Polytheism or multiple monotheistic religions?


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion

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So I recently discovered the Unmitigated Pedantry world building resource (great site) and their article about polytheism in which they specifically call out the D&D (and Pathfinder) style religion as negative example

The tl;dr version:
Everyone knew that all gods are real, so only worshipping one does not make sense. Instead you performed regular rites in order to keep all of those deities happy and also when you want to strike a bargain with a specific deity.

That sounds like an interesting concept, although it would require some rewrites to the clergy of each deity and possibly paladins.
Has someone played with a more polytheistic interpretation of the pantheon and how did it go? Or just has some idea about rites for each deity (is there a 3rd party product or some alternate class which does something like this?)

Or do you rather prefer the current system where people devote themselves to one deity and if yes, why?


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Pf2 has pantheons in the deity section if you want to be polytheistic I think the system as is works fine. It may not be accurate to the real world, but most of the game isnt.


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I was under the impression that normal people (ie. not clerics or champions) often did worship several deities depending on what they needed. Like they may send a prayer/offering to Erastil when bandits are harrying their village, or to Gozreh when they need calm seas for a voyage, or to Sarenrae when undead start crawling out of their cemetery. But in order to get magic powers, you need to dedicate yourself to a single one. Not sure how accurate this is to lore, but it's how I've run it.

Scarab Sages

One way the religion in the Lost Omens settings differs from the ancients' beliefs is that Lost Omen deities effect their goals on the Material Plane is through mortal agents (clerics and paladins) than draw upon the deity's divine magic.

While deities can grant boons or lay curses, they remain in the background. The primary actors are always mortal.


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Salamileg wrote:
I was under the impression that normal people (ie. not clerics or champions) often did worship several deities depending on what they needed. Like they may send a prayer/offering to Erastil when bandits are harrying their village, or to Gozreh when they need calm seas for a voyage, or to Sarenrae when undead start crawling out of their cemetery. But in order to get magic powers, you need to dedicate yourself to a single one. Not sure how accurate this is to lore, but it's how I've run it.

That comes closer to what polytheism is supposed to be (at least the ancient roman/greek variant)

Although people would not worship the deities as as we understand it today but try to bargain with them.
There were two kinds of rituals. Ones done basically for maintenance to keep the gods happy and not send misfortune to you. Here the more important the deity the more important persons took care of the rites. So while the man of the house would perform rites to the god of doors and hinges (yes, those are separate gods and yes, the Romans really had a god for hinges) the emperor would take care about the really big sacrifices to Mars and gods of fertility. And if those gods were displeased the emperor is obviously unqualified and which often lead to quite some revolts.

And then there were rites when you actually wanted something form a specific god. In that case everyone could perform the rite, no matter who he was and how big the god is. So even a poor farmer could try to bargain with Mars. It was basically a "I give you this goat and two jars of wine and you let me survive the battle" kind of deal. Continuous worship was not really required.

Especially the latter one should be easy to translate into Pathfinder as some kind of temporary buff or other one time ability. Although I have to think about how to make it more interesting than a simply "I spend X gold and roll a religion check for a buff".


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Why does being dedicated to one mean you can't acknowledge the others?

Yeah, the way DnD (and Pathfinder) books describe religion is often weird. "Pick your favorite!" is... not a religion. I've always treated it more like actual polytheism. Clerics have a patron, but they don't disregard the others. Other characters might have a patron but maybe they don't. They definitely don't worship only one.


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I agree with Salamileg. Generally the only people who venerate one and only one deity are people who are specifically associated with the church of that deity.

You can have a specific deity that is closest to your heart, but if you need the rain to stop so your crops can grow, Shelyn is going to be a lot less helpful than Sarenrae, Gozreh, or Erastil and she understands this.


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PossibleCabbage wrote:

I agree with Salamileg. Generally the only people who venerate one and only one deity are people who are specifically associated with the church of that deity.

You can have a specific deity that is closest to your heart, but if you need the rain to stop so your crops can grow, Shelyn is going to be a lot less helpful than Sarenrae, Gozreh, or Erastil and she understands this.

It gets a bit more interesting when you realize that under this system rites to evil gods would be common too.

If you do not want hordes of monsters overrunning your village rites to Lamashtu make the most sense and no one would see a problem with that.

One problem is that with clerics actually having a direct contact to their deities there would be a lot more certainty of a sacrifice was accepted or not than in the real world.

So, what would be some rites you can think of?

Scarab Sages

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Ixal wrote:
PossibleCabbage wrote:

I agree with Salamileg. Generally the only people who venerate one and only one deity are people who are specifically associated with the church of that deity.

You can have a specific deity that is closest to your heart, but if you need the rain to stop so your crops can grow, Shelyn is going to be a lot less helpful than Sarenrae, Gozreh, or Erastil and she understands this.

It gets a bit more interesting when you realize that under this system rites to evil gods would be common too.

If you do not want hordes of monsters overrunning your village rites to Lamashtu make the most sense and no one would see a problem with that.

One problem is that with clerics actually having a direct contact to their deities there would be a lot more certainty of a sacrifice was accepted or not than in the real world.

So, what would be some rites you can think of?

The blog posts you linked to mentioned that ancient polytheism was at least somewhat transactional. So I can see Asmodeus, Zon-Kuthon, and maybe Norgorber (or rather their faithful) offering assistance in exchange for devotion or sacrifices.

The problem is that any such rites would almost certainly entail doing something evil, like sacrificing a person, so people would see a problem with that.

Liberty's Edge

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PossibleCabbage wrote:

I agree with Salamileg. Generally the only people who venerate one and only one deity are people who are specifically associated with the church of that deity.

You can have a specific deity that is closest to your heart, but if you need the rain to stop so your crops can grow, Shelyn is going to be a lot less helpful than Sarenrae, Gozreh, or Erastil and she understands this.

Yup. This. There's a fair amount of specific notes about this kind of thing in various places if you look, establishing it as the norm for most people in-setting. If you're a sailor you probably mostly pray to Gozreh, and might consider them your patron, but you wouldn't pray to them to save your sick child, that prayer goes to Sarenrae.

Clerics are different, generally being an active priest of a specific God. Even in real world ancient cultures, most of those were devoted to one God alone.

