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Equestrian religion...or lack thereof


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#1 Dvandom

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 06:44 AM

It occurs to me that Equestrian society is fundamentally an atheistic one, or at best animistic. Yes, they believe in the supernatural, but that's because spirits and the like are real and have an everyday influence on life...it's not superstition when your next door neighbor really is a unicorn with magic powers.

Sure, they have godlike beings such as Celestia or Discord, but Equestria itself was founded before Celestia came on the scene. The unicorns took care of raising the Sun and Moon initially, and the founding myth is simply a "and then everyone moved here and settled down." We have not seen an actual creation story, nor any indication that they know of or worship a creator. (The clerical collar on the old pony in Hearts & Hooves Day shouldn't be taken to indicate they're Catholic, it could merely be a sight gag, or at most indicative of parallel symbology for ceremonial celebrants.)

Obviously, the show-runners want to shy away from making any obvious real-world religious references in order to avoid controversy, but it's intriguing that in a setting with obvious deity-level entities that there's no "pony who created the world" character. The Sun and Moon exist, and are manipulated by cosmic entities, but who made 'em? Why does the world exist in a state that requires constant maintenance? And even if nopony knows, why does no one assign responsibility to some entity?

I wonder when the Professionally Offended Class will figure this out and start boycotting MLP?

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#2 Pennpenn

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 07:41 AM

I'd say it's more likely not come up because it hasn't been relevant to any of the particular plots thus far rather than because they're worried about crossing particular sensitive wires. And anyway, we all know the kind of people who would be offended by that have already spat their collective dummies when it was clear that Rainbow Dash is a horrible child corrupting lesbian and other uninformed stupid nonsense.

Though of course that's just my opinion on the matter, though it could be about half way (it hasn't been made relevant, thus hasn't come up, to avoid hurting feelings). Or maybe they're just "It's always been there.". Who knows? Not including the writers.

#3 wonko the sane?

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 08:10 AM

Seems to me that a race that lives as close to the earth and the supernatural as the equestrians would be some form of wicca or paganism. Earth worship essentially: you don't need a church, dogma, pomp or circumstance for that.

#4 J4n1

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 08:23 AM

Personally i go with the idea the think of Celestia and Luna as gods, but have little little formal ceremony involved.
Longest day, longest night, possibly when night and day are of equal length, are celebrated, but as their gods require little ceremony, and don't really answer prayers, demand no sacrifice, and tend to personally attend occasional ceremonies and give speeches, the events look to us more like secular celebrations or political events.

As for creation myth, maybe they simply don't have one, or it involves beings now thought dead or imprisoned (what's in tartarus?), or just gone away.

#5 Scavgraphics

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 10:18 AM

Religion takes on a whole new form when the deity might stop up for tea and cake.

#6 Cybersnark

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 10:48 AM

Or when the Devil shows up to eat your planet, as the TF version of that saying goes.

#7 Dvandom

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 11:52 AM

When the supernatural is natural, though, is it actually theistic in the sense the term is normally used? Even polytheistic myths like the tales of the Greek Heroes or of Norse Gods tended to be of the "this happened to a guy a long time ago, take my word for it" variety when they talked about gods walking the Earth. When deity-level entities do stop by for tea and you've likely met them in person, there's not much taking on faith required, yes?

Celestia is venerated, but more as head of state and as a generally powerful pony, not because she's some mysterious force no one can explain. And unlike historical god-kings who could be presumed to have ascended in some fashion after their physical death, Celestia is still around. In theory, you could ask her about things (although she may have reasons to not answer, or even to lie)...you can't ring up Odin and ask him if he really did that thing with the eye-plucking and the hanging upside down. You CAN ask Celestia when she took over the Sun duties from the collective unicorn population, though. You could even ask her who her parents were, and how she came to be an alicorn, but she might just smile and change the subject even if you got up the gumption to ask.

Magical entities exist, but they follow enough rules that an educated pony like Twilight can assume things are scientifically explainable. Heck, the fact that the apprentice to the god-princess can HAVE a scientific outlook means that Celestia's presence doesn't automatically inspire a theistic outlook...otherwise Twilight's usual response to strangeness would be "Celestia must have her reasons" rather than "this doesn't make any sense, I must figure it out!"

It's a sort of an atheistic mystic naturalism. Magic exists, but it's part of nature and follows rules. Powerful entities exist, but they don't control *everything*. Discord is as close as they get to a god in the sense we usually think of it, and even he's limited.

I seriously doubt they set out to create such an odd mixture of mysticism and pragmatism, but it's what they seem to have ended up with.

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#8 MyLittleEmpath

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 12:31 PM

Maybe the current power structure represents the triumph of the great and wonderful secular (Celestia/Luna) over the chaotic and vile religion (Disqord)?

