Author Topic: Polytheistic faith and society  (Read 4181 times)

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Offline Drul Morbok

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Polytheistic faith and society
« on: October 22, 2011, 05:38:11 PM »
This is a actually very wide range of questions, and might very well go back to "what are gods?" and further. But I always wondered how and whom people worship...I think there's several possibilities:

You might believe in a whole pantheon, where every god has his place and function. They all exist, but you worship those that matter most in your life. You might even be rather flexible and pragmatic - whenever you undertake an important task, you pray and donate to the respective god. Worshipping then would often be a rather utilitarian task, not a question of total faith.
This leads to the question about different societies...they might have a different pantheon. This might either mean gods with essentially the same functions and roles, but different names, or it might mean a completely different pantheon. In the first case - ARE those actually "the same" gods? Do the worshippers accept each others as fellows, since names are meaningless before a god anyway? And if they fight each other instead - would the same essentially "good" god actually grant both sides the divine support to kill each other?

So what about different pantheons? Do you still think that their god exisits, but just incorporate different or maybe wrong ways? So you actually believe in the existence of a multitude of pantheons, but the individual relevance of one. Or would you even pray and donate to the "local" gods when in a different society?
Or would you deny their existence?

Or are most worshippers monotheistic? You belive in one god, and all others are just heretic fantasy or corrupt propaganda...
Or maybe all other gods do exist, but are not worth being called God, and will sooner or later fall to history.
« Last Edit: October 22, 2011, 05:46:04 PM by Drul Morbok »

Offline Kristian

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Re: Polytheistic faith and society
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2011, 12:36:17 AM »
That's quite a bunch of questions. :) I'd be more than happy to try and answer them, but I need some specifics first, if that's alright. Because the context of your questions aren't really clear to me.

Are you talking about real life history here? Our own personal beliefs? A specific fantasy setting? Or general roleplaying preferences? Your questions could be directed at any one of these, but they'd have very different answers.
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Offline David Roomes

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Re: Polytheistic faith and society
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2011, 11:22:06 PM »
Ok, this is an interesting topic that could be approached from a few different angles. And I've wrestled with some of these questions myself. For a long time I've wanted to improve and reorganize the deities in Khoras. But I've got some difficult questions to figure out before I do.

I think most of your examples could exist in a fantasy world. Different cultures would have different pantheons. Some cultures close together might blend their religions, formally or informally. The Roman Empire was great at conquering cultures and then "incorporating" the local gods into their own mythos. That's one reason why most of the Greek and Roman gods are considered to be the same, but go by two different names. A greek name and a roman name.

Some cultures might be isolated from others geographically and have very independent and uncontaminated religions. Some cultures might be so heavily religious that they make war against others on the basis of religion alone.

In the real world, gods were often created to explain natural events. So different cultures might have different explanations for the same thing. For example, in culture #1, their god carries the sun across the sky in his chariot. In culture #2, the sun IS their god and he chases the moon in an endless hunt. In culture #3, the sun is a burning arrow shot from the bow of their god. All three cultures are trying to explain the motion of the sun. Obviously, not all of three explanations can be correct. And that's where religious wars start... :)

In a large fantasy setting, I think you could have many different religious patterns develop, depending on the cultures and how they are arranged. Many of your examples could coexist in the same world.

But what is a god? The problem in fantasy or science fiction is that you can have creatures (or characters or entities) that have vast power. It might be magical power. It might be technological superiority. At some point, you might have an individual with so much power that there are those who worship him. So, is he a god? How does one define a god? In a fantasy setting, you could conceivably have real gods, in a sense. Anyone with vast power could be worshiped by those who lack such power. Those who worship could organize themselves with titles and ranks and traditions and ceremonies and pretty soon you've got a church. Imagine a wizard getting SO powerful that the local tribes of forest orcs and swamp goblins and mountain trolls and whatever else start to WORSHIP him. So, where does one draw the line? At what point does a powerful archmage become a god? (I actually have that kind of a setup in Khoras. It's only mentioned on one page in the web site, but I'm going to "unveil" him with full details during some future spotlight).

So what is a god? There are some players who will argue that a god grants his priests spells and derives power from those who worship him. In the D&D multiverse, there have been rulebooks that clearly state that without his worshipers a god is powerless and without their god, the clerics have no spells. Both depend on each other in a symbiotic relationship. Well, that's ONE explanation in one game system. I would argue that this setup is not true for all games and it's not true for all worlds or settings. So I don't buy that as a definition for "god".

Ultimately, it's your world, so it's up to you. I think it greatly depends on how much influence you want the gods to have. There are some fantasy settings where the gods are very real and are always interfering with the heroes and their quests. There are other settings where religions are all based on nothing (i.e. there are no gods) and hence religion has no influence beyond what their worshipers do (i.e. religious wars, persecution, witch hunts, etc - pretty much the real world).

