on his/her journey to the afterlife. Mourners grieve by isolating themselves for a number of days equal to the deceased’s age (The Hierophant).

Pantheon Two Rites

Birth: Presentation of newborn wrapped in cloth to shrine/temple and request for protection (Shrouded One).
Coming of Age: Elders pass on knowledge of healing arts. After passing an examination of skill the new adult announces their adult name. The new adult is now responsible to take part in civic duties (Mother Hind).
Marriage: The community advocates whether a marriage is a good match or not. If so, the ceremony is held at the family home and observed by the exchange of earrings. The ceremony is celebrated with a feast and the families of the wedded provide gifts to the community (The Shrewd and Shrouded One).
Death: The deceased’s body is dissolved. Mourners express their grief by wearing a veil for a number of fortnights equal to the deceased’s age (Wasted One).

Finishing with Rituals

Now, all we need to finish this section is to pepper in some rituals. These ‘points’ are triggered events that happen only sometimes in some places to some people. All I do for this section is refer back to my deities for each pantheon and pull the important bits that have yet to be worked into this section.

Pantheon One Rituals

Competition: Participants burn dried flowers and incense for good fortune the night before (The Heirophant).
Guidance: When someone needs guidance they cast a coin into deep waters and pray for guidance (Void).
Love Come/Gone: Seafood to celebrate new love and cure heartbreak (Naiad).
Overland Travel: Leave offerings of fresh milk and flesh at the edge of the wilds for protection on journey (The Cat).
Natural Disasters/Storms: Special sacrifices and prayers to protect from oncoming storms and to atone for natural disasters (Cirrus).
Sailing: Sailors spill blood into the sea as a sacrifice for strong winds and fair weather (Cirrus).

Pantheon Two Rituals

Broken Heart: Burn a small offering to release the burden of unfruitful love/lust (The Phoenix).
Broken Items: Burn irreparable items at sunset as protection from death (The Bridge).
Contracts: Seal binding agreements with oil, vinegar, salt, wine, and blood (The Shrewd).
Night Safety: Prayer at sunset for a quiet and safe night (Bridge).
Overland Travel: Charitable donation and prayer for safety before traveling (Shrouded One).
Receive Good Fortune: Show thanks for receiving good fortune by paying forward gifts and money to friends and family (The Shroud).
Water Freeze/Wet Season: Cast grain and wine into the water as a prayer for a mild winter or protection from flooding (Sea Nymph).

Conclusion

I’m glad for the opportunity to come back to the World Building Process. This post on holidays, rites, and rituals has been a long time in coming and a big thank you to the readers that have been long waiting.

There’s one more stop we need to make to finish up religions and we’ll be able to move forward. Next time we’ll cement what centers of worship and clergy look like. Until then, the best of luck in your world building.

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