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While chaos might be well suited for raiding and pillaging, my world is to be in a sedentary setting. Indeed, chaos, in the true spirit of the term, seems to run counter to what a sedentary society would strive for. To paraphrase Mackenzie:

Local deities tended to have a strong affiliation with the pragmatic, things that mattered to the subsistence of the citizens: fertility, agriculture, and so forth

The worldbuilding context is providing a narrative for a longstanding deity of chaos for a city-state: specifically, supplanting a Tiamat cult in a city-state that would be contemporaneous with Ur (roughly around its zenith, perhaps 2000 bce, some flexibility is afforded here). While some hypothesize that legacy deities were subsumed by newer iterations, as was possibly the case between the legacy cult of Abzu and the newer cult of Enki, most of the archaeological evidence points to Tiamat playing an antagonistic role (see Marduk vs Tiamat in the Enuma Elish).

Question

The challenge before us is not necessarily to dispute where the archaeological evidence falls but rather piece together a mosaic of how a chaos cult needs to evolve and operate in a manner that is consistent with what we know about the needs of ancient Mesopotamian peoples. Given the immutables:

  1. The cult is chaos 'true-to-spirit'
  2. The society is sedentary

and given flexibility among wealth, environmental and sociological factors, is it possible to devise a scientific approach that is historically consistent, that explains the incentive to uphold a chaotic Tiamat cult/institution?

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    $\begingroup$ Tiamat is dead. She was killed by Marduk, who made the world from her body parts. See the problem? If Tiamat is not dead, there is no world with cities in which to build temples. If there is a world with cities to build temples, then Tiamat is dead: there was never a time when Tiamat was alive and there was a world with cities in which to build temples. She has ceased to be. She is bereft of life. She is an ex-goddess. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 6, 2023 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ Is there a scientific approach to explain any religious cult? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Mar 6, 2023 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ By "scientific" do you mean you're looking for a psychological incentive that would be consistent with modern sociological science? Chaos gods like Tiamat were frequently worshiped because they represented the forces behind unpredictable (usually misunderstood) events. You can simplify it by saying they're the gods of bad luck. In today's terms, that would be the growing trend to blame anyone but ourselves for anything that doesn't go our way or reflect our beliefs. I don't think sedentary has anything to do with it. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 6, 2023 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ It is too much to expect us to read up on ancient Mesopotamia to give an answer ". . . consistent with what we know about the needs of ancient Mesopotamian peoples. . . wealth, environmental and sociological factors". Better to outline the relevant features of the society in the question body. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 7, 2023 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Daron User HDE226868 once asked a question that, IMO, couldn't be answered by anyone short of a PhD in celestial mechanics. It sat for years with no answers and a zero score (no votes whatsoever). It had fallen into so much obscurity that I chose to put a fat bounty on it - and people finally took a shot at answering it. My point? The fact that a question requires specialized knowledge or study on the part of the respondents is not a reason to dislike the question. In fact, such questions are likely the highest quality questions on the Stack. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 7, 2023 at 16:22

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Not just a goddess of chaos

As far as I can tell, worship of 'evil' deities, or at least ones seeking destruction and chaos is very rare, as you'd expect. Satanists or people worshipping the devil in some form, for example, are a much bigger thing in fiction than in reality.

However, polytheistic deities are a complex and often nebulous thing. For a given deity, there are often many different things that it is associated with. Different societies often focus on some things the deity is associated with over others. Lines between different deities are often blurred, and that's before we even get to syncretism.

Often, a deity ends up being considered 'evil' because because people focus on a certain aspect of it over the others. Often it happens because there is a conflict between the worshippers of this deity and some other group. The other group wins, and then they try to villify the god of the vanquished people as well the losers of this conflict. A lot of the bad press that Baal got, was because the Carthaginians who worshipped him lost to Rome, Romans then focused on child sacrifice rather than Baal's role as the god of growth and agriculture.

Another example is, the Hindu goddess Kali is often seen as goddess of death and destruction in the West. However, in Hinduism she is also associated with creation and rebirth. She is closely associated with Shakti, goddess of primordial energy and creation who, I understand, is heavily venerated in Hinduism.

Tiamat is not only a goddess of chaos. She is also a goddess of primordial cosmic energy, similar to Kali/Shakti and a creator of the cosmos. So your Mesopotamian farmers could worship that aspect of her. Alternatively, the chaos she unleashed could be seen as the result of her vengeance against the gods that slew her husband Apsu. She could be seen as a goddess of vengeance, perhaps by people that saw themselves as being unjustly treated or otherwise wronged somehow. Finally, she was a key (if unwilling) participant in the creation of the world, that may be reason enough to worship her.

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You worship Tiamat the goddess of chaos because she is powerful. You don't have to like her, just to show due respect; if you fail to do that, she may choose to create chaos in your city. So you will do the appropriate rituals, which modern science will recognise as having important elements of either consensus building or negotiation skills training, and thus will in fact tend to reduce chaos among the faithful, q.e.d.

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Think of it as if cults were some kind of political parties: why would people vote for a party that seeks to dismantle current system?

In this case they don't necessarily want the chaos to continue forever, they might just want eg. creative destruction without thinking what would come after that. Maybe another deity has the answer when they get the chance, or the chaos deity rewards your loyalty with the fruits of such development.

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Anti-Corruption Cult

The cult identifies with Tiamat the same way modern Satanists identify with Satan or Baphomet. She is a symbol of rebellion against a corrupt system. Belief in the god for its own sake is not necessary.

Rebellion against the system is exactly what the cult does. They steal from the rich, redistribute wealth, assassinate corrupt officials or slave owners. At least that is how the cult describes its own actions.

Perhaps the above described the original cult. But now it is mere window-dressing. The modern cult is made of frustrated individuals who desire not so much to make the world more fair, but to smash things and punish their oppressors. They do not want revolution. They want ruin.

For a real world example, imagine how many Second Amendment Activists in the US are motivated not so much by Freedom laws in the abstract, but are simply young frustrated men, who feel powerless with their current place in the world, and are itching for a fight.

Maybe the assassinations are conducted as a blood ritual. The victims are people who the cult wants to get rid of anyway. Rather than just murdering them, the cult murders and sacrifices them, in a big ceremony that is good for community spirit. See my general advice on making a cult believable.

Of course all these actions are very illegal. Worse, they show a strident disregard for the rule of law. They are downright treasonous! This is Ancient Mesopotamia my dog. We just invented civilization ten years ago. Now these bad eggs are trying to ruin it.

Naturally the establishment paints the Tiamat cult as a load of crazed chaos-first-and-consequences-later maniacs. This is easy since their figurehead goddess is already famous for such things.

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Chaos is counter to all society. Not just docile ones. We build societies to avoid chaos. Why would a chaos worshipper want a society anyway? What benefit would it bring them, bearing in mind that things like safety, family, companionship, trade, the exchange of ideas, all of this is the fruit of order. There is a reason why the chaos Kampf always has Thor as the hero, and never the Midgard serpent. Even raiders and pillagers Don't want chaos in their backyard.

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