19
$\begingroup$

In a hypothetical fantasy setting, every region has its own pantheon. The deities are real and often interact with other pantheons, particularly between deities that share the same portfolio: e.g. Apollo and Amaterasu party on Ra's solar barge. (The world also has less powerful supernatural beings such as daimones, kami, djinn and assorted monsters.)

It is not logically possible to have multiple mutually exclusive creation myths be simultaneously true for the same world. The deities must all ultimately share a common origin and metaphysics.

Why would the deities be divided into regional pantheons? Is heaven a bureaucracy with regional departments?

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Mutually Assured Destruction $\endgroup$ – Chinu Sep 2 '16 at 13:06
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Sounds a lot like the world of the Order of the Stick. (In brief, inter-pantheon squabbling had unfortunate consequences during the initial creation of the world, leading to a strict non-interference policy between the pantheons within their sphere of influence.) $\endgroup$ – chepner Sep 2 '16 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ @chepner, never mind the interpantheon squables, if you read the mythology the intrapantheon squables were fairly hardcore themselves. Jupiter and Juno were at each other's throats mostly over his shagging anything and everything. If anyone he made a pass at said no he'd turn them into something and if they said yes, she would. If the gods noticed you existed you'd pretty much had it. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Sep 2 '16 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix I'm alluding to a very specific plot point in the comic. I didn't want to be more specific, although I'm not sure it would qualify as a major spoiler. $\endgroup$ – chepner Sep 3 '16 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ This assumption is flawed: "It is not logically possible to have multiple mutually exclusive creation myths be simultaneously true for the same fantasy world". I would suggest that 1) you simply haven't discovered a sufficiently fantastic logic and 2) they are myths. How does logic even apply? $\endgroup$ – Tibrogargan Sep 4 '16 at 1:08
27
$\begingroup$

It's a jurisdictional nightmare. Ra stopped talking to Apollo 2000 years ago after an argument about who got a sacrificed goat from an Island right on the handover point without specifying which sun god it was for. We're lucky the sun doesn't fall out of the sky some days.

Luckily the dead are more easily dealt with, they just go where they expect to, hard luck for some of the Catholics but most people come out alright. Why would the gods take the time to judge when Bacchus is holding a party up on Olympus, the mortals should just be grateful they got to the end of their lives without being turned into swans.

And those thundergods, a bunch of primadonnas the lot of them. You should see what happens when Zeus crosses the line into Jupiter's territory, the sparks really start to fly then.

for no god may undo what another god has done

-Ovid, Metamorphoses

$\endgroup$
8
$\begingroup$

There are some answers regarding regional jurisdiction, but I think the creation myth is just as interesting. I will assume that your world is made from scratch, even if you mentioned the names of some gods from classic religions.

Divide the world into tiles. A hexgrid if it is a flat world, something like a truncated icosahedron (soccer ball) if it is a sphere. There are boundaries between the tiles that can be "activated" or "deactivated". Perhaps a scorching desert that can turn more or less lethal. Or forbidding mountains where passes are opened or closed by exceptional avalances. Or there is a "spell" that simply keeps humans from wondering about the next valley.

  • Each pantheon is free how they create their world tile, as long as the end result is compatible with the adjacent tiles. They can start with a void, or an expanse of water, or whatever, to create dry land.
  • They are free about timing, too. They can start any time they like, they can take as long as they want, the boundary will disappear as soon as both sides are finished.
  • The same could happen at the end times. As soon as a pantheon wants, they can raise the boundaries and bring their tile to the desired end state.

It remains to be decided if this setup is the result of a higher power than the various gods (a power that may be anthropomorphic or not), or if it comes from a cooperative worldbuilding effort of the pantheons. A higher power may see the gods restricted to their tile until that tile is up to spec, or gods can make the decision. If they are impatient, there may be a biblical flood just because a thunder god mixed metric and imperial units during the meeting of the atmosphere and hydrology subcommittee -- he was never really interested in water, anyway.

$\endgroup$
8
$\begingroup$

So no one has yet covered what influence faith has on the deities. And if faith or human perception actually shaped these particular god-like foreces or ideas in some way.

Therefore, in this model, gods are mutable, and become what is believed.

They might have originally been simply the force of the sea, or just an energy of the underworld, but what people believed shaped them

Thus, there is a creative force which brought the world into being, and the gods were simply a part of that godlike energy, eventually breaking off into parts, as they got to be too large when fed by belief.

In the realm of the dead, you go to the place you believe in, with the god you believe in.

There's a couple of ways to do this:

  • Gods have different aspects in different places, but they are actually the same energy--Zeus with a different name and aspect. They may even have a multiple personality thing going and will only dimly be aware of the other apsect. On a cosmological scale, they do the job (so if you're talking Sun god, they get the sun where it should be, in their purest form) and only take the culturally prescribed form/aspects/personality--maybe even picking up slightly different abilities for each.
  • Gods were once part of the same energy, but keep breaking apart Start with a creator god. That god breaks off into different energies because She can't be everywhere at the same time. Then humans start worshiping these different energies, their faith and ideas defining them and feeding them. Different cultural beliefs cause them to split into different entities. With something such as a hearth god or agricultural, that's very much a local thing, and there's no need for the energies to join forces to create an effect (as there would be for a sun god). So, for instance, one sun god uses a chariot, so over those countries where that is the belief, it is so. Where it is the eye of the god, it is so--it's all about WHERE you are standing on earth. If you were on the sun and looking at it, it would only be energy, the function would be performed no matter what, but as the sun shines down on two different countries at the same time, both aspects are true, maybe even AT THE SAME TIME.

