So, during my hiatus from the blog, I have collected together a few ideas for future publishing projects. One is going by the working title "War Cults", and will detail a few sample religions based around conflict and war, as well as a micro-setting based on Ancient Greece by way of D&D. Here's a quick sample...
It’s a historical truism that religion reflects what a culture maintains as important, and vice-versa. Cultures which respect academia tend to have mystery cults, those who live closer to nature worship entities with intimate ties to the elements and the land, and those with expansionist tendencies tend to worship Gods who will help them conquer and expand. A common theme amongst such cultures were “Hero Gods” – regular men who, through their skill at arms or achievements in battle, became god-like figures in their own right, or mortals granted abilities through divine heritage. This brings human motivations, including nationalism, into the realm of Godly pursuits, further driving the idea of conquest into their culture.
Many polytheistic cultures held Gods and Goddesses of Strength, War and Battle in high esteem – soldiers directly worshiped them, while those who never saw battle still sent prayers during both times of war and during peacetime. They held many different domains – from those specific to Bloodshed and Battle, to Tactics, to defending the homestead. However, the sheer act of deifying these aspects shows the ways they can be used in a day-to-day context – asking for strength, quick-wittedness or bravery in many contexts.
But, during times of war, these Gods take the centre stage. One can even see these wars as the worldly representation of battles in Heaven – God versus God, pushing to weaken the other through defilement of places of worship and subjugation of worshipers. Many of these cultures would outlaw the religions of conquered cultures, solidifying the idea that “their Gods won”, while others incorporate them into the conqueror’s mythos, creating a larger pantheon from which to draw upon.
Even in monotheistic faiths, there are often aspects of the main deity which impart similar strengths – from patron saints of soldiers, to direct divine intervention during times of war. Religion becomes not only a support for war, but quite often a catalyst.
In fantasy, this tendency becomes even more pronounced – rather than true polytheism, servants of Gods choose one to worship above all, and those who choose Gods of War tend towards a more militant stance, making them excellent characters with strong motivations.
Of course, one might also note that in many fantasy settings, gods with warfare-based domains also double as the gods of non-human races (Orc Gods are often saddled with this dual nature). This tends to push them towards expansionist tendencies, violent actions, and generally puts them straight into the antagonist camp.
(The morality of human expansionism being something to strive for, and non-human expansionism being outright Evil, is best left as an exercise for the reader).