Ixal wrote:

It gets a bit more interesting when you realize that under this system rites to evil gods would be common too.

If you do not want hordes of monsters overrunning your village rites to Lamashtu make the most sense and no one would see a problem with that.

Well, it's seen as dangerous to draw Lamashtu's attention (she might make your children deformed, she likes doing that), and there are similar risks to most Evil gods, but in general, yes this happens. Begging Evil Gods to turn away their minions or things they are associated with is very definitely something laypeople are mentioned doing in the fiction. Heck, Pazuzu and Lamashtu's rivalry is based on such a custom in real world cultures, and very much also mentioned as something that occurs in Golarion (specifically, invoking him to keep her away from pregnant women and childbirth...see above about deformed children).

It happens less often than it might because of the very real downsides I mention above, which people do know about, but it still definitely happens, and happens more often the less likely such bad things are. Criminals often pray to Norgorber regardless of alignment since he's not known for such down sides, for example.

Ixal wrote:
One problem is that with clerics actually having a direct contact to their deities there would be a lot more certainty of a sacrifice was accepted or not than in the real world.

Most Clerics cannot communicate with their deities directly. You need pretty high level to do that, around 11th to be specific, and 11th level Clerics are not super common, but yes, the particular codes and requirements espoused by specific deities are much more consistent in Golarion than the real world, for precisely this reason. They're also a bit more practical (ie: most churches accept money in lieu of specific sacrifices), since the Gods seem generally chill with that.

Ixal wrote:
So, what would be some rites you can think of?

The various God-related books actually go into a number of these. I'll maybe grab a specific example or three to post in a bit.

Grand Lodge

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Ixal wrote:
It gets a bit more interesting when you realize that under this system rites to evil gods would be common too

I disagree a bit. In my interpretation of reverence and worship, mortals asks deities to do things, not to not do things. For example, you would ask Mars to guide your hand in battle so you could survive. You would not ask him to weaken the enemy. He is the god of battle so more and better battle is what he would want. You would ask Gozreh for rain when you needed it and clear sunny skies when you needed it to promote growth. You wouldn’t ask to stop the rain. Finally, you wouldn’t pray to Lamashtu not to send her monstrous children to attack as that would run counter to her theme. You might ask Iomedae to keep the forces of Lamashtu at bay. Using this philosophy, rarely would you have cause to revere an evil deity. Show respect perhaps, but not add to their power by praying, sacrificing, etc. to them. YMMV


I think the other thing is that there are probably a lot of people who don't pay the gods much heed, because while they are undeniably a powerful thing that exists, they tend to not have much direct impact (or much direct impact that can be affected by your actions) one one's life.

Like a god could trample your crops flat, but so could an elephant, but neither is particularly likely if you live in a place where elephants aren't normally found. So it's probably rational to pay exactly as much attention to elephants as gods.


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PossibleCabbage wrote:

I think the other thing is that there are probably a lot of people who don't pay the gods much heed, because while they are undeniably a powerful thing that exists, they tend to not have much direct impact (or much direct impact that can be affected by your actions) one one's life.

Like a god could trample your crops flat, but so could an elephant, but neither is particularly likely if you live in a place where elephants aren't normally found. So it's probably rational to pay exactly as much attention to elephants as gods.

That depends on enlightened the people in Pathfinder are. It doesn't matter if a god would have no interest in destroying the harvest of a village, only that the people there believe he could. Would you risk an entire village on the bet that a god would not notice you? That is coupled to the fact that without any education any form of natural effect is more likely or not attributed to gods which leads to everyone being directly impacted by gods.

Although as the blog describes for the really important stuff its not each individual farmer who has to go through the rites but the king does it for all of his subjects. The farmer performs rites to the god of chests to keep the content of his storage chest intact or the god of hinges to keep thieves out (yes they existed).

Liberty's Edge

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Ixal wrote:
That depends on enlightened the people in Pathfinder are. It doesn't matter if a god would have no interest in destroying the harvest of a village, only that the people there believe he could. Would you risk an entire village on the bet that a god would not notice you? That is coupled to the fact that without any education any form of natural effect is more likely or not attributed to gods which leads to everyone being directly impacted by gods.

Golarion features the scientific method, the printing press, and (at least in the Inner Sea region and Tian Xia), near universal literacy (even in small villages, ones as small as a few hundred people have a dedicated schoolhouse...it's small with a single teacher, but still). Knowing the Gods are real means you can never be sure that storm wasn't the Gods' anger, but they aren't so ignorant as to believe storms only happen when the Gods are angry.

Ixal wrote:
Although as the blog describes for the really important stuff its not each individual farmer who has to go through the rites but the king does it for all of his subjects. The farmer performs rites to the god of chests to keep the content of his storage chest intact or the god of hinges to keep thieves out (yes they existed).

Sure, and lots of people will do that sort of thing to some degree, but it's not universal.


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Deadmanwalking wrote:

Golarion features the scientific method, the printing press, and (at least in the Inner Sea region and Tian Xia), near universal literacy (even in small villages, ones as small as a few hundred people have a dedicated schoolhouse...it's small with a single teacher, but still). Knowing the Gods are real means you can never be sure that storm wasn't the Gods' anger, but they aren't so ignorant as to believe storms only happen when the Gods are angry.

Sure, and lots of people will do that sort of thing to some degree, but it's not universal.

Being literate doesn't mean you are not superstitious. Especially in a world where the gods are very real and there is ample evidence that they influence the real world. That would lead to more rites to appease gods and not less imo as no matter who you are many different gods affect your life. A sailor would offer rites to the god of seas instead of the god of farming (if their lord or captain doesn't already do it on their behalf) but both need health, luck fertility most of the time, protection from thieves and monsters, etc.

And there is also peer pressure. If the gods want to punish a specific sailor they won't only sink the part of the ship he is on. So the other sailors might get a bit miffed if that person is not doing his rites and is endangering them all.

Silver Crusade

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Pretty sure Deadmanwalking was responding to your "without any education of any form" statement.

He said as much they're superstitious, just that ignorance isn't universal.

Grand Lodge

PossibleCabbage wrote:
So it's probably rational to pay exactly as much attention to elephants as gods.

