12
$\begingroup$

TL;DR: How can a mortal become worthy of being listened to by the gods?

I'm seeking a logical framework to establish a specific relationship between gods and mortals.

The Relationship:

Mortals can request favors from the gods, such as blessings, help, items, or boons. Additionally, they can ask the gods to curse someone else. However, this relationship operates on a principle of reciprocity, as mortals must prove themselves useful to the gods.

The Gods:

Each god possesses power over specific sectors of the galaxy, ranging from manipulating matter at the smallest level to more specialized abilities like controlling time in certain areas. Some gods even have power over designated objects, allowing them to reverse time for these objects or perform extraordinary feats like uncooking an egg or bringing the dead back to life.

The Mortals:

Mortals are biological creatures with limited levels of fantasy and magic, significantly weaker than gods. The aim is to avoid a scenario where humans rely on brute strength or power to gain favor with the gods. Instead, prayers are not inherently magical; they are simply requests made to the gods. For these requests to be heard, the gods must perceive a benefit in fulfilling them.

The substance of the question boils down to : Why would you listen the request of an ant, what can vermin do for you?

$\endgroup$
9
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ Question sounds like a "divine cookbook"....a la "How to serve man" :) $\endgroup$
    – Gillgamesh
    Jul 24, 2023 at 13:30
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ With Some Fava Beans And A Nice Chianti. $\endgroup$ Jul 24, 2023 at 16:57
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ "How to serve the gods" was the most popular religious pamphlet in Erebia. The gods were very dismayed to learn, much too late, that this was a cookbook. $\endgroup$
    – causative
    Jul 25, 2023 at 2:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are there any examples of mortals not being worthy of being listened to by Gods? Every God story I know has some kind of back and forth argument at one point, or at least prayer is on the table. And if an ant actually asked me anything I'd certainly listen. I listen when my dog brings me his ball as a request to play. A good example of an unworthy request (or a failed attempt at proving worthiness) is when my cat brings me a dead bird. Even then, I still listen, I'm just not terribly impressed. So maybe define listen to better. If it means care then say so in the question. $\endgroup$
    – Wyck
    Jul 26, 2023 at 14:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is a general problem for polytheistic "superman" religions where gods are just super-powered individuals. It does not apply to an omniscient, omnipotent God because there's no reason for him not to listen. He's not losing anything like time or power or attention by listening. He can pay attention to everything at once. And if He has sympathy, He has positive reason to listen as well. $\endgroup$
    – The Z
    Jul 27, 2023 at 18:57

16 Answers 16

26
$\begingroup$

Ok. let's play along.

  • Worship as Power Source: Gods derive their power from the faith, worship, and reverence of mortals. This is a common theme in many mythologies and fantasy settings. The more believers a god has, the more powerful they become. This gives gods a vested interest in answering prayers and granting favors, as it strengthens the faith of their followers and attracts new ones.

  • Gods as Stewards: Gods see themselves as caretakers or stewards of the mortal realm. They have a responsibility to maintain balance and order. When mortals pray for help, the gods listen out of a sense of duty and responsibility. This would require gods to have some form of moral or ethical code.

  • Divine Games: Gods are engaged in some form of competition or game with each other, and mortals are the pieces they use to outmaneuver one another. Answering prayers and granting favors is a way for gods to gain an edge in these divine contests.

  • Divine Curiosity: Gods, being immortal and all-powerful, find mortals fascinating and unpredictable. They answer prayers and interfere in mortal affairs out of curiosity, amusement, or to alleviate their boredom.

  • Interconnected Fate: The fate of gods and mortals are tied together in some way. If the mortal realm suffers, so do the gods, and vice versa. This forces the gods to take an active interest in mortal affairs.

  • Karmic Debt: Gods are subject to a cosmic law of karma or equivalent where every action has consequences. Ignoring the pleas of mortals could bring bad luck or diminish their power, while answering prayers could bring them good karma.

But the motivations of the gods can be as varied as the gods themselves. Some might be altruistic, others might be self-serving, and others still might be inscrutable or alien in their reasoning. The relationship between gods and mortals can be a rich source of conflict and intrigue in your world.

