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How can I design an "evil" realistic religion from the ground up?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Erebus, Mar 31, 2020.

  1. Erebus

    Erebus Minstrel

    There is a veil which separates our reality from a parallel dimension that contains Eldritch abominations. An ancient empire has discovered that they can harness the power of this realm by summoning demons across the barrier. This is done through the use of human sacrifices. The more powerful the demon, the more sacrifices are needed.

    A religion has formed with two separate modes of thought. One sect believes that these demons are tools to be exploited for humanity's purposes. This focuses on enslaving demons as weapons, using them for their powers and as servants. The other sees them as transcendent life forms to be worshipped and held sacred. By combining themselves and demons to create demon hosts, humans can shirk their mortal shell and ascend to a higher state of being.

    Looking through historical records, it seems that religions often break into various sects for simple theological reasons that seem silly, at least to outsiders. These can lead to schisms that fracture the faith forever, and can end in civil wars. Also, this is a religion that preys on its own populace for human sacrifices in it's rituals, which is kind of a problem.

    I need a way to maintain this religions coherence with these two ideologies to keep the empire functioning. How can I design this religion from the ground up to maintain its stability?
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    Most [all?] religions will have schisms and factions, and within those there will be differences of opinion and practice. I doubt there has ever been a major religion there everyone has thought and acted the same.
    So embrace the chaos!
    Make a religion that embraces those slight differences with a unifying figure. Give all the factions a central prophet, seer, saint that can act as an overarching uniting figurehead.
    I think might also help to think of them not a evil but having a different values set.
  3. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    My thought would be that this can't be one religion split into two sects. The gap between what they believe and do is simply too vast. Instead it's two distinct religions based around the same historical event. So what say the first time one of these demons somehow arrived - before either religion was formed - there were two prophets who were there to witness the event. One saw the demons arrive and decided they were a gift from the gods to be exploited, to have their powers harnessed etc. The other saw them more as angels, however horrible, to show men how to ascend to this higher plain of being by combing with them somehow. And these two religions have existed ever since, side by side. They aren't friends, nor enemies, but sometimes their goals overlap - eg when fighting off unbelievers. They've formed a sort of alliance of faith.

    Cheers, Greg.
  4. The Amish and some Mennonite break their societies up into smaller groups called Ordnung (German for Order). Each smaller group worships together, has its own leader and while most adhere to the central rules of the larger order, its not unheard of for one to vary its policies widely. This also covers the policies on behavior, contact with the english, what technology is and is not ok etc. Despite these variances an ordnung will usually not interfere with another's way of doing things and they maintain their overall collective cohesiveness and distance from the outer world. So perhaps a similar idea in your world can be fit into that larger divide? It might be a stretch but its the only real world example I can think of off hand where there's am existing policy of allowing variance without a fraught existence between the groups or outright fracturing.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    What's described in the OP isn't a religion. It's just cynical exploitation of other creatures. The OP describes these other creatures as abominations and demons, but that doesn't say much. Are they another civilization? Or are they just a bunch of swirling masses of evil?

    Summoning them takes human sacrifice. That's pretty horrifying in itself. No one is calling that a crime? An abomination in itself? It seems strange, inexpliciable, that people would kill humans in order to worship demons.

    In any case, most religions have to do with explanations of the universe, the character and fate of one's soul or spirit, striving toward good, defense against evil, and relationships with eternity. Disagreements about these things run so deep because there's so much at stake--the fate of souls, the fate of the world. Maybe if you were to flesh out your world's religion, you'd find some clues to your question. I'm sort of at a loss.
  6. enoch driscoll

    enoch driscoll Scribe

    Personally, i don't see how demons are ever good, so it seems there would be another sect that abhors all demon activity, or maybe one lone prophet, etc. Another question i have is if there is a demon world, is there an angel world. if there is, you can take your book on huge plot twists from there. just a thought.
  7. Slartibartfast