Perhaps, but in a world where gods are verifiably real, you would likely pay a lot more attention to them than not. Agriculture gods are not likely to care about a minor peasant farmer in the middle of no where, but that might be easily why you would try to get their attention through reverence and sacrifice so they would actively bless your fields. It’s not so much that they would do something bad to you, more that you want them to do something good to you and that generally requires effort on the mortal’s part.

Liberty's Edge

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Ixal wrote:

Being literate doesn't mean you are not superstitious. Especially in a world where the gods are very real and there is ample evidence that they influence the real world. That would lead to more rites to appease gods and not less imo as no matter who you are many different gods affect your life. A sailor would offer rites to the god of seas instead of the god of farming (if their lord or captain doesn't already do it on their behalf) but both need health, luck fertility most of the time, protection from thieves and monsters, etc.

And there is also peer pressure. If the gods want to punish a specific sailor they won't only sink the part of the ship he is on. So the other sailors might get a bit miffed if that person is not doing his rites and is endangering them all.

Sure. And, indeed, I said as much. And it's borne out in the fiction of the world in many ways that lots of people do this sort of thing.

But the Gods mostly don't actually care about that sort of thing, caring more about how people live their lives and whether they offend the God's particular sensibilities than whether they make gestures of propitiation.

That being the case, and verifiably so with educated people knowing as much, some individuals and cultures also don't do such things, or at least not nearly as much as you're talking about (almost everyone has a few superstitions, but the degree varies). Which is where I was mostly going with that.

It's not that such behavior doesn't exist or isn't common, just that there's sufficient knowledge and education that it also isn't universal, at least not to the degree you're talking about.


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Deadmanwalking wrote:


Sure. And, indeed, I said as much. And it's borne out in the fiction of the world in many ways that lots of people do this sort of thing.

But the Gods mostly don't actually care about that sort of thing, caring more about how people live their lives and whether they offend the God's particular sensibilities than whether they make gestures of propitiation.

That being the case, and verifiably so with educated people knowing as much, some individuals and cultures also don't do such things, or at least not nearly as much as you're talking about (almost everyone has a few superstitions, but the degree varies). Which is where I was mostly going with that.

It's not that such behavior doesn't exist or isn't common, just that there's sufficient knowledge and education that it also isn't universal, at least not to the degree you're talking about.

Depends on what you are using as a comparison. In most, if not all real world ancient polytheistic systems observing the proper rituals was a huge deal starting from a individual responsibility to keep your house gods friendly for the protection and prosperity of your home and close family up to kings and emperors who had to perform rituals for their whole country (for example the Chinese emperor had to perform rites each year for good harvests).

And when misfortune happened like long droughts they were blamed on them which could cost them their crown and even head.
I doubt this would happen less in Golarion were do gods do actually exist and influence events instead of those influence being entirely imaginary like in the real world.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
Ixal wrote:
Depends on what you are using as a comparison.

Let's use the Golarion canon as our baseline, then.

There is more than a decade of published materials including novels, settings books, and adventures where we can count the actual occurrences of this ritualistic behavior.

In this Golarion, there is almost nothing in any of those books about such rituals. They aren't very common at all, even as superstitious individual behavior (like not walking under ladders).

Whatever your doubts, you can be assured that Golarion isn't as burdened with superstition and ritual as you fear.

Liberty's Edge

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Ixal wrote:

Depends on what you are using as a comparison. In most, if not all real world ancient polytheistic systems observing the proper rituals was a huge deal starting from a individual responsibility to keep your house gods friendly for the protection and prosperity of your home and close family up to kings and emperors who had to perform rituals for their whole country (for example the Chinese emperor had to perform rites each year for good harvests).

And when misfortune happened like long droughts they were blamed on them which could cost them their crown and even head.
I doubt this would happen less in Golarion were do gods do actually exist and influence events instead of those influence being entirely imaginary like in the real world.

But it would be, because the Gods don't care about most of those rituals, and will tell you as much if you ask them.

Would everyone ask, or even have the ability to do so? Certainly not. But some people do, and the literal Word of God telling you that the God couldn't care less about that kind of thing is pretty compelling and going to have some influence on how people react to them.

I mean, in real world historical religions, when they interacted with each other, similar deities are often equated to each other or syncretized, and their relationships shift depending on era and specific beliefs of the group.

None of those things happen in Golarion, at least over the long term, because the Gods are real people with specific relationships, and will correct you if you get them wrong.

Sarenrae, Desna, and Shelyn are in a sexual relationship. In the real world, if such a triad of deities existed, a homophobic culture would likely try to say that they're just 'good friends' or even sisters...but in Golarion that won't happen over any long term, because they won't stand for it.

Likewise, it's difficult for traditions the deities legitimately don't care about to become universal since, y'know, the deities verifiably don't care.

Liberty's Edge

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CrystalSeas wrote:

Let's use the Golarion canon as our baseline, then.

There is more than a decade of published materials including novels, settings books, and adventures where we can count the actual occurrences of this ritualistic behavior.

In this Golarion, there is almost nothing in any of those books about such rituals. They aren't very common at all, even as superstitious individual behavior (like not walking under ladders).

This is not true. Individual superstitions are rarely examined in detail in rulebooks, but many such things clearly exist. Notably, Ustalav is shown as having a lot of that sort of thing, as are many specific and isolated cultural groups (and often for sound reasons). We know things like the fact that the Ekujae elves disdain gold and believe it to be a generally bad thing in and of itself (there's an explanation for this in Age of Ashes that makes it make good logical sense for at least three reasons, both symbolic and practical). There very much are various superstitions in Golarion, they just usually amount to local color and thus get brief mention in rulebooks.

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That said, I've just actually been reading the article Ixal linked and can sum up why Golarion is different in the language of that article in three sentences:

In Golarion, it is possible to objectively know what the Gods want, and it isn't propitiation.

and

In Golarion, some Gods are objectively at odds with each other, meaning any worshiper who follows or prays to one inherently risks making an enemy of the other.

and

If you want a God to work a direct miracle, you can go to a Cleric, or become one. Or find a specific major Ritual.

