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In my medieval fantasy world, Christianity, or at least it's parallel universe equivalent, is the most dominant religion. However, later in my world, pagan beliefs start to become popular again and even take over as the main religion. For realism, how could pagan religions make a comeback?

Some things to note about my world:

  • Magic is used widespread.
  • One king converted back to paganism after a witch used magic to save him.
  • I know how monotheistic religions like Christianity get followers, and due to this, Christianity is still popular, just not the number 1 religion.
  • Some of the "pagan" religions are just monotheistic churches who worship 1 pagan God.
  • There are some reforms for the pagan religions.
  • The year it begins is between the late 1200's and early 1300's, during the crusades.
  • Their equivalent to Islam has the same status as Christianity

In total, I would like to know what would make religions that are pagan replace the big, organized, monotheistic religion like Christianity.

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    $\begingroup$ What research have your done? Have you even considered the secularisation trend happening in Europe? They're not returning to Roman State Religion or anything, but they are reverting to a kind of pseudo-pagan spiritism. Or just --- nothing --- neither theistic nor atheistic nor agnostic. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 6, 2022 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ The question is how to make pagan religions popular, that explicitly means that the public needs to accept it (even if they take their lead from the rulers, if a ruler tries to go too far against public opinion then the ruler's head will end up on a pike and the new ruler will have a useful lesson in how strongly people feel about their faith). More detail required - if a ruler converted "back" to paganism then what stage is the spread of Christianity up to? $\endgroup$ May 6, 2022 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ In a world where magic works and is widespread, Christianity would have a very different flavor. It would include a lot of magic. Check out the Saint Camber series. Thus, your question is how a pagan religion using magic would take over from a "Christianity" that is also using magic. I suspect that the answer would involve a successful invasion by a pagan believing army - somewhat like what might have happened if the Vikings won Europe. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    May 6, 2022 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like you already answered your question - have witches heal important people like kings and have them convert their minions. $\endgroup$ May 6, 2022 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure Perhaps a better example in our time line would be the pagan Anglo-Saxon conquering Christian Britain after the Roman withdrawal. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Jul 13, 2022 at 13:48

5 Answers 5

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Christianity Doesn't Deliver on Magic:

Early in history, magic was poorly understood and didn't work that well. Pagan traditions assumed it was a good thing, while Christianity said it was bad. While pagans started out steeped in the use of magic, Christianity was slow to adopt the ideas, considering them heresy and witchcraft. So while pagans could deliver on spells, the Christians suppressed the use of magic. But the traditional pagan practices (like human sacrifices and some other very human excesses) encouraged conversion to the new faith. Yet old ideas never entirely faded.

In time, magic improved and new magical ideas spread.

When your transformative event (the kingdom flipping and legalizing magic) occurs, the kingdom experiences clear and unambiguous benefits. There is no giant spike in human sacrifice, but health improves, crops flourish, and the army enjoys success. A faction of the church (the Iconoclasts) flips and adopts magic, and the benefits appear to still be consistent with most of Christian teaching.

The central church is devastated, and tries to double-down on their anti-magic stance. Common folk are persecuted, belief is shaken, and open war with the pro-magic Iconoclasts results in the defeat of the Pope and his political structure. The Iconoclasts ally with the Pagan king in this war, and agree to allow co-existence.

Still, the people's fundamental faith in the infallibility of Christianity is broken, and will take years to rebuild. Christian governments have agreed to allow pagans, and can't simply suppress them as in the past. With the worst of pagan abuses (like human sacrifice) banned, old traditions never quite fully given up return.

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  • $\begingroup$ Go Science Magic! $\endgroup$
    – spectraesk
    May 9, 2022 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ Why exactly would magic work for pagans and not for for the Christians? $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2022 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure It would work for Christians, but the early Christians declared magic to be bad, and thus a sin. The church isn't using magic by choice. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jul 12, 2022 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ No pagan magic was sin for obvious reasons but Christian had there own form of magic by other names that would call upon the true and living God instead of pagan deities. I don't se why this wouldn't work if pagan magic is working. $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2022 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure In the case of this answer, the proposal is that the Christians were NOT practicing a form of magic until the Pagans gained ascendancy. Whatever the Christians in this universe did, it wasn't technically magic. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jul 12, 2022 at 23:31
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Have active conversion pushes.

