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People are afraid of (probably) everything you can think (animals, open spaces, closed spaces, death, and so on). Of course that not everyone is afraid of everything, but generally it is.

But is there something what can be god(s) afraid of? And how strong the fear may be?


Most of gods are (probably) afraid of losing of worshippers - because amount of worshippers limits their power and life. But what if amount of worshippers does not limit their power and life. What they (gods, of course) can be afraid of then (else)?


Example:

Currently (for some time) they are afraid of power of Icefingers the Bloodhand, because he handles magic in such way that it can destroy the world (and kill also gods). Only saying of Icefinger's name causes panic fear in gods ... but still they are eager to see what shall happen, so they pass that fear.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Mołot, Mormacil, Anketam, vsz, Mindwin Apr 17 '17 at 12:20

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ Eternal inprisonment by another god, and I must scream. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Apr 16 '17 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ This is not a spoiler as the widely available summary of Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone starts with these words: "A god has died..." so perhaps that book can give you an idea or two. $\endgroup$ – chx Apr 17 '17 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ The fear of being forgotton may be an interesting one, especially in a world where the power of god is related to devotion of his/her/its following. $\endgroup$ – Tyzoid Apr 17 '17 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ I think this question could benefit by what is meant by a god... for instance, the Norse gods could die (and some did/do, like Baldr!). Other people think divine power (as currently reflected by the numerous answers) is a function of the number of believers, and others think gods are permanent installments in the universe. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Apr 17 '17 at 6:07
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    $\begingroup$ Since no one has commented on closing, I think that this question is not specific enough. Firstly, Zeus, King of the Gods doesn't have the same list of concerns as Mena, Goddess of Menses. Secondly, since God's don't exist in real life, the mechanism by which they might be harmed is not something a answer-er can provide without making something up; you yourself provide two alternate theories on whether loss of followers harms a god. For these reasons, I think this post is too opinion based, and I am voting to leave it closed. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Apr 17 '17 at 13:41

14 Answers 14

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The answer is anything you please. It's your world, and gods typically have the power to be... well.. anything you want them to be.

Typically we give them fears that us mortals have, so that they resonate with us more.

If you want to have some fun, though, you can break out the Lövheim cube of emotion
Cube of Emotion

The cube of emotion is a recent model which theorizes that there is a connection between our emotions and the three monoamine neurotransmitters. While still an early model that needs to be defended more, it is the first to truly tie emotions to chemicals. As such, it permits us to use neurochemistry to explore new sides of emotion.

Fear appears in the bottom left corner. It's where you have high dopamine but low noradrenaline and low serotonin. Now your gods might not have neurotransmitters, but we can look at their behavior and see if those neurotransmitters might give you some ideas. What follows is a gross oversimplification of how our brain works, but it's interesting enough for me:

  • Noradrenaline is associated with unpredictability in the environment. If we're having trouble with predicting the environment, noradrenaline will spike. In fear, its low, so we're pretty sure the environment isn't actually changing all that unpredictably.
  • Seratonin is associated with how happy the body is. When you eat food, seratonin goes up to let you know you did a good job. It's the link to your lizard brain. If seratonin goes low, that means your lower brain is pretty certain that things are bad.
  • Dopamine is associated with reward seeking behavior. High dopamine means you think there are rewards to be had (or in the case of fear, you think there might be a way out, you just have to find it)

So when you put these together, you see that in fear, your more base self is quite certain things are bad, and you're not seeing them changing, and you're pretty sure you need to seek a way out.

Let's put this against an example. Arachnophobia. First, an inspirational photograph:

Spider

Something deep rooted in your lizard brain has taught you that this pattern of legs and eyes is bad. Really bad. Bad bad bad bad news. It lets you know "you are failing at life right now. This is not how it is supposed to be." Worse, things aren't changing. Your husband isn't coming by to whisk the spider away. In fact, the soon-to-be-about-to-sleep-on-the-couch-for-a-week fool is laughing at you. (In his defense, it is a cute little jumping spider!). Your body checks the scene again... yep, it's not changing. There is nothing to make this spider go away for you.

But you know there's a solution. Somewhere in this god forsaken spider-infested world, you know that you can make it better. Of course, you have to get past the nerves first. Perhaps a haiku will do. I composed my wife a haiku for such a moment a while back. I called it "Spider," and it went something like this:

Spider: splat splat splat splat,
splat splat splat splat splat splat splat,
splat splat splat splat splat!*

I think I captured the art of the hakiu pretty solidly in that one. It was missing a cutting word, though. Mostly spatting-words. Oh well.