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#9 Sobana

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 12:54 PM

Well, from my understanding they do have a religion, but I think your trying to tie to more known form of religion like Christianity or Norse. When they swear an oath to a personage that isn't there, they are putting faith that if they brake their oath they are losing favor with that personage. Case in point, when Rarity said "As Celestia is my witness" she was assigning her the position of godhood or at the very least putting faith in that Celestia will hold her morally accountable.

As you mentioned before about god-kings, but i think you misunderstood certain aspects about that. In the cases of Egypt and Babylon, once someone became king, they were given unlimited power and unquestionable rule and then assigned the status of a god. It might be similar in Equestria, who ever is in charge might be as their god.

Just because they don't have an origin story doesn't mean they don't have a religion either, in the case of Greek and Roman religion the universe and it's gods were born from chaos. It holds similarities to how Equstria was founded, unity was brought after chaos was defeated.

But from what I seen, it seems more likely that Equestria has a epicurean form of religion. They believe in the existence of gods (such as Celestia, Discord and other magical creatures) but that the gods have no interest in them and would neither reward nor punish them, so prayer or celebration is useless.

I'm sorry, but atheism seems highly unlikely in this case.
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#10 Dvandom

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 02:11 PM

Well, they don't even seem to have a demiurge. Swearing by a person you've met is rather more secular than theistic...a Pinkie Promise seems to be about as binding as an oath on Celestia's name (possibly moreso!).

God-kings not only had absolute power in life, they were generally understood (as in the case of pharoahs and later Roman emperors) to become gods or at least hang out with gods in the afterlife. Departed beings of power are certainly respected in Equestria (c.f. Starswirl the Bearded) but they don't seem to have the attitude that dead ancestors can intercede in life (while they have ghosts, it's unrevealed whether ghosts in Equestria are the spirits of the dead, or simply a different form of life that was never anything else).

The point being, though, that for all the magic and godly powers thrown around in My Little Pony, their rituals and histories do not seem to involve any invocation of powers beyond the land of the living. Lifting the Sun used to be the job of purely mortal unicorns, and presumably they could have rediscovered the technique if Nightmare Moon had been driven off without Celestia being freed. The national myth involves simply moving from a previous place to the current place and dealing with internal strife and external hostile life forms (windigos are mystical, but presumably natural). Even when history passes into fable (as happened with Nightmare Moon herself), nothing is ascribed to powers outside of the "mundane" world (fan theories of an outside influence on Luna aside).

If you want to assemble a sort of hidden theology, there's enough hints and winks you could manage something. But the point is that for all practical purposes, it doesn't have any part in Equestrian life. It's totally secular, and to the average citizen there's no real difference between magic and science. Smart and talented ponies make stuff that's useful, either using magic or science, and the only reason you care which is so that you know who to call when it breaks down. icon-hotrod.gif

Everyone they venerate, everyone they swear by, everyone they attribute as causes of things...they're all either currently living or once-living real people. The real Chancellor Puddinghead may not much resemble the mythic portrayal, but neither does the real George Washington. But we know they really existed, even if we're hazy on the details. We have to take it on faith that God (or Zeus, or Ptah, etc) exists.

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#11 Sobana

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 08:29 PM

I'm still sticking to my epicurean theory, because that is what best supports the evidence. Maybe they don't have a religious belief of an afterlife like most religions because all their deities are visible. Maybe they are more attune to a living god religion like some gaia wiccans. But, they never state their beliefs of the dead and by all accords, Celestia seems most likely to be their god seeing how some gods are positioned with the power to control the sun like Ra, Apollo and many Mayan gods.

Just because you haven't seen a religion yet doesn't mean their isn't one, every human society that ever existed had one form or another religion.

Also, the worshipers Zeus didn't need faith because they thought his presence was evident in the events of nature, they saw lightning in the sky and they thought it must of been Zeus's doing. Likewise, the ponies who never met Celestia before is aware of her presence because of an reoccurring event everyday of the rising of the sun.

It could always be very formal or causal type of religion, supporting my epicurean theory, even atheists part take in religious celebrations such as Halloween and Christmas without professing to believe in their religious backgrounds.

I think what your waiting to see in terms of religion is them subscribing some unexplainable event to some invisible personage or force that no one can prove exists but yet they all put faith in, which in the context of the show would be impossible because any mythological creature mentioned becomes reality. If they said lord Smooze created the universe, such a thing would exist. Discord himself would be a perfect example of a god to them, he completely controlled all aspects of reality and was a thing to be feared. I can't imagine what more you could ask for.

I think the best example of a religious findings in Equstria is the Nightmare Night celebration. Sure, it was based off a real historic figure like George Washington and a day was dedicated to him as well, but we don't leave piles of candy as in offering in front of his statue in fear he might gobble us up with his wooden teeth. =/
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#12 J4n1

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 10:06 PM

Depending on your definition of god, Celestia and Luna can both be considered ones, not all powerfull all knowing ones that you find in monotheistic religion, but limited by their nature and power, and capable of being fooled or mistaken like polytheistic gods.

