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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Paganism in a monotheistic vacuum

   
Author Topic: Paganism in a monotheistic vacuum
Cheyne
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I thought I might ask for some of your expertise or even just pure speculation.
I have created a parallel world in which there never was a Judeo-Christian type of monotheistic society. The Roman Empire lasted much longer and the middle ages occurred much later (Mainly for other reasons). I have some vague references to Woton/Odin as being considered an equal to Jupiter with a Thor\Apollo connection. But I have a poor image of religious life in a pagan world.
Would the average person have much of a religious life? or would it consist of sacrifices at the right time and forget it? And what of loyalty? How quickly would an average person turn to a new religion from a pagan background?


My main question then is: what would have arose from the Greco-Roman Pantheon had it not been supplanted by Christianity?

Please speculate wildly as anything may help.


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snapper
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You could still use the others that did survive, or at least they did for awhile. Islam is still a possiblity although Christianity did have an influence on it. The zeal for conquest may have been stronger conquering the multi-god believers. There was Zoraster as well. Persia was heavily influenced by it.
Of course, you could make up a new one. that is always fun.

Harry Turtledove wrote a novel called 'Agent of Byzantium'. It was an alternate historical novel set in the 1300's. In it, Islam never came to pass. Mohammed instead became a monk. The eastern Roman Empire expanded and faced off against the Persian Zorasters and the exhiled Roman Catholic followers. It spent a great deal of time on the religious political problems. A good reference, if you're looking for one.


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DebbieKW
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quote:
Would the average person have much of a religious life? or would it consist of sacrifices at the right time and forget it? And what of loyalty? How quickly would an average person turn to a new religion from a pagan background?

To fully answer your question would take a very long time. However, the short version is that people worshipped several gods at the same time even though they might have one they looked to or sacrificed to more regularly than the others. If you were going to have a baby and wanted you and your baby to survive, you'd probably go make a sacrifice to the goddess that oversaw that even if you'd never sacrificed to her before. If you wanted to win a war, you'd give a sacrifice to the war god (probably a sacrifice you hoped was larger than the opposing group's sacrifice so that you'd win the god's favor).

Even if you weren't sacrificing to one god or another at that moment, I don't think a person really ever forgot the gods were out there doing things and potentially making mischief that would mess up their life.

Most gods were considered very fickle, unpredictable, and usually rather petty. Those gods generally didn't have any interest in humans (or in helping them) beyond what they could get out of humans. Only great kings, heroes, and exceptionally beautiful women generally garnered direct or continued attention from the gods, and often that wasn't a good thing for the recipient.

If you want one view of pantheistic worship, here's a snippet describing wind-god worship from a book by a Native American: http://tinyurl.com/b3vhe8

I've read the book referenced above, and while worshipping other gods seemed okay, abandoning them all for one new god was a terrifying thought for the author. She was terrified that the old gods would kill her for forsaking them. I've also read how the Romans would sacrifice to pretty much every god they came in contact with "just to make sure, just to be safe." I don't think actually rejecting a god, no matter how much you hated him, was something they did easily.

[This message has been edited by DebbieKW (edited February 08, 2009).]


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annepin
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I think you have a great deal of flexibility in developing your future. I don't think you can have a definitive answer to the question of how much of a religious life a person would have had, or how loyal they would be to a religion. Much of this depends on the person and the particular religion they might have.

For the Romans, the pantheon weren't the only gods. They worshiped the more intimate, personal household gods (Lares) as well. Furthermore, even without the rise of Christianity, there was a fair amount of discontent with the existing Greco-Roman religion, particularly becuase of the fickleness of the gods and their general cruelty.

In the later years of the Roman Empire, the cult of Mithras, based on a Persian deity, rose up, and might even have spread throughout Europe. This religion was particularly attractive to soldiers. Some say this religion might have taken over had it not been displaced by Christianity.

Even if you start with what we know of Roman culture at would have been the onset of Christianity, people change. No religion is going to remain static. And I think it's natural for people to adapt and meld their religious ideas to endemic religions, or to incorporate new ideas they come across.

