Another expository post, for SIM 12.
The Nameless World is quite definitely pagan in how it approaches religion. Instead of a monotheistic religion, it is generally believed that there are entire multitudes of gods and godly families. Indeed, it is agreed that certain gods are actually the same god, but called by different names. (Like Mars and Ares, both Gods of War.) Therefore, despite the vast number of religions and sects, there is actually surprisingly little religious conflict.
Gods are generally divided into three different categories. The Great Gods represent aspects of the physical and spiritual worlds, such as health, war and farming. The Loci Gods represent particular locations and are rarely worshipped outside it. The Household Gods represent a specific household. It is generally considered polite, when entering a city or a home, to visit the temple and pay your respects to the city’s god, even if you are not staying.
(There is some debate over the exact nature of the Household Gods. Some people believe they’re the souls of the family’s ancestors, while others believe they’re actually newborn gods.)
It is important to realise that the vast majority of worshippers believe in the gods, even if they don’t worship them. One is not expected to worship any god – or worship at all, if one chooses – but it is generally considered unwise to deliberately insult a god. Another person’s rites or rituals may seem odd, yet that doesn’t make them invalid. Tolerating other rites is considered good manners.
The vast majority of people will pay their respects to a multitude of gods throughout their lives. However, a number choose to dedicate themselves to one particular god – almost always one of the Great Gods – and never worship any other. These people are devotees (dedicated followers), initiates (junior cultists) and priests (senior cultists).
Unsurprisingly, the majority of religions are effectively cults and operate accordingly. Most of them try to find something unique, something exclusive – and often secret – to draw in new and significant worshippers. A small cult may be quite sincere; a larger cult, which may draw in thousands of worshippers, may be run more as a racket than anything else. Devotees are expected to make contributions, for example; initiates often turn over their possessions to the cult. (A number of cults are really astonishingly rich.) Cults also find ways to fleece outsiders – a number of cults operate a sacred prostitution service disguised as a fertility rite, for example; others sell prayers and blessings to those who are prepared to pay.
The general attitudes of outsiders towards specific cults can vary widely. Some cults – the Harvest Goddess followers – are regarded as largely harmless. Others, including the Blood Worshippers or the Crone’s followers, are regarded with considerable suspicion. There are no shortage of rumours surrounding their innermost mysteries and rituals, most of which are exaggerated. Parents tend to get annoyed when their adolescent children rebel by joining some of the more harmful cults. They feel that the rites and rituals serve as an excuse to engage in forbidden practices. They are not wrong.
It is unusual for a government to interfere in religious matters, provided that religious teachings do not threaten public order. Most religious cults don’t attempt to encourage their worshippers to question authority, let alone stand up to their rulers. Those that do are targeted for extermination. Rumours of their presence can unleash a – sometimes literal – witch-hunt.