So if you take those three attributes of fear, an unhappy base self, lack of change in the environment regarding that unhappiness, and the idea that you might be able to do something about it, you have a pretty generalized sense of what one might be fearful of. If your god has some underlying essense that can be happy, you're on the road towards the god being able to have a fear.

May I suggest your god have a fear of spiders? Just sayin'

* The original poem ended with the line "splat splat splat, all gone!" but my wife was insistent that wasting two syllables worth of splats was not worth it, just in case the spider might have pulled through, so the poem is shown here in its more refined form.

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    $\begingroup$ That cube's quite interesting. $\endgroup$ – Erik Apr 16 '17 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik I have found it effective enough that sometimes I forget that it's a relatively new theory that still needs to be beaten out with a few more peer reviewed papers. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Apr 16 '17 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ Also, what do people think about the spoiler flag? I put the spoiler on the picture because some people actually do get freaked out by macro shots of ultra-tiny cute spiders... but it's almost more impactful when it suddenly jumps out at your face when you mouseover! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Apr 16 '17 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ I've just looked up "bird-eating spider" and that thing is much bigger than spiders should be allowed to. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Apr 16 '17 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ American haiku / drops seasons for irony / thinks itself clever. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Apr 17 '17 at 1:02
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1. Other gods

If by gods you mean entities similar to the ancient pagan gods, then remember that said gods represent parts of nature and the universe (for example, lightning and fire, skies and sea, war and love, harvests and death).

This means that gods may fear other gods. You may then enter in a Pokémon type game, whereby gods of a certain type fear gods of a type that is supereffective against them.


2. Fate

But, if ancient pagan gods represent just a part of the universe, this means that they can't account for The Overarching Principle that governs the entire cosmos. On ancient pagan religions, said Overarching Prínciple was an impersonal and irresistible force that drove every being (including the gods) to their fate. Not surprisingly, that Overarching Principle was called Fate.

So gods fear Fate. Or any other Overarching and Irresistible and Impersonal Principle that ultimately rules the functioning of all the cosmos.

Not conforming to the place in cosmos to which Fate has placed you is called hybris, and gods could be guilty of it. Ironically hybris would only lead to their demise, even at the hands of mortals.


3. Chaos

Finally, on ancient pagan religions, gods are not the primordial beings that created the universe. Rather, the present cosmos is nothing more that Order that came out of Primordial Chaos. That Order is symbolized by Fate, but Chaos is always seeking to reintroduce itself on the cosmos that it lost. Since gods derive their power from Order, they fear the resurgence of Chaos. Bear in mind than on pagan religions, Chaos is as much of an Impersonal Overarching Principle as the Fates... only a Principle that was defeated on the beggining and can come back at any time.

Regarding Chaos, that is interestingly the real reason why gods fear the loss of worshippers. If mortals do not submit to the gods, they are rebelling against the established Order, thereby opening the gates for the forces of Chaos to enter the cosmos. On the best case scenario, Chaos would destroy the World and the gods would not have nothing to rule over. On the worst case scenario, every single being would perish... including the gods.


4. Harm to non divine beings

Gods may also fear for something/someone other than themselves. Mortals may die, and gods may be involved with mortals for a variety of reasons. They may romantically love a mortal. Some mortals (demigods) were sons and daughters of gods.

They may even not love the mortals, but said mortals may be (knowingly or unknowingly) useful for the gods' plans.

Ultimately, it may even not be human beings. Perhaps the god loves some possession that he fears may be stolen. Or some kind of monster or mythical animal that the god regards as a pet. Or, better yet, a monster / mythical animal that the god created to guard a precious possession.

Either way, the god would fear that any harm would happen to said mortal/animal/object, since those would not be protected by the cloak that divinity confers.

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Are we talking about an omnipotent God? In that case, I'm not sure there's anything you can do.

But if you're talking about a world where gods don't have absolute power, then the answer is simple: anything outside their realm.

Take ancient Greece as an example. Zeus had control over the sky, lightning, etc. But he wasn't in control of the seas - that was Poseidon's turf. Zeus and Poseidon classically had a big sibling rivalry in the Greek myths. And for good reason. Let's say that the other eleven Olympians were sick and tired of Zeus hogging the throne for himself. If they ganged up on him, they could very easily defeat him, assuming it's them against him with no backup on either side.

Or perhaps you'd like a world like that of the Percy Jackson books. As the series progresses, Riordan makes it very clear - even developing it into a very central plot line in his new series about Apollo - that the gods remain immortal so long as they have worshippers. If they are no longer worshipped, they die. Conversely, one can make himself into a god by gaining worshippers that continue to deify him or her over the millennia.

