So originally I was thinking about adding a few little things to help flesh out my fantasy religion while avoiding cultural appropriation. I've created the mythology and come up with the structure of the faith. My characters pray, blaspheme, and utter minced oaths. I've made holidays, festivals, and folklore. I've got holdouts still clutching to bits of the previous faith and incorporating elements of it into the current one. But my faith still felt flat. I started thinking that it felt like nothing more than the same polytheistic form of Christianity we see when we aren't simply seeing rehashes of the Greco-Roman religion with the names of the gods altered.
I checked out Wikipedia, other websites, and eventually picked up a couple of religious encyclopedias from the library. Which turned out to be a good thing. What I feared might be cultural appropriation turned out to be nothing more than some aspects being shared between faiths. Which makes sense. Disparate cultures somehow all came up with metallurgy and farming so having similar religious practices is only logical even if the doctrines are different. Shrines to spirits and tutelary deities are everywhere from bathtub Madonnas to totem poles and spirit houses. Prayer beads are found in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and other faiths.
And while I was looking for little things to spice up my constructed faiths, I realized that I'd ignored something rather important. In my constructed world there’s more than one dominant religion. Of the two largest religions, the second (the Astrumites) are an evolution of the first(the Signumites). While anyone can become a priest in the Signumite faith it’s more common for men to do so.
But in the Astrumite faith, the priesthood is entirely female. This more or less evolved out of a tradition of cunning folk and midwives inherited from the various folk religions that existed beforehand. I’m wondering how this would affect a society and if I’ve done things in at least a moderately believable way. The reason for female clergy is one of practicality – i.e. while the men were away fighting the women were doing everything else.
So female clergy would mean an entire group of literate women sitting around thinking. I had this translate into the first philosophers and intellectuals being female and the first institutions of higher learning would have been monastic schools. Which would in turn mean that the students would have been solely female. Women – at least the wealthy or aristocratic ones – would have more access to education and might be more likely to be literate. (Although that isn’t too far removed from what happened in our world since the wealthy could afford education in any case and the aristocrats were expected to have it.)
But, beyond that, the world isn’t exactly egalitarian or matriarchal. Primogeniture isn’t equal. Women can’t vote unless they’re landowners. The male universities have marginalized the female one’s, pushing them down into the ranks of academies rather than true universities and their courses are mostly just philosophy, history, poetry, art, and literature. This education only benefits those who can afford it so the average farmwife wouldn’t be more likely to be literate than a woman in the real world would have been. Women do study magic, but the best places to learn magic aren’t open to women since coeducation doesn’t exist yet so women who want to study high-level magic usually hire tutors who are graduates of the better universities. (Which in turn allowed me to come up with a fictional-genre within the story of cheap novels and plays devoted to a sort of “He came to teach her magic and she taught him how to love” sort of thing.)
I’ve more or less sidestepped a lot of the implications of this since it’s background stuff and the work itself really isn’t about the faith at all. The faith exists mainly to add a bit of spice to the story. I only did things this way because I liked the idea of a military order of women and needed a way to rationalize it. I’ve studied up on the real-world analogue to my time period and this was the time of revolutions, coffeehouse intellectuals, Parisian salons, and whatnot so some of the stuff I’m doing doesn’t feel all that farfetched. It’s a bit anachronistic, but I also looked into Viennese cafés from the late 19th century, which were breeding grounds for writers and intellectuals.
I’d like to hear people’s viewpoints on how this setup might influence the development of a society. Attitudes aren’t quite as unenlightened as they were in our world, but women are condescended to and certain things are viewed as womanly and thus unimportant. Poor women haven’t really benefited, but the poor always suffer no matter the time period or culture. Obviously if women were philosophers and philosophy shapes culture there has to be something huge that I’ve ignored.
Time period is equivalent to our 1810’s-1820’s.
Search terms used:
religious egalitarianism, female clergy, ordination of women, female imams, female rabbis, religious matriarchy