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Worldbuilding: Politics Intro

Anywhere civilization starts to crop up people tend to group together. The exact definitions of a group of people can be a little vague. You might have people who are grouped together in a town, or in an occupational group. And how a group is managed and how they make decisions together is where politics comes into play.

Politics sound somewhat complicated, but they don’t have to be. In essence politics is how a group makes decisions. This ties partially into how they’ve organized any governing system. Are they held by a single leader, or do they follow more democratic or oligarchical structures? It also ties into cultural beliefs. Places where politics and religion aren’t separated may have some of those choices heavily influenced by a religious group or influence. And where there is a separation, any clash between differing beliefs can cause smaller political problems, even within the same group.

To start figuring out politics, it may help to start with the large picture such as your kingdom or country. The group decisions there are often about how to keep the kingdom and country running. This covers everything from who can become a part of the governing body, to how laws are agreed upon and who can trade with who.

From there take another look at how your group can be divided up. Consider things like religion, social and economic standing, educational level, age, gender and race. Smaller groups within a larger may have different views, and some of the political issues that crop up are the result of conflicting views. How do these smaller groups make themselves heard to the larger group they’re contained within? How do they influence the choices made by their governing body?

Once you have an understanding of how the large group works, consider how it interacts with other groups of the same size. This is where your different countries and varying types of government come into play. Even between groups with the same type of government system, their politics may change; one place may allow certain things where the other bars them.

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Worldbuilding: Holidays

People love celebrating. True, some people like celebrating more than others, but if there’s a reason to celebrate, people will. That’s essentially what the holidays are about–celebrating something. Depending on what your holiday is about will depend on how it’s celebrated and when. When creating a holiday however, there’s a few things to consider.

When

Some holidays have movable days, like Thanksgiving, Easter and the Chinese New Year. The reasons behind that can be varied, which gives you a couple of things to consider when forming your holidays: are specific days of the week considered holy or sacred, as in the case of Easter? Are the holidays tied to a seasonal or lunar calendar as with the Chinese New Year?

Other holidays are firmly locked into a date. These might commemorate a specific historical event such as Guy Fawkes Day for the UK or the Fourth of July for the US. It might also be the reason to celebrate an event such as a death–which is namely why Valentine’s Day is always February 14th.

When also covers how long. Festivals such as Diwali can be celebrate for days. Yule, which coincides with Christmas, lasts for twelve days. Although New Year’s Day is the official holiday, celebrations begin on New Year’s Eve, with people staying awake until midnight to greet the new year.

Why

As I said, if there’s a reason to celebrate, people will. This doesn’t just apply to big holidays either: think of the last time you went out for a nice dinner with a friend or family because someone had good news. A job promotion, new baby, buying a house or even just to celebrate someone’s birthday. The reasons for a celebration are varied, and that means so are the reasons for a holiday.

Some holidays mark the change of seasons such as the Solstices or even the change of the calendar such as the many varied new year holidays. Holidays are also used to mark and celebrate important figures, though often these are country or region specific.

Other holidays might have a specific function such as remembering the dead as in Día de los Muertos or in celebrating love such as in Valentine’s day.

How

If you’re creating a holiday, also consider how it would be celebrated. You can probably think of a few things connected to each holiday you know and celebrate with ease.  Red decorations for Chinese New Year, presents for Christmas, turkey for Thanksgiving, sugar skulls for Day of the Dead, and so on and so forth.

While some holidays include giving gifts, others might call for things like fireworks and parades. Specific dishes might be prepared around that time such as mooncakes or stuffing. Color patterns could be associated with various holidays such as red, white and blue or orange and black. Staying up until midnight and egg hunts are two very specific traditions associated with New Year’s and Easter respectively.

The how is often tied directly into the why, but keep in mind that holidays have a varied history of their own. Some of them have been completely taken over, becoming defunct even though parts of their celebrations remain in the holidays that have absorbed them.

 

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Worldbuilding: Superstitions

It might not surprise you to learn that supersition ties into your culture as well. Your culture, after all, is built on your terrain and the available resources. Superstitions are much the same way. In order to create a good superstition however, it helps to understand what they are.

