Religion in the Twelve Colonies (RDM)
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The eternal-return aspect between the peoples of Kobol and Earth suggest a parallel or reverse-origin with humanity as a whole, or the Thirteenth Tribe that presumably populated it. See History of the Twelve Colonies for more analysis.
During the memorial following the escape from Ragnar Anchorage (TRS: Miniseries, Night 2), William Adama states, "Life here began out there," reminding the assembly that this was the first line of the Sacred Scrolls, the principal religious tome of the Colonial faith, told to them by the Lords of Kobol many centuries ago.
The Lords of Kobol
Colonial religion is centered on the Lords of Kobol. In the Re-imagined Series and Caprica, eleven Lords of Kobol have been positively identified:
The Colonials appear to use multiple names for their lords, interchanging "Mars" for "Ares", "Jupiter" for "Zeus", and so on.
According to the Sacred Scrolls, the gods once shared a paradise-like existence with the people of Kobol. Later circumstances forced the exodus of the human population of Kobol to the Twelve Colonies and Earth, and lead to Athena's suicide.
The existence of the Lords of Kobol is attested to by the survival of numerous artifacts, including the Arrow of Apollo, the Tomb of Athena and the Gates of Hera. However, although she accepts their historic authenticity, Caprica-Valerii, a Cylon, questions their actual divinity.
The Jealous God
Elosha states that the exodus from Kobol was precipitated when "one jealous god began to desire that he be elevated above all the other gods, and the war on Kobol began." This god was eventually separated from the others. This figure may be related to or identical with "the one whose name cannot be spoken," whose temple is discovered on the algae planet (TRS: "The Eye of Jupiter").
The Path of Olympus
Tom Zarek conveys to Laura Roslin and her followers the news that Commander William Adama had resumed command of Galactica after the attempt on his life by saying: "Zeus has returned to Olympus" (TRS: "The Farm"). By Zarek's comment we can infer that Colonial religion appears to acknowledge the existence of a place called Olympus. It cannot yet be determined, however, if Olympus was thought of as the residence of the gods at a specific physical or metaphysical location of Kobol, as there has been no mention of Olympus elsewhere in the series. If Olympus is a metaphysical locale, this may contradict Elosha's comment that the gods and man lived on Kobol together in harmony. On the other hand, according to the ancient Greek poem Theogony by Hesiod, the gods lived together with humankind until Prometheus' deception at Mecone, after which they dwelt exclusively on mount Olympus and humans exclusively on Earth. Perhaps, then, some transgression caused the Lords of Kobol and humankind to part paths.
Other Mythological Names in Colonial Culture
Various items have been identified which are apparently named after other gods and legendary figures of their faith, although these have not been explicitly identified as Lords of Kobol.
The Cycle of Time
"All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."
"If you believe in the gods, then you believe in the cycle of time that we are all playing our parts in a story that is told again, and again, and again throughout eternity" (TRS: "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part I").
Sanctity of Life
According to the Sacred Scrolls, abortion is "an abomination in the eyes of the Gods". The more fundamentalist Gemenese strictly adhere to this commandment, however the more secular Colonies such as Caprica apparently do not follow this as strictly: officially, Colonies-wide Federal law guaranteed a woman the right to an abortion, at least at the time of the Fall of the Twelve Colonies (TRS: "The Captain's Hand").
While not fully explained in the Re-imagined Series, it appears, based on the information from a dedication ceremony for Nicholas Tyrol and the prayers of Kara Thrace, that each Colonial is paired, or "placed in the service" with one or more of the Lords. Based on the dedication ceremony blessing, Zeus is a considered "almighty" or foremost of the gods, while other Lords are prayed to by Colonials as a proxy to Zeus.
Despite Gemenon's fundamentalist climate, the city of Delphi on Caprica was apparently of a mind to store an important religious artifact, the Arrow of Apollo, in a museum, rather than a devotional institution (TRS: "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part II").
At least some sects of the Colonial religion practice the concept of absolution of sins through confession. Brothers, and presumably priests as well, may hear confessions as demonstrated by Brother Cavil agreeing to hear Anders' confession (TRS: "The Plan"). It is not known if this practice is uniform throughout the Colonial religion or limited to certain sects.
A confession begins with the confessor saying, "Bless me, Brother, for I have acted against the example of the Gods." The Brother or Priest will then say, "Proceed in the name of the Gods," and after hearing the confession, they will end by saying, "You are absolved in the example of the Gods."
