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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 with demons to create demon hosts, humans can shuck their mortal shells 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. I need a way to maintain this religions coherence with these two ideologies to keep the empire stable.

We are supposed to learn from the past to avoid repeating its mistakes. How can I design this religion from the ground up to maintain its stability?

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    $\begingroup$ Is this "veil" a religious creation that needs to be taken on faith or is it real no matter what people think of it? $\endgroup$ – Dark Matter Mar 30 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ I think you miss a rather important point, which is that if your sects can actually summon demons and use them to do things, they are using technology, not religion. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 31 at 1:48
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf or at least science. $\endgroup$ – DarthDonut Mar 31 at 11:18
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    $\begingroup$ Pretty often, religious schisms are not really for silly theological reasons but rather due to personal disagreements between religious leaders regarding worldly issues. The Angelican church was formed because the pope wouldn't grant a marriage annulment to Henry VIII. The Protestant church was formed because Martin Luther disagreed with the Catholic church exploiting people's faith for money. And I am pretty sure that the East-West schism was not so much about the Filioque but rather about a power struggle between Rome and Constantinople. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Mar 31 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Incognito Technology isn't necessarily machines, it's whatever the engineers produce, including social engineers. In this case, the role of "engineer" is played by the people who create the summoning rituals. For completeness: the scientists in this analogy are the people who study the demons, the rituals and their affects. $\endgroup$ – No Name Apr 1 at 14:19
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Make it canon that both views are correct.

Give the demons a hierarchy of power and influence. The lowest ranking get enslaved by their superiors and can be loaned out to other demons or mortals who request a favor or service. These minor demons can be as strong as two men, have a weakly acidic touch, or similarly unimpressive abilities. As you move up the hierarchy, the demons have more powerful and awe-inspiring talents, such as possession or mind control.

The religion can then be safely divided into pieces based on the hierarchy. The sect that believes demons exist to serve mankind can keep its focus on the low-ranking demons they can forcibly pull through the veil; the fact that they can be forcibly extracted is proof that these demons are meant to serve, rather than rule. Maybe those of stronger faith can drag higher ranking demons through the veil, increasing the "ranking" of mankind in the hierarchy. (Dark twist here: humans are just demons that were forced out of the other dimension for {reason} and are actually part of the hierarchy.) The high-ranking demons then become more hazard than worth, reflecting a materialistic and cautious approach.

Likewise, the sect that believes demons should be worshipped can keep its focus on those high-ranking demons that merely laugh when summoned and go on with their day. These demons have to be won over with prayers, offerings, and the like. Gaining a demon's favor becomes the goal for the faithful.

Finally, demons are generally defined as malicious, vengeful, and delighting in the suffering of others. Subjugating low-ranking demons can be a primary way to gain the favor of higher-ranking demons, especially if that enslavement involves using the acquired power to inflict terror, pain, or death on other mortals.

Your sects may bicker about which demon is ranked over another, or which is superior at a given rank, but they'll admit that both the worship of high-ranking demons and the subjugation of low-ranking demons is appropriate and deserved.

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    $\begingroup$ Knowing the way Demons are typically portrayed I can imagine all sorts of shenanigans being undertaken by powerful yet subservient demons to get their superiors forcibly removed from the hierarchy by a human cult or inspire human followers to sacrifice to them to increase their own standing. Could make for some interesting social dynamics in the infernal courts of the Netherworld. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 30 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ From a historical perspective, this reflects the early African Slave Trade: You had the rich, successful tribes selling their captured and enslaved enemies to the Europeans, in return for firearms and other items that helped them to stay "on top", and in turn provide more slaves. The Slave Owners didn't necessarily see or know about the "powerful" Africans that the Slave Traders they bought from worked with... $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Mar 31 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal: Nitpick. In the early days of the African slave trade, it was the successful tribes selling to Islamic slave traders. Europeans didn't really get involved until much later, after the discovery of the Americas. (And why should they have, since they had plenty of home-grown serfs?) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 31 at 19:18
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Frame Challenge:

Your Religion Has Nothing to do with Demons

Demonology is a science - you seek to categorize demons, place them in the hierarchy, and understand their psychology (to better enslave / entice them).