In regards to the first point, a major theme of that article is that if the Gods are real, you must do your best to do as they want you to, out of sheer survival instinct. That's absolutely true in Golarion, but what they want is not what ancient people in Greece on Earth thought their Gods wanted, so the behavior of people is different. The Gods of Golarion mostly don't care about sacrifices (though there are exceptions), or other forms of outward respect (though prayers, thanks, and worship in general are appreciated) they mostly care about behavior in a moral or code-based sense. They care how you treat people, and the world around you, and how you live your life. And many of those codes are mutually exclusive, so you can't follow them all.

Which leads in to point #2. Many deities are actively at war with each other in a direct oppositional sense, and you simply cannot actively worship both sides of such a war. If you pray to Lamashtu, you risk pissing off her mortal enemy Desna, as well as Sarenrae, Abadar, Asmodeus, Iomedae, Tsukiyo, Pazuzu, and even Rovagug. It's no wonder people who aren't actively already followers of hers are reluctant to call on her, look who you're risking pissing off by doing so!

The same is true of most Evil Gods to varying degrees. Good Gods tend to have a lot fewer enemies (and some Neutral Gods like Nethys have none at all), and those enemies Good gods do have tend to be restricted solely to Evil Gods, which makes them a more appealing choice as long as you can find one with domain over what you need. Unless you've already committed to the worship of an Evil God of course, then you are to some degree stuck.

Following up on that with a sort of sub-point, there are a lot of objectively real Gods on Golarion. Many have overlapping domains. I think there are at least 5 or 6 sun gods, for example. So if you need a God associated with X, you actually have a wide array of choices of most Alignments, and thus you don't need to pray to any specific one, just find some appropriate one to pray to.

And on to point three: People in Golarion know how magic works in a practical sense (if not a metaphysical one). They don't need to guess and attempt rituals that don't work. Some will anyway, as hope springs eternal, but when you get right down to it, Clerics are common enough that just about everyone has met one, and going to them and purchasing or requesting a spell is surer and likely easier way to get a God to help you than making up rituals of your own. And many people, including but not limited to the aforementioned Cleric, can reliably tell you which rituals are made up and pointless.

All of which is to say that Golarion's religion is quite different from real world polytheism, and less focused on ritual a propitiation, but for very good in-universe reasons that make sense in an internally consistent fashion.

Scarab Sages

Ixal wrote:
Depends on what you are using as a comparison. In most, if not all real world ancient polytheistic systems observing the proper rituals was a huge deal starting from a individual responsibility to keep your house gods friendly for the protection and prosperity of your home and close family up to kings and emperors who had to perform rituals for their whole country (for example the Chinese emperor had to perform rites each year for good harvests).

The ruler of Cheliax performs a ritual every year to renew their contract with Asmodeus. But this is reaffirming an alliance, not ritual propitiation or any act of worship.

In general, people in Lost Omens don't perform rituals to appease the gods or make bargains with them. They do pray for things, but it's nothing like what the article on polytheism describes.


Yep, Golarion gods tend toward making alliances w/ mortals and developing agents as worshipers rather than wanting just obsequious sycophants. Worshipers may be a misleading term since the gods want action more than lip service (subject to exceptions due to personality). Given there's an objective dynamic of rewards for service to a cause and there's consistent communication from divine entities of many ranks, it's hard to equate fantasy gods to reality's gods where predictions are dubious, lore conflicts with observed reality, and post hoc rationalizations do most of the heavy lifting. If the Golarion priestess says she can heal the gash in your leg, she can prove it within 6 seconds. I'd expect many villages to have "healing times" when wounded folk gather around for an AoE Heal!

Plus if a divine agent strays too far they'll get cut off from divine resources! (Though note that some RPG stories have a deceptive or evil god pretend to be the original god so as to keep those believers off course. "Gosh, my healing's not so great as before...hmm.")

And can one call dubious Golarion beliefs superstition when they're generally true and have practical implications? If you do "strange thing X", then Y will/won't happen. And then testing bears this out more often than not.
As a rule of thumb, PCs at least have to take the superstitions and rumors of new locales as possible, however implausible. And if those are false, generally there's still a rational reason the locals came to think that. (That's one sticking point about fiction: characters often have to act rational otherwise it's unbelievable while in reality irrationality is commonplace, arguably dominant even within systems structured to promote rational thought.)

And note the real world existence of henotheism (which spellcheck doesn't even recognize) where multiple gods were known to exist, yet one god is held above the rest. This was true in ancient Israel, where each tribe had its own god, yet they acknowledged that the gods of rival tribes existed. And the Romans were quick to accept as many gods as they came across, though they did syncretize frequently. (Another word spellcheck doesn't recognize yet which has been commonplace in religions worldwide!) Earliest Christians were often labeled atheists for not accepting all the other gods.

Anyway, those are my random observations. Cheers.


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Most "random townspeople's" draw to religion is less "gods will give you things or must be appeased" and more "the message of that god's church resonates with you and helps you deal with the incomprehensible" or "the sense of community fostered within the church" anyway.

Like you go to Erastil's church on the holy day because, well everybody else is there, and it's nice to be reminded that we've all got each other's backs.


While I agree it's not how PF/Golarion works, it would be interesting to play in a setting that works more like classical polytheism did.


PossibleCabbage wrote:

Most "random townspeople's" draw to religion is less "gods will give you things or must be appeased" and more "the message of that god's church resonates with you and helps you deal with the incomprehensible" or "the sense of community fostered within the church" anyway.

Like you go to Erastil's church on the holy day because, well everybody else is there, and it's nice to be reminded that we've all got each other's backs.

Examining non-theological and non-philosophical reasons to follow a religion opens up a spectrum of possibilities so wide as to suit any story needs. The two largest clusters I'd reckon are tradition/habit + emotional appeal (whether healthy, reassuring, destructive, manipulative, or whatnot). The latter group would include following a religion because it confirms one's biases or offers friendship or even food. Then there's the charisma of those involved, both clergy and laity. In modern times, many of the most successful churches (in terms of size & money) focus on emotions via music and pop-psychology, saving the theology and philosophy for small group study or conferences.*

I think in Golarion with mainstream cultures having access to multiple divinities (that deliver!), it'd be traditional to follow all the religions that fit one's personality (or fit what one wants to become or wants others to think of oneself.) Like in reality, I'd be extra wary of charismatic clergy from an unheard of religion, especially if overly "practical". Clerics focusing on one deity may be seen as anomalies, much like cloistered nuns or devout hermits nowadays.

