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Basic Information

Syncretism is the blending of two traditions or schools of thought.

The term is used most commonly in regards to Theology, Mythology and Religion. One of the oldest example of syncretic tradition is interpretatio graeca - where Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome incorporated various local cults and deities into their existing religion as their empires spread into foreign territories. Gnosticism involves a lot a syncretism. A more recent example is voodoo - which incorporates elements of African mythology and religion along side elements of Catholicism.

Syncretism can exist in other disciplines as well.

  • If two political parties form a coalition or merge to form a single party, or two states sign a union to become a collective nation, that is political syncretism.
  • If a wizard masters two magical traditions or schools of magic and blends them into a new spell that uses both practices to do something neither could on its own, that's magical syncretism.
  • The Arts are full of syncretism. Jazz fusion, performance art, modern art, etc.
    • This includes martial arts - a lot of modern styles are deliberate fusions of pre-existing ones.
  • If a game master uses one set of rules with a different campaign settings, or blends elements of two settings and/or two mechanical systems, that's RPG syncretism.



Game and Story Use

  • Using syncretism yourself is a great way to make something new for your setting without investing a lot of time or energy.
    • Need a new country? Grab two that you know a bit about, and blend them together as your framework. "It's like Fin de siècle Paris, but through the lens of the Aztecs." What does that mean? I don't know, but it's probably crazy-cool!
    • Need a new religion? Blend two existing pantheons together, combining the iconography of deities with similar purviews. If your game isn't set on earth, you may need to obfuscate that blending, by coming up with new names and a few unique details.
      • If there isn't a page around here that does these things for you … we probably will soon.
    • One of the benefits of using syncretism in this way is that you don't need to fill in all the little details up front. It becomes easy to improvise because the two sources become roadmaps.
  • A kingdom or empire or organized religion that employs syncretic methods may have better luck extending its influence to new regions than one that forces the inhabitants of those regions to convert to their ways. Think of it as a long-term strategy. Not as immediately effective as brutality and oppression, perhaps, but far less likely to end in rebellion and civil war a few generations down the road.
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