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In my world there are several different times of magic, however divine magic is the most easily learned and post powerful and doesn't require energy from the magic user.

Other types of magic require anywhere from a couple years to a decade of training. And use it can drain your life energy resulting in you passing out or even dying if you use too much magic.

With this in mind what could prevent divine magic users from becoming a dominate force in society?

Technological level is early Renaissance.

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closed as too broad by Azuaron, Bellerophon, Mołot, sphennings, L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Nov 9 '17 at 16:24

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    $\begingroup$ Who else would be in charge? This was an age of theocratic monarchies. Everyone ultimately answered to the church. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 9 '17 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix - They’re talking about technology, not culture, though. The culture can be almost whatever they want it to be. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Nov 9 '17 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ Do you, as creator, want to find a way to prevent clerics from taking over the world, or do the people in your world want to prevent clerics from taking over? The answers would be different. $\endgroup$ – Real Subtle Nov 9 '17 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ Why would people train for the other kinds of magic if the divine one is stronger, easier, and less risky for them? $\endgroup$ – Nico Nov 9 '17 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry this is getting held. Might help if scope is narrowed with some more details... maybe you could describe some city's setup and how you think they keep the clergy from taking over, and ask, "Are there holes in this scheme? Could the clergy take over anyway?" Per my answer below, there are a lot of variables! $\endgroup$ – akaioi Nov 9 '17 at 16:46

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TL;DR -- Sometimes, some places, they will

Here's the deal ... it's a big, wide world. In some societies, in some communities, the clergy will take over. In others, they won't, because there are factors which inhibit it. Here are some possible factors:

It's ... against their religion ;D

There are likely many religions out there, with different gods. These gods will have different goals. Might be ministering to the poor. Might be training warriors. Might be blessing the crops. Point being, clerics in this type of setting are granted their powers as gifts from their divinities. If the clerics go against their patron's interests/commands/style, they lose their power. So, in a community where the dominant religion is worship of a love goddess, the clergy is unlikely to strive for political dominance.

There are multiple different religions

There are likely many religions out there, with different gods. These gods will have different goals. Meaning that the clergies of different religions might well spend a lot of time and effort opposing one another (and proselytizing!), which leaves them less time for Taking Over.

There are angry secularists with crossbows

Like it says on the tin. There may be non-religious factions who also desire power, and are willing to fight for it. Their desire for power may be much stronger than the local clergy's, so much so that the clergy decides that fighting for dominance isn't worth it. After all, running the city is probably not their #1 priority anyway.

They're too busy!

The clergy may be too busy ministering/blessing/smiting-evil to bother with "mere" political power.

All that said...

In some country there might well be a God of Will-to-Power. His followers' mission is to seize control of their local city-state. I'd lay pretty good odds on them...

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All divine magic comes from one single source, a benevolent human-friendly deity, that objects to power hunt and violence. Every time a person uses the divine magic they come in touch with the Deity's consciousness, which overrides their own not so benevolent motives, if any.

In this world, it is possible for a person to try to use the divine magic with some not so honourable intentions. However, the spell will always end up doing something good. For example, if a magic user targets someone with a fire spell to kill them, this someone gets cured of their diseases instead. The user will not be punished, but they will be unable to inflict any harm. Moreover, as they use the divine magic, their personality changes to resemble the Deity's attitudes. So, all active practitioners of the divine magic eventually become 'good samaritans'.

This approach can work both with or without an organised religion. No organised religion might even work better with this kind of benevolent deity since churches tend to participate in power struggles.

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  • $\begingroup$ A fun approach. $\endgroup$ – Kzqai Nov 9 '17 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ A very interesting concept, however this would make the entire world completely dependant on one deity. For example I'd imagine that if this deity had a "bad day", people would suddenly be more violent and bad tempered. $\endgroup$ – everyone Nov 9 '17 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ Another concern is that a large part of the population would turn out to be well the same person. Wouldn't the entire population end up becoming a perfect clone of said deity after a sufficient amount of time ? $\endgroup$ – everyone Nov 9 '17 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ @everyone, it is a deity. It is perfect. It has no bad days! What a blasphemy! As for the population, we do not know how many people can (and want to) use divine magic. But even if 100% of them do it does not mean that they will become clones. Sharing attitudes is not the same as having the same personalities. Think about your family member or a close friend who has a worldview very similar to yours. You would agree about things a lot. However, you are not the same person. You make different choices and choose different paths in life. Basically, the deity makes them pacifists, not drones. $\endgroup$ – Olga Nov 9 '17 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Olga but having similar worldviews doesn't dictate our behaviour or impact our attitude: Bob and Roger can both usually be human friendly, nonetheless Bob is famous for loosing his temper and becoming violent easily, whereas Roger can keep his cool. The definition of "good samaritan" will not be quite the same for both individual. However if their "personality changes to resemble the Deity's attitudes" (quote from your answer) they should ultimately end up acting exactly like the deity after a sufficient amount of use of magic. $\endgroup$ – everyone Nov 9 '17 at 16:51
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The clerics can only use magical powers after they have paid the price, namely renunciation of all worldly goods and desires, much like existing religious orders. Except, IRL, we don't have magical enforcement of those vows. If the clerics in your world break their vows, they lose all their powers until they have done their penance,which takes years. Most people who would want that kind of power for their own ambitions decide it isn't worth it.