As seen by the various separatists orbiting Kobol (TRS: "Home, Part I"), it appears that many Colonials have clothing that suggests a religious deference. In the scene, one older, white-bearded gentleman is dressed in simple colored robes and a round, flat head covering Other distinctive dress styles of other characters in the scene increase the sense of the dedication of religion in the Gemenese people (which appear to comprise the majority of Roslin's separatists).
Kara Thrace, a devotee of Artemis and Aphrodite, prays to them on behalf of Leoben Conoy using figurines that bear a similarity to classic representations of Artemis and Athena. Artemis is depicted with her bow and arrow, and Athena with her helmet of war (TRS: "Flesh and Bone").
Priest Elosha sings a group prayer in a Service for the dead after the Fleet escapes from the initial Cylon attack (TRS: Miniseries, Night 2). The priest also gives a prayer after Colonial One is boarded by Commander Adama's troops to remove Roslin from power (TRS: "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part II").
"The burdens of this life are with us but a short time. For Lieutenant Zak Adama, son of William and Carolanne Adama, brother of Lee, the time was too short, but we take comfort in knowing his life was willingly given in service to all of us. We honor them for that. And thus, it falls upon us to repent our sins and with the help of the Lords of Kobol, make our own lives worthy of that gift. And now, we commit his body to the ground from which we were all made."
(To Roslin:) Will you pray with me? (He begins:) Help us, Lords of Kobol. Help your prophet Laura guide us to the path of righteousness. That we might-- that we might destroy our enemies. Let us walk the path of righteousness and lift our faces unto your goodness. Help us turn away from the calls of the wicked and show us the knowledge of your certain salvation. We offer this prayer.
Temples may have been more elaborate places on the Twelve Colonies, but the spaceborne remnants of humanity presumably use any space they can find on their ships to form a basic temple. As seen on New Caprica, a basic temple may consist of a simple altar with candles, idols of the Lords of Kobol, and what meager offerings the Colonials can give as a tithe. Some prayers are written on paper and burned (TRS: "Battlestar Galactica: The Resistance").
The temple on New Caprica was known as the Temple of Artemis (TRS: "Collaborators"), suggesting that temples are dedicated to a Lord or Lords, and may be related to the pairing of Colonials to a specific set of Lords at their dedication ceremony.
Orthodox Sagittaron beliefs are more anachronistic than the Gemenese's, believing that the mind and body are myths, and that medicine is "an abomination, a sin against the Gods". Sagittarons also blame physicians for the spread of disease due to their ignorance of the aforementioned "myth" of the body and mind. They traditionally do not believe in violence, even to the point of not aiding the New Caprica Resistance in their fight against the Cylon occupation of New Caprica (TRS: "The Woman King").
Other minority beliefs
A small minority of the Colonials were secretly monothiests. While it is not clear if such worship was still in practice in modern Colonial times up to the Cylon holocaust, an unusual temple found on a remote planet suggests that monotheism was prevalent in the Thirteenth Tribe.
After the Second Exodus, Gaius Baltar later founds a monotheistic cult that finds itself in conflict with the established faiths. Baltar's faith comes into direct, violent conflict with the Sons of Ares as well as the general Colonial polythiests. Mithraism is also noted in practice (TRS: "Escape Velocity")
The religious and government bodies of the Twelve Colonies work together. This association is likely based on the religious homogeneity of the Colonies.
Laura Roslin is sworn into the presidency by a priestess, Elosha, who continues on in an advisory capacity within Roslin's administration. Priests also preside over military funerals, without regard for the beliefs of the deceased.
Priests in the Twelve Colonies are apparently not required to practice celibacy, and can be male or female. Chief Galen Tyrol states that his father was a priest and his mother an oracle (TRS: "Resistance").
According to Billy Keikeya, some priests use chamalla for its hallucinogenic properties. The prescient dreams it imparted to Laura Roslin may imply the use of something similar by Pythia, an ancient prophet. Oracles also use the drug.
As with priests, a brother offers consultation and leads prayer.
The only instance of this clergy is Brother Cavil, who offers guidance to Chief Tyrol.
Cavil, however, is revealed as a humanoid Cylon some time later. Because of Cavil's nature, there may be doubt as to whether Cavil is a useful example of the work of a Brother in Colonial religion.
It is probable that Brothers are lay clergy, unlike priests and oracles, who appear to have political status as well as their religious status.
As with Brothers in the clergy, there are Sisters as well.
Sister Tivenan is briefly seen tending to business in the temple on New Caprica, guiding prayer and officiating a dedication ceremony for the newborn son of Galen and Cally Tyrol (TRS: "Battlestar Galactica: The Resistance").
