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In my world there are a race of god-like beings (don't age but can be killed, very powerful mages) but they are not intended to actually be gods.

Despite this they are worshipped as gods by many of the lesser mortal races and adopt the roles of gods. They're somewhat inspired by Stargate's Goa'uld or Ori.

At some point they cause a world wide cataclysm through their actions that practically wipes themselves out and once society rebuilds they are then seen by many humans (and elves and dwarves) as false gods instead (though some will still worship them).

But lately I've been thinking of whether they are really gods or not.

So my question is; What makes a god?

Is it power and long life?
The fact you are worshipped by others?
Do you need to have created the beings who worship you? (my 'gods' did not create the mortal races)

Are my beings actual gods or not?

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    $\begingroup$ hmm I'd say being worshipped for their power would be the thing that makes them gods but it's possible that they may need to be the creator $\endgroup$ – Styxal Apr 11 '17 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Styxal, that does seem the most likely criteria. In which case my race would be actual gods (alongside things like the Goa'uld in Stargate). $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 11 '17 at 10:14
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    $\begingroup$ This sounds like a philosophycal question. Are you sure that you are asking about building a world? A discussion on Philosophy.SE might give you better answers. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Apr 11 '17 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose, but it's mostly relevant to the creation of the world so I thought I'd ask it here, from the point of view of people creating worlds. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 11 '17 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ Kill one, and you are murderer. Kill thousands and you are conqueror. Kill everyone and you are a god. $\endgroup$ – Antoine Hejlík Apr 11 '17 at 14:38
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What is a god?

Gods are essentially immortal (or nearly immortal) supernatural beings with personal agency. The personal agency part is important, because otherwise we are speaking of ordinary natural phenomena or laws; it is their personal agency which distinguishes gods from the blind forces of nature.

(Gods are not necessarily completely immortal; being almost immortal is often good enogh. For example, Baldur of the Norse pantheon was famously killed by Loki — complicated story — with a spear made of mistletoe.)

As supernatural beings, gods cannot be fully comprehended by the minds of mortal men; various religions provide various methods of perceiving the divine, always through a form of empathy or ecstasy and never through reason. Some religions even state explicitly that mortal men cannot comprehend the divine and shouldn't even try.

But in practice, a god is simply a supernatural entity which is respected as a god by mortals. This purely phenomenological approach has the merit of avoiding complicated questions, such as, how can Venus be a goddess when Yahweh is the one and only God? Venus was respected as a goddess by millions of followers, had countless temples, priests and priestesses, she had rituals, she received prayers and sacrifices: this makes her a goddess, and any complicated questions regarding her relationship with the One of Buddhists or Gnostics, or with the one and only Yahweh, the God of Hebrews, Christians and Muslims can be left to learned theologians.

How can one become a god — the hard way

The luscious Greek mythology provides an excellent and detailed example of a mortal who became a very successful god, with thousands of temples and millions of devoted followers: Hercules, or to give him his Greek name, Heracles — "glory of Hera", a splendidly ironic name, given that Hera, the sister and wife of Zeus, was actually his determined antagonist.

The basic myth is that he was the son of Zeus, the supreme god, and Alcmene, a mortal woman. As the son of a mortal woman, Hercules was mortal; but Zeus wanted to provide him with divine powers, so he had his (and only his, no mother — long story) daughter Athena surreptiously place the infant at Hera's breast, so he could take divine milk. Athena did so, and Hera unknowingly nursed the infant Hercules, thus enabling him to gain superhuman powers; when she realised that the infant at her breast was the hated bastard son of her unfaithful husband, she threw him away, in the process spilling a few drops of milk on the firmament and producing the Galaxy, the "milk stain" (from galactos, "milk").

Hercules grew to be a superhero, performing amazing works, including descending into the netherworld and stealing the three-headed divine dog Cerberus who guarded the gates of Hell, taking part in the expedition of the Argonauts and liberating Prometheus from his chains.

Eventually he died, poisoned out of jealousy by his own wife Deianira with the blood of Nessus, a resentful centaur whom Heracles had killed. Heracles built his own funeral pire and climbed on it; as the pire was burning, Zeus raised him to Olympus and made him an immortal god.

After his apotheosis Heracles became the god of strength, heroes, sports, athletes, health, agriculture, fertility, trade, oracles and divine protector of mankind; many cities raised temples of Heracles and honored him as their protector god; there were at least ten cities named Heraclea (including modern Saint-Tropez, and three cities in Asia Minor which still keep the name — Ereğli in Turkish).

How can one become a god — the easy way

  • Become Roman emperor. Many emperors were made gods by their successors, with temples, and priests, and rituals, and sacrifices. Some even made themselves gods, although this was considered bad manners.

  • Become the lover of a Roman emperor. The best known example is Antinous, the lover of emperor Hadrian. After his death, Antinous was deified (and assimilated with Osiris, thus making Hadrian a lover of one of the highest gods of Egypt). The cult of Antinous proved exceptionally successful, persisting until the 4th century when it was finally suppressed by the increasingly fundamentalist Christian church.

  • Become a close relative of a Roman emperor. For example, Caligula deified his sister (and lover) Drusilla and raised temples in her honor, complete with priests, rituals and sacrifices.

