How to create original Religions?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Thinker1200, Apr 26, 2012.

  1. Thinker1200 Note to self: TAKE MEDS

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    Hey guys. I need a bit of help with a TL that been on the backburner for a month or four due to this problem in the title. Im not a very religious person but an "Ancient Rome Survives" TL/map series that ive been working on requires me to create a new one. Problem is i really dont want it to be Christianity Ripoff #122435 or worse an "OMG LOOK AT HOW NOT MAINSTREAM OTL RELIGION I AM GAIZ". I really have no clue as to how to go about doing this.

    A bit of context. The POD for my potential TL is the Boudica Rebellion succeeding. ITTL Suetonius decides to try and force the Legio II Augusta in the battle with the Britons. He succeeds, for the most part, but the delay give the Britons crucial time to interpose themselves in between his supply lines and when the final battle takes place the columns of Legionnaires are destroyed piecemeal before they can link up with each other. The surviving Romans rout, most heading for the coast.
    During the retreat one of these group, being led by a man named Casitus, is cut off by a sizable patrol of Britons. The night before his men are forced to break out Casitus receives a Vision from this new deity im trying to create, that tells him how to win. Which of course, following this advice, he does the next day. After several more miracles/beating utterly impossible odds his group makes it to the coast near OTL Brighton and manages to get aboard one of the few remaining Roman ship that were stationed there to bring in now destroyed reinforcements. Caitus goes back to Gaul and eventually founds a new religion there based on the visions he receives from this deity throughout his life.

    And thats pretty much where in stuck. Any ideas?
     
  2. Meerkat92 Banned

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    I was actually thinking it would be more interesting if you were to create a dystheistic religion. Maybe, after this guy Casitus goes back to Gaul and his religion (which I'm picturing as almost an Xtianity analog for now) starts to grow rapidly particularly among the military, as it seems to be pretty good at providing winning strategies. However, the more traditionalist elements of the Roman society initiate a series of persecution campaigns against the Casitans (we can't let some barbarian religion corrupt our stalwart legions, eh lads?), eventually crushing them and forcing their last few followers into exile in some shitty wilderness. While they're out there, their view of their god changes from a benevolent friend to one who is actively trying to single his followers out for torment and abuse, but keeping them around by still providing useful nuggets of wisdom in visions every now and again, almost like the Casitans and their god are in an abusive relationship. An afterlife tradition develops where their ultimate goal is to be able to escape from the torments of their treacherous and abusive god after death by allying with the spirits of their ancestors or various minor gods (perhaps adapted from local mythology depending on where they end up). They see answers their god gives them through prayer as potentially a trap to torture them some more, or perhaps a piece of genuine insight given just to fuck with them further. It's the idea of a chosen people, singled out to be endlessly tormented by a god who only wants them around to abuse them.
     
  3. twovultures Well-Known Member

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    Well, what you do with this religion depends on your long term plans for it. I presume you want the religion to last a very long time and become popular in the Roman Empire.

    In which case, you want the religion to allow for enough compromise with Roman authorities so that it would not be totally crushed by the Roman government. Even if it does go through a period of persecution (which is good in that it creates in group cohesion for the members of the religion), eventually this religion will have to be accepted by the leaders of the Empire, which will require some tolerance for their rights and privileges. Of course, the religion cannot go too far in this direction lest it lose its popular appeal, which as a new religion it will need.

    Look at what Christianity did: it spread a message of "blessed are the meek", spreading to the poor and dispossessed even though the powerful tried to crush it as a threat to stability. As it got more popular, the authorities were able to adopt it because, although populist, the religion did give legitimacy to those in power as defenders and evangelists of the faith. You don't have to copy Christian believes or all of their doctrine, but religions become popular for a reason. You should look at the history of some popular evangelical religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism) to see why they became popular, and transplant those traits to your religion.

    Also, might I suggest you not create a god out of whole cloth. This religion will have an easier time if it works as a spin on previous existing religions-perhaps a 'foreign' but known god like Mithras or Isis, or perhaps based on veneration of a dead notable Roman.
     