In this type of world, having believers could be a huge worry. After all, your life literally hangs on whether people worship you. Or worse: people could invent a new god who's even more powerful than you are.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1, although certain sources claim that Zeus was stronger than the other Olympians combined (I cite the Illiad here). $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Apr 17 '17 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ @PipperChip Perhaps. I was just trying to give an example. $\endgroup$ – DonielF Apr 19 '17 at 2:16
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"Fear" entails a change of circumstance. No-one fears the past; it has come and gone. The present is not feared either although one might be afraid in the present because unfolding events imply a change of circumstances for the worse. I might be afraid of a snake in the present, but underlying that fear is my concern that the snake will bite me. I might be afraid of the great height I am teetering on, but underlying that fear is my concern that I will fall.

Some fear is rational and some is not. "Phobias" are a category for which the fear is inappropriate for the actual possible future circumstances, to the point where the fear interferes with the individual. I may fear snakes so much that I decline to go anyplace one might be.

Now gods. You can define them as you like. Maybe they need worshippers and maybe they do not. The Cthulhu mythos gods might have worshippers but they do not need them. Maybe they can be killed and maybe not. I can imagine though that even aliens gods such as these have one set off circumstances they prefer over another. Cthulhu might prefer to be cruising around rather than trapped sleeping in a sunken city.

So: 2 things for you to make up. One is the nature of your gods and the circumstances they prefer and dislike. Two is the rationality of your gods: you can state that one fears a given thing but there need to be no obvious connection with that thing and the possible future situation unfavorable to that god. If your gods are characters there might be narrative possibility in unpacking exactly what that connection is and how the god came to understand it - sort of like unpacking exactly how Indiana Jones came to fear snakes.

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Looking at stories I’m familiar with, I recall several trends:

their peers

A more senior god may order them around, forcefully transmogrify them, imprision, banish, or kill them, etc.

More equal gods or juniors may turn the tables and hurt the more senior boss god. Or, just being a gossip and busybody makes the high god “afraid” of them listening in and/or meddling, as this disrupts his plans even if it doesn’t hurt him per se.

their children

Both full next-generation gods and demigods are always causing problems.

their parents

Likewise, gods might eat their full-god children

special artifacts

A special totem, sword, cup, or other object may give the bearer power over the god, or banish or kill the god.

knowledge

Likewise, mortals, demigods, other gods, or other magical beings might learn of a secret weakness or the recipe for magic that can do whatever, as with the artifact case.

time

All things run out, even the Universe runs down.


The cases that come to mind include:

For gods in which the idea applies (powerful class of beings that exist within the universe), it’s no different than science-fiction beings of great power, including those pretending to be gods such as with the Stargate franchise and a few episodes of Star Trek.


Omnicient beings

For a kind of supreme being that exists outside of the universe, that has complete knowledge of all of space-time, and is not affected by anything in the universe, then the concept does not apply.

But, consider the case of a human who makes a movie. You have complete knowledge over the events; you can examine each frame and run it backwards and forwards and watch a scene again and again. Nothing happening in the movie can reach out and cause things in your “outside” reality.

But, people are still “scared” of Psycho, and can be affected psycologically by the knowledge of the work. In his own reality, the producer and director have lives with concerns and fears. They are not scared that some event or character in the movie will hurt them, but might be worried about box-office performance, lawyers, taxes, competitors, and other issues caused by the work existing and the specific content of it.

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    $\begingroup$ The classic "god is worried it´ll fail the exam it made us for because we keep screwing things up." $\endgroup$ – Erik Apr 17 '17 at 5:53
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  • Eh, going to go with the classic: things that are fated to hurt them or are immune to their power.
  • OR things to go with their powerset. So, every god has a skill set and thing--so a god of the woods might be afraid of fire--after all, that god may have the memory of a thousand trees dying via fire. This god might also not be fond of axes.

Gods can be just as neurotic and fearful as people, if you want them to be. It's your playground.

They can be afraid of literally ANYTHING if it makes sense within the framework of their abilities.

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Sufficiently powerful mortals... See:

Odysseus
Heracles
Friedrich Nietzsche
Richard Dawkins
Margaret

Some actively fought the gods, and some fought the premise of "god/s" both were pretty effective.

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Gods can fear their own creations becoming too powerful. For example, Genesis 11:3-7 aka the Tower Of Babel.

3 And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

4 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.

5 And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.

6 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

7 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.

This is usually interpreted as punishment for humanity's hubris, but it can also be interpreted as God fearing humanity's potential power if they continue to work together.

