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My polytheists with competing moon gods are going to have to contend with (what they think is) a new moon, and thus a new moon god, showing up. What are the most plausible ways for them to react to this? We have historical precedents for a new god replacing a local god or gods (religious conversion), and of going from polytheism to monotheism, but I don't know of any cases of a change like this within the context of an existing polytheistic religion. As far as I'm aware the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Norse didn't have new gods added to their pantheons over time, for example. (If I'm wrong about the lack of precedents, I trust that somebody will straighten me out in an answer. In particular, I know very little about eastern religions, so maybe there's something to be learned there.)

Constraints:

  • They don't see this as some other religion's god, like happens when a religion seeks to displace local gods with a new religion. They have a pantheon of gods with a history/mythology already, and now it appears that those gods' number has increased.

  • Their pantheon consists of a sun god, the moon gods (one per moon), and an earth god. (There's no overall boss-god.) They don't have specialized gods for other purposes like war, fertility, lightning, and so on.

  • Their gods have not communicated with them about this (e.g. through prophecy). This doesn't mean that some people won't think they've received such communication, of course.

  • They're low-tech; they won't be launching probes or even building powerful telescopes to investigate the matter.

My polytheists aren't necessarily human, but when trying to write accessible stories I find myself making aliens either relatable in human ways or very, very different. I'd like to stick to "relatable in human ways" here -- not human, but my reader should think their behavior broadly makes sense.

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    $\begingroup$ I asked a question about a planet gaining/losing moon(s). The addition of the new moon would cause tidal forces the locals could mistake for the new deity's anger at being ignored. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 19 '15 at 4:23
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    $\begingroup$ fyi: If you have questions about mythology (such as whether any mythological systems added gods in "real time"), Mythology stack site may be a good resource. $\endgroup$ – Viola Molin Jul 19 '15 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ Polytheists are generally willing to accept new gods into their pantheon. They usually just rename them and go on with business as usual. $\endgroup$ – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Aug 10 '15 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ The Romans added a lot of new gods to their pantheon. It was one of their secrets of success - they did not suppress local religions of regions they conquered, but incorporated them into their own. $\endgroup$ – Tom Jan 17 '17 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ To add to Tom's comment, the Romans even had altars to Unknown Gods, just in case they would upset one inadvertently. $\endgroup$ – kikirex Feb 25 '18 at 0:45
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The lay people would naturally react how they would always react:

  • See if anything bad happens around the time, and use the change to explain it

  • Worry about new taxes/fees/sacrifices that the priests/shamans will demand, using the change as a convenient excuse (see below for possible options)

  • Worry that the change portends something bad, and look for hopeful stories proving them wrong.

  • When possible, try and use the new god's appearance to their secular benefit. "Father, I want to mate with that girl you disapproved of. Clearly, a new moon god appearing on the same day you forbid me means you have to change your decision".

The priestly class would react by amending the mythos to include the new god. And - color me cynical - parlay this to their benefit. Plenty of natural explanations to use:

Path #1: mortal ascension to godhood.

Plenty of examples from our own history. Just taking Olympians, we have Dionysus being granted godhood in many versions (see Wiki discussion on he late addition to the mythos). Same thing happens in Heracles story.

Dionysus is a very good example as he was clearly added on to earlier pantheon separately, as Wiki notes.

Path #2: Baby god arriving.

Again, drawing on Olympic tradition, we have Hermes. Well, the entire set is basically each other's kids :), but Hermes was added on later.

This is probably the likeliest path - having children is a natural thing for human's gods. Your people would probably find details of the new moon (size, color, location) that are in-between of two existing ones and explain that it "inherited" from both parents. Or even more likely, all the moon gods are kids of sun god and Earth goddess (the latter seems to be typically female for obvious reasons).

Path #3: Errand done.

The god was missing due to being on an important errand, and finally got back. Or was completing training or right of passage and now it's done. Probably slip in an obscure legendary prophecy about it (that someone just made up). If I'm the priest making the prophecy, I get to ensure people pay me more goodies as a consequence.

Path #4: Keep up the good work worshipping!.

The god was previously unhappy and unwilling to show its face. As a result of heroic efforts of the priesthood (and now pay us more goodies to sustain that) we got the god happier... and if the goodies keep coming we will work to ensure the continued happiness.

Path #5: We have always been at war with Oceania.

If the religion has a more centralized and hierarchical priesthood (ala Egyptians), not a big deal to amend your official Party Line and add in a new god. You issue a new set of rules, everyone falls in line and worships under new rules. It may be good practice to smooth things over using one of the approaches listed above, but not entirely necessary.


Another likely angle: if your moon gods are themselves specialized (the question seems to reject that option?), a new god would be a patron god of something. And if that something happened to be a recently powerful demographics that didn't have a patron god, they would clearly make it worth your priestly while if you ensure that now the god has them covered.

Maybe, you recently had a rich class of luxury traders. Or a new agriculture branch gained prominence (Who's up for god of Quinwa or Monsanto?)

May be that's how patronage of gods over specific things starts in the first place.

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As far as I'm aware the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Norse didn't have new gods added to their pantheons over time, for example.

