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crazy preacher

No, not that kind of faith.

Well, at least not exactly like that.

I talked earlier about how language is simultaneously a unifying force, as well as a divisive one. The same sort of thing also applies to religion. This is especially true when they differ on fundamental levels.

The biggest battle? Monotheism v. polytheism.

Up until relatively recently, monotheism was rare. Outside of Zoroastrianism and similar religions, monotheism didn’t really develop in any major form until the advent of Judaism. Zoroastrianism isn’t really even monotheistic (more a fusion of dualism with monotheistic trends). Early Judaism was more along the lines of “my god is best god”, as they recognized other gods other than theirs, they just didn’t care to worship them above their own.

That’s why I decided to go with a lot of polytheistic stuff with a smattering of monotheism thrown in.

With Belanor I decided to go with a Hellenic-styled pantheon. Basically what I mean by that is that they have a main pantheon of gods and goddesses, and then a ton of minor, very specific deities thrown in. Their northern neighbors worship the same main pantheon, but that’s it, and with different names. This is to provide a sort of Greek-Roman religious relationship. At its roots it’s exactly the same, but the specifics have diverged over time because of differing development and distance. This would allow me to have a nation with a diverse and varied regional pantheon the people focus on, while still having the main group as a unifying force in the population. Because of the various cults of worship that have popped up over the years, there’s no real centralized organization of faith. There is a religious leader in the capitol who rules on religious questions and matters alongside their small council. As a whole, though, there’s no major force of faith in the country. Like their northern neighbors they have local faith leaders, but there’s no great strength of politic behind them.

The Ataeran religion is more along the lines of the Abrahamic faiths. Stemming from one god with multiple major under-gods, they’ve splintered off into a number of different faiths. Interfaith wars have sprung up from this, and the two major denominations are now in a relationship that very much resemble the Christianity-Islam dynamic of the Crusades era.

Unlike with Belanor and their northern neighbors, the Edham religion holds an enormous amount of power. Their organization is more based on that of Catholicism: lots of tiers of church authority, a head of the faith who operates like a monarch within the hierarchy, local positions of power and taxation rights, etc. Their traditions of worship are more similar to Islam, with open-air public prayer and whatnot. There is an exception to this, as certain families, as well as the royal family, have the privileged to complete their rituals in private, ancient nemetons that are a parallel to the ancient Celtic nemetons. This comes from an idea that the oldest families have a “closer communion with God”, and so they don’t require the middleman of the clergy, as it were. The traditions of prayer in the nemeton are slightly different, as the old families are allowed to still complete the old, more pagan rituals of pre-Edham days. But, the Edham are just one faith group of the Ataerans. There is their rival faith, the Qrathine, who are more similar to fundamental Judaism, as well as the smaller movements such as the Vestal Daughters and the Vhosonites, who’re an atheistic/agnostic movement that recently sprung up in opposition to the forceful hand of the church. But I can go more into that later.

There are also a number of other faiths as well. The nomads of the northern plains believe in the Sun and Moon as gods, rituals normally revolving around blood sacrifices and their horses. The many principalities of Ahsan Maldukh operate on a sort of Egyptian faith, where their dead princes ascend to the heavens to resume their positions as gods, their mortal form being seen as a god walking on the earth. Since their subjugation by Edhaman, this system has been manipulated, but that’ll come up in a later post. Kalsa follows a faith that ended up being Sikhism, even the name comes from the Sikh faith. I’ve always found them fascinating as a group, and so this subconsciously influenced my choices for them a great deal. The Batari from Sahan id-Batar worship what they call The Corpse of God. They believe the soul is without gender, and so they use God as a gender-neutral phrase to describe the deity who they believe sacrificed her life to protect their people. They recognize the existence of other gods in the world as legitimate, but they choose to only worship this one, supposedly dead, god/goddess.

I wanted my faiths to have a feeling of being well-aged. Because of this, most of the human faiths, stemming from similar roots in many cases, have heavy Celtic and Germanic influences underneath their fresher, Hellenic faith. The Ataerans follow many Zoroastrian and Arabian pagan rituals in addition to their Abrahamic traditions. The older families’ rituals are also influenced heavily by the Celtic druids. The southeastern human nations follow the more Indian and Egyptian lines, and farther south than this form a more Japanese Taoist system. The northern faiths follow that Hellenic system, but the druidic and shamanistic roots are very strong  here, even more so than others. There are some other smaller cults and faiths swirling around, even some surviving Ataeran pagans, but they aren’t major enough to be worth explaining right now. However, the survival of older faiths is important to give your world a real sense of age and history. It helps with the sense of place, I’ve found.

Faith holds a people together, but it also gives people something to stereotype in strangers. One faith may consider another with suspicion because of how different it is. In a faith like the nomad’s in which they worship their horses in many respects, other faiths may find their close relationship with their horses very strange indeed. Stereotypes about what “kind” of people worship horses develop from here, affecting not only the public relations, but also the interfaith dialogue.

Faith, or even a lack thereof, I’ve found, is just as important in a story as language and general culture. How strong of a hold it has over politics is very important because it dictates the public feelings and general air of the faith. Lax faiths can be publicly criticized and tend to serve more as a guiding unifying force. Strict and powerful churches would encourage a more private criticism and a more forceful hand in public, leading to crusades and religious paranoia of other faithful kingdoms. Faiths that discourage the study of the natural world, like early Christianity, in favor of explanations along the lines of “the gods have willed it to be so” are less apt to have advanced medicine or an advanced understanding of the natural world, whereas those like early Islam and the Hellenic faiths who embraced science and technology tended to be consistently more advanced as a culture. Places like al-Andalus were considered metropolitan cultural and scientific wonders of the world because of their adherence to Islam’s emphasis on knowledge. In other words, religion affects the society in ways that many people don’t tend to realize.

Later on I’ll get into the aspects of different religions I’m using and my inspiration behind them, but I hope you all have enjoyed this little mental adventure down the road of my thoughts on religion in fantasy fiction.