  4. Thinker1200 Note to self: TAKE MEDS

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    Thats actually not that bad of an idea. But i need this religion to actually become popular enough to compete with Christianity eventually. That way that sound it seems a lot more like the whole NOT MAINSTREAM kind of stuff im trying to avoid.

    Hit the nail right on the head. And that mystery cult thing may work but how? As far as ive read most of these cults were far too inclusive to be long lasting.
     
  5. willbell Well-Known Member

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    What political pressures were influencing the Gauls? Might they be interested in replicating Boudica's Success? Would Gaul want more power in Rome? What might act as an incentive, remember, followers define a religion, not it's leaders.
     
  6. Genmotty Well-Known Member

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    From the POD you decribe it looks like the vision tells the tale of 'fortune favouring the bold'...but that's a rather crappy mirical to found a religion on. Indeed relgions aren't so much founded, as spread. Much like an anicent version of 'the meme'; a common idea that embodies something to those who see sense in it.

    That's partly why such established religions have stayed with us, because they are the most ambigious. I mean a monothestic deity can be embodied in anything from the supernatural to equated with the universe, while a pantheon of Gods needs to have every seperate entity covered and 'the believer' is left with the puzzle to work out which god is the most important to them.

    This is why monothesim has become the domininat faith structure for organised religion.
     
  7. Falecius Well-Known Member

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    I would daresay that there is not really such a thing as an "original" religion. However, there are some interesting possibilities already in this thread.
    The kind of foundation story you wrote appears to offers plenty of possibilities for a link with Mithraism - I mean, that is the historical religion I would look in for borrowings.
    I'm not saying that you should copy Mithraism; its core dualistic conception could be left aside. But it appears to me as a good source for ideas.
     
  8. twovultures Well-Known Member

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    I don't think they're problem was that they were inclusive, their problem was that they were elitist. A small 'core' of the mystery cults held knowledge of the mysteries, and passed on this knowledge only to a very select few.

    Perhaps if the 'mystery' of the religion, it's secret to whatever salvation it promises is made public, but benefiting from that salvation requires participation in the religion.

    Perhaps, before the escape, your Casitus makes some sacrifice or oblation to the deity. After the escape, the deity gives him a code of conduct to live by. Casitus invites followers to live by this code and make sacrifices separate from the main Roman religious festivals, which he assures his followers will give them great benefits. Throw in a couple of miracles, and you have the start of a new religion.
     
  9. chr92 Well-Known Member

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    I agree with Falecius that Mithras is quite likely to be taken as responsible, while Boudicca seemed to consider Andraste patron of the revolt.


    The altered version of Mithras would find it easier to spread outside the Celtic regions. If Andraste did, she could be considered a minor and dark goddess. She might meld with the darker god(desse)s. Possibly Hecate and Hades, as well as Mars?


    If this Mithraic religion remains so androcentric, or even more mildly, women could keep the more traditional religions. Or even Christianity.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2012
  10. twovultures Well-Known Member

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    I don't think such a deep spiritual gender divide would work in any society. Yes, you do get gender-based religious divides, especially in the Greco-Roman world where there were special rites just for women, but a female Christian/male pagan society is not possible IMO.

    Maybe we could get Mithras a wife for the women to worship? He seems like a pretty uptight deity, getting him laid might be good.
     
  11. Socrates Well-Known Member

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    I think you need to simply ask yourself about the basic structure and then fit a story around it. Answer these questions:

    Does it have zero, one or many gods?
    If it has many gods, is one favoured?
    Is the god a force of nature, or a personal one you can talk to?
    Does God intervene in worldly affairs? Just via visions, or via physical miracles?
    Is the religion universal (where all can join) or restricted to being part of an ethnic group?
    Does it proselytise?
    Is it hierachical or does is stress equality before God?
    What are its attitudes towards gender relations?
    Does it stay out of the political sphere or call for political involvement?
    Is it non-violent, or does it call for just warfare?
    Are there prophets? If yes, how many? What are these people's biographies? (Were they military men, peasants, royalty, merchants etc? Their economic status should affect their views.)
    Are religious ceremonies febrile or contemplative?
    What does it say about living with people of other religions?
     