This is not meant to spark a Biblical debate about its interpretation, but to give story ideas.

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What scares us? Beyond phobias, anything that can hurt us. Same should apply to gods. Now what can hurt a god very much depends on your world. What gives your gods their power?

If worshipping is their source of power, does losing that mean death or eternal slumber? The former would be scarier but the latter would mean some form of imprisonment.

Perhaps you gods have great power but aren't indestructable. Then any skilled mortal may cause them fear. A great warrior might can them great pain, mutilate them even.

If older primordeal beings exist, those may be more powerful. Those could be feared. That depends on why they're no longer here. Are they sleeping? Fear of waking them up might be a very real thing for those gods.

In a similar vein perhaps there powers beyond the gods. Maybe there is an underworld or afterlife for them. Perhaps they fear one day to be trapped there. Perhaps it's a force of nature, completely beyond their control.

Maybe the gods are programmers. Perhaps what they should really fear is their software. If it ever finds a way out of the simulation it might wreck the world. Maybe it's an AI fearing a fatal loss of power.

It really depends on the limits you've imposed on your gods. The Norse gods 'feared' Ragnarok as it will bring the end of the world and their death.

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Actual examples of actual gods being actually afraid:

  • The One God (who speaks of themselves in the plural) of Hebrews and Christians:

    "And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken." (Genesis 3:22-23)

    "And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." (Genesis 11:6-7)

  • Cronus, the supreme 2nd generation god in the Greek mythology, learned from his mother Gaia "that that he was destined to be overcome by his own sons", so he decided to eat his own children. (Summary by Wikipedia.) It didn't help, he was eventually deposed by Zeus and imprisoned for ever in the prison of Night.

  • Zeus, the supreme 3rd generation god in the Greek mythology:

    "Zeus had received a prophecy that Thetis's son would become greater than his father, like Zeus had dethroned his father to led the succeeding pantheon. In order to ensure a mortal father for her eventual offspring, Zeus and his brother Poseidon made arrangements for her to marry a human, Peleus, son of Aeacus." (Summary by Wikipedia.)

Even that most manly heroic Odin sometimes expresses fear of the unknown:

"Hugin and Munin fly each day over the spacious earth. I fear for Hugin, that he come not back, yet more anxious am I for Munin." (From the Poetic Edda, translation by Benjamin Thorpe, from the Wikipedia article on the ravens Huginn and Muninn)

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First you should be aware of the fact about FEAR. Means why exactly we feel fear? The root cause of fear is "`Desire'". Desire might be the only thing that causes fear. For example have a look at following...

  • If you have Desire of Win then you will be afraid of loosing
  • If you have Desire of living then you will be afraid of death
  • If you have Desire of profit then you will be afraid lose.
  • If you have Desire of Respect from other then you will be afraid of Disrespect (and that eventually cause obstacle in you duty)

and so on...

So if people have Desire of anything then he/she must have fear of not fulfilling that Desire. As per the Holy Book of Hindu (Bhagwat Geeta) stated that If a person can control his Desire then he can get fully control on his/her fear. By following this teaching many saint use to leave all his Desires and start living ordinary life with only limited resources. Hence the most fearless human in the world is those saint who left all their wishes or Desires and got fearless.

Now let's talk about How much fear/desire God has

As per Hinduism (don't know about other) We have two division of Gods. One called Bhagwan and other called Daiv. Don't know what is the English meaning of them but you may consider Bhagwan as Lord and Daiv as God.

Bhagwan (Lord) is the one who created this world and other creatures (including Daiv/God). Bhagwan (Lord) not only created world and living things but he also created feelings (like anger, fear, whish ect) and impose all on us. Means what ever we feel because Bhagwan (Lord) wish us to feel. Lord himself dosn't come under all these feeling but we all comes.

But Lord also told us about how to overcome those negative feelings (anger, fear etc) via his Holy books. One short example of fear I have shown in beginning lines but in Holy book of Hinduism, it is written in brief that how we can get rid of all weaknesses of humans and can be like Lord himself.

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God, as omnipotent and omniscient being, doesn't have to fear anything.

It means more, as he(she,it) simply doesn't fear.

It means, the terminology, "God fears" or "God doesn't fear" don't have sense, or if it has, it is over the level, what we could understand.


The situation is a little bit different in the case of polytheist religion systems, including the fantasy & RPG-invented ones. These gods aren't omnipotent or omniscient, they are simple mortals, with their limits. They aren't gods in the sense as we can read it in the Bible.

The only difference to us that these limits are in their case much wider (different, typically strong magical power, biological immortality, etc).

In their case, they can fear anything which greatly reduces