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Evolutionary Theology


From sticks and stones to the modern faith. (May be offensive to some readers, read with caution)

The Evolution of Faith

It is common that many RPG faiths are either simulations of the Greek and Roman pantheons, or copies of the Roman Catholic Church. The following treatise explores the possible evolution of faith from the worship of local rocks and stars to the coming of the incarnate god among men. It takes into account several factors.

1. Godhood is something that is open to be gained or alternately lost by any number of spirit/elemental/ghostly beings.
2. The Gods jockey for power among themselves in terms of numbers of worshippers and temples.
3. No one talks about Fight Club
4. There are Elder Gods (IA IA Cthulu!) who are actually responcible for making things like creation, time, living things and the gods that followed after them are the gods that are percieved by humanity. The modern gods are their offspring/pretenders/newcomers, etc.

Some readers may find this work blasphemous, heretical, or just plain wrong. To you, I offer sincere apology and say that this is a work of fiction, not intended to challenge or offend any one religious view.

Localized Paganism
At this stage, often the most primitive stage, humanity worships whatever potent spirit or entity is the most handy and willing to reciprocate the gesture. Totem spirits, celestials, demons, elementals, and ghosts are all very viable choices. The most common sort of Localized Paganism is the cult of Ancestor Worship, followed by totemic and animistic faiths. Demon faiths tend to be spectacularly violent and evil and a scourge to their neighbors.

Ancestor Worship, veneration of the spirits of the dead, is a very usable form of faith. If there are living members, then there are going to be dead members. Through the natural ability or mediums and oracles, communication can be held with the dead. They offer advice, wisdom, guidance in exchange for offerings made in family shrines and public mausoleums. Aside from the boon of their wisdom and experience, the Ancestor Cult lacks the heavy firepower of other clergy.

The Totemic Faith and Animistic Faith deal with similar sorts of beings. The Totemic faith adopts an animal spirit as a guide and protector. More warlike groups often adopt predators, while more peaceful societies choose animals known for their higher traits rather than their hunting adeptness. Thus the primitive orcish war band might venerate Worg, a violent and savage wolf spirit, the most sedentary gathering society of the nutkin Halflings might espouse worship of Brown Squirrel for his cunning and wisdom at avoiding the Children of Worg. The Animistic Faith adopts an inanimate object as the subject of its devotion, such as a sacred mountain, blessed pool, holy river, etc. The spirit of the object, invariably an elemental benefits from the devotion and while there is not much wisdom or hearth advice forthcoming, a tribe who venerate the potent fire spirit of a volcano can expect some pyrotechnics should they be assaulted by outsiders.

The Celestial Faith venerates a particular celestial body, pretty much always the Sun given its regularity, and necessity to life. Many agricultural societies will adopt a celestial faith, worshipping the sun and the passage of the seasons. Some consider the adoption of a celestial patron over a totemic, ancestral, or animistic patron as a sign of progress on the part of that society. Oddly though, if two societies worship the same celestial body through different means, there is seldom any form of negation. If the sun-worshipping Children of Karnak, who venerate a woman clad in gold bearing a brass scythe and an hourglass encounter the Pezzites who venerate Kushluk the Sky Father, who appears as an eagle composed of flame both deities co-exist though there will be visible tension between the two societies.

The Demonic, or Infernal faith is one of the more disturbing of faiths. Espousing a demon, devil, or other highly malefic entity this society builds monuments of blood and bone, offer human sacrifice to their dark god and are violent and warlike. More disturbing is the fact that the demon benefactor offers both wisdom, tainted as it may be, and can manifest its power to defend its people. Demonic worshipping societies flourish so long as they have enemies to attack and sacrifice, becoming wealthy, powerful, and jaded beyond imagination. Only when they are faced with massive opposition, or once they conquer their surroundings does the demonic cult falter. Opposition can cause the retreat of the demonic patron, and once there are no more foes, the demonic patron will expect the faithful to sacrifice their own to appease its hunger.

A Note on Sacrifice - As Manfred expresses, it would not be uncommon for many of the above sets of dieties to accept, or even ask for signifigant or even human sacrifice. Now the question that arises is what would then seperate a little god of a river asking for a criminal to be drowned in her waters once a year and the patron demon who asks that a human be sacrificed in his name on roughly the same time table? Intention plays a large portion of solving said question. While the above mentioned water god asks this tribute for her own reasons, the demon or malefic entity is going to spread misery, suffering, pain, oppress others and do all of those other nasty things demons do. He will have his sacrifice, where-as there might be villagers who would willingly offer themselves to their patron water god in exchange for good fishing, or good weather, or just a potent blessing on their families.