$\endgroup$
6
$\begingroup$

Many gods believe in super-gods. It is a widespread belief among gods that helping mortals increases your chances of being heard by a super-god. So many gods will hear the prayers of mortals and help them, because they believe it will help them, when they pray to their super-god for whatever gods want to pray for.

Nobody has ever seen a super-god, but gods are superstitious beings.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Turtles all the way up? $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2023 at 9:04
  • $\begingroup$ @HansKesting of course... why should anthropomorphic gods not believe in higher deities themselves? It never stops ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Falco
    Jul 27, 2023 at 12:30
5
$\begingroup$

Bragging rights

A bit of a twist on the 'mana' trope. Gods want to maximise the number of people worshipping them, not because it gives them any kind of power but because it gives them bragging rights to other gods, a bit like having a lot of followers on social media.

So in some sort of a divine hangout one god might tell the others "Hey, I just hit one billion worshippers!" and another god might respond "Pshah, what a noob. I've hit trillion worshippers ages ago."

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

Friendship

Just last week, I was boiling my breakfast egg. I tried to time it just right, but I forgot to put my egg in ice after it was done! Instead of a perfectly jammy yolk, my egg was cooked all the way through. Luckily, the egg-uncooking god that you mentioned is an old friend of mine. I sent him a quick mental text, and he turned my yolk back to perfection. You might wonder why a god would do this for a mortal like me, but you need to rephrase the question. Why wouldn't a friend help out another friend?

The real trick is befriending a god. You have to be a real, sincere friend. I knew a guy who treated a god-friend like a personal genie. Things didn't end well for him. Let's just say that he could probably use my egg-uncooking friend's help right about now.

Don't be surprised that gods and mortals can be friends. We are essentially different species, but I'm friends with my cat. And I am definitely not the same species as my cat. Just like people, gods come with all sorts of different personalities. Some are quite gregarious. Others can be shy or lonely.

The only question that remains is: how do you make friends? There are lots of ways to make friends. One option is to make silly comments on their worldbuilding.SE posts.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

Humans do use "insignificant beings". Bees (and other insects?) for pollination, yeast for bread, bacteria for yogurt, bacteria in bioreactors, ...

So perhaps gods can use humans if they come in great numbers. A great leader or a heroine may get a favor from the gods if such leader/heroine gets most of humanity to do something the gods need or find useful. [Lots of plot opportunities there...]

Or maybe they want a genki-dama.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

Divine Law

In the world Dere/Aventurien, the world of the pen & paper RPG "The Dark Eye" (Das Schwarze Auge) in ancient times the gods had an all out war that nearly destroyed the world/universe. Afterwards they got together and decided on the "Mytery of Kha". It is a contract/vow made by the gods to never again directly interfere in the mortal world and to stay inside their own planes of existance. They are only allowed to grant small favours in answer to more or less direct requests from mortals who have vowed their lives to the service of the god and to further the ideals of that god among the population. Also they may only communicate sporadically through visions and never just give direct commands to mortals.
The goal of this law is to ensure that the mortal world will never again be devastated by godly powers. However every now and then some gods will try to circumvent the law or stretch its boundaries, giving potential for conflict.

The main goals of these gods are somewhat keeping the status quo and to spread their teachings and moralities. Oh and ofcourse to be worshipped. Not because their power hinges on it, but because they are narcissts deep down in their immortal personality. Just like every powerful person (e.g. billionaires, heads of governments, heads of religions...) in the real life.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Rules between gods

You said you have multiple gods, each ruling over a certain domain ranging in size and scope from a single object to a region of a galaxy. Let's spice that up by adding some conflict. Let's say the borders between their domains are fuzzy and potentially up for debate. Let's also say the gods generally want to expand their domains. Let's additionally say that they realise all-out conflict between them would be bad for everyone and extremely destructive.

A potential consequence of this would be that the gods lay down ground rules for how they can compete against one another. And one such rule could be that they can't act directly to achieve their goals, at most having their servants and champions do that for them, and they can bless the servants and champions in return. This would significantly limit the destructive potential of conflict between gods while serving as a tension outlet and a form of conflict resolution.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

I think Serg Z. has some very good ideas, but here are some other major reasons a divine being would invest in listening to the requests or prayers of the mortals.

