Having Sects

I’d been planning this topic for a while, but seeing this post by A Butterfly Dreaming pretty much demanded that I write it now. And by now, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what it’s for.

So we have religious sects: subgroups set apart by a focus, difference in tradition, or other tenet that in some way separates them from the rest of their religion. They might be created for a specific purpose, or may just be a product of religious divergent evolution.

So how does one go about creating sects?

As in the Butterfly’s example, sects might crop up because their members are focused on a particular emphasis of their god. His three emphasize the sanctity of the grave, the memorial of the dead, and death in combat. Worshipers of a god of knowledge might have sects emphasizing the search for new lore, the education of those who don’t yet know, or the concealment of secrets—and just imagine the potential arguments!

Similarly, there’s division by ideas and the resulting practices. Most holy scriptures don’t cover all eventualities; instead, they leave room for disagreement, and those disagreements can run deep. Worshipers of a death god may split based on whether they consider resurrection or zombification more against their religious tenets, or what they consider to be the appropriate circumstances to meddle with someone’s time to die.

If people worship pantheons as a group, then the sects might be groups that focus on worshiping one god specifically. Similarly, if a god has different faces, then those who worship one face over the others would be different sects, and the ones who don’t play favorites a sect of their own.

The difference could just be how they go about worship, or what sorts of acts are required to show devotion–think about the sources of divergence from yesterday. There are a lot of possible differentiating factors, and none that are “the only way to go.”

Though the potential for intra-religion conflict inherent in the nature of sects is interesting, it isn’t the only thing that can come about from their existence. Sects can color people’s view of a god and the corresponding religion, for good or for ill. And this gets even more interesting when they’re a point of conflict between religions. Imagine how a redemption-centered priest of the sun god would react to a priest of a god of leadership who favors draconian rules and harsh punishments. Now imagine that same redeemer-priest meeting with a priest of the same god—only this one’s sect is more in favor of leadership by understanding those below them. Makes a bit of a difference, doesn’t it?

In addition to their other dramatic benefits, sects are an excellent way of reminding the audience that a religion isn’t just a monolithic group. (One needs to avoid the trap of sects working in lockstep; yes, they should all agree on the idea that unifies the sect, but really, there’s a lot of room for variation still.

So, flavor up your religions. There’s no reason not to!

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