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In my world, the Northern Kingdoms are the equivalent to Europe. Like Europe, in the Middle Ages, their version of Christianity began replacing old Pagan religions and gods.

However, in my world, towards their Renaissance, there is a revival of pagan traditions, which I already have posted: How to make pagan religions popular again

The problem is, based on another question, is the religious fervor from the new religion. For attempts to try and revive paganism (even if secretly funded by the Main Church), there would be crusades, genocides, and people who would be afraid to convert, despite benefits. What are conditions that could help paganism survive, at least until the Renaissance happens?

Worldbuilding notes:

  • There is at least two kingdoms which remain as a pagan state

  • In the 12-13th centuries, wizards and Pagans leave the mainland to create their own Magic society. However, until the 14-1500s, they do not have much influence

  • Wars and natural disasters have left the main church weak in power

  • Of course, the new pagan beliefs are updated to fit more of their standards in the Renaissance (no sacrifices, etc.)

  • Kingdoms do not have to completely be pagan, but at least have some acceptance, or at least tolerance

  • Religious wars will definitely happen due to what happens

  • The main Pagan Religions I am focusing on are Germanic and Roman counterparts, at least their alternate coutnerparts, though others can be accepted as examples.

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    $\begingroup$ There were quite a few large, rich and powerful pagan kingdoms and empires in the 1400 and the 1500. Some of them (or their successor states) are still pagan in the 2000s. India and Japan, of course; and China, which has never had a "religion" as we would recognize it. (The minus one is for the "Roman paganism". The Roman state religion had become a tiny minority religion in the Roman Empire in the first century BCE. By 1 CE the vast majority of the people in the empire were not ethnic Romans and had no relationship with the Roman religion.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 16, 2023 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ You mention wizards leaving to create their own Magic society. Is there actually magic in this world? $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2023 at 4:50
  • $\begingroup$ @TheCommander Yes, there is. It's a hard magic system, and it's mainly energy-based. $\endgroup$
    – Crafter
    Mar 27, 2023 at 4:51
  • $\begingroup$ Do "gods" (or magical entities that could be treated as such) exist? Or is a more... psionic system, where power comes from the weilder? $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2023 at 4:53
  • $\begingroup$ @TheCommander kind of a mix. Magic requires an energy source, and as for the gods, their existence is a bit of a mystery, left to one's interpretation... $\endgroup$
    – Crafter
    Mar 27, 2023 at 5:55

8 Answers 8

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Less tolerance or more tolerance

Let's look at what caused roman paganism die out and be replaced by christianity. One of Romes biggest advantages in becoming a world spanning empire was its tolerance towards the cultures. Most smaller empires in europe tried to conquer and erase the culture of the people they conquered and replace it with their own. Which didn't work all that well because the people soon rise and try to defend their culture, ergo civil war and breakdown of the empire. Rome however was much more welcoming and merged the conquered cultures into their own. The roman gods started as a rebrand of the greek gods. The people in the conquered lands could mostly just keep their gods because they often were the same aspects as the roman gods just under different names.

When Christianity came along Romans weren't all that fond of this extremly different religion with only one god that didn't even have a name and so they harassed christians and even killed them often. However soon the government decided that if rome is tolerant to other religions it should also accept the christians as part of their culture. Even laws were put in place that banned harassing christians.

Christianity spread among romes elite and soon into the head of state. When it was the christians turn at making laws they outlawed all other religions and put harsh punishments for idol worshiping. A central part of paganistic religions and "coincidental" one of the ten commandments. With the power of the roman empire to kickstart christianity, it was easily spread in all of europe. Sometimes with a more diplomatic approach at first and introducing rituals from other religions (e.g. christmas) but always in its full intolerance against other religions.

TL;DR: Christianity could grow so big because of the tolerance of other religions and the intolerance of itself

You could either make christianity more tolerant, removing or weakening the commandments about "no idol worshipping" and "no other gods beside me". -> Probably leading to the survival of paganism inside mostly christian kingdoms.

Or you could make other religions less tolerant. Probably leading to some kingdoms staying away from christianity.

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  • $\begingroup$ In my world, Christianity has less emphasis on no false idols. In fact, one branch has statues of God's true form (or at least what they think). $\endgroup$
    – Crafter
    Mar 24, 2023 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Crafter Well then you got your prerequisites. Also the fact that the church is even tolerating the branch you mentioned is a big step in the direction of tolerance. Historicaly the catholics weren't especially fond of branches and usually labeled (and treated) them as heretics. $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Mar 24, 2023 at 7:14
  • $\begingroup$ Well, technically they look down on it, and it's a fantasy orthodox church, but they view them as a lesser evil compared to their protestant fantasy equivalents. $\endgroup$
    – Crafter
    Mar 27, 2023 at 4:44
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Make them all Sailors

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Sailors are a superstitious lot. Even during the height of Christianity the sailors believed all sorts of strange things and followed rituals to ward against bad luck and bring good luck on the waves.