Ok, I've rambled on this topic long enough. :)
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Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Polytheistic faith and society
« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2011, 05:15:46 PM »
Actually most of my questions came up when I read some D&D books. I only played in one campaign before, and was about to be GM a campaing, and the first character that "entered" the world was a cleric of Tiamat, and I know the player good enough to know that he didn't chose the cleric for his healing abilities. Well, I think if I had ever wondered about the dexterity score of a certain deity, I might have found an answer in the books ;-)

I think my problem is more general, and it's a question of terminology: Let's assume I want to GM a world with arcane magic, and with gods that interact with the world in a tangible way. What would the people in the world mean when they use the word "god"?
It's often hard to remember that the people in the game world don't use words in a way we in our world would. In some cases, this leads to rather bizzare constructions for the sake of a rule system, like: What distinguishes an "animal" from a (non-magical) "beast"? Only the fact that the first on lived on earth in historical times, and the latter one didn't - but how should the game world know this?
But then, what distinguishes a "magical" phenomen from a non-magical one? Only the fact that the first one doesn't happen in our world - by definition? Let's for the moment assume that the word "magic" means "contradictory to the most basic assumption models of the world it is uttered in". But then again, if you assume that people in the game world use the word in the same sense, there would be no "magic", since anything that happens often enough will simply be adopted to any assumption modells - and henceforth be called knowledge.

I fully agree that any magic that is mighty enough might be indistinguishable from divinity...as any advanced enough technololy might be from magic. I mean, if I had one of those flashy SciFi laser guns and walked into a village several thousand years ago, they might have taken me for a god. Several hundered years ago, they might have taken me for a wizard, and today I'd qualify as technically advanced. So rising to divinity could actually mean going that process backward ;-)

Or is there "something" in the world that actually is magic, and will always be? So it would always be possible to distinguish between magic and science, no matter how andvancd. In D&D terms: There are such things as "anti-magic zones". My laser gun would still work, as would my computer, but any ongoing polymorph effect would be ended.
I think many systems that use magic assume some form of energy that is flowing, radiating, pulsating, whatever, and can be manipulated by intelligent beings...but I never liked the idea. Well, I liked the idea, but was unable to build a coherent model based on the implications. Well, I found a solution by assuming a slightly different modell, so for now enough about magic, and back to religion.

Phew, this got longer that I expected - I meant it to be an introduction  :o
But you asked what I god is...I can only give the answer for my world, but as I asked the question with my world in mind, it would be a bit unfair to withhold it. I just thought it would be uncomplete without some words about magic first.
And I should mention a problem: The answer works perfectly fine within my game world, but it might be hard to translate into terms of this world...you know, terminology differences and all the like...but I'll try my best.

In general, there is such a thing as laws of physics as we know (or don't know) it...there is something like a law of conservation of energy, and even magic applies to it.
A short explanation of magic could be translated into real-world terms as follows:
Know the state vector of every particle in the system as it is.
Know the state vector of every particle in the system as you want it to be.
Know the set of transitional vectors that would have to be applied to change the system. The sum of all vectors has to be null.
Utter the transitional vectors in Draconic

So the last step is what "casting an arcane spell" actually means. There might be different approaches at how to know the vectors. Some people ("wizards") use their intellect, others use their fantasy and imagination ("sorcerers") or natural insight (andy hedge wizard, gipsy fortune teller, witch, ...). And there are different ways of utering them in Draconic, since it isn't really a language, but rather a proto-language without a form of it's own.
So arcane magic is not about making the impossible possible, but making the unlikely happen. A stone will naturally drop when released, but it might float in midair if coincidentally, all "air particles" under it would arrange in a configuration that keeps it in place. Naturally, that doesn't happen because nature abhors deviation from statistic avarage - but it can't prevent it from happening as soon as someone can describe it. So i some way, magic could be defined as deviation from the statistic average of a system.
You would not be able to perform any magic in a vacuum, since there is nothing to perform magic on.

Divine power is different: It manipulates the system itself. Its transitional vectors don't have to sum up to zero.

However, people in the world would not be able to tell the difference - from a cognitive point of view, it's impossible to tell if the system changed, since you are a part of it. The transitional vectors are not restricted physically...it doesn't mean that if I summon a heat spell, my surroundings get colder. This might be a rather straightforward attempt to cast such a spell, but the more advanced a spell, the farther away and the more action and reaction might be, up to the point where ist is literally impossible to find out if action still equals reaction.
And finally, arcane magic might go awry and result in a transition where the vectors don't equalize themselves, thereby fulfilling the criteria for being called divine.

But that's just the academical analysis - I still find it hard to actually play a NPC being used to live his live under such conditions  :(

Offline David Roomes

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Re: Polytheistic faith and society
« Reply #4 on: November 08, 2011, 11:07:45 PM »
In your introduction, you mentioned several of the very things that I abhor about the D&D system. The idea of classifying certain beings as humanoid versus demi-human. Beast versus animal. In broader terms, the whole concept of alignment - good versus evil. The D&D system sets up lots of these very arbitrary classifications that don't exist in reality, but then makes rules around them such that they actually matter. In fact, the whole idea of "character classes" falls into this realm. For instance, you can't use that sword, you're a "wizard". You can't enter this circle of protection, you're "evil". That kind of stuff has no basis in reality and it gets down right silly.

That's why I've pretty much removed the whole concept of alignment from my gaming. And I don't really like "character classes" either. I prefer game systems that are based on skills, not character templates.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. :)

Regarding your thoughts on magic, it reminds me of a fantasy book series I read once. Can't remember which one. I think it was one of the series by Weis and Hickman. In one of their series, they had a description of magic which was very similar to your vector description. The idea of adjusting reality around you from what it is to what you want it to be. Since magic doesn't exist in the real world, there are countless ways you could try to describe it. I have always preferred to treat magic as if it were a real physical phenonemon that could be quantified and studied, like any branch of science. It has to follow rules or else it doesn't make sense.

David M. Roomes
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