View Full Version : DM Help Demigod cults

2016-10-04, 12:26 PM
In my setting gods are either quite abstract forces of reality far removed from mortals (the Sky, the Sea, and so on) or powerful immortal fey lords and animal spirits. Which is a neat idea in concept, but how would a religion look in which the god is effectively a person who lives in another country and who only a few of the priest ever get to actually meet?

One option would be to treat these demigods as holy teachers and exemplars of virtues who the followers try to emulate. But that seems a bit too mundane. Any idea how to spice it up some more with some "mystic mumbo jumbo"?

2016-10-04, 12:53 PM
The gods' presence is such that they resonate in various places. Here, temples and shrines are build, quests or prophetic advice may be received and omens can be observed. Many religious individuals seek out such places to further their knowledge of their gods' wishes.

For example, a particular beach with blood red sand may be attuned to the Sea. Various priests go there and build a small shrine. From there, they observe the tides and all that washes ashore, knowing that such simple things can contain critical omens.

Areas attuned to a fey lord may be semi-mystical clearings, giant trees, or great shimmering stones. Think 4e's feywild bleeding into the normal world.

An animal spirit's area may be a place naturally appealing to others of its kind. Alternatively, the attuned area may be made up by a large herd/pack/swarm of animals, with location and makeup changing constantly. The priests would be continuously traveling after the animals, just like how some Scandinavian tribes follow reindeer herds.

Mark Hall
2016-10-04, 01:20 PM
Perhaps you can also use relics to explain things. An altar of a church is literally built around a lock of the god's hair or some of his blood. This altar is associated with the Ram of Estiocus, whose fleece the young god lay in after he was born, and who carried him away from the dangers that beset him at birth... the Ram's forehoof is in the altar, and they say you can still see the dent it got from the stones of Mount Raprieris.

Priests, in this case, control the funnels of divine power. Pray or sacrifice at the altar and power flows to the god. If the priest determines you worthy, then you might receive some power back from the god, in the form of spells or healing or other miracles.

In a way, I realized I'm talking about something like the Pilgrimage of the Seven Graces (http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Morrowind:Pilgrimages_of_the_Seven_Graces), from Morrowind. Vivec, a local demigod, lives in the city which bears his name. But most worshipers never SEE Vivec. Ambitious ones may travel to the seven shrines, offering something like 300gp worth of stuff, drowning themselves, and risking death from monsters and horrible diseases, but even they're not likely to meet the God himself... just be able to pray at one of his altars.

2016-10-04, 01:22 PM
There's plenty of real-world precedent for such an idea, what with your Japanese Emperors and your Pharaohs and your God-Kings and what not. What's interesting is that "living gods" of this type generally served as divine intermediaries in their societies, and were responsible for praying to and communing with an otherwise distant coterie of gods. You might want to stress this, and treat demigods essentially as middle managers whose jobs require them to play messenger.

2016-10-04, 02:17 PM
That seems like a pretty cool direction to take. I like the idea of demigods being intermediaries between the mortal priests and the true source of divine power that is comprehensible only to immortal spirits. But their minds and supernatural power are still so strange that ordinary followers don't have direct contact with them and deal only with the lesser mortal priests.
I think Eberron has an order of druids where the leader is an incredibly old treant, and first edition Forgotten Realms had a barbarian clan whose high priests was a huge immortal worm.

This would also fit together quite well with greater gods that are highly abstract and not conventional beings. People know about them but have no way to perceive or interact with them. Different religions would distinguish themselves from each other by what kinds of rituals, philosophy, and meditations their demigods have established to help the followers improve their understanding of the divine powe and true nature of the world. Demigods would be revered for their power and wisdom like great teachers or kings, but technically not worshipped themselves. Though in practice the masses of followers probably wouldn't see what's the difference.

I quite like the idea, which puts the divine source as something abstract and doesn't just have some giants with awesome magic powers. Reminds me a bit of the Tribunal of Morrowind, and takes a more mystical direction like Dragon Age.

2016-10-04, 02:42 PM
Others bits of history that might be interesting to look at here are the tensions between priestly castes, political elites, and god-kings. All over the world, we can look at similar conflicts between the monarchies and the papacies. My favorite is Charlemagne's arrival at Rome, where the Pope blindsided him by crowning him Holy Roman Emperor, a shrewd political move that placed the papacy above the monarchy.

Ancient Egypt is another prime example of this - as the priesthood waxed, the pharaoh and his bureaucracy waned, and the kingdom's religious doctrines went from very elite and focused entirely on the Pharaoh to a morality-centered, fairly populist belief system. This was something that the stronger Pharaohs actively fought back against - most famously Akhenaten, who abolished the priesthood altogether and tried to impose the monotheistic worship of Aten on the kingdom (the moment he died, the priesthood came back in force and renamed his son from Tutankhaten to Tutankhamun).

Gods and kings and priests were always jockeying back and forth for power, and having physical divinities around is, IMO, unlikely to change that.

2016-10-04, 03:15 PM
As I understand it that certain varieties of Neoplatonism acted somewhat like this in the late classical period. There was some sort of greater deity that could only be understood through deep philosophical study, but the classical Hellenic Gods could act as a sort of focus for lesser minds.