1) Divine Favor: Perhaps certain gods are the founders or creators of certain races, perhaps it is because they feel a kind of kinship based on geographical or cultural similarities to themselves, or becasue they have shared ideals and values with a people. Gods, being immortal and highly more powerful beings would gain little from mortal contrivances. However, seeing the success of their core ideologies or the success of beings they see as children or brethren spread to more of the world would generate favor for the people that accomplish such things, making them willing to 'invest' in such people as a matter akin with it being essentially 'mandated' by their own immutable personalities.

2) Relationship: Similar to the Judeo-Christian concept, the more one invests ones time in serving a deity, the more one comes to understand them and the more the divine being draws closer to them, going from servant, to friend, to family over the course of such time. While divine beings wouldn't 'need' mortals, people are often willing to go above and beyond for those they know and care about. This would not have a purely transactional feel, but it would create a society deeply connected to the gods themselves on not just a practical, but also an emotional and daily living aspect.

3) Positional: In this case, mortals would trade their skills and serve in a specific capacity for a set amount of time in exchange for a certain number and quality of favors. This would see the gods more as immortal monarchs that have a duty or desire to hold the leadership position and thus run a society as effectively as possible. This would lead to a system focused highly on merit and occupation.

4) Limitations: Immortal beings and gods would need a certain amount of divine power/mana/cosmic energy/etc, and thus, they can only dwell or manifest their full powers in certain areas with sufficient resources to sustain them. As such, the Mortal who do not face such limitations are their eyes, ears, and arms in the places their power cannot reach, and/or their protectors when in areas they are unable to manifest their power. In exchange for such service, they offer to use their power for the sake of these mortals once such deeds are done or they safely reach another place of power.

5) Worship System: The gods have to derive their power from somewhere, and in this case, that is in a universal order that may or may not have written guides. The worship of their people is like currency they may use for themselves. The more 'power of worship' they receive, perhaps receiving more from individuals of higher power themselves, the more 'units' of worship they can spend to further develop their own powers, and thus their standing and influence amongst the pantheon.

6) Sacrifice: As far back as human religions have existed, all 'gods' have demanded sacrifice, be it material, service, lives, or whatever pleases the god in question can be offered up in exchange for requests. The greater the request, the greater the sacrifice needed. Perhaps they enjoy the smell or taste certain things or even actions give them. Perhaps they use the items somehow to further their own cause, such as granting them to believers in their time of need. Perhaps they are similar to traditional dragons in mythos and have strong desires to increase their horde with nice things, perhaps they like collecting beautiful men or women for the purposes of pleasure. Whatever it is, they are willing to give in order to receive their desires.

7) Divine Purpose: The gods exist for a reason, perhaps for a specific one or each for their own, and that reason is something they are inexorably, obsessively motivated by. Mortals that help them further meet their goals and fulfil their reason are rewarded.

8) Ascension: The drive of mortals is to become gods unto themselves, and thus, various divine factions have reason to test, prod, bribe, and inveigle mortals they believe have potential to add to their power and influence or that of their faction, and thus offer rewards for trials, bribes to increase affiliation, and so on. In this case, obtaining favors requires skill and intrigue.

Any of these ideas, or perhaps a mixture of some of them, would motivate divine beings to listen and respond to mortals.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Magic is your humans' belief, imposed on the world

Similar to Terry Pratchett's small gods, gods need belief. In this case, it is because humans have some small level of magic. If many humans believe a god of time exists, the small amounts of human magic, over many, many humans, cause it to be so.

Gods created by this method are not inherently aware of their origins. However, they realise that gods that answer no prayers die out, whereas those who take an active role grow stronger.

Humans can also become gods, by this system. A country believing their king is an immortal god makes it so. A mage, who starts off able to do some magic has their power grow as their reputation does - the more people who believe the mage has magic, the more magic the mage has.

It, in theory, would be possible to cut out the middle, umm, god, but it's much easier to get a country of humans to believe in a god of the harvest, than the fact that their granaries spontaneously refill.

There's nothing in this system that says the gods have to be good, only famous. We'd see sort of "influencer" gods - the flashier the god, the more likely they are to attract belief. A god of the harvest that appears as a burning angel, driving the mice from the granaries. Gods who claim natural disasters as their own, pretending that the volcanoes, earthquakes and tidal waves were divine punishment.

