• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

#2: A Priest, A Rabbi, and a Minister Walk into a Bar, Part 1

masque1223

New member
Priests have the unique authority to perform rituals. Any religion that focuses on the power of rituals to give proper order and meaning to life will have some sort of priestly class. In a ritual, a priest acts as bridge between gods and humans (or elves, or dwarves, or whatever). The priest stands before the gods as a representative of the people and offers them worship. The priest then stands before the people as a representative of the gods in order to pass on the gods' will and teaching.

This is an apt description of monotheism-style group ritual, but it leaves out a whole lot of material about other, usually more effective types of ritual, particularly in a polytheistic context. What you describe holds true of state-sponsored polytheistic religion, like that of Egypt or Rome, but the vast majority of polytheistic faiths have been much more participatory in nature. The priest who stands between the gods and the individual has nothing to do with the religion per se, that has everything to do with an authoritarian structure of control. There is a huge plethora of polytheistic religions out there that are much more participatory in nature, and I think that those flavors of religion are woefully under-represented.

Take the Norse, for example. While they had a priest type figure, called a godhi (I don't know how to represent the Scandanavian characters I need), but he was much more of an adviser/organizer/loremaster figure. When the Norse held a blot, or a sumbel, everyone joined in with toasts and boasts and oaths. If the godhi were even necessary at these types of rituals (and often they weren't) it was as the guy who planned the event. The interaction between the Aesir and the Norse, however, needed no intermediary.
The Greeks, as another example, had huge temples staffed with priests, but the religious sacraments (animal sacrifices and the like) were usually either carried out directly or sponsored by individuals. Generally there was a huge feast after a sacrifice, where lots of people were invited, but the religious component was often between the Olympian and the particular Greek directly.

Don't get me wrong, what you say about authoritarian religion is fairly spot on, but I would like to see some discussion on non-authoritarian polytheism, which is sorely under-represented in gaming and which is a lot more common throughout history (and today!) than one would gather from the general RPG approach.
 

Tom_K

Registered User
Validated User
Thank you very much for your comments. I fully admit that I am not as familiar with pagan cultures as I should be, and also I am trying to be as general and simple as possible. Because of this I decided to use the religious vocabulary and context of Judeo- Christian monotheism as my default language, because that is what I imagine the average gamer will be familiar with. I have part two of this column coming up that deals with a different theory of religious authority which I think would fit better in the examples you give. This is religious authority through mastery of ritual knowledge and lore. The authority figure could act as a “master of ceremonies,” making sure everything is done in its proper way. Also I do hope to use future columns to discuus alternative religious styles, such as shamanism and animism.
 

Mirkady

Registered User
Validated User
Take the Norse, for example. While they had a priest type figure, called a godhi (I don't know how to represent the Scandanavian characters I need), but he was much more of an adviser/organizer/loremaster figure. When the Norse held a blot, or a sumbel, everyone joined in with toasts and boasts and oaths. If the godhi were even necessary at these types of rituals (and often they weren't) it was as the guy who planned the event. The interaction between the Aesir and the Norse, however, needed no intermediary.
The Greeks, as another example, had huge temples staffed with priests, but the religious sacraments (animal sacrifices and the like) were usually either carried out directly or sponsored by individuals. Generally there was a huge feast after a sacrifice, where lots of people were invited, but the religious component was often between the Olympian and the particular Greek directly.
Spot on in general, I'd say, but I was always under the impression that the ancient greeks didn't have a large body of priests (Delphi being distinctly unusual) in this regard. Otherwise, their temples did not require the intervention of a priesthood between worshipper and worshipped.

This sort of religious relationship has been generally ignored by RPGs, however. Not that this sort of arrangement precludes the role of the holyman in society.
 

masque1223

New member
You may be right, I was thinking of Delphi in particular. I do know that they had someone on hand to deal with the upkeep of the temples, if not a huge staff, which was in keeping with my point.
In most of the pagan cultures I'm familiar with, you wouldn't have a specific class of people (other than loremaster types) filling a Clerical role. I would instead have abilities associated with that class distributed amongst the population. Village healers would be one type of actual class, I suppose, but things like rituals to help the crops grow and what not I would think would be the domain of anyone (particularly those growing the crops). Blessings of births and funereal type ceremonies would usually be the responsibility of a family patriarch or matriarch, that type of thing. All in all, a more clan-based social structure, with duties spread throughout members of extended families, and to a lesser extent, the local population at large. I don't know of any RPGs that use a structure like this, but it might be an interesting exercise to plot one out, incorporating the structure of actual pagan societies.
 

Phlophouse

Retired User
If you are looking at D&D and the cleric, it mentions within that class write up, that they are not full priest. They are more of a holy Knight. If you look at the classes you will realize that a full priest or bishop is simply not represented. That such a class would really have more similarities to the wizard character.

Overall, I think the point which this tread already has made is: that each culture and region have their own type of religious structure. This would mean that each would or could have a separate class.

Because most settings have their own idea of pantheons, not based on history or current culture; we have to create our own structures and intuitions along with the reasons why those structures have been developed. Furthermore, if we include the cleric class, then we have to incorporate that in as well.

Pete
 

poodle

grand poobah
I think you might be overlooking something. In our mundane world faith is maintained through ritual. To maintain that ritual you need a large logisitical support to maintain your worshippers faith. I think that it would be different in a world to paraphrase Terry Pratchett if the god's don't like you they come and smash in your windows. Miracles abound with every priestly healing or turn undead. The populace doesn't struggle with believing in the gods at all. The same structures are not necessary unless it is faith that creates Gods e.g. God is created in our image in which case expect more Jupiter's witnesses, church of the latter day satan's than you could possibly handle.Although it does explain why gods send their followers to war.

Also the whole nature of reward would change in a fantasy world. Instead of 'if I am a devout person I will go to heaven' you would have the 'if I am a devout person I become immune to disease and can lift a chevrolet over my head'. That's not even talking about the benefits of worshipping a God or goddess of Love. heh heh heh.

Also the fantasy church has POWER. Not just the 'we won't let our followers vote for you in the next election' but the 'watch your city disappear under the waves if you really piss us off'. If it wasn't for mages and a semi-equal power balance between the gods it would be hard to believe that the fantasy world could be anything but a theocracy.

Imagine a world where if you didn't say your prayers at night your soul really could be taken. Fortunately our world isn't quite like that.

I am enjoying your articles though.
 

Tom_K

Registered User
Validated User
Thank you for your feedback and I glad you enjoyed the column. I agree with you that in "divine magic" world religious life would be completely different. But it seems to me that most gaming settings more or less adapt real-world religion (understandably so.) Because of that, I hope the advice I offer will still be useful in helping people design and run religious authority characters.
 
Top Bottom