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Basic Information

Sacrilege is the crime or offence of committing acts which trespass upon something sacred. This may be a literal, physical trespass wherein the offender enters some sacred space which is forbidden to them, or something more metaphorical such as the misuse of a sacred object1.

At its grossest, sacrilege includes the deliberate violation of sacred space - the defilement of sanctuaries and the theft of religious treasures and is a common element in clashes between cultures with mutually antagonistic religions. The abuse and murder of holy persons - prophets, priests and other consecrated persons also tends to count. At the other end of things there is plenty of scope for accidental offence2.

Depending on the exact time and location of the offence, the offender may achieve nothing but offence, or may be subject to judicial or extra-judicial punishments … also, since such things are assumed to offend the deities in question, less mundane consequences may result as well. Curses attached to sacrilege are a common trope - whether accompanying misappropriated objects or laid directly onto the violator at the moment of their crime.

Compare blasphemy where the offence is one of words rather than acts.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Often badly handled in standard RPG fantasy religions (which often have difficulty deciding if their gods belong to a pantheon or not) - if the various gods are all part of a pantheon (such as the Greco-Roman gods, the gods of the Vikings or any other historical pantheism), offending against the sacred objects of one deity may well annoy all of them, even if the gods in question are not on good terms. If actually dealing with a henotheistic setting (such as the world of Robert E. Howard's Conan) on the other hand, any given god may quite happily ignore, condone or even sponsor attacks on its rivals. Which may not necessarily protect the offender from the wrath of the offended deity, let alone their followers.
    • Under some circumstances, a theurge - such as a typical RPG cleric - may find themselves unable to remove the consequences of sacrilege (such as a curse) … for example, if, as above the offender has trespassed against a member of the same pantheon, the cleric's patron may require the offender to make his peace with the offended god before the cleric can act. Or (in the Greco-Roman tradition) at least pay the cleric's god a hefty bribe offering to smooth things over on his behalf.
    • Speaking of theurgy, the use of sacred objects for unsanctioned magical nonsense is also likely to be considered sacrilegious - consider the medieval folk-tradition of tying pages of scripture to the horns of cattle to cure them of various illnesses thought to be brought on by evil influences.
  • Curses resulting from sacrilege are typical RPG fodder - as are the quests necessary to get rid of them.
    • Ridding yourself of the curse the results from robbing an evil temple might require some very unusual forms of atonement … more typical is earning a rescue from a "good" deity capable of shifting the curse.
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