Robert E. Howard (indirectly) on religion

I’ve been kind of busy the past few days, preparing for the holidays (you hear me, Bill O’Reilly?  I said ‘holiday’!!!), so I haven’t been able to post much.  This seemed like a good time to share one of my favorite little passages from Robert E. Howard’s Conan book The Hour of the Dragon.  It’s a nice insight into Robert’s views on religious tolerance…

To set the scene: King Conan has lost his throne to an evil wizard, but he’s still fighting and manages to pull off a dramatic rescue of one of his loyal subjects.  The pair get surrounded, but get saved and spirited away by followers of the god Asura.

“Why should you risk your lives for me?” asked the king.

“You were our friend when you sat upon your throne,” answered Hadrathus.  “You protected us when the priests of Mitra sought to scourge us out of the land.”

Conan looked about him curiously.  He had never before visited the temple of Asura, had not certainly known that there was such a temple in Tarantia.  The priests of the religion had a habit of hiding their temples in a remarkable fashion.  The worship of Mitra was overwhelmingly predominant in the Hyborian nations, but the cult of Asura persisted, in spite of official ban and popular antagonism.  Conan had been told dark tales of hidden temples where intense smoke drifted up incessantly from black altars where kidnapped humans were sacrificed before a great coiled serpent, whose fearsome head swayed forever in haunted shadows.

Persecution caused the followers of Asure to hide their temples with cunning art, and to veil their rituals in obscurity; and this secrecy, in turn, evoked more monstrous suspicions and tales of evil.

But Conan’s was the broad tolerance of the barbarian, and he had refused to persecute the followers of Asura or to allow the people to do so on no better evidence than was presented against them, rumors and accusations that could not be proven.  “If they are black magicians,” he had said, “how will they suffer you to harry them?  If they are not, there is no evil in them.  Crom’s devils!  Let men worship what gods they will.”

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