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The horn of Africa was once dominated by polytheistic religions, among them the religious system of Egypt. Over time, however, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all took root in that area, and have mostly displaced the older systems.

Imagine a historical fantasy culture set here, circa 500 CE (After Christ, before Mohammad). The older gods are real, immortal physical beings with magical powers (blessing and cursing, augury, changing form, perhaps some combat powers). While they can travel long distances in a very short amount of time, they are neither omnipresent nor omniscient. These gods do not always get along with one another, but there are dozens of them, and the world is big enough that they have learned to get along with each other.

Monotheistic religions represent a Deity who is not physically present, but is more generally able to see and take action. That, and the fact that you can't really fight what you can't see, means they can't directly block a monotheistic God. This is allowing those faiths to displace the older gods in popularity.

In that context, I am trying to figure out how the lesser gods will behave. Are they going to treat the peasants better, to win their worship, or treat them worse, out of spite? What specific things might they do to the people, or to each other? How does one proselytize in this environment?

To avoid this becoming a pure "i think..." question, I'm hoping that history buffs might have some examples where one group of nobles was superseded by another, and how they treated the peasants as a result. (Still, I am open to all good ideas in this area, even if not historically-based).

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  • $\begingroup$ Are the gods' powers increased by faith or do the gods just like being worshipped? That will be a big factor in how they treat people. $\endgroup$ – SRM Mar 4 '17 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ Loss of worshippers is not an objective loss, but a subjective one. The power of a god is not affected by faith, but the reputation of a god among her peers is affected by faith. I'd compare it to being an unpopular middle school student -- it isn't the end of the world, but the emotionally immature might disagree. $\endgroup$ – papidave Mar 4 '17 at 19:58
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The Middle school comparison is fairly apt. If you look at the shenanigans that the Greek and Norse gods got up to in the legends you get the idea that they are all middle schoolers with enough power to get away with stuff. Terry Pratchett also describes a lot of the Gods in the Discworld books in kind of the same terms. This would set the stage for what would happen with the rise of Monotheism in the region.

Anyhow, as monotheism catches on, the polytheistic gods are going to get mad. While people won't deny that they exist, they are going to start denying that they are gods. They will begin calling them Angels or Demons or anything else other than "gods" Maybe they would get rolled into saints. Some of them will go with it, not happily, but they will go with it. Some few will rebel, taking it out on the pitiful humans. This might well lead to a broad scale war of the gods. The Monotheistic god may or may not get involved.

You asked about maybe history on this sort of thing, but all you have to do is look at the stories of the Fall of Lucifer. The pattern is there, plain as day.

As far as stuff in human society, you can see traces when you look at how Nation States form. Europe was a mess in the Dark Ages. There were hundreds of petty kings all over the place. Every so often, a strong leader like Clovis or Charlemagne would come along and be a uniter/conqueror. All of those guys who previously claimed to be kings are now suddenly just Dukes, Earls, or Barons. There is your parallel. No longer kings/gods, now Dukes/angels.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for identifying an actual example that illustrates some responses. $\endgroup$ – kiltannen Mar 5 '17 at 11:53

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