Distinguishing between a creator and a god

This is the main concept behind neoplatonism and gnosticism. Neoplatonism, of which the best known exponent is Plotinus, was a religious and philosophical movement which started around the end of the 2nd or beginning of the 3rd century CE and for several centuries competed with mainline Christianism; gnosticism is a bit older and lasted a bit longer. The basic idea was that the world as we know it was created by a Demiurge (literally "craftsman" in Greek), a sort of lesser divinity of ambiguous ethic position who assembled the imperfect visible world; some gnostic strands even equated the Demiurge with the Devil. Only by transcending the impure world created by the Demiurge could a man hope to know (hence "gnosticism" from Greek gnosis, knowledge) the "real" world and be united with the One god.

(This is a grossly simplified and potentially misleading view. Do follow the provided links and read on neoplatism and gnosticism.)

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You could ask on Philosophy SE. There is no universally accepted definition of "god". One, with some following, is due to Mattew Coates. He defines god as:

An eternal power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness.

By this definition, a god cannot be killed, so a god must be to some degree supernatural. A god is not some manifestation of us, god is not "the good that men do". God is powerful - God doesn't need to be all powerful, but a being that cannot act in the universe isn't god. God is good, a god doesn't have to be perfectly good, but a god can't be purposefully evil. God isn't a devil.

A god doesn't need to have created the world. A god should be capable of responding to prayers but doesn't need worshippers.

By this definition, your beings are close to gods, but their mortality counts against them.

You can compare this definition with gods and others that have been worshipped/honoured on Earth and ask how your mages fit in:

Gods

  • Yahweh
  • Jesus (in Christianity)
  • Shiva
  • Vishnu
  • Ameratsu
  • Zeus
  • Apollo

Non-gods

Non-gods, people

  • Jesus (in Islam)
  • Mohamed
  • Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)
  • Mary
  • Moses

Non-gods, Impersonal powers

  • Mana
  • Qi

Non-gods, devils

  • Satan
  • Ravana4

Non-gods Fiction

  • Yoda
  • Fëanor
  • Dumbledore
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    $\begingroup$ Hm, there are certainly examples in both mythology and litterature of mortal gods. In nordic mythology, Balder was killed for example. The god-is-killed-and-resurrected theme is also recurring. I also believe that there are several belief systems where all or some "gods" will die in some Armageddon-like event. $\endgroup$ – Guran Apr 11 '17 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, there are quite a few examples of mortal gods (though they are often able to come back to life by various means). I would also argue there are quite a few gods who are not 'good'. Loki does a lot of harm and 'evil', Hera is vengeful and jealous. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 11 '17 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I think the Coates definition is most useful as a starting point for debate. $\endgroup$ – James K Apr 11 '17 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ Jesus of the Christians is not a god, he is a hypostasis of the one and only God. And gods obviously do not necessarily "make for righteousness", for example see Eris and Ahriman. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 11 '17 at 21:29
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Power, it's all about power in one way or another. From Wikipedia:

In monotheism, God is conceived of as the Supreme Being and principal object of faith.The concept of God as described by most theologians includes the attributes of omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), divine simplicity, and as having an eternal and necessary existence. Many theologians also describe God as being omnibenevolent (perfectly good) and all loving.

Conceptions of God in monotheist, pantheist, and panentheist religions – or of the supreme deity in henotheistic religions – can extend to various levels of abstraction:

  • as a powerful, human-like, supernatural being, or as the deification of an esoteric, mystical or philosophical entity or category;
  • as the "Ultimate", the summum bonum, the "Absolute Infinite", the "Transcendent", or Existence or Being itself;
  • as the ground of being, the monistic substrate, that which we cannot understand; and so on.

But what is a god is subjective. To me a god needs to be the creator. When you don't create the world you're not a god of it. Ageless seems a requirement shared by most gods though. So not aging could be a sign of divinity.

Most of all a god needs to wield power. A being that doesn't age but wields limited power is an immortal, not a god. Again creation takes power. In a way if we write a simulation, we're gods to those simulated. We can write any code we desire, we are their creators and if we run the simulation that much faster, appear timeless.

Is worship required? I don't know. The call the Greek and Germanic gods still gods but they're barely worshipped these days. One could argue Buddha is worshipped but isn't considered a god. Cult leaders are routinely worshipped as well. I'd say worship itself doesn't lead to godhood.

In 'Does God Matter (2004) it's argued that there is no clear consensus on the nature or even the existence of God.
Froese, Paul; Christopher Bader (Fall–Winter 2004). "Does God Matter? A Social-Science Critique". Harvard Divinity Bulletin. 4. 32.

Carl Sagan in The Demon Haunted World argues there is a difference between a creator and a god. His main point being that an invinitely old universe disproves the existence of both. But he sees them as seperate entities.

Sagan, Carl (1996). The Demon Haunted World p.278. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-40946-9.

So I'm not sure it can really be answered. If they're gods depends on your opinion as the writer. Are they considered gods by the people in your story? They clearly are, but if that makes them gods is up to you.

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Holy question Batman!
What makes a god is his (or someone who want to use him) will to become a god.
There are two possibilities:

  1. You are a being that is unkillable (or very hard to kill to point that no one can survive the try), strong, wise. In some or any way better than normal person. You can have will to become god by using and showing your superiority.
  2. You don't have any powers but you create a false stories of your godlike exploits. winning golf in 15 hits, being born on a mountain under double rainbow and north star. Turning water into wine. Having the power to grant frolic time with 47 virgins.

    And it's you who can do all of the above or you can use them to your own gain. You claim to know the guy from the stories or know events to have sex with a girl. Or get free stuff. Or control whole country.

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