The more local the force is, the less likely there would have to be cooperation. A god of thunder in one area could be different from a god in another area, but sun gods would have to cooperate. In a mixed culture there would be clashes and even wars. The gods would use people to spread belief in their pantheon (or team) and it would be very important to them to keep cultures protected from the influence of other pantheons. Having an arbiter god which is a combined aspect or the highest of gods might be a good way to solve disputes and keep a balance.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So basically Discworld gods. $\endgroup$ – Lepidolite Mica Sep 2 '16 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ Discworld isn't the only model of this present in fantasy, but yes. It solves a lot of problems if faith is food/energy for the gods, and to get that energy they actually have to make themselves as much like the idea people have them to get the most energy. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Sep 2 '16 at 20:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1. i wanted to post really similar thing, so i won't and just upvote yours. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Sep 3 '16 at 9:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Related over on sci-fi: Originator of the “Gods Require Belief” Trope $\endgroup$ – mattdm Sep 3 '16 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ @mattdm It's an idea that's been around...thanks for the linkage to it! $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Sep 3 '16 at 22:08
5
$\begingroup$

Most polytheistic religions have gods for specific parts of life and the universe, like bringing the sun, the rain, wealth, reproduction, and so on. Often there are temples dedicated to one or a few gods but aren't always exclusive.

Think of it like government services in your municipality. If you have a crime problem, you go to the police. Fire (or cat stuck in a tree), you contact the fire department. Marriage licenses at the courthouse, and so on. There are also cases where you have consolidated services, so even though the civil engineers and the judicial officials work in the same building, it might be on different floors.

I think in that case the deities may prefer to look at franchising their operations. The "corporate" offices of each god would be in a location that makes most sense for them. A god of wine would probably prefer a place that is good for growing grapes, but has regional franchised locations where the wine of their region is distributed.

So instead of a clearly demarcated region separating one god from another, you would have a series of overlapping jurisdictions (diesdictions?).

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Gods might be tied to or identified with geographic features.

Na is the Goddess of the river Na, Nu is the God of the mountain Nu, Ni is the God of the forest Ni, and Great King No, Fifty-fifth of His Name, is God of the city No. In this way, people construct cultural (or perhaps even personal, for the well-travelled traders) pantheons that include the gods of all the geographic features they regularly see or encounter.

Interaction between gods whose domains do not touch are probably rare, though their faithful might come into conflict. Conflict between gods would be displayed on the landscape. The mountain God Nu might bury a part of the forest Ni with an avalanche as a means of harming the forest god Ni. Ni might send great beasts from the forest to harass the city. King No might sell the mountain Nu to those obsessively-burrowing dwarves to mollify Ni. (Mountain gods often complain that dwarves itch.)

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Remember that most pantheistic gods are basically just humans but better and with some powers. They are divided regionally, for much the same reason that humans are divided regionally.

  1. Distance
  2. Politics
  3. Survival

1.Distance

While much less of a problem for god, than for mortals, Gods still have to walk/swim/fly to wherever they need to go. Though it may not be outright impossible for them, it is still a significant investion of time to go anywhere outside their primary influence. Especially since....

2.Politics

Remember, most countries have been founded as a means to protect yourself against the outside world. Who says that all the gods are friendly towards each other? Gods have to fear either assault from other godlike creatures (titans, frost-giants, ...) or that someone from their own pantheon will use the opportunity to take over (Hera usurping Zeus out of spite).

3.Survival

What do gods eat? Where do they sleep? Greek and Roman gods, surprisingly, are often not immune to mundane threats. Even Mortals from time to time had a shot at dealing significant harm to them. Why go far away from your well defended homes, when the world is so dangerous.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Separatrix and others address the main point well, but I wanted to talk about the "creation myths" part. It is possible to have multiple seemingly contradictory stories all be true, like the story of the blind men and the elephant. Especially considering that, presumably, creation was in the distant past and the details are a bit fuzzy; mortals have only a vague understanding, and the gods, howevermuch they interfere otherwise, may not correct anyone who gives one or a group of them too much credit for creating the world.

Dominic Deegan has a fairly simple example of this phenomenon. Q: Which culture really had the first seer? A: All of them. Imagine how much further you can take it when the events in question are, somewhat by definition, before recorded history.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ A very Good answer $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Sep 13 '16 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ This answer reminds me a lot of the Splendor and Ruin books. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Sep 13 '16 at 3:24
1
$\begingroup$

I suggest that they may be divided into pantheons which each run the world for say 100 years at a time then switch. Perhaps they all disagree on how best to run the world so eventually to prevent worldwide destruction and war between gods they agreed to run as rota system.

The world god have been created by the God who is way more powerful than the gods. Different myths about the worlds beginning are just different interpretations of this higher God. Perhaps it was this God that stepped in too create the rota system in an effort to protect his creation.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I am now imagining the sales pitch for deity timeshares. "You aren't buying a populace. You're buying a share of a populace. You're going to want to rule people some of the year, so why not get a share of a great people?" $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Sep 2 '16 at 19:57
1
$\begingroup$

Humans have separate into their own governments and nations perhaps the gods are the same. There may have work together to create the world but like humans they have trouble getting along, soon after the Creation of the world there start disagreeing on what they should do with they began separating into smaller groups of like-mind gods, this leads to a short war after the war a treaty divided the world into territories and each parathion was giving one territory to rule.

The people in each territory give what ever gods that rule in there home the credit for all of creation.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.