By definition, superstitions are beliefs or practices based on beliefs in the supernatural. Often these aren’t based in fact, but they may be based on a false idea of causaution. For example: having a lucky item. If you happen to have that particular item on you when you’re having a good day, you might think of it as ‘lucky.’ Your brain then subconsciously looks for more evidence to back up that idea while disregarding anything that refutes it. In other words: If you think an item is lucky, it will be. The same thing happens in reverse.

Because of that however, things like old wives’ tales tend to persist because lots of people have heard them, and because our brains are looking for reasons to believe them (or not, dependent on your view). Stepping on a crack in the sidewalk won’t really break yours or anyone else’s back, but a common schoolyard rhyme warns against doing just that: Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.

Superstitions also include practices. Things like throwing salt over your shoulder, or knocking on wood are done to ward off bad luck. Picking a penny up face-up off the street invites good luck (some claim this is especially true in regards to finances). Other practices making a wish on a star, or kissing a necklace clasp before putting it behind you. These little rituals are things that you or someone you know might do without putting much thought behind it, a sort of ongoing habit that you almost know doesn’t mean much, but you still do. Just in case.

As I mentioned at the top however, superstitions tie into your culture. In some places, certain colors are considered lucky. Red wedding dresses are signs of good luck in China and India, but a daring and even deadly choice in western cultures. Finding a place to start building your supersition is as easy as lookign at some of your ceremonies. What colors are associated with those ceremonies?

Another place to look at is the animals your created people would be exposed to. Cats are one such example. The Japanese maneki neko is a cat believed to bring good luck to its owners. On the other hand, black cats have picked up an unfortunate and undeserved label of bad luck due to old fears of witchcraft and evil. Similarly, snakes are considered bad,  and some practices include nailing a dead snake over the door to prevent illness. Examine which animals your people would deal with, and some of the trouble (or lack of trouble) they might cause. Keep in mind that other superstitions can affect how an animal is perceived: cats in general after all, are supposedly lucky, it’s only black cats that are supposed to be unlucky.

One final place is also in your plants. Knocking on wood is one common superstion, with little known about it’s actual origins. Making wishes on dandelions is another. Plants have a number of uses, from food to medicine, which makes them a prime place for superstitions. Plants that are difficult to grow in a gardens and herb beds might come across as ‘lucky’ plants for those that can get them to seed and sprout. Interestingly this can lead to some curious beliefs as certain plants should never be given away: instead have a friend ‘steal’ them from your garden.

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Worldbuilding: Culture Introduction

Now that you’ve got a world and maybe even a city or two to populate your world, you might need to think about culture. In very broad terms, culture is the customs, arts and intellectual achievements of a given region. Culture is in itself, a broad term because of how much in encompasses. Although culture is has an extensive reach and is deeply engrained in society, society only dictates the people and hierarches of those living in a particular area. Culture dictates the beliefs, cuisine, art and morals of that same group.

One form culture takes is that of customs. These might be the customs of social behaviors such as etiquette or manners. Custom also includes tradition, such a how you celebrate a holiday or even just a birthday. Here in the US, we tip servers and bartenders, it’s expected and often when it’s not done waitstaff will grump about being stiffed–largely because it’s so ingrained in our culture their wages are  based on getting those tips. Over in England, tipping isn’t done.  It’s one social custom that changes between culture, and there are plenty of other examples as well. Handshakes, greetings, even terms of endearment vary across cultures.

Another place form of culture is in the arts. Not only is this in paintings, sculpture and literature, but also in the music and performing arts such as dance and theatre. Music is an exceptional case for this. Latin music uses a variety of percussion instruments such as bongos, the guiro, and pandeiro among others alongside string instruments similar to guitars, which create lively beats. Heading into music from China and Japan, we find more string and wind instruments such as the dizi, erhu, shakuhachi, and the taiko drum, resulting in more somber and calming music. Both types of music are beautiful, but very different from one another.

The final place for culture I’d like to mention is in intellectual achievement. This doesn’t mean in how smart a culture is. This applies to the beliefs, laws and morals they hold to be true. That leaves a lot of room for variation, and a lot of conflict between cultures and nations.

Also keep in mind that culture is a learned thing. Most cultural behaviors are taught to us by our peers. These aren’t just the manners we learn from parents like please and thank you, but the jokes we learn from our friends we wouldn’t share in front of our grandparents.