Don't bring a woman on a boat. Except the figurehead. Make the figurehead the sauciest woman you can find. No bananas either. Or killing albatrosses. Always launch a new boat by having a woman break a bottle over the hull. If the bottle doesn't break you are in for bad time. If the hull breaks then tear down the boat and start again.

Sailor voodoo was was paganism lite. In order to keep paganism alive longer, simply make sure everyone is a sailor at some point in their life.

If your country is landlocked, simply replace sailing with some other job where you are forever at the mercy of a higher and unarguable force, i.e the weather and sea. I am sure superstitions will form take just as well.

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Look at the decision to turn Iceland from paganism to Christianity. That decision was made by a major pagan priest. But it wasn't due to any conversion of that priest. It was a simple economic decision - by becoming Christian, Icelandic traders could do business with Christian Europe.

Ergo, if you want a pagan survival, make the countries rich enough to rival the economies of Christian Europe. Viking Scandinavia was rich enough to support a trading economy and was definitely pagan. Note that the Viking age happened when Scandinavia warmed up enough to make the farming economy far better. Until then, it was more of "subsistence farming" and only more southern Europe had excess crops to have more of a trading economy.

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    $\begingroup$ Minor quibble: I couldn't find a source on Thorgeir's (the pagan priest) motivation. Careful of assumptions on historical figures' motivations. Trying to understand people in our day can be hard, let alone another culture centuries ago. $\endgroup$
    – Jarrad
    Mar 27, 2023 at 6:21
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When religion and politics support each other, they often find a mean of surviving.

Look for example at the various protestant confessions which stemmed in Europe from the Catholic Church in the XVI century: without local authorities supporting them or even being them, the reformers would have had a much harder time in spreading their doctrines, because it is objectively hard to preach when your head is chopped off your neck or your body has been burnt on a fire.

On the other hand, local authorities did not support the reforms only for the sake of religious belief, but also because it gave them the chance to become more independent from a religious authority which was often interfering with their power.

A close-by power who supports paganism can therefore allow it to survive against the religious fervor of the other side, especially if the other power supporting the monotheism is far and cannot project its power effectively.

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Here are some I can think of:

  • The angels 👼 (or other Christian canon beings) appear a bunch of times. You think this might increase belief, which it could possibly in some world, but when faced with beliefs in reality 🌍, it forces considering Christian beliefs as things that are true, with the same soberness as going to the shops.

Angels 👼 don't necessitate God, and when they definitely exist, the often completely nonsensical beliefs about their nature from believers are going to instantly be proven wrong or be put under scrutiny. And when the angels refuse to help humanity on something or another it will feel like a betrayal.

Also, humans like raging against the power, and there is little, if anything, stronger than an angel.

  • Islam does not exist. Little reason to band together, so infighting is common

  • The Papacy is destroyed. The headquarters are in 1 location, so some calamity on it would spin the church into chaos

  • The Papacy is protected by angels 👼. Then subsequently goes power mad and is completely useless at helping normal Christians ✝️

  • The Pagan religious can fly/go underground/whatever using magic, where the Christians cannot follow

  • The Pagan gods do helpful things

  • Someone figures out how to process human souls into a resource for devices and at some point someone figures out the zealous emotions of Christians ✝️ makes them perfect material. There is a black market, where the most believing Christians ✝️ are hunted down and converted into valuables. Many of the humans involved openly profess Christian beliefs in public.

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Major crisis for Christianity

Normally, a 'pagan', or polytheistic religion will always be at a disadvantage when competing against a monotheistic religion. In our world, polytheistic religions in Japan and India are as widespread as they are because the two countries haven't been exposed to monotheistic religions as much as other places have been. Japan was in a self-imposed isolation until relatively recent times and India has been too divided and decentralised and at the same time too difficult to conquer completely to fall under the influence of foreign cultures and religions. Still, in both countries various monotheistic religions have become very widespread, just not as dominant as in other places.

The reason for this I believe is that pagan religions are not perscriptive in the way that monotheistic religions are. They don't really have a concept of sin or good and evil and generally don't concern themselves with morals and the right and wrong way to live. Pagan religions are really just extensions of a particular culture's creation myths. Pagan gods usually don't care about human affairs all that much and their worship is usually pretty transactional - you build a temple to a pagan god, or sacrifice some cattle (or some people) to it, and it gives you a good harvest this year. In particular, in pagan religions there is no drive to spread their religion.

Rulers of pagan lands were often pretty happy to adopt a monotheistic religion if they saw it as advantageous for them - abandoning beliefs in pagan gods wasn't that big a deal. But a monotheistic religion views abandoning it as heinous and terribly sinful and just a major no-no. So while there are many examples of pagan territories adopting monotheistic religions, I can't think of a single example of a territory abandoning its monotheistic beliefs and going back to a pagan religion. It's completely unheard of.