Unified Paganism
In its core concepts the Unified Pagan faith is not to different from localized paganism. The truth of the matter is that the local system of paganism does not survive regular contact with outside societies for very long. The constant blending of ideas and such inevitably cause a clash between the two interacting societies. In the previously mentioned solar deity, both societies could not claim the primacy of their divinity over the other. In some cases this is simply solved by warfare. This can be a simple as a violent struggle between the shaman, witch doctors and what not for the popular support of the populace to an organized genocide of the obvious heretics, IE the losers. Now less common is the non-violent option in which the two or more associated faiths are fused into a syncretistic pantheon. One god will submit to the other, perhaps taking the auspice of being the divinity of the morning, while the other reigns as god of the sun. In this manner large pantheons can be formed.

There are a few things that are set in the formation of the Unified Pagan pantheon. The spirits of the dead very rarely ever gain enough potence to become members of a pantheon, but it is not uncommon for them to be venerated as heroes and saints of the faith. Demons are antagonistic to other entities and will not willing share their power or worshippers. They will accept the tribute of others and take other deities as subordinates but this is rare. Celestials, totems and elementals have little problem sharing power in these situations but it has been repeated regularly that celestials tend to rise in the power structure while the more apathetic elementals generally only maintain their status quo.

The typical fantasy setting uses the Unified Pagan faith. These pantheons, once formed, can be quite strong and durable, with membership changing on occasion. This roll-over keeps the deities on their feet and dealing with their flocks, rather than sliding back and just letting the prayers and offerings roll in with little in return. These pantheons are also stronger when it comes to facing other pantheons for worshippers and turf, able to resist exceptionally strong local pagan faiths, especially the militant celestial and demonic founded faiths.

The Unified Pagan faith does have several weaknesses. The main is that it lacks a strong central structure, instead functioning as a confederation of temples and priests. When confronted by a powerful monotheistic power, many Unified Pagan faiths begin to fragment as they loose worshippers, temples and turf to the more focused power and organization of the lone deity. Some suffer even worse attrition when confronted with lesser members of the pantheon defecting to the lone deity and assuming secondary positions of power. (Angels and saints, etc)

The Monotheist Pantheon
This is the ascension of a single deity over all the rest, to the point where the other deities are no longer peers to the one. The other gods become subordinate to the will of the one, and are placed as lieutenants within the ranks of the elders spiritual ranks. It is possible for the Unified Pagan step to be completely passed over. A potent divinity might rise in power alone, possibly through lack of competition, or simply eliminating said competition.

The most common sort of Monotheistic pantheon is the celestial patron, most often the sun. The power gained was not easy, so the Monotheist god is seldom aggressive in challenging other pantheons unless it is assured of its success, usually by way of defector or the works of its clergy. The weaknesses of the monotheist pantheon often spring from the authoritarian perspective of the clery and diety. Some monotheistic deities can rule their domains with the sheer terror of suffering the ire of the god, or being expelled from the fold. Many see the celestial deity as becoming powerful to the point of becoming autistic, or emotionally detached from its congregations

While the Celestial Patron is the most common sort of divinity to assume the solo mantle, the venerable spirits of the dead can rise in power, having a connection to humanity (or their own varigated races) that many of the other sorts of spirits lack. The Ancestral God is likely to be bound by very traditional and formal views, holding onto actions and precepts that it held in life and early godhood. The tenets of funeral pomp and circumstance take priority, as do offerings to the spirits of the deceased and a positive view towards the elderly and experienced

Totemic and Animistic lone Gods are rare, as they lack the human (or other race) perspective, being almost alien in thought themselves. Animistic dieties are invariably drawn into the great conflict of the elemental courts, fire against water, earth against air. This distracts them from their duties to their followers, often leaving the door open for new faiths to spring up under the elemental’s heels. The Totemic god, being a spirit of nature, is repulsed by the practices of civilization, the building of roads, felling trees, generally mucking up the enviroment to breed larger and larger numbers. Very similar to the Celtic and Druidic faiths, the Totemic faith espouces connection with nature, something that is diametrically opposed to developing cities, technology, and the other things that allow a population to boom.
The monotheist pantheon has the advantage of a religious caste demanded by the deity, as well as a regimented and hierarchical structure of priests and high priests, clergy and clerics. This can be a boon in terms of alms, and gathering resources to a common good. It also creates an isolated realm where the clergy, and by proxy the god are distanced from the common folk. This is the prime adversary of the monotheist pantheon, the apathy between the god and congregation.