    Slartibartfast Scribe

    I think you could just run with it, after all religions can be stable(ish) for periods of time, hundreds of years occasionally; at least on a macroscopic scale. Is that enough time?
    Failing that there are differences between your world and the real world which might contribute to fewer schisms. For starters I don't know anyone who can actually summon a demon or deity (religious leaders I've met tend to claim authority based on their personal opinion of a book of folk tales which is routinely several thousand years old and has usually been translated through a hedge backwards) and neither do I live in an authoritarian regime which could seize and sacrifice my family and I. This situation might help my acceptance of someone's authority/correctness and also persuade me to be a bit less uppity in my view of the faith in general.
  8. Yora

    Yora Maester

    The main question that religions would have to answer is how the common people are getting convinced that getting sacrificed is good for them.
    What do they get out of the whole arrangement? Because if they think it only benefits the priests and all they get is suffering, they are not going to believe in it.
  9. Nirak

    Nirak Minstrel

    I think if you don't call them "demons" you solve a lot of issues. If they're powerful spirits that aren't inherently evil (like, say, elementals, or just magical energies), then you eliminate a lot of stigma and make it more approachable that religions would find different ways to worship/use those beings. As to the sacrifice part - plenty of Earth religions historically had human sacrifice and they lasted a long time. So I don't think that's a barrier either, if you make the theology and setting believable. Research some real-world religions where this was a practice! I'm thinking pre-Columbian South America specifically, although I'm not versed in the specifics, and there were others. Another idea, instead of making them warring sects, you could also make it so that there are 2 groups that balance or complement each other. Maybe there are different types of spirits, and you need a different way of dealing with each to get the most out of them. Like you said, one could be war-like weapons and the other passive, maybe healing or granting aid or answers to questions. People think the violent ones need to be tamed, but the passive ones are treated kindly so they'll help - both types are very useful to humans so it makes sense you'd want to use both, not just one or the other? Then the two different groups would spring out of that naturally - some people are better at dealing with one spirit than the other, forming different schools. Just a few ideas!
  10. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    Well, first studied our existing religions and when you do you'll notice they attempt to answer big questions about the Universe in a simple way: God. How were humans created? By God. But they actually explain very little and tell very little. Religion does provide a function in our world, and it's not always the religious teachings that are evil, but the people in it. Muslims can be seen a peaceful and accepting, or extreme and violent. Because the books they study are open to interruption. Religion is an interest of mine so I have discussed it with religious people (Christians mostly), atheists and agnostics and I noticed, even in one collective group not as Christians believed the exact same thing. So if you're trying to create a realistic religion, start looking at the ones we have. If you're looking to do a brain-washing, violent cult, look at existing ones. In with people who believe in a deity, they all believe to different levels. It depends on whether you want to focus on the realism or the 'evil'.
  11. WickGreenwood

    WickGreenwood Dreamer

    You could have the practitioners of this religion keep other people as slaves to be sacrificed.
  12. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    Why not look at what tends to happen here on earth?

    Create your religion with all sorts of noble ideals and then have evil individuals dominate and exploit them for very different ends.
  13. Peat

    Peat Sage

    Put yourself in the shoes of the character who discovered these facts about your story world and ask how they would have designed the resulting religion to be stable - because ultimately that's where religions come from, people making decisions about what's part and what isn't. My guess is this person would probably say the eldritch horrors are in fact angels, that access to their power only comes through faithful service to the church, and that the church is the state.

    I imagine that the sacrifices would be criminals and foreigners.
  14. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

    It depends on how you frame it. The story about the meso-american religions is that people actually competed for the privilege of being sacrificed. How much of that is true I don't know. If it's an honour and you go to a better place / return in a better position then some people will be eager to be the chosen ones.
  15. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    The God's of old were more territorial and tribal than moral. You belonged to Tribe X, then your God was automatically the God X. Things went bad for the tribe, it meant that either God X was ticked off with the tribe and needed to be appeased, or God X was feuding with some other God who was trying to weaken God X by weakening the tribe. Therefore, you still appeased God X, via any means necessary, right up to an including mass human sacrifice.
  16. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Sage

    As far as getting the human sacrifices goes, people waiting for capital punishment seems a good supply that the public would probably not complain too much about being used in this way. Just a thought I had that I figured I'd share.

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