Big, highly visible miracles would be standard. People who are best able to get the god more belief would receive more divine attention. Why would you answer some poor farmer's prayer to find their lost cow, if the same energy can give the king something special? Similarly, gods would worry more about losing an important follower than everyday people. It makes more sense, with limited power, to crispy fry a heretic king with lightning, than bothering about some poor commoner.

However, gods who carry out too many evil acts have a problem - people's belief in them changes, and so do they. If you're considered the satan of your world, you can't preform good actions. You receive belief, but it's belief that you make bad things happen. Eventually a cultural myth may spring up that you're imprisoned, or bound for punishment by the other gods, and that happens. An evil god might find that he's chained forever in a pit of fire - simply because the humans believe it.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

user104995, welcome. The mortals could do the same thing that humans did (and still do) in polytheistic religious systems, and trade with gods for mutual benefit. This is most obviously done through sacrifices, and various modes of divination or omen watching are then used to check if the god accepted the offer. The god(s) for their part would provide a desired miracle to fulfill their part of the bargain (assuming you were able to articulate your desires accurately, nothing accidentally messed up your offering, your request is actually within the power of the god you spoke to, the god didn't get so upset by your request that he lied to you about accepting it but has in fact decided to backstab you as a punishment, etc.). You would also perform some rituals which have been determined to please the god, or gods, whose favour you most require, and they will repay this by sort of making things easier for you at a background level.

But you the mortal will never be seen by the gods as being inherently worth listening to, and will be promptly brought to your place if you start getting ideas above your station; sorry.

$\endgroup$
4
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It's still unclear what the gods get from the sacrifices/offerings they receive. What's the use of a basket full of fruits? $\endgroup$
    – Pablo H
    Jul 24, 2023 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ @PabloH, thank you. That's not a problem, because gods don't need to explain themselves - and you don't need to explain to the fruit seller how exactly you plan to use these fruits that you are buying from him either. All you need to know is that your society has concluded through earlier observations that a certain god finds a basket of fruit valuable enough that he would do a favor in return for it, and then you just follow these instructions. $\endgroup$
    – ihaveideas
    Jul 25, 2023 at 8:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, that's the usual explanation given by the cult leaders (who eat the fruit). And it's perfectly fine for story purposes, if the story goes on at the level (viewpoint) of humans. But if the story tells about the gods directly, as characters, I find it a bit lacking. I'd need (as a reader) a bit of an explanation, or hints at least. $\endgroup$
    – Pablo H
    Jul 29, 2023 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @PabloH, thank you. In that case, think of the gods' material bodies, and how the sacrifice benefits those. You may need to go through several steps: say a river god (i.e. a god whose material body is a river) demands fruit, fruit trees decrease erosion and increase rainfall, both of which replenish the aquifers that feed the river while keeping the water clean. God's body thus never dries up, and you too get plenty of water, and the remaining fruit. And the best thing is, you don't need to understand this mechanism for it to work; you just follow the instructions for reliable benefit. $\endgroup$
    – ihaveideas
    Jul 30, 2023 at 17:06
1
$\begingroup$

Natural treasures spawn randomly

Natural treasures are magical rocks, plants, animals, and even people who have unusually high magical potential. The feats of the gods are dependent on these items.

The items are randomly distributed according to magical currents, and can't be easily snatched up by godly powers and so it makes logical sense to get mortals to collect them. Mortals will wander around, find such items, and can sacrifice them to the gods.

If Kronus the Time God wants to reverse time to disrupt Tempolla, the goddess of alternate timelines who creates chaos in spacetime, they need 10 billion clockwork petals. That means they support lots of villages in the hopes of getting those petals. In return, they will use lesser magical powers that don't need natural treasures to support them. They'll summon a chronoserpent to drain the lifeforce of a monster that attacks, give the priests a special time mana that lets them preserve crops for longer, and directly give people rare knowledge that they passively gain from their knowledge of time in return for these treasures.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

First the why,

  1. The gods see themselves as fathers or teachers of humanity so reward what they see as good behavior.

  2. braging rights against to other gods like when your child wins first place in race or in a spelling bee.

  3. To spite other gods, if one god has plans or goals for humanity then other gods can interfere just to try and mess with the other god.

  4. They like worship and or praise. I like when my dog comes over and wags is tail and gets all excited over me the gods could be the same.