It is probable that Sisters, like Brothers, are lay clergy.
There is little information as to the religious functions of oracles. Dodona Selloi is one of two oracles seen in the Re-imagined Series. She confirms the dreams of a copy of Number Three and the existence of Hera. It is not clear if Selloi is sitting in a tent designated as a temple, but there are numerous ornate or curious inscriptions surrounding and inside her tent that suggest the significance of the oracle's tent or her presence. A second oracle, Yolanda Brenn, gives counsel to Kara Thrace on her strange dreams aboard Galactica (TRS: "Maelstrom").
Priests and oracles may assume their roles due to an personal, possibly inherited affinity to sense spiritual changes or conditions. Galen Tyrol, believed to be the son of a priest and oracle, detects the presence of and finds the Temple of Five alone, based only on his senses, apparently detecting the hidden temple on the otherwise-unremarkable (and undocumented) algae planet (TRS: "The Eye of Jupiter"). However, it is revealed later that he is in fact a humanoid Cylon, one of the (TRS: "Final Five"), and had visited the site before.
A Cylon Connection
While humanoid Cylons show a strict, firm belief in a monotheistic God, referring to the Lords of Kobol as "false idols," a connection between the Cylon God and the Lords of Kobol may exist. During the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, an oracle tells Number Three (who has a dream of the oracle's tent and of holding the believed-dead hybrid child Hera") that she has a message from the one that Number Three worships (TRS: "Exodus, Part I"). This poses the question how an oracle of the Lords of Kobol is able to hear the messages of the Cylon God.
The Temple of Five, which a Number Three uses to visualize the identities of the Final Five", was not built for the Cylons (who were not created until 4,000 years later) but for humans. The Temple, according to the Sacred Scrolls, was built for five priests who worshiped "The One Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken". It is not clear if this was the spurned "jealous god" or another fallen member of the Lords of Kobol.
Kara Thrace realizes her destiny, first from the words of a Leoben Conoy model, and later, in a type of dream, through an entity that took the likeness of Leoben, but was not a Cylon. From death, Thrace returns to the Fleet, not as an illusion, but resurrected -- something that, prior to Thrace, only a humanoid Cylon could do.
In a podcast, RDM mentioned that it was intended that there would be many sectarian divisions and religious denominations within colonial society, ranging from a Hellenic-style Cult of Athena to more Buddhist and Hindu forms of worship, and including monotheistic minorities. Mithraism is presumably one such minority belief, similar to the real-life minority Mithraic religion of Roman times. This diversity was not fully shown due to time constraints, but would later be made more apparent in Caprica.
It seems that Colonial society protects freedom of worship and encourages religious diversity to some degree. However, certain monotheistic organizations such as the Soldiers of the One and the Cult of Baltar are strongly anti-polytheistic, and some devout polytheists such as Jordan Duram take strong exception to the doctrine of monotheism.
The Tauron funeral rite (CAP: "There Is Another Sky") mirrors the Ancient Greek rite of placing a coin on the head of the dead for the Charon, the ferryman who took the souls of the dead across the Rivers Styx and Acheron to The Underworld. The idea of eternal return "all of this has happened before, and will happen again" is strongly present in many forms of Hinduism, which see the universe as cyclical. The use of oracles and icons of deities reflects many historical Indo-European religions from Ancient Greek to Hindu, as well as different shamanistic practices. Additionally the priests of the Lords of Kobol wear different vestments perhaps indicating divisions similar to Protestantism/Catholic/Orthadox in Christianity.
The use of the names of certain real-life pagan Gods as personal names (like the Germanic Odin) as well as the presence of interchangable Greco-Roman names for the same gods (i.e. Jupiter/Zeus or Mars/Ares) may suggest that the worship of the Lords of Kobol uses different names for the same Gods depending on language. Different colonies may call the same Lords of Kobol names like the Germanic Tyr, Roman Jupiter, Greek Zeus Pater, Indian Deus Pita interchangably. Alternatively, it is possible that some polytheists in the colonies worship a different pantheon altogether, or include the worship of other gods along with the 12 Lords of Kobol, just as how there are Titans and Olympians in Greek religion, Asir and Vanir in Germanic religion, or Devas and Asuras in Hindu religion.
The punchline of the joke that Tom Zarek tells Racetrack as he is escorted from the flight deck in "Blood on the Scales" suggests that pedophilia by priests may have been an issue among the clergy of the Twelve Colonies, similar to anecdotes and allegations involving the Roman Catholic Church.