  12. Falecius Well-Known Member

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    Interestingly, many of the greatest real religions have mixed or varying answers to many of these questions. Frex, in some notable cases (Middle Ages Abrahamitic religions come to mind), being hierachical and stressing equality were not mutually exclusive things. Islam has been having a lot of differing attitudes about living with people of other religions. Christianity has been and is both non-violent, and calling for warfare, depending on circumstances (that is really tricky: in the Gospels, you can find basis for both radical non-violence and its contrary). And so on.
     
  13. double7double Banned

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    I suggest a religion based on Norse and greek myths with combination of chritinality. A religion of many gods but a man god savior that come s down to earth to live with the common people.
     
  14. Falecius Well-Known Member

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    That could be interesting. There are some Ancient religions to begin with (Horus and Attys are possible, for example). I suppose that, if you take the Norse deities, Wotan would be a good candidate.
     
  15. John Fredrick Parker Well-Known Member

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    If you want to keep it simple but original, I'd say use the at least one of the religious cults floating around the Empire at the time as a springboard. Also, remember early Christianity OTL drew on a number of popular pagan philosophers known at the time, esp Platonists.
     
  16. Admiral Matt Member

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    Eh.... created religions are really a modern thing. One guy making up a god isn't going to create a new religion, no matter what he does, he's going to create a new sect of the Greco-Roman faith.

    I don't mean to discourage you, but look at the record:

    Religions are born out of continuity with past practices - they do not spring from a vaccuum. Polytheistic religions like the Greek, Roman, Hittite, and pre-Zoroastrians were combinations of the proto-Indo-European faith with the odd coopted local god. Others, like the Mesopotamian pantheon or (IIRC) the Mayan, were the patron dieties of each city or region, wedged into a single group with the chief determined by which city dominated early on. Naturally, given its size and age, Hinduism owes a little to both factors. And common to all of them was the potential for a hero or king to be deified in hindsight.

    Nor were later religions sudden abberations, no matter how much they might appear so. Zoroaster defined a cosmology, but he did it within the framework of existing Persian gods. Siddartha built Buddhism entirely on the foundation of Hinduism, which goes a long way to explaining why Mongolian and Cambodian faiths use statuary clearly based on the model of a multi-armed Hindu deity. Yeshua, likewise, was essentially teaching new ethics within Judaism, and ethics that were for the most part already espoused by contemporary Samaritans and Buddhists. The former religion is especially significant, as many lived in the Jewish provinces and they are even cited in the Bible. How many other religions get a positive depiction in that book? Then this Samaritan-flavored Judiasm was combined with a single key miracle and packaged with Platonism to create the modern religion, pagan decorations and holidays being added later. Similarly, Islam may look like a dramatic change, but true Arabian polytheism was already a minority creed in the peninsula when Mohammed started out. Inspired by large Christian and Jewish populations, Allah-worship had existed for centuries. The Sihks are a reconciliation of Islamic and Hindu cosmologies. Quakerism, the Amish, and Mormonism all outgrowths of Christianity, the latter with hints of Native American influence. Bahaism is an interpretation of the early modern world by educated Shiites. Hari Krishna was a Hindu interpretation of the same.

    It's only the modern era that has given birth to truly novel religions. Wicca, for example, or Scientology. Marxism, arguably.

    The point is, this is easier than you're making it. If religions are not invented so much as altered, you simply have to pick a base faith. Do some research until you find peripheral aspects you'd like to emphasize and layer on the founder's interpretation. Then decide what class of people will be the early converts, why, and in what circumstances. That last will have more effect than everything before (the New Testament was hardly written by the carpenter, after all).

    Edit: By way of example, I did something similar here.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2012
  17. Falecius Well-Known Member

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    There is a strong trend of thought that sees Marxism as deeply entrenched in eschatological views that go back to the Agostine if not the Old Testament. Wiccans tend to reconnect to old pagan beliefs, though the, uhm, impressive interruption in those tradition due to rampant monotheism makes it actually new-looking (not to mention the fact that old paganism was rather different).
    As I wrote before, "original religion" comes close to be a contradiction in terms, in a sense at least (though maybe Scientology can be a counter-example. I don't know).
     