*In the U.S., the overt politicization of churches led to a major shift in church attendance in November 2016. It was more a reshuffling of where to attend than a drop. It'd be mighty hard to determine how politics and religion might intertwine, say in a country like Taldor or Brevoy. We can hardly discern how their strong interplay works here.


thejeff wrote:
While I agree it's not how PF/Golarion works, it would be interesting to play in a setting that works more like classical polytheism did.

Might I reccomend having a look at Faiths of Eberron? I was always impressed by how realistic much of the culture felt, and this book's description of the Sovereign Host and the Dark Six always seemed particularly good.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I'd also argue that maybe one of the reasons there's less emphasis on ritual and other practices in D&D/PF is that setting books for those games tend to be adventurer-facing.

There frankly just isn't much material at all on the subject of local culture and behavior. So some of the activities the article assumes don't exist might just be beyond the scope of what most books cover.


The other thing is that in terms of setting building you generally want most phenomena to be recognizable to the players. So in building "how religion works on Golarion" you start with "what model of religion would be understandable to 21st century humans with no specific anthropological expertise. Combining that, and the fact this is laid out by 21st century humans to begin with, and you're going to get something that doesn't really resemble any actual ancient religion.

Plus I mean, Golarion should be more culturally and socially advanced than earth since their recorded history dates back about 9000 years (our recorded history dates back about 5000 years, to Ancient Sumeria).


PossibleCabbage wrote:

The other thing is that in terms of setting building you generally want most phenomena to be recognizable to the players. So in building "how religion works on Golarion" you start with "what model of religion would be understandable to 21st century humans with no specific anthropological expertise. Combining that, and the fact this is laid out by 21st century humans to begin with, and you're going to get something that doesn't really resemble any actual ancient religion.

Plus I mean, Golarion should be more culturally and socially advanced than earth since their recorded history dates back about 9000 years (our recorded history dates back about 5000 years, to Ancient Sumeria).

For the first part, absolutely agreed. Same with all the culture stuff - it's either modern or pop culture historic filtered through genre fantasy.

By the same token, "more culturally and socially advanced" could only mean "by 21st century amateur standards", which basically translates to "like us, but without the parts we don't like that seem to holdovers from the past". Of course, I'm not even really sure what "more advanced" means - cultural and social change is far from a linear process.

Even beyond that though: Golarion should be culturally and socially completely unrecognizable. The age isn't really the factor, so much as dozens of alien sapient species, along with real active gods.


PossibleCabbage wrote:

The other thing is that in terms of setting building you generally want most phenomena to be recognizable to the players. So in building "how religion works on Golarion" you start with "what model of religion would be understandable to 21st century humans with no specific anthropological expertise. Combining that, and the fact this is laid out by 21st century humans to begin with, and you're going to get something that doesn't really resemble any actual ancient religion.

Plus I mean, Golarion should be more culturally and socially advanced than earth since their recorded history dates back about 9000 years (our recorded history dates back about 5000 years, to Ancient Sumeria).

Thats probably the case but I find it a shame. For me worlds are more immersive when they don't just mirror the current society and that also makes them more interesting/exotic.

And you might even learn something while playing.


I feel like Golarion does a pretty good job of incorporating its fantasy elements into the way culture and society function? This thread is about how Golarion is unlike real world polytheistic societies because of the gods being objective, observable facts; authoritarians in Golarion maintain their power by being personally superhuman. A lot of the moral failings of real world religious people are harder to get away with when the Good god you claim to worship can send an angel to slap your hand and say "no slavery".


Ixal wrote:
do you rather prefer the current system where people devote themselves to one deity and if yes, why?

I think there's a lot of ground level misunderstandings.

I think the "one deity" thing is rooted in the mechanics of the game, not an actual expression of monotheism. Only one god gives you powers, you can worship as many as you want.

I think the concept of polytheism in the world is interpreted weirdly by people from monotheistic cultures. People don't "worship" multiple gods the way that monotheists worship one god. I think the better word for polytheists would be that they "respect" multiple gods. Monotheism uses "worship" to indicate allegiance - polytheists would use "worship" to indicate acknowledgement.

I don't see the current system in Pathfinder being monotheistic at all.


Pathfinder has never really been monotheistic. Not only for the fact that you were not required to only worship one god, just that only 1 gave you power. But also the fact you could worship different pantheons.

The entire basis of the God Claw is to worship the 5 big lawful deities, both good and evil. Another set could worship the core pantheon. Another the Osirian pantheon. Some might worship the Elders, others the Great Old Ones, and yet some might worship based on the domain.

There are infinite ways that people in Golarion can and do worship. Everything from simple prayer to sacrificing. Paizo cannot do that for the fact it takes too much time. Its why we still have an entire continent thats barely even mentioned.


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I think the word some people in this thread are searching for is "Henotheism" which is essentially "I acknowledge there are or may be other gods, but I worship one."

Which again seems reasonable since it would be bizarrely egocentric to assume that more than one deity cares at all about you in particular.


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Wonky Chewbacca wrote:
thejeff wrote:
While I agree it's not how PF/Golarion works, it would be interesting to play in a setting that works more like classical polytheism did.
Might I reccomend having a look at Faiths of Eberron? I was always impressed by how realistic much of the culture felt, and this book's description of the Sovereign Host and the Dark Six always seemed particularly good.

Yeah, Eberron has what is probably my favorite take on religion in all of D&D-dom.

There is a main pantheon consisting of fifteen gods. The dominant view further segregates these into to sub-pantheons: the Sovereign Host, and the Dark Six. Generally speaking, the Sovereign Host lean toward good and being pro-civilization, while the Dark Six lean toward evil and dangerous natural forces. The gods never manifest in the world or communicate directly with their worshipers, and even things like Commune contacts powerful outsiders who also worship that god or those gods, but doesn't have any direct contact. The gods are not manifest on the outer planes either. The gods are generally seen as being present in spirit wherever things relevant to them are happening — Onatar is guiding the hand of the faithful smith, and when she's selling the sword she made Kol Korran is there to facilitate the transaction, and when she comes home Boldrei is keeping her home safe.