[This message has been edited by annepin (edited February 08, 2009).]


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TaleSpinner
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My understanding is that, in England, Pagan beliefs revolved around fertility, for the land and for the people. They were concerned with the seasons so they'd know when to plant crops, and I imagine they thought that the gods who needed to be pleased in order for crops to grow would also influence their luck with children.

They understood the seasons and how to predict them by watching the sun, and maybe the stars. Also, there was a more even balance between the sexes; theirs was not a male-dominated society.

As for turning from one religion to another, I don't believe anyone does that lightly. If forced, they'll go through the motions in public and practice their true beliefs in private. It could take several generations to kill off a religion.

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited February 08, 2009).]


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kathyton
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quote:
As for turning from one religion to another, I don't believe anyone does that lightly. If forced, they'll go through the motions in public and practice their true beliefs in private.

Excellent point -- consider how much of Christianity's outward trappings and observations were originally indigenous pagan celebrations -- Christmas, Easter, Candlemas, etc

I think, at least among modern pagans I know, that spirituality is intrinsic to everyday life, because they acknowledge divinity in everything.

The spiritual lives and belief systems of your people have to make sense within the cultural context you are going to create for them. This could become a chicken-or-the egg argument, but whatever you start with, it has to hang together and be consistent.


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Lyrajean
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One notion is that pagans (or people with many gods) would be more accepting of new religious views because many polytheistic religions came about that way by conglomerating gods from different regions etc... as civilizations grew. Less of the 'my god is the only one true right god' deal you get with Judaism-Christianity-Islam.

Also it might be possible to skip the whole religious wars conflict stage and go striaght to a modern secular society where the remaining pagan religion is relegated to superstitions of marginal importance.

Have you ever lived in a country where the big 3 aren't widely practiced?

I'm in Japan and I find the public debate to be largely refreshingly free of religious infighting like you get in the US. Shinto and Buddhism are there but the former at least is relegated to mostly beign a celebration of tradition and being Japanese.

SzMDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDFGHH-------.

Pardon me, but I8m trying to type this while my cat thinks my computer is some elaborate swat the fingers game.


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mikemunsil
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This is a good place to do some research: http://www.sacred-texts.com/index.htm
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Starweaver
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Cheyne,

One thing that might be relevant to your question is that official Roman religion was already losing vitality at the time the Empire became Christian. For many Romans, it had become a civic duty, like paying taxes. The Roman world had become quite cosmopolitan, so there were lots of non-Roman religions people could indulge in. It was fertile ground for a new religion like Christianity, because the traditional religion of Rome had lost its relevance for many people, and there were many options to shop from.

This is a different situation from Pagan practices in more remote or rural places, like northern and eastern Europe. In these places, many people were still deeply immersed in their local pagan religions, and they had little exposure to anything else.

So the core urban centers of the Empire in your world might drift into secularism, or might be a kind of patchwork battleground of competing foreign religions. More remote places might cling more tightly to their indigenous beliefs and practices.


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Kitti
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You might also want to consider how much your (I assume European-based?) characters have with other parts of the world. For example, India or China. There's a world of potential culture clashes if, say, Buddhism or Confucianism took on the sort of role that Christianity did (i.e. opposition to the est. Roman pantheon). I think there was a lot of European contact with China starting in the 1300s or so, mainly through Italy.

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Kitti
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p.s. you might want to check out some books like Ronald Hutton's Stations of the Sun From what I remember, it's about various rituals the Christians co-opted, and how some of our familiar Judeo-Christian rituals had pagan roots. It might give you some ideas on how to co-opt things yourself.
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extrinsic
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The sun god Ra of ancient Egypt is an area for research into premonotheistic polytheism and pantheism. Akenatan, a pharoah of the 18th Dynasty, husband of Nefertiti, predecessor of Tutankhamun, is believed to be the first to establish a psuedo-monotheistic faith. Aten, an iteration of Ra, was the supreme deity during Akenatan's reign. Tutankhamun restored traditional Egyptian polytheism upon his ascension to the throne.