Actually, the Romans were quite promiscuous in accepting new gods. See this.

With the vast size of the empire, there were of course many new gods from distant civilizations which the Romans learnt about. Romans didn't tend to think that only their gods were the right ones. If they heard of other peoples' gods they would think that these were real gods who watched over other parts of the world and whom they had simply not yet heard about. And so as they learned about these new gods, new temples were built to these new arrivals in the Roman pantheon.

Isis (Egyptian) and Mithra (Persian) are fairly well-known examples.

It is also not widely realized, but the Roman pantheon was enormous. See Wikipedia for a list. Roman deities numbered in the hundreds, although some of them were seen as aspects of other deities.

Since Norse mythology was oral, and the Norsemen didn't build temples the way the Romans did, there is simply no way track the appearance or disappearances of gods within the tradition. All we know is what was reported in the Eddes.

In general, I would argue that polytheistic religions would probably accept new gods without much fuss, as long as the new gods did not conflict fundamentally with the established gods. If the religion has been around long enough to generate a large body of established writings about the attributes and boundaries of the Known Gods, I'd expect problems, but the existence of multiple gods seems to imply limited powers and limited influences, so the "discovery" of a new god ought to be easily accepted.

For instance, the Greeks accepted Zeus as a sort of head god, although he was hardly either omnipotent nor omniscient (see the divine maneuverings in "The Iliad"), so a more powerful, dominant deity would not be accepted.

The Romans had Jupiter in much the same role, except that there is little Roman mythology, so there is not much basis for speculating on how the gods interacted. This did not seem to bother the Romans much - they just kept adding gods as they encountered them in the course of establishing and expanding an empire.

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps it be worth mentioning also that the philosophers of ancient Athens new that there where potentially other gods out there that they did not know about (there was even a temple dedicated to the "Agnostos Theos" - the unknown God). So when new gods where been preached about, it was made easier to have them accepted. When St Paul first preached in Athens, he proclaimed that the unknown God was the one he was preaching about - the God of the Christians $\endgroup$ – Notaras Jul 19 '15 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ Mithras was the first that came to mind for me, you have any instances of a whole new god (I.e. not borrowed from another culture) coming into play? $\endgroup$ – James Jul 20 '15 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ I have no idea, I'm not a historian, particularly not a Roman historian, nor do I play one on television. Scratch that, I do. Christianity. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jul 20 '15 at 16:28
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Polytheists are much more accepting of new gods and religions, there is always room for more. It's more like they just didn't know about this new god and maybe he/she will smile favor on me. I'm pretty sure most polytheists didn't look on Christianity as a new religion, (at least at first) but the rise of a new god.

There will always be the people who don't like change (Pluto has always been a planet!) but there are plenty of open minded people too. Many are not going to be too upset about adding a new god to a pantheon. I am pretty sure that the pantheons did expand. Part was absorbing others when a new god wasn't an obvious alter ego of a current god. We mostly are aware of the 8 big ones. Looking here at the wiki article shows that the Romans really did absorb new gods.

Now, in your case it will be a little more frightening. They will have an actual visual confirmation that a new god has arrived, unlike the humans, who learned of new gods through communication with other people. This new god will be visible to all at the same time. It will certainly cause some panic. Most will have some fear of the future, but take a wait and see approach. How does this new god play with our old gods? How does it affect our lives? Some will try to gain favor by jumping on the band wagon to accept the new god. Eventually it will become accepted and many new stories will come about explaining the new arrival.

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This is a bit different in how multiple gods seem to have been adapted in ancient history. Usually, a god or cult figure would enter the pantheon of the ruling culture either by adoption, if the god fulfilled a role that hadn't been done before, or was only a "secondary" duty of a major god, or the attributes of the god would be taken by one of the existing gods in the pantheon.

The second option seems to be the more common one, think of the various roles the god Apollo plays: a sun god (or charioteer to the sun), healer, archer, patron of music etc. Apollo is evidently quite multi talented, but aside from being a god, the more likely explanation is various solar cults eventually coalesced around Apollo, and the attributes of these various cults were incorporated into the god we know as Apollo. Other Greek gods were similarly multi talented (Athena is goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, mathematics, strength, war strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill. No wonder Odysseus had her as his patron goddess).

In this particular instance, there is a physical manifestation of the new god, so sweeping the deity under the rug, so to speak, isn't possible. There would need to be a "plausible" explanation for the god to appear at this time and add itself to the pantheon, and attributes which do not belong to other gods will need to be assigned to this one (or, the god can manifest itself with real miracles and declare itself to be the god of whatever it wants to be).

This will also cause a lot of turmoil in the priesthood, since the arrival of a new god will upset the order and hierarchy of the existing pantheon. Religious wars could be fought to determine who exactly fits where in the pantheon, and the new god will probably have a very fanatical group of followers determined to displace the former "top" god, opposed by equally fanatic believers of the "old" religion who are determined to keep the new god in a "junior" position in the pantheon. And of course there will be some free thinkers who will wonder if the appearance of a new moon might mean the pantheon of gods isn't all it's cracked up to be, and propose alternative religions in its place.

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