The Gods Themselves*

When I say the word “god”, what comes to mind?

For many people, they get some form of a pantheon, as made popular by authors like Edith Bulfinch. You know the kind, with a king of gods and his queen of gods and then all the other gods with their specific destination of what they’re in charge of.

That’s all well and good, but do you agree with me that it’s terribly limiting? For that matter, it’s not even historically accurate. You just have to look at the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to see that, FWIW, since most people think of Artemis to be a virginal goddess and that’s not what she was at her Temple at Ephesus. The same god meant different things to different peoples, even village to village. Yet, modern people tend to default to Bulfinch-like categories when thinking of such gods.

(Over the decades, I’ve done a lot of reading on various myths and gods, so what follows here is a summation of all that reading. It’s unlikely that I’ll remember any books or titles, since some of this information was gleaned from reading books that were old in the 1970’s, so please don’t ask for citations. This isn’t that kind of blog.)

The thing with gods is that they’re not one-size-fits-all-people concepts.

The Greek gods, for instance, were to be placated so they would ignore humanity. When the gods took interest in humans, epic things happened and epic things meant that life got hard. That’s not what they wanted out of their existence.

If you read deeper into Egyptian beliefs (which changed over the three thousand years of their ancient history), you’ll begin to realize that while all the gods were individuals, they were also all facets of the same divine force at the same time.

The Norse, OTOH, seems to think of the gods as being basically human, with foibles, strengths and passions, but also responsible for bigger things in the world than humans were. The gods were more powerful buddies than, well, gods.

The Celts didn’t really have gods in the sense of that we default to. They had people who were greater than humans, but there also seems to me that they anthropomorphized certain things too big for them to understand, like the sea.

All very different that a list of “gods of”, isn’t it?

So when I think about the religion(s) of a world I’ve created, I don’t think so much about a “gods of” list. I think about the society I’m creating and what their religious beliefs say about that society. About what’s important to that society. About the power levels that any priesthood holds. About whether or not any magic system in place stems from a divine nature. Sometimes the answer is a “gods of” list. That can be perfect. But oft-times, it’s not, so I like to draw from all the options history and my imagination provides.

 

And once the religion’s figured out, then I can play with all the options about how much is actually in tune with what the gods really are….

 

 

* Title borrowed from a wonderful book by Isaac Asimov–the only SF book on my Keeper Shelf

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