The least common sort of Monotheist faith is that of the Demon-God. This comes from a an internal and external source. As a demon grows bloated on power and the misery and suffering inflicted on the enemies of its followers, it demands more and more. This places a strain on the society that is hosted by the demon, driving them to larger and more violent epics of conquest for more land and more victims for the altars. Consequently, those faiths that border the turf of the Demon-God are much more willing to work together to eliminate such a powerful force of destruction, evil, and chaos. In some places, attrition by conversion weakens the demon-god, and in others bloody holy wars are fought out between the powers involved.

The Chosen One and the End of Time!
A common thread through many real religions is a time of judgement, a reckoning, and end of days. In some cases this is part of a plan to increase the dieties hold over the flock, claiming to destroy the world if the people are unfaithful and the like. Conversely the end of time scenario can be a warning of an eventual showdown between powerful rivals, such as Ragnarok’s confrontation between the Aesir/Vanir, and the giants, trolls, Fenrir and the like.

The creation of a messiah/chosen one/avatar can be a display of the god’s power, be it simply the moon touched daughter of the village wise woman or a fragment of a god born into the world. It creates a living link between the god and his followers that exists outside the structure of the church. This can be a correcting action for the organization of the clergy, a show of force to warn off other dieites looking for a piece of the local action (be it local in the valley, or local in the continent)

The Godless Faith
This form of worship is a highly enlightened faith that does not revere any deity, rather it honors the greater concept of good, often anthropomorphized into the form of a figure who has attained the highest state of enlightenment. Now it is easy to assume that this faith is singularly the province of the side of good, light, etc. That is not the case as there can very easily be faiths who espouse the virtues of nihilism and the void as ascendant over light and materialism. The Godless faith doesnt deny the divinity of other gods, nor does it try to challenge their claims of power and authority, all fall under the umbrella of greater cosmic concepts. The godless faith is often the strongest, and most enduring as it is internalized, and while it does have temples, shrines, and clergy, they are more guides that figures of power.

The Monastic tradition is very popular among adherents of the godless faith. Meditation, exercise and perfection of the mental and physical self as conduits to the greater concept are hallmarks of the godless faith.

IPrimary inspiration comes from Jospeh Campbell and his works The Power of Myth, and the Hero with 1000 Faces./I

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Comments ( 17 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Murometz
March 23, 2006, 15:24
a perfect concise treatise! not only is it a great tool for introspection, but I got a tremendous amount of inspiration from this for upcoming submissions!
Voted Pariah
March 23, 2006, 15:34
Okay, I'm not quite sure how offensive this can be. I've read stuff like this before, not sure where though. Different order on the last two in a few of the ones I read. I guess it all comes down to the 'impartiality' of the writer.
Voted MoonHunter
March 23, 2006, 17:10
While it is true that most games model their faiths upon grecco-roman or catholic faiths (convience of modelling usually), not all do. I don't think anyone who is not extreme in their view will find this piece heretical. I do think people will find it less than useful.

You started numbering steps and then stopped. You didn't break out various sections.

My big problem is that the theory does not work for anything but Western Culture, and is not doing a great job for that. China went from step 1/1.5 to 5 (with touches of the earlier), and Hindism just breaks it. Sure Campbell implied many things, but elements of his work have long be discarded.

The sectioning is uneven, as are the write ups, in both tone and degree of content.

The Pagan write up sets the tone for the piece and does not apply itself throughout.

Celestrial and Demonic faiths take a Harsh Right Christian view of other cultures.

United Paganism is the only section that seems really useful.

The Messanic section does not make any useful sense to me. It is in need of a rewrite.

The Godless faith section has good points, but does not really do a good job of describing and manifesting the faiths.

This would really work out as a descriptive piece, rather than a model of change. Each segment needs to be expanded to be more useful, the cliff note versions are not working for me. You can imply linkage (X often changes to Y), but do not show that it is lockstep. Additions of other modes might be useful, especially when you break the piece out of the linear model.
Voted Cheka Man
March 23, 2006, 19:37
I like it but it is rather Western orientated.
March 24, 2006, 12:19
Ow. Cold shower for this article. I have a feeling that it will be re-written, so I'll withdraw my vote until then.

Another thing: assumptions. I suggest to make mention of all the assumptions you work with - the existence of all the supernatural creatures for instance, their politicking, acting on behalf of their own believers, etc. If one or more of them are not true for a given game world, the article can break apart.

As for the demonic faiths, how do you recognize those? How many sacrifices needs a deity (or the ancestors, or the sacred lake, or the Only God, or...) to be listed as evil? I think it wasn't that rare for people to be sacrificed to higher beings, for reasons far more numerous than a simple demon sponsorship.