  18. The Ubbergeek Insane internet demigod (TN)

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    Admiral Matt, maybe he meaned for the WRITTER AND CREEATOR. 'Out of universe', not 'in universe'.
     
  19. Thinker1200 Note to self: TAKE MEDS

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    Honestly didnt expect this to get this many replies. Thanks guys.:D:eek::D

    That actually does seem to be easier, but then how did Christianity manage to supplant the entire Greco-Roman faith complex in the first place?
     
  20. Admiral Matt Member

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    Well keep in mind that what I wrote above is not an explanation of "why a religion succeeds," but rather describes "where religions come from." Christianity was born out of continuity with its milieux, but once established was perfectly capable of converting those of radically different faiths. Anybody can convert to anything, more or less; my point is solely that a religion appearing out of nowhere whole cloth never really happens.

    As for how the Christians succeeded....

    Early Christianity went through a series of stages that I'm not certain many are aware of. At the risk of being pedantic:

    At the outset the faith had the old testament (more coherent as a narrative than the corpus of Greco-Roman lore), a real intolerance for other faiths, and an expected messiah - all real strengths. Judaism was also widely dispersed, allowing some faint spread of its tenets by diffusion prior to Jesus' birth.

    The Athenian schools, Plato most significantly, had left an enduring if minority agnostic sentiment among the Greco-Roman intelligentsia. Much of this amounted to a perception of the common pantheon as absurd and a contrasting appeal to a "more logical" unitary deity. Given then that there was a religion close-by that espoused a single supreme being, it isn't terribly surprising the Hellenes noticed. The result was a trickle of Greek converts to Judaism. This isn't an area I've read intensely into, but it has been suggested that the only reason the Greeks didn't experience large-scale Jewish proselytization in the second and third centuries BC was simply because they couldn't find a Jewish sect that would drop the requirement of circumcision.

    Jesus brought in a system of ethics that made Judaism much more appealing to the settled and civilized folk of the Mediterranean littoral. Early converts to Christianity were often those who were or felt excluded from their society, to whom Jesus' attitudes on social egalitarianism and universal brotherhood must have been extremely appealing.

    In the decades immediately after the crucifixion, Jesus' words went onto paper. In the process was added the resurrection and forgiveness of sins - things the man himself didn't really get into at all (except, according to some sources, after he died). Talk to any devout Christian today, and these will be more important doctrinal points than anything that occurred before. Putting aside that you should consider this angle in designing your belief system, both aspects were hugely important in the Church's success. The appeal of resurrection is fairly transparent, but a religion that was prepared to forgive anything of the repentant had a real advantage over its contemporaries.

    Then the faith jumped from a minor Jewish schism into the Greek community of the eastern Mediterranean. The position that nothing mattered next to the miracles of Jesus' life, death, and rebirth was an open door for Greeks to jump on the bandwagon without sacrificing their.... honor. This was the pivotal step that entered Christianity into the Mediterranean world. The early Christian Greeks surnamed the messiah "Christ," threw in the miracle of the virgin birth, linked the vague statements of punishment Jesus had made to their Hades-renamed-Hell, and attached the pre-existing body of reputable philosophical thought on monotheism.

    Then a lot of other stuff happened. Revelations came later, and greatly altered the tone of the faith, but since it wasn't a big selling point I'll put it aside.

    The fact is, despite all I said above, the picture is arguably simpler. Though there was a lot justifying why the faith was able to establish itself over Roman religions old and new, that still wasn't enough. The largely Christian western world we live in is due to Constantine. Gibbon puts the Church at 5% of the Empire's population at that time - certainly it was no more than 10%. In that sense, all other strengths aside, Christianity triumphed because it was intolerant. Once it took the highest office, that meant that non-Christians would quickly disappear from high office, then government in general, government appointed positions, and so on, until only peasant farmers had not yet felt the squeeze.
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2012