The folks in the Five Nations (the focus of the setting) usually worship the Sovereign Host as a collective. Worship of one to the exclusion of others happen but it's rare. The Dark Six are acknowledged but their worship is discouraged. It's rarer for the Dark Six to be worshiped collectively — it's easy for "civilized" folk to point to the Sovereign Host and say "These are all vital aspects of civilization and I worship them all", but it's less common to be able to point at gods representing nature's destructive side, madness/passion, treachery, power at any price, death and greed, and chaotic change and say "All of that's my jam."

Other cultures who also worship gods generally worship gods similar to the Host/Six, to the point where it's really easy to say "Oh, your god X is totally the same as our god Y." It's not uncommon to find cultures who worship a number of gods who cross the two sub-pantheons, so that division is by no means universal.

In addition to the Host and the Six, there are a number of other religions in the setting. These are mainly non-theistic. One is the Silver Flame, which is a force that binds a number of archfiends. The Silver Flame helps its followers fight evil, primarily supernatural but also the evil in people's hearts. This is the most overtly Good religion — the Host is good-ish, but mostly as a consequence of being gods of things generally considered good.

Another one which I find super interesting is the Blood of Vol. Its basic belief is that every living mortal has a spark of divinity within themselves which, when properly nurtured, can blossom into becoming a living god. However, to prevent this from happening, the gods made the mortal races, well, mortal, which will keep most from ever having that ability (it should be noted that the afterlife of Eberron is pretty bleak - souls go to the plane of death where they basically just fade away). Seekers, as Blood of Vol worshipers are known, often employ necromancy. Mindless undead are created and commanded by their priests for all sorts of purposes — once a person is dead, the body is just meat, so why not put it to use? Higher undead, primarily mummies and vampires, are made from dedicated champions and used for particular purposes. This is considered a great sacrifice on the part of the champion, because while undead generally have a lot of power, they no longer have the spark of divinity within themselves.

The main elven culture also has its own religion, the Undying Court. Basically, they use planar energies and the devotion of their people to turn their greatest heroes into Undying, which are sort of positive-aligned undead. Most elves hope to achieve things that would allow them such an ascension, or at least to have their souls preserved and have the devotions of their descendants keep them around. There is also an off-shoot of this religion, who believe that their greatest ancestors are still with them in spirit, and that each member of that culture is chosen by a particular ancient hero, and that it is the job of that person to emulate the deeds of that hero to the best of their abilities.

In addition to these main religions, there are a number of other smaller cults — basically, if you believe in it enough, it might be possible to gain divine power from it (though it's definitely easier if that belief can be aligned with one of the Sovereigns).

What I like about Eberron religion is that these all feel like very distinct faiths. It is super easy for D&D-based games to fall into the trap of "mad-libbing" their religions, that is, to treat them as forms to be filled in but that all work fundamentally the same. "(Name) is the (alignment) god of (portfolio). Their (un-)holy symbol looks like this, their favored weapon is (weapon), and their favored colors are (color1) and (color2). Their holy texts are (text1) and (text2), they worship on (weekday), and their high holy day is (specific day). Their edicts are (edict1), (edict2), and (edict3), and their anathema are (anathema1), (anathema2), and (anathema3)." That's basically the format you'll see in everything from Greyhawk to Forgotten Realms to Planescape to Golarion, and it's kind of... boring. It's all basically there to provide some backing for the cleric class, not to provide actual religions for in-game use. Eberron religions feel more like part of the actual world, and weave themselves into different cultures in ways traditional D&D gods don't.


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Historically in polytheistic religions, while the common people prayed to multiple deities, the priesthood was usually seperated - you didn't have a priest of the entire Roman pantheon, you had a priest of Jupiter and a priest of Mars and so on.

A fighter or rogue or wizard worships multiple gods - a cleric or paladin gain divine power because they are a representative of a single god - that the main class features that reference deities involve focusing on one deity does not mean that being monotheistic is the default - it is just what those specialists do because that is their role in society.


Watery Soup wrote:
Ixal wrote:
do you rather prefer the current system where people devote themselves to one deity and if yes, why?

I think there's a lot of ground level misunderstandings.

I think the "one deity" thing is rooted in the mechanics of the game, not an actual expression of monotheism. Only one god gives you powers, you can worship as many as you want.

I think the concept of polytheism in the world is interpreted weirdly by people from monotheistic cultures. People don't "worship" multiple gods the way that monotheists worship one god. I think the better word for polytheists would be that they "respect" multiple gods. Monotheism uses "worship" to indicate allegiance - polytheists would use "worship" to indicate acknowledgement.

I don't see the current system in Pathfinder being monotheistic at all.

I don't think it comes from the mechanics when you look at D&D where it first started. Most clases do not draw power from gods. And in lore in the Forgotten Realms when you do not have a patron god you soul will end up as building material instead of having an afterlife.

So there is a pretty big push, even outside of mechanics for a quasi monotheistic believe system.
This doesn't make much sense though, you know all gods exist instead of just the one you worship and gods are not all powerful, so at every point several gods are relevant to you instead of just one.

I think they simply didn't knew better when writing D&D and applied their monotheistic (probably Christian) understanding of religion to the setting. And everyone else simply copied it as either they didn't bother to research it or because its such a minor thing that it wasn't worth the effort. Probably both.


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Monotheism is belief there's only one god (with others being fictional or entities in disguise). As PossibleCabbage and I have pointed out, much of this discussion is regarding "henotheism", belief in multiple gods while holding one as more important (to oneself or one's culture; not necessarily stronger). In RPGs with demonstrable gods, or at least observable divine powers that practitioners ascribe to their gods, only long-isolated cultures could remain ignorant of every god but one.