The topic really doesn't hurt me in any way, I would even prefer more of it!
March 24, 2006, 13:46
Updated: Added Note on Sacrifice, and Assumptions, rewrite of the Messianic Faith section, expansion of the Monotheistic Faith. Will expand on the Eastern Religions and philophies at a latter date.
April 5, 2006, 15:22
Confucius say...BUMP! Now add the eastern rigmarole! :D
Voted dark_dragon
September 21, 2007, 10:34
vote and well deserved BUMP!
Voted klauston
April 12, 2009, 0:01
The article is decent and useful for designing a patheon based on western ideas. I agree that the eastern religions need some attention to round it out. Maybe another article or an additonal section to flesh it out would be good.
Voted Chaosmark
April 12, 2009, 1:25
While I'm certainly not offended by this piece, I will say that it doesn't sit well with me. I'm not sure it's possible to link the various 'stages' together into a single coherent whole, nor even that there is a linear progression down the list from the first style of religion listed to the last. You start the piece off as exploring a potential evolutionary path of religions, but I'm not seeing much to connect each stage to the next, nor why there is reason to change from one style to another, aside from outside pressure of conformity (which just pushes the problem back to the pressuring religion and how THEY got where they are).

As something of a small sidenote, not all monotheistic pantheons are going to require a vast hierarchy, either celestially or clerically. Since the best known monotheistic religion would be Christianity, I'll use it for my example. You certainly see the listed hierarchy within Catholicism for instance (pantheons of angels and demons, and a rather large hierarchy starting with the Pope and moving down from there), but you won't see that within the localized church movement, which claims Scriptural support for a local body of believers independent from any 'ruling body'. Certainly they interact with each other, but they don't all answer to a higher clerical body of some sort, or even necessarily convene to discuss how each body of believers is doing. Most Evangelical Christians would even call into question the vast celestial hierarchies of angels and demons as well. (not the existence of either party of the supernatural battlefield, but rather the particular organization and variations within the sides)

In all, this is a decent submission that makes a good attempt to organize the development of religions and faiths for our games, but I feel it fails at it's purpose. Improvement could be made in showing a better progression between the various stages, as well as a slightly better shading of the sub-variants available within each stage.
Voted Autumn
April 27, 2014, 0:16
Not really sure how a sub from 2006 wound up back on the front page as a new submission, but it's handy for world building, giving a GM some solid concepts with which to added various myths and religions to their game world with less effort.
Voted Dozus
April 28, 2014, 9:24
I'm not sure either, but I'm glad it did. This has some great bones for world building. I think your categories of faiths are broad enough to extend beyond Western-style religions. I think you've covered roughly all the major world religions in here.

I like the mention of syncretism in Unified Paganism. Syncretism is fascinating to me, diverse and myriad faiths adopting each other's gods and practices. I'd like to see more of that discussed in this article, but that's probably personal bias.
Voted Kassy
April 29, 2014, 7:47

Might have been lost and resubmitted? Submission is dated in 2014.

A good sub, and I agree with Muro, it is a good tool for introspection.
April 29, 2014, 7:58
the comments date back to 2006 though, I think perhaps it was taken down into private draft and then put back up after an edit? Either way, glad to see this here!
April 29, 2014, 9:35
I put it back in the In work folder because I wasn't happy with where the submission ended up going. It wasn't intended to be a treatise on the religion of Earth, but rather an exposition on theology in my fantasy setting, and how rather than being made of absolutes, it is organic, grows, changes, and so forth so that pantheons rise, super-deities fall, and it all keeps rolling.

After languishing in work for over a year, I accepted the fact that I'm not going to give it the time and energy to bring it back to where I want it, so I #CultofDone 'ed it and put it back out. Rather surprised it ended up on the front page again, I've done this before and the submission will generally go back to obscurity.
Cheka Man
April 30, 2014, 20:22
I was tempted to say something horrible about Islam here, but this board is not the place for such a thing so I won't. :)
Voted valadaar
May 22, 2014, 9:25
A great sub that belongs in a worldbuilding folder for sure!

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       By: Drackler

Once a year, the king steps down from his throne, and lives as a peasant for one day, the next day is the anniversary of his coronation, and it is celebrated by a reenactment of the ceremony. This is doubly beneficial, firstly, because the people are able to have the grand parade that always precedes the ceremony. Secondly, because the heir to the throne is given a day on the job every year. Although, apparently, the thought has not yet come to one of the kingdoms enemies, the assassination of the king during the renewal coronation would be a moral, as well as a political blow to the kingdom.

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