There's no capital "M" - Mystery - there. No real room for religious awe. It's science. Input to the function defines the output from the function.

So set up a pantheon. A god of War, and a god of Fertility, etc.

And a god of Demons.

In fact - this could set you up for an interesting story in its own right. Maybe you treat Demon worshipers as an upstart sect or splinter group. It could be based heavily on how Christianity split off from Judaism and challenged the religious pantheon of the Roman Empire...

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The demons themselves are working to mantain the status quo, and especially in protecting those fools who believe that enslaving demons in providing one-sided benefits for their party only, while they are really tools to raise the level of corruption of the world, which increases the infuence of demons over the world.

Mantaining two opposite factions keeps the need for each of the factions to reinforce their own cult in order to show that their way is the better way, increasing the stream of faustian bargains and damned souls that ultimately empowers or feeds demons.

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One sect basically exterminates the other. The people who believe that the demons are mere tools are not taking a religious view of the situation and would be viewed as heretical (or maybe just blaspehemous) by the others. So you have one major religion , which is highly stable - think medieval church, only not as moderate when it comes to dealing with dissenters - plus a small underground heretical group of practical magicians who survive by remaining underground and using their powers, which the others cannot harness. (think any other religious/philosophical group at the time).

This situation is stable and can endure for centuries, and can throw up some interesting plot possibilities.

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Demons are malicious - you could have them be the instigators behind both sects, and play the necessary roles to deceive and manipulate the beliefs of the two sects. What do they want out of it? A hierarchical system with different power levels and demands could work, but even the weakest demons are usually more powerful than humans, so unless they had a deeper motive for obeying the petty mortals who call them, why should they obey?

Stability - George Orwell had a state of perpetual warfare (often just imaginary) in 1984, which served to keep peace and people controlled. The two opposing sects could be engaged in (not necessarily physical, e.g. intellectual/other dimensional/proxy) warfare, and this mutual war of attrition could maintain a balance for a time.

Long term stability is unlikely, though, as "A house divided against itself cannot stand." You have two opposed sects - one who subjugates what the other worships; who worship malicious gods who want nothing more than to destroy humans (e.g. the whole human sacrifice thing, plus a motive for them to obey the cultists at all?); and predatory sects, at that, who kill the populace. It's built on destruction, eventually something's gonna give: the populace will rebel against them, or one sect will go too far in their "proxy war", or the demons will achieve their goal and kill everybody, or a horrified neighbouring empire will wipe out the sects in a crusade, or, ultimately, there will be no-one left to sacrifice.

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Mutually Assured Destruction

Above a certain level of the religious hierarchy it is known that both approaches are about equally powerful. The summoning sect can produce legions of demonic warriors, but the unity sect can turn each individual human into a terrifying force of destruction.

The high priests may be selfish, greedy and even evil; but they aren't stupid. They know that causing any serious division could lead to conflict, and that any actual civil war would cause mass casualties. That would risk all the fine wines and fancy dinners that they love so much, and all for a matter of mere philosophy. And so they restrict themselves to office politics and sarcastic comments, and regularly visit their anger management counsellors.

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  • $\begingroup$ There would be instigation at the lower ranks by followers that don't understand big picture problems and don't live the foppish lives of their high-up leaders $\endgroup$ – person27 Apr 1 at 3:10
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Possession

The upper levels of the religion are the same demons wearing meat suits. As bodies wear out and people die, new members are elected to the inner circle and a demon possess the cultist

This way the people might change but the ones running the show are always the same.

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Power is Virtue

One of the maxims of the demon worshippers is that power is virtuous. To command obedience is to be, in some part, divine.

If a human can command a demon, it is virtuous to do so, though it may not be as sacred as forming a union with that being to command even more power, more directly.

Those who would bind demons into service are not blasphemers, they're merely cowards, unwilling to ascend because they fear what they might loose - And really, aren't all of us in fearful awe at the magnificence of the demonic? What sin is it, truly, to be afraid of the divine?

These are people to be pitied, not people to be persecuted, because although they might command worldy authority, they will never command the true and transcendent power of the divine union.

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