Gygax's original cosmology had many Christian influences, i.e. Asmodeus & the archdevil names were mainly drawn from Christian lore. Yet he also had afterlives/planes for the "Happy Hunting Grounds", "Olympus", and places from other Earth religions more than from original design. There's always been a mishmash, w/ Lovecraft's Cthulhu and Moorcock's Melnibonean entities early on, as well as heroes from Lankhmar and other well known fantasy novels. Much of that has been phased out, yet still we get the Egyptian gods reflected on Golarion.
(Funny thing, with thousands of years of development, the Egyptian pantheon had many variants, even a monotheistic phase where Amun was the singular god because the others were only his reflections, not distinct entities.)

This all reminds me of a quote about how people who try to believe in many religions practice none; implying that one needs to dedicate oneself to a single religion to the exclusion of others in order to truly understand it. Since all major and nearly all minor religions have syncretized over time w/ other religions, I'm not sure I accept that. Exclusive religions had been unusual in ancient times.

And Romans did have priests for their pantheon as well as other priests dedicated to individual gods, depending on which temple one dedicated oneself to. And temples to one god would often feature shrines or statues to other gods, sometimes including an unknown god in case there was somebody important they'd yet to learn of, but didn't want to slight. So quite different than some more focused modern religions (even if there are some rogue Universalists within them).

That said, as someone else noted RPGs are adventurer-facing, with "worship of one deity" arising more from a mechanic than as a reflection of the underlying culture(s) & metaphysics. Like nearly all cultures in history, groups on Golarion would likely have a cluster of gods they observe, love, fear, obey, or whatnot while understanding other groups have their own clusters which may or may not overlap.
Whatever setup serves the current story arc's needs.

Liberty's Edge

Temples to one god with shrines to others is a thing in Golarion too. As are temples dedicated to several deities.


Castilliano wrote:
I think in Golarion with mainstream cultures having access to multiple divinities (that deliver!), it'd be traditional to follow all the religions that fit one's personality (or fit what one wants to become or wants others to think of oneself.) Like in reality, I'd be extra wary of charismatic clergy from an unheard of religion, especially if overly "practical". Clerics focusing on one deity may be seen as anomalies, much like cloistered nuns or devout hermits nowadays.

I'm no lore specialist, but I have a very different view of Golarion. From the rules and what I see in the adventures I have played, it's easier to consider that each god has a separate religion, with specific rites, holy texts, morality and followers.

Everyone (but rahadoumis) has one and a single one patron deity (I've never heard of a Cleric of 2 deities at the same time), and they pray this deity all the time (Clerics of Sarenrae pray to Sarenrae when they go to battle, not to Gorum).

But the gods have relationships between themselves and people acknowledge the sphere of power of other gods. So, even if a farmer following Desna would pray to Desna for his crops to grow, he will in general try to find a Cleric of Erastil to bless it. And the priest of Erastil will consider the follower of Desna as someone of a very close faith, he won't try to convert him and he will in general accept to bless his crops.

From the title, I would answer that Golarion's religion is both polytheistic and multiple monotheistic.

But I may make a mistake, as said above, I don't consider myself a lore specialist, it's just what I've seen while adventuring.

Liberty's Edge

James Jacobs has clearly stated that you cannot be a Cleric of several gods.

You can be a Cleric of a Pantheon in PF2, but even then, you choose one deity to be your divine patron.


SuperBidi wrote:
Castilliano wrote:
I think in Golarion with mainstream cultures having access to multiple divinities (that deliver!), it'd be traditional to follow all the religions that fit one's personality (or fit what one wants to become or wants others to think of oneself.) Like in reality, I'd be extra wary of charismatic clergy from an unheard of religion, especially if overly "practical". Clerics focusing on one deity may be seen as anomalies, much like cloistered nuns or devout hermits nowadays.

I'm no lore specialist, but I have a very different view of Golarion. From the rules and what I see in the adventures I have played, it's easier to consider that each god has a separate religion, with specific rites, holy texts, morality and followers.

Everyone (but rahadoumis) has one and a single one patron deity (I've never heard of a Cleric of 2 deities at the same time), and they pray this deity all the time (Clerics of Sarenrae pray to Sarenrae when they go to battle, not to Gorum).

But the gods have relationships between themselves and people acknowledge the sphere of power of other gods. So, even if a farmer following Desna would pray to Desna for his crops to grow, he will in general try to find a Cleric of Erastil to bless it. And the priest of Erastil will consider the follower of Desna as someone of a very close faith, he won't try to convert him and he will in general accept to bless his crops.

From the title, I would answer that Golarion's religion is both polytheistic and multiple monotheistic.

But I may make a mistake, as said above, I don't consider myself a lore specialist, it's just what I've seen while adventuring.

Again, monotheism is where they believe only one god exists. I doubt those Golarions who follow one god also disbelieve in all the other gods. The list of variants of theism is quite long, but I'll point out "misotheism" where the person believes in and hates god(s) which is to say belief doesn't require even the slightest worship.

And there's also the issue of vocabulary, messy enough in one language here on Earth, much less in a fictional, fantastic world with non-human languages and concepts. So when I said following tons of religions I don't mean devoutly worshiping each god to one's utmost. Following may be through prayers, festivals, and other easier avenues while only paying lip service to edicts, anathema, and study (arguably much like in reality). Like you, I think devout worship would be limited, with the occasional package-deal pantheon. PF1 had separated worship (singular deity or package at max) from veneration (anybody other deity you admire, just can't be source of divine powers). This resembles Catholicism where many pray or give offerings to saints (venerate), yet technically do not worship them (according to their own vocabulary). So one might venerate the saint of travel before a journey without impinging on one's worship of the trinity. I think there'd be similar dynamics in Golarion, much like many non-Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day. The culture's absorbed all these special days.
I wonder if services might even be staggered so people could attend multiple weekly devotions?

While a Sarenrae Cleric would/should certainly think Sarenrae is sufficient for all their needs, they might ask her to hold Gorum back. And her mundane worshiper might venerate a different god on occasions outside her sphere. Much like one might worship one sports team yet still cheer another on if facing your archrival.

I wouldn't expect Paizo to go overly into detail on this both because of page space and because they like keeping a light touch so GMs can freely express what suits their stories. Paizo's guide for contributors even stated that adventures that require specific cultural aspects not already present should limit the scope to a small region at most so there's less impact. Not to mention the amount of variance Earth can have in a small region, even if talking about one religious tradition. It'd be hard to make sweeping statements and even harder to flesh out all possibilities one might desire for adventure fodder.