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In our real world the Catholic Church rose to be a major dominant power and they didn't even have magic at all. You'll have to place some kind of restriction if you want to prevent them to being the rulers of your world - but, esentially that's what you're asking here for.

Reduced numbers

Clerical magic is the easiest to learn and the most powerful... but it requires faith. They are outnumbered by other magic users and/or even non-magical warriors. Divine magic users always wins against any of them, but not against three/four/twenty of them.

Non-weaponizable magic

Divine magic is the most powerful, but it's not suitable for combat. Maybe its powers take way too much time to cast - you need hours-long prayers - or maybe its effects are not easily used in battle - growing forests or freezing seas are tremendous displays of power, but its use in war is limited to logistics and movement. While this is a major advantage in war - you can get your army through impassable defenses while preventing your enemy to do the same - you still need an army to actually fight the battles, thus making sword-wielding soldiers a key player.

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One answer is that the more experienced and skilled you become in divine magic (and the arcane world) , the more disillusioned and disinterested you become with wealth, power, fame or even physical pleasure (the profane world).

This leads the world to an equilibrium: The price of magic is the interest in the world.

So, you may have a super-rich magician - but her interest in wealth is cursory and incidental, and she has no attachment to it whatsoever...

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Very little it would seem. The obvious thing to do would be to join the clergy. Get with the strength. Divine magic obviously has all over other forms of magic. Why fight the gods and the universe?

However, the OP hasn't specified how effective magic is in this fictional world. For example, if takes several hours to power up even a divine magic spell, then chaps with swords in their hoary hands can make quick work of uppity divine magicians. Also, they can act as protectors and guardians of divine magicians prepared to work collaboratively with the local authorities. The usual job lot of lords, earls, princes, kings and all the common or garden aristocratic riffraff. In this case or similar, divine magic users won't be ruling the roost they will be fellow travellers.

Of course, one of the problems with churches and religions generally is this tendency for people to form their own ideas of divine will and what's it all about, Alfred. For example, this Year of Our Lord 2017 marks the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Movement. Martin Luther and his thesis of complaints against Roman Catholicism. It might not be too much to expect that the various practitioners of divine magic and the religions they belong too will rapidly undergo their own schisms and doctrinal disagreements.

The various schools and churches of divine magic may in which case neutralize their others potential ascension to dominance because they are too busy fighting among themselves to establish hegemony over the world in general. Furthermore practitioners of those lesser and more dangerous forms of magic might be able to sabotage the divine magicians and they might be looked upon as a safer option for consultation and having magical work done by the population and by those charged with governance of the realm.

But to raise this issue to a higher level, or dare we say a Higher Level, perhaps the gods themselves might actually object to their divine powers being abused and misused by a venal clergy only interested in the acquisition of temporal power and glorifying themselves above ordinary mortals. The possibility of divine retribution might be more than sufficient to stay the hand of any divine magic user contemplating a dalliance with domination.

In summary, there three possible reasons why divine magic users don't dominate. Firstly, divine amgic itself might be effective enough to do the job. Secondly, the divine magic users might be fighting each other for dominance for them to achieve dominance over society. Thirdly, the gods might allow their divine magic to be used for domination and are prepared to punish those who do.

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Individual power and political power are two separate things. The most powerful people would be the ones the clerics accept as legal authority. This could be a council of clerics or a supreme religious leader, but it doesn't need to be.

Traditionally Kings have ruled by the grace of Gods or with celestial mandate or due to being actually descended from Gods. In a world where divine magic works these all could be literally true. So a cleric who tried to use his divine magic against the King might have a serious problem. The King might even have access to more powerful divine magic than the clerics do.

Also it is fairly common for the political leader to have some ceremonial position in religious hierarchy. This would solve your issue nicely as if the King (or whatever) is the nominal head of all major religious organizations then he would have more divine magic at his disposal than any cleric.

Also this divine magic would be just another weapon. Its use and teaching would be limited to people who the powers that be give that right. If the King had the divine mandate, then divine power might simply be inaccessible to people not loyal to the King. If not the kingdom will have fewer clerics than it might and the Holy Inquisition will have heretics to root out.