So it's difficult to see how your Pagan revival could happen. The only way I could see it happening would be some really really major crisis in your not-Christianity. Perhaps there were widespread and really terrible abuses by the clergy. Now in our world the reaction to abuses by Christian clergy was establishment of heresies that eventually led to religious movements such as the Protestantism, but Protestant religions were still very much Christian religions. But perhaps in your world the clergy managed to somehow discredit themselves and antagonise the populace so much that they turned away from the your not-Christianity altogether and started looking towards the old gods for protection.

Or, perhaps your Renaissance brings a complete rejection of religion altogether and a widespread atheism. But many people, rather than taking a completely atheistic stance, instead adopt a half-hearted and mostly cultural belief in old pagan traditions, in the same way that many people today follow various New Age beliefs and practices.

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  • $\begingroup$ Pagan religions definitely had a concept of sin and guilt. In the ancient Egyptian beliefs, men were judged before entering the afterlife, with their hearts being compared on a scale to a feather, and there was a long list of crimes which would make a heart fail the test... $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Mar 27, 2023 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ Another key note about Ancient Egyptians is that they did go monotheistic for a while (they only worshiped Ra), and went back to polytheism after a few generations. The Old Testament also outlines several times when the Ancient Hebrews went back to Polytheism. Some scholars also believe that many early civilizations may have been monotheistic, and that polytheism arose out of people's conflicting views about God. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 30, 2023 at 21:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki if you consider Old Testament a reliable source. There were I guess some exceptions where there was a nicer version of the afterlife for the chosen few, but that usually didn't depend on moral behavior in mortal life. There was the Nordic Valhalla for warriors who died in combat, or Greek Elysium for those ralated to Gods. Ancient Egyptian religion was something of an exception, but even there you had the Book of the Dead which could be used to cheat your way into paradise. $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2023 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ @GiantSpaceHamster When you strip out all the spiritualism from the old Testament, the majority of events are supported by the archeological record and/or is also recorded in other secular/pagan sources. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Plagues of Egypt, the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Philistine conquests, etc. While the exact details of the stories are often suspect, the amount of historical consistency suggests that the Ancient Hebrews had a strong interest in preserving thier history. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 31, 2023 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ So, even if you don't accept that the Judges and Prophets were supernatural, it would be very inconsistent base on what else we known about the civilization to just make up those stories unless they reflected the actual conflicts of thier time. As for physical evidence, the iconography of the region suggests that there was a period from about 2000BCE-500BCE where Monotheism and Polytheism coexisted. It was only after the Babylonian Exile that you really see Polytheism get pushed out. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 31, 2023 at 14:08
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Castles, technology and superior tactics

During history we have seen that new tactics and weapons caused many great conquests. Rome didn't become great for just being a great culture. The unification of China wasn't done in a duel. Mongolia didn't become the largest nation on Earth by asking nicely. Defence is much easier than assault, because the defenders know the land well and have short supply lines. That is why great conquests was mostly the result of superior weapons/tactics.

To top it all off are castles. They represent an enormous obstacle that were neigh impenetrable when build of stone. The amount of resources it takes to capture one is staggering. You need a much larger army than the ones inside, as well as feed them all. Castles were often stocked for a few months for less people. At the same time an attacker is vulnerable from other attacks. Most dangerous is if the supply lines are attacked. Not to mention the ludicrous death toll if it needs to be taken by force.

Together these make a potent mix to defeat superior numbers and religious fervor. Better weapons, better tactics, home advantage and castles will give them staying power.

If all else fails, just convert, but keep uour pagan ways next to it. We still celebrate Christmas...

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No Protestant Reformation

One of the big reasons for the success of the protestant reformation in Northern Europe, while Southern Europe remained mostly Catholic was because of politics. Kings and Lords closer to the Vatican were more able to get their supporters inserted into key positions of authority in the Church (like Popes and Cardinals) whereas German and English Kings had virtually no representation. Because of this, it often meant that Italian, French, and Spanish nobility had bargaining power over Northern Europe because they could challenge a northern King's divine right to rule and spur insurrections from the religious majority.

So, when the protestant reformation happened, many kings saw this as an opportunity to take religious authority away from the Papacy and Centralize it in their own countries. Instead of condemning the Protestants like you saw in Southern Europe, these places gave them protection and secular authority. But, even if the Reformation never happened, all of the political pressure to usurp the power of the Papacy would have still been there.

The Renaissance was marked by a huge resurgence of ancient ideas and traditions. If the Protestants had not already filled the niche of needing a religion that is free of the Pope, then it would have only taken a handful of scholars to speak up and say, "The Catholics are wrong, and the Romans/Germans/Celts/etc. were right". Then there would have been plenty of kings willing to put their full support behind these scholars if it meant not having to obey the Pope anymore.

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  • $\begingroup$ Did you notice, in Europe, it was a long time before the Middle Ages that Christianity began replacing old Pagan religions and gods? If not, does that matter to you now? $\endgroup$ Apr 1, 2023 at 20:49

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