As is always, there are many different types of believe systems and religions in the world. But what about in the world of your characters? Do they have many religions or maybe just two or three? What about one "religion" but each person choses a seperate God or Goddess to dedicate themselves to?
Research here can be really fun, especially when you can take your basic understanding and turn it into a brand new, made up religion! In my story "The Kinir Chronicles: Book 1", right in the first scene I bring a deity into the picture. No, the diety is not an actual character, but Tyn makes the sign of Rosis the Goddess of Death on his chest. Rosis is someone I made up, off the top of my head - really at the spare of the moment. Tyn is a very religious or spiritual type of elf and so I had to do a bit research and a bit of imagining to figure out how his faith reacts. He is very concerned about death and even if he is reponsible for the death, he still says the Death Rites to Rosis, etc.
Now, in that particular instance I did not have to have a full understanding of every aspect of a faith or believe system. However, your novel might. Writing about corruption in a church? A rogue priest? An evil nun? Then you'd really need to know how it works in detail. Once again, even if you are making up a brand new concept out of your head, you really should have an understanding of some of our own religions in order to have it make sense or to have yours be relistic and convincing - powerful.
Even in "contemporary" novels, if you talk about religion, you have to get it right! One thing I absolutely hate is reading a novel where the author has totally messed up the belief system. Yes, I know that the character might not know or have their prejudices - but there is a tone and phrasing that makes me zero in on the fact that the author really doesn't know what he's talking about. Details are missing or something - I'm not sure what it is but regardless - I hate ignorance and stuidity. As a writer, if you don't know it as truth, then I don't think you should write about it. Yes I repeat, everyone is entitled to their own opinions and they can hate one religion or whatever over the other. It's their right. But and I stress the but here - how can you realistically hate something that you know nothing about?
Life is full of funny and sometimes odd traditions. I tend to lump traditions together into four categories - Birth, Graduation, Marriage, and Death.
Now within those four you can split it up more to have specific traditions for different reasons. Birth comes with birthdays, sometimes baptism, and for boys circumsicion. Graduation deals with anything from graduating high school to completeing a military training course to simply completing something worth celebrating about. Marriage is of course - marriage, anniversaries, the joining of families, etc. Death is just that death. There are many ways to die that can bring about different sorts of traditions.
So, once you have a basic religion set down for your characters, what will the traditions be and why? The Writer's Academy" used to have a lesson that talked about this. This is what I said in the lesson.
Simple example – do they call it a funeral or a death ceremony? In my novel “The Faery’s Tale” they do not get ‘married’ at a ‘wedding ceremony’ they have a ‘union ceremony’ to be ‘united’ to one another. That is simple in the fact that
you changed the words but they mean the same thing.
The real imagination comes into play when you change the format. A real life example would be the difference of traditions between the Christian Wedding Ceremony and the Wiccan Handfasting Ceremony. They are both ceremonies of marriage but are quite
different in many ways.
Another example between funeral ceremonies would be like modern funerals where the person can be either buried or cremated but in certain cultures during the medieval ages they would send the body down the river then set it ablaze with a flaming arrow. It is up to you weather you would like to use a tradition already available or make your own.
When it comes to births – do they have baptisms and if so at what age? What types of
blessings or prayers are given to the child? Do they celebrate as we do with
gifts on the birthday or not?
Use your imagination! Make it so that on the birth anniversary of a child that the parents and grandparents are given gifts from the child in thanks for teaching them life’s lessons. (I would not mind that myself!) Alternatively, make the wedding tradition be that the bride wears neon pink because the goddess Fruitcake of Weddings and Children likes the color pink! Whatever you want is golden!
No matter how silly or serious you want it to be, the main point is to have it make sense. Don't throw out there that the bride wears grey and leave it at that. Explain why since for most of us here on Earth, that is against the "norm" so your task is to make it the norm!