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Divine Magic could require a time commitment

Lots of good answers but another one is that Divine Magic TM could require a lot of time, energy, or resources (gifts) to the divine. First this would limit the number of people with that power and not everyone would be willing to put the time in. Second it means that the people with the greatest Divine Magic would not have a lot of spare time to do things like actually be in charge.

("I will now rule you all ... except, wait a minute, I have to spend 7 hours a day communing with my divine to get a better understanding of it and I will be off on a pilgrimage for the next two years")

This answer could stack with other answers.

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Sooo many options ...

  1. The clerics dont want to rule.

Whether dedicating their lives to a very specific cause, or believing it is not their place to rule, there are many possible explanations.

  1. Some clerics want to rule but other clerics dont want them to.

Regardless of the gods they pray to, they still may have different convictions.

  1. The clerics want to rule but something else denies them.

And again, there are many different possibilities. Clerics actions may have been so harmful, that the rest of the world has implemented a purge of anything holy at any cost. Clerics may generally be well received but still face some adversary, from a secret cult poisoning any power hungry cleric, to demons being lured in by the residual holy magic, to some ancient dragon god taking offense in worshipping youngsters.

  1. Clerics do not have the power to rule due to some unavoidable limitation balancing the advantages.

Any number of restrictions could be in effect: time (opportunity, duration), place, competition (gods powers divided between clerics), tasks (demanded by their god), ...

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Is this for a game or a story?

In a game, you want to have balance in everything, so there needs to be a downside to clerical magic. Typical downsides of clerical magic that I know from fantasy books, roleplaying games or LARP:

  1. it is unreliable - sometimes your god grants your wish, sometimes not
  2. it is only available to true believers (and not every priest or religious person is a true believer)
  3. it only works in holy places, or it doesn't work in unholy places. This gives the GM or author an option to "disable" clerical magic in cases where the characters should solve a problem without.
  4. it takes more time to cast a spell. While an arcane wizard mutters a command phrase and can cast a spell in a second, a clerical priest recites a litany and can take ten times or more as much for spellcasting. This gives arcane magic the edge in battle, and clerical magic the edge in most other cases.
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I think “most powerful” is too vague a term. If divine magic is the most powerful in everything, I see no other way than reducing the users, as @Rekesoft already suggested. But looking at the real world we observe members of various cults don’t take kindly to your following any cult but theirs.

I therefore propose a number of rivalising gods, each forbidding or discouraging the worship of others and granting powers in specific fields only. Any of these cults will have to ally to secular powers and secular magicians for access to a broader spectrum of magic. Assuming secular magic has a broader field of application. This kind of factionalism can help you build a complex and interesting web of interaction, perhaps with a twist due to an unexpected alliance?

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The answer to your question can be found within the "real" world as it actually is. In reality, there are other forms of magic, but divine magic is the easiest and the most powerful. So why is it that clerics don't rule the earth like petty tyrants?

They don't because divine magic doesn't work that way.

Divine magic (in the real world) draws its power from love. To love something is to accept and appreciate it. One cannot seek to dominate and control something, and accept and appreciate it at the same time. The closer one comes to being able to use divine magic to dominate something, the less one desires this outcome. So, the more powerful divine magic becomes, the less able the practitioner is to assert dominance and control over the beloved object.

In an imaginary world where ego-centric desires could co-exist with divine magic, there would be, truly, no way to keep clerics from becoming ruthless tyrants. But in the real world, divine magic automatically incorporates a kind of supernatural internal governor that makes empire-building impossible. You cannot truly love a thing and bring it to heel. Sorry, dog trainers!

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    $\begingroup$ Forgive me, I'm confused... are you saying that the divine magic the OP describes actually exists? The way you keep saying "in the real world" makes it sound like you do. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Nov 9 '17 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ ..... are you actually trying to advocate that divine magic is real? $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 9 '17 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not advocating anything that you cannot test yourself by doing a simple experiment. Try approaching anything with acceptance and appreciation and ONLY acceptance and appreciation. It's commonly called "positive thinking" and it is also commonly despised. That, however, does not mean that it doesn't really exist. Of course it does. Don't reject the possibility until, like any good scientist, you do the experiment yourself. Also, please note how knee-jerk hostility to anything that threatens ego-driven dominance serves to keep this all-powerful magic from "ruling the earth." $\endgroup$ – Dan Dunn Nov 9 '17 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ Simply put, divine magic requires ego death, and ego death eliminates the desire for dominance, so divine magic, by its very nature, cannot be used to "control" anything. This makes it invisible to anyone who sees the world as a struggle for dominance. $\endgroup$ – Dan Dunn Nov 9 '17 at 16:23

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