Also, when your god is not only limited in power, but also physically present in the world, the idea of "we don't know, therefore god" style of thinking goes out of the window very fast, the western idea of religion simply does not work in a world of Equestria.
Also, the whole Nightmae Moon and Discord stories sound lot like religious myths to me, except we know they happened, and later part of the myths happened in our (mane6's) time.
And in a country that is literally ruled by god, you can get rid of priests and temples, and hire clerks and build govermental offices instead.

#13 Cabooceratops

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 11:02 PM

As counter evidence I put forth the Cult of Smooze.

Praise Lord Smooze~!

#14 RC85747

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 01:44 AM

It will be interesting to see how the Royal Wedding will affect all this.

#15 Cybersnark

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 10:07 AM

QUOTE(Sobana @ Mar 28 2012, 09:29 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I think the best example of a religious findings in Equstria is the Nightmare Night celebration.

Actually, I think the best example would be the funeral scene glimpsed in "Hearts and Hooves Day."

A formalized, public funeral ceremony (whether explicitly religious or not, that pony with the collar was clearly officiating something, which suggests there was a pre-defined ritual going on) implies the cultural presence of an afterlife. In a fully animist society, the body wouldn't be entombed/buried in a casket (to preserve it as a sort of monument, or possibly as a bank against a promised future Judgement Day when the dead shall rise), but burned on a pyre (with the flames representing the release of the deceased soul/spirit into the environment), and possibly with the ashes ritually scattered.

(The prevalence of ash-scattering in western monotheistic cultures is essentially a cultural holdover from pagan times; essentially embedding the deceased spirit [via his/her corporeal remains] into a particular environment. Christianity [as an example] officially frowns on it, even though it's a widely-practiced tradition [this tolerance, obviously, varies between sects].)

A truly atheistic society would simply incinerate the body to dispose of it.

#16 wonko the sane?

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 11:12 AM

And maybe throw a party to celebrate the life and times of those who aren't there any more.

#17 Sobana

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 12:15 PM

QUOTE(J4n1 @ Mar 28 2012, 11:06 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Depending on your definition of god, Celestia and Luna can both be considered ones, not all powerfull all knowing ones that you find in monotheistic religion, but limited by their nature and power, and capable of being fooled or mistaken like polytheistic gods.

Also, when your god is not only limited in power, but also physically present in the world, the idea of "we don't know, therefore god" style of thinking goes out of the window very fast, the western idea of religion simply does not work in a world of Equestria.
Also, the whole Nightmae Moon and Discord stories sound lot like religious myths to me, except we know they happened, and later part of the myths happened in our (mane6's) time.
And in a country that is literally ruled by god, you can get rid of priests and temples, and hire clerks and build govermental offices instead.

I had the same line of thought going my self. They are viewed as gods, but in a different way then we normally think of.

QUOTE(Cybersnark @ Mar 29 2012, 11:07 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE(Sobana @ Mar 28 2012, 09:29 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I think the best example of a religious findings in Equstria is the Nightmare Night celebration.

Actually, I think the best example would be the funeral scene glimpsed in "Hearts and Hooves Day."

A formalized, public funeral ceremony (whether explicitly religious or not, that pony with the collar was clearly officiating something, which suggests there was a pre-defined ritual going on) implies the cultural presence of an afterlife. In a fully animist society, the body wouldn't be entombed/buried in a casket (to preserve it as a sort of monument, or possibly as a bank against a promised future Judgement Day when the dead shall rise), but burned on a pyre (with the flames representing the release of the deceased soul/spirit into the environment), and possibly with the ashes ritually scattered.

(The prevalence of ash-scattering in western monotheistic cultures is essentially a cultural holdover from pagan times; essentially embedding the deceased spirit [via his/her corporeal remains] into a particular environment. Christianity [as an example] officially frowns on it, even though it's a widely-practiced tradition [this tolerance, obviously, varies between sects].)

A truly atheistic society would simply incinerate the body to dispose of it.

You are correct, sir! While I feel there is a sort of formal religion, it is not something that dominates their lives. It is only observed in certain aspects or events of their life.
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#18 Dvandom

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 12:31 PM

I brought up and dismissed the funeral in my original post. It's a sight gag, and only weakly indicative of anything. A funeral with a Catholic-style priest in that song no more makes them religious than the ham on the table in one scene makes them carnivorous. icon-arcee.gif

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#19 Sobana

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 03:52 PM

Excluding the Catholic-style priest entirely, the mere fact they have a funeral in general is evident of some believe in an afterlife. And no, I don't think the coffin was the sight gag seeing how far out of the shot it was.
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#20 Dvandom

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 05:11 PM

Before this derails too much, I'll point out that to atheists a funeral is for the benefit of those who are left behind, a way to help them reach closure, etc. It does not require belief in an afterlife to want one's loved ones to have a last chance to say goodbye.

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