Native American cultures, at least Eastern Woodland neolithic tribes at the time of first contact in the European tableau, had two principal deities. Various versions of Ahone and Okeus were widespread in Algonquian, Siouan, and Chirquoit cultures.

In my studies of world religions, I've not found a purely monotheistic one. Supreme beings exist in most if not all religious cultures. Subsupreme deities follow in their heirarchies and on into lesser deities. Ancient Roman and Greek practices were more polytheistic than pantheistic. Modern Judeo-Christian religions are more pantheistic than monotheistic.

Animism, totenism, natural world representations, ethereal spirits, worship or deification of ancestors, cosmic phenomena, agriculture, hunting, and gathering, fertility, products of industry (ie, tools, grains, beer and stronger spirits), shamanism, prestidigitation, war and battle, providence, the list of objects or representations worshipped is as endless as the human imagination.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited February 21, 2009).]


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Greenscreen
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I would say it's all about how you want to do it really. If you want to make it "realistic" then you will have to do a lot of research. If you do a lot of research some people will think it's cool, some will not care, some will say you got it wrong and draw all different conclusions, some will like to discuss with you how you drew your conclusions and debate alternatives with you. It's the same variety of opinoins if you don't do the research and just make something up. In the end of it it's how you want to do it, it's your artwork so your the one who decides which way it ought to go.

Of course whether you bother to do all the research and planing or not, everything everyone has said here will help you in making at least some level of realism if your interested in showing even a hint of religion. Depending on how you decide to do it. Say farmers would worship egabow, the harvest god. Soldiers would worship Olneaia, the goddess of protection. Or something or other like that. In cities it might be turmoil, or nonone way care, or a certain city may be a strcit worshiper of Noblanco, the god of the color purple? (what do yuou think he's the god of) Maybe that's because everyone just happens to believe in the same thing or because the government of that specific city has laws ordering the strict worship of that god and disenters are executed as heritics.

Also Talespinner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a christian church, does recognize there is truth in other religions. We do believe we have more truth than other religions and we do not practice other philosiphies but largely that's because we have everything we need in one package so to speak. Whereas in Japan (early modern japan) Shinto bore instructions on how to live life every day, Budha was how to ascend to godhood and Neo-Confucianism was sort of instruction set of how to relate to one another (according to my understnading) Consucius had five relations that everyone fit into which brought an amazing amount of equality between classes, if your Samurai master was a poor master he could be replaced because he did not keep up his end of the Servant-Master bargain as described in Confucius. Where the japanese took what they needed from each religion some religions have all that is needed in one package and therefore are practiced monoformaticly. Not that I do not advocate telling a person how they ought to worship, as you noted you like the Japanese enviorment and I would probably agree with you had I been there.
I agree with you there are and have definitely been extremists as far as the monoformatical worship goes but in truth I don't believe that any of the three religions you mentioned advocate domineering authoritariansitic veiws in their original true and pure forms, such things are added by people using them for their own gains later. I hope what I said makes sense.


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dreadlord
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the most common version of conversion from a barbarian paganism to christianity was almost always fueled by the fact that Jesus did what most warriors wish to do: he conquered death. to the Norse and others, Jesus was a warrior. the ultimate warrior, in fact. one norseman was converted in the midst of a battle when he "saw" a vision of Jesus standing over him, striking all his enemies while He lay on the ground.

so, you never can tell. a lot has to deal with the recipients interpretation.

on another note, my dad served in taiwan and when he first converted a family from Buddhism to LDS, then they would take the statue of Buddha from their shrine and replace it with a statue of jesus, and perform all the same rites that they performed with the Buddha to Jesus.


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Cheyne
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Thank-you all; I have much to ponder. In today's world we all have the idea of belief in scripture of some stripe as religion but I know most often there was no 'book' to follow with pagan religion. I guess that is where my question arises from. Thanks again. I will consider all of these ideas while i world-build.
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