The Raven Black wrote:

James Jacobs has clearly stated that you cannot be a Cleric of several gods.

You can be a Cleric of a Pantheon in PF2, but even then, you choose one deity to be your divine patron.

Which is basically "you can venerate, and perform rituals to Torag's entire family, they are cool with this, but only one of them is going to give you your spells."

Anathema could then be conceived of as less "you have angered your deity" (because they probably aren't paying that close attention to you) but more "your conduct has made you incompatible with the flavor of energy that is flowing into you via a divine conduit." Additionally the "cleric of only one god" thing becomes "when you try to force different, even closely related, kinds of divine energy through said conduit things tend to break and you get Oracles instead of Clerics."


One of the best example of how different followers interact is Shelyn and Zon-Kuthon.

Followers of Shelyn are very much against any act that would destroy art or create art by killing people.

Zon-Kuthon is all about harming people and has a general hellraiser vive.

But a Zon-Kuthon follower will largely ignore clerics of Shelyn for fear of the punishment, and some even help out to gain rewards. Even as an evil god Zon-Kuthon does show favor to his sister. On the other hand, clerics of Shelyn return the favor by looking the other way as long as nothing againt Shelyn happens.

The fact that you worship one god, does not mean you have to be antagonistic to another.

******************

Looking at real world religion. The best example is Shintoism. They have many gods and many people worship a regional god. But they still give prayer to other gods or the main gods.

Which btw, Tian Xia does follow Japanese gods.

The only real religions that are antagonistic to worshiping and giving prayer to other gods/things are the monotheist. Specially ones like the Abrahamic religions which have historically been very violent against followers of other faiths.

Scarab Sages

PossibleCabbage wrote:
Anathema could then be conceived of as less "you have angered your deity" (because they probably aren't paying that close attention to you) but more "your conduct has made you incompatible with the flavor of energy that is flowing into you via a divine conduit." Additionally the "cleric of only one god" thing becomes "when you try to force different, even closely related, kinds of divine energy through said conduit things tend to break and you get Oracles instead of Clerics."

I always thought of anathema as drawing a rebuke from your deity, whereas changing to a non-allowed alignment causes incompatibility with that deity's divine conduit. A cleric can incur anathema without having to change alignment.

All deities have follower alignments but some lack anathema.

Scarab Sages

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Temperans wrote:

But a Zon-Kuthon follower will largely ignore clerics of Shelyn for fear of the punishment, and some even help out to gain rewards. Even as an evil god Zon-Kuthon does show favor to his sister. On the other hand, clerics of Shelyn return the favor by looking the other way as long as nothing againt Shelyn happens.

The fact that you worship one god, does not mean you have to be antagonistic to another.

This isn't remotely true. Followers of Shelyn and Zon-Kuthon oppose one another.
Inner Sea Gods, page 144 wrote:
The rare inquisitors of [Shelyn's] church hunt cultists of Zon-Kuthon, redeeming them if possible but preventing them from spreading their poison at all costs.
Likewise the follower's of Zon-Kuthon.
Inner Sea Gods, page 170 wrote:
The only deity seemingly safe from Zon-Kuthon’s sick intentions is his half-sister Shelyn, though her followers have no special protection against him or his, and she limits their contact to brief visits in person with powerful defensive magic at the ready....While their lord may refrain from attempting to harm Shelyn, his followers see no need to extend that courtesy to her faithful, and may especially enjoy creating canvases from the stretched skins of the Eternal Rose’s worshipers.

To say nothing of deities like Sarenrae, Pazuzu, and Gogunta who all demand their followers oppose those of other specific deities.


NECR0G1ANT wrote:
Temperans wrote:

But a Zon-Kuthon follower will largely ignore clerics of Shelyn for fear of the punishment, and some even help out to gain rewards. Even as an evil god Zon-Kuthon does show favor to his sister. On the other hand, clerics of Shelyn return the favor by looking the other way as long as nothing againt Shelyn happens.

The fact that you worship one god, does not mean you have to be antagonistic to another.

This isn't remotely true. Followers of Shelyn and Zon-Kuthon oppose one another.
Inner Sea Gods, page 144 wrote:
The rare inquisitors of [Shelyn's] church hunt cultists of Zon-Kuthon, redeeming them if possible but preventing them from spreading their poison at all costs.
Likewise the follower's of Zon-Kuthon.
Inner Sea Gods, page 170 wrote:
The only deity seemingly safe from Zon-Kuthon’s sick intentions is his half-sister Shelyn, though her followers have no special protection against him or his, and she limits their contact to brief visits in person with powerful defensive magic at the ready....While their lord may refrain from attempting to harm Shelyn, his followers see no need to extend that courtesy to her faithful, and may especially enjoy creating canvases from the stretched skins of the Eternal Rose’s worshipers.

To say nothing of deities like Sarenrae, Pazuzu, and Gogunta who all demand their followers oppose those of other specific deities.

Shelyn pathfinderwiki wrote:
To this day, clerics of Zon-Kuthon never harm known clerics of Shelyn—doing so results in harsh punishments that do not end with death—but sometimes they actually try to protect such clerics. This behaviour earns them divine rewards. For their part, clerics of Shelyn return the favor by looking the other way when they meet known clerics or cultists of Zon-Kuthon. The exception to this rule is if the clerics or cultists are obviously harming innocents, defacing art, or otherwise being unforgivably evil. This arrangement might seem like a serious drawback for Zon-Kuthon, as other evil deities might take advantage of it to put him into a difficult position. However, no gods ever really move against Shelyn or her clergy.[3]

So maybe the wiki might be wrong, but as it is thats the info I have.

Point is that its not black and white and there are different people interacting in different ways.

Liberty's Edge

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The wiki's wrong. That bit is from an explicitly non-canonical post by a Paizo staffer given as a preview before the Gods were finalized in print, and he notes it as subject to change. Check the citation. NECR0G1ANT's quote, meanwhile, is from a published book.

Someone should really remove it from the wiki, along with several other un-cited and inaccurate or outdated bits.

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