Most religions don't think it's that important to convert others. You make others honour your gods while in your territory, but there's no active push to make other people follow your religion. Religious growth is limited by the birth rate of your religious people and you actively conquering people.

Christianity, Islam, and somewhat Buddhism were weird in that they were evangelical and tried to convert people to follow them, and unsurprisingly they are now massive and large religions. Your paganism just needs to be very evangelical.

As such, make the witches evangelists. They believe, correctly or incorrectly, that the gods they serve need worship to be stronger, and so have them actively work to get as many people to believe as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ Wait, wouldn't the Christians in my world take advantage and do the same thing, but on their god? $\endgroup$
    – Crafter
    May 6, 2022 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ They would. As such it would be a competition, where presumably the witches were better at it. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    May 6, 2022 at 22:54
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Magic is Real Son

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Flashy Boline and Athame.

Casting spells and rituals is a big part of some flavours of neopaganism.

Of course these spells and rituals don't work as flambuoyantly as Hollywood would have you believe. That's why there are more Christians than Witches in the real world.

In your world however the spells and rituals are more apparent. Channeling the energy of the Triune Mother Goddess is not a religion. It's a fact.

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They got the monarch to worship several gods

A king in an absolute monarchy can decide these things. In 16th century England, you had Henry VII who beheaded several of his wives and remarried a few times. The pope did not like his habits and subsequently, Henry VIII decided to found his own church, converting the majority of English Catholics to "Anglican" as a result.

The religion of the monarch is of major importance to religion in medieval and post-medieval times. When you convert the King, the people will follow. A medieval king had the power of law-making as well as judiciary power to convict people. Charlemagne (747–814) could decide to wage war on the Saxon people, to convert them violently.

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  • $\begingroup$ You're forgetting that is usually results in a Civil War. Even then it's only successful if future generations continue with a new religion said I'm going back to the old. Not to mention the risk of assassination. It's far more complicated than you're making it out in this answer. $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2022 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ Going back to the old is not a free choice in an absolute monarchy. And yes, there will probably be a civil war, but this question is not about history, it is about worldbuilding. I've put this answer to suggest converting the monarch to polytheism. That would certainly be an incentive for the population to go along with that, in late medieval times. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jul 12, 2022 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ True just saying converting the Monarch is the first step not the last $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2022 at 23:20
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Paganism is more fun

One potential reason Christianity became so prolific in our world is that it's optimistic. It offers a path to eternal salvation and a relatively straightfoward path there. You don't even need to be perfect, since Jesus died to forgive everyone's sins. Early Roman writings mention the unsettling way that Christians would smile as they were burned, knowing that they would be going to heaven. Heaven is attractive, so people convert.

Christianity in your setting might get (as it is in some parts of the world today) less optimistic. More emphasis on "If you do/don't do this you'll go to hell" than "if you do/don't do this you'll go to heaven." It very much says no drugs, no alcohol outside of communion, no sex before marriage, no swearing, etc. etc.

Paganism (in your setting, not strictly in our world) has less emphasis on restraining yourself now such that you may be saved after death. Have sex, get drunk, perform rituals. It's not that there aren't rules, but the rules aren't so designed to keep you from enjoying yourself. That's enough to draw in teenagers and young adults, many of whom continue practicing into adulthood.

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    $\begingroup$ Not all pagan religion were sex and drugs. The sexual norms for most pagan cults were not very different from Christian. In fact pagan often accused Christian of being sexual perverts. $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2022 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ Right I meant in this setting not in real life- have since edited and clarified thank you. $\endgroup$
    – DanishChef
    Jul 14, 2022 at 5:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Danishchif too be far pagans were extremely diverse group and there definitely were some cults that realy were all about sex and drugs. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2022 at 14:36

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