Make your own free website on

I agree with Matt that the elemental-animist variety of religion should dominate Athas, and that this is part of Athas' unique flavor. This page like many borrows from the Dark-Sun discussion group.

-----Original Message----- From: Matt Adler [] Sent: Sunday, February 21, 1999 9:01 AM To: dark-sun@MPGN.COM Subject: Re: [DARK-SUN] - Elemental witchs (was: Integrating Elemental Cleric-hoods?)

>Felix: Well, the jew/christian/islamic/hindu/various other population is not >exactly a minority,

Matt said: I'm no history expert, but while deity-worshipping cultures are certainly in the majority today, I would argue that in the ancient world, they were in minority to other types of religion. In fact, for the most part of the ages on Earth that Dark Sun has a parallel with, Christianity and Islam didn't exist.

Brax: Judaism did exist for thousands of years, and as I understand Zoroastrianism was a one-deity religion that falls into the same category, and was quite predominant until Islam appeared. I would be hard pressed to call the Egyptian and Babylonian religions "Animist"; but then I am a mere dabbler in these topics and await correction as usual from Sage (where is he these days) or Esme.

On the other hand, many flavors of Hinduism/Buddhism (such as that practiced in Bali) have _definitely_ "animistic" qualities. In Bali this winter I observed that animism sort of blends into the Hindu Polytheism. Every house and business contains a shrine and leaves offerings for good luck and from protection from the elements. The low castes spend about 10-25% of their waking time in some sort of worship activity; the High cast spends 50-75%! They believe that without the intervention of their daily worship their whole island would be swallowed in the sea. Educated Balinese even describe their religion as "somewhat animist" but insist that theirs is the original Hinduism before it separated from Budhism. I am not sure whether to what degree this is true, and to what degree Hinduism blended with the original Balinese animist faith (which is still practiced by four self-isolated villages on the island).

From my observation, many people blur the line between Animism and Polytheism, and even in some sometimes between Polytheism and Monotheism. I have met Hindus who insist that they are not Polytheists, since they worship ony "Rama" and believe that all other Hindu gods are either frauds, devils or manifestations of "Rama". And among Christians, I once met a lady in Spain who told me "No creo en Dios, pero en su Madre"--(trans: she does not believe in God, but does believe in his mother.) To apply to Dark Sun: I agree with Matt that conventional AD&D assumes Polytheism; I also agree that Animist clerics and druids are one of the things that makes Dark Sun unique. However, the worship of the SKs would sometimes fall into the Polytheistic category, but more often (as Hamanu the King of the World) into a Monotheistic category. So side by side we have monotheism and animism. I believe that for the vast majority of people and even templars, the monotheistic SK worship is rote and form only -- with exception of Lalali-Puy, whose people genuinely worship her, and Techtutitlay, who genuinely worships himself and imagines that the people do as well. Badna is another empty Monotheism forced on the people, recognized but not accepted.

People look for something to believe in, and elemental animism provides something to believe in. Even Elemental worship can get too abstract, so other objects of animist worship will be devised, like Pavek's great wheel (Lynn Abbey is always a great source for Athasian culture!) I also suggest to Matt that he check out the Al-Quadim sources for some of the more unusual Animist cleric kits, which might shed light on the elemental cleric and Druid. Finally, I think that psionics would have to make a show in the Athasian religious scene. This isn't a big jump -- psionics does sound a whole lot like some new-age religion. In our own culture, sophisticated minds have turned science into a religion -- from Des Cartes who "proved" that God exists to modern sophisticates who "prove" that he doesn't, and get "Darwin" liscence plates that oppose the Christian fish plates. (What a comical bunch we are). In Athas, powerful psionicists would tend to scorn "superstition" in the same way that they scorn magic. Heretical psionicists could refer to Will as "Faith", and novices and dabblers might consider Faith and Will as separate separate qualities, but orthodox Tarandan psionics (exemplified by the Order) would replace Faith with Will, and scorn all religion as superstition. Here is my continuum on religions, from one extreme to another. Some would call this a line of evolution, and that is somewhat true, although I do think that the "advanced" side actually improves on the "primitive" side, but rather adapts it for different needs. It is not "progress" but evolution, since the left side is the religion of powerless peoples at the mercy of the elements, while the right side is the religion of people with more power than they know what to do with.

~ Animism ~ Polytheism ~ Monotheism ~ Hedonism ~ Idealism ~

In greater detail:

ANIMISM (Worship of just about every force in one's life) Elemental worship falls into this category, as does Pavek's wheel.

POLYTHEISM (worship of multiple named gods) Most religions in conventional AD&D fall into this category.

MONOTHEISM (worship of a single god)

"HEDONISM" (need a better word here; focus on or worship of one's self through meditation, power-seeking, etc.) Most of Athas' powerful psionicists fall into this category, as do the nastier of the templars -- and a number of player-characters who focus on gaining personal power. Dwarves with their focus might be described in this category (which is why I really need a better word than hedonism, which really does not fit the dwarven focus).

IDEALISM (worship and persuit of an ideal or principle) Many communists, artists, social and aesthetic reformers fall into this category: their commitment to an ideal becomes their driving Faith. (Not _all_ communists are idealists; Chinese Maoism looks like Monotheism to me!) CS Lewis would point out that many "Christian" preachers fall into the Idealist category, preaching "Christian behavior" but caring little about Christ. In Athas, the only religious idealists I can think of would be the Order. The Veiled Alliance are idealists of sorts, but not religiously I think, although it is possible that an Order-type fanatic mysticism could "evolve".  

As I look at these categories, it occurs to me that I have left out one category, that might fit between Monotheism and Hedonism, but also has elements of idealism. The category would be "Nationalism", for want of a better word. This is a religious-type commitment to the group -- exemplified by Hitler. It does not fit my spectrum since it is a religion that works for both the powerless and the empowered. Halflings and Villichi fall into this category; Villichi's lives are preoccupied with gathering and saving and improving their sisters; Halflings are filled with a racial arrogance that sometimes seems sweet and sometimes deadly.