Lastly the how

Look at history, Get attention/support of the gods is a common human goal. There are may methods.

  1. Sacrifices, shedding blood is common way to get attention of the gods and show them your devotion. Cattle is traditionally used however for more darker gods humans may be better

There are two methods to of going above and beyond in give sacrifices. First is to increase the amount if everyone is giving a hundred bulls you give a thousand.

The other is to increase quality instead of just a regular bull how about your favorite bull you have raised from childhood.

As for why this works tipicly it shows the gods your devotion and love. And gives them bragging rights.

  1. Offerings, gifts for the gods this can come in form of money for there priest or land for temples. Anything can be used so long as it is dedicated to divine servous in some way. Also look to increase the quantity and quality as you did with the sacrifices.

As for why this works again it show devotion which the gods appreciate, addition gods like pretty temples and well dressed priests like we enjoy nice clothes.

  1. Righteousness/virtue. If the gods have give ideals or commands to their followers then look to go above and beyond to follow or embody the commands and/or ideals.

  2. Bring in new followers, this only works for evangelical Religions but if your god values new converts then working to spread there religion can also be used.

  3. Praise, if your god is looking to increase or improve his reputation among mortals promise to spread words of his good or powerful deeds done for you can be a type of payment.

  4. Humiliating other gods, if you're god has enemies among the other gods then position your request in such a way that by helping you he can flex on his enemies.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Gods like to feast on human food and consider cooking below their standards.

Gods need to eat, they eat mostly godly stuff like Ambrosia. So probably they also have taste like everyone else and enjoy variety of human foods. But why would god waste time with cooking? Let the humans provide food and drink as sacrifice.

Since every god's taste is different and gods do like variety offering same food (while super tasty) does not work for long and for multiple gods.

Helping or using someone provides pleasure to god itself

Gods also enjoy other humanly pleasures from primitive (sex) to something sophisticated like mentoring someone so from time to time they also accept live humans as sacrifice for temporary or long servitude of all sorts.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

It's a job

I have a job which gives me many benefits. I also have a group health insurance, which makes things like medicines cheaper for me.

I work 40h/week for my employer. I log into their network, put in some effort, clock in and out, and in the end I also get paid.

How do you think my employer would react if a random stranger were to ask for money, or any of the benefits? Or how do you think a pharmacist would react if you claim to have health insurance but you can't produce a card or a membership ID to back it up?

Likewise, you wanna get them miracles and divine spells, you got to work for them and your gods are your bosses. This is actually in the rules of Dungeond and Dragons, in which clerics must cleric for at least one hour a day if they want to be casting. I think in older editions they had to cleric even longer.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Here's one I haven't seen yet.

They Have No Choice

Either due to their nature or because of some absolute divine contract, the gods are compelled to heed and answer the calls of mortals. Not because they fear the consequences of not doing so, but because not doing so simply isn't an option.

I could see this manifesting in a couple of ways:

The gods are machines

While the "technology" that powers them is beyond what any mortal could ever hope to comprehend let alone replicate, the gods are effectively nothing more than omnipotent AI programmed to serve the mortal realm for all eternity. These all-powerful automatons could no more ignore a mortal's prayer than a hammer could ignore the swing of the arm that wields it.

The gods are Djinni

Because the gods have no choice but to answer the prayers of mortals, they amuse themselves by doing so in unexpected ways. What amuses each god varies, but it almost always results in a mortal getting their prayers answered in a way they didn't expect - sometimes for better, other times for worse.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

You want to avoid a scenario where a mortals’ power or strength is useful to a god. What are you left with? The mortals’ amount of time spent should be valuable, but the value of any commodity spent should be meaningless.

How to make time itself valuable to a god?

Gods have an infinite, concurrent attention span for each and every mortals time. Gods feed quite literally off of the attention of each and every mortal. Thus the mortal becomes worthy by sacrificing time, and nothing else.

This makes for a rather boring game mechanic. How to make for a more compelling story? Maybe mortals can use specific holy objects which help focus their attention or frequently remind them that they need to focus their attention. Holy objects which help gather the focus of other mortals may be more pleasing to the gods. So for example if a mortal carries around a giant sigil of their god, they may gain favor with the god, at the expense of affecting others, by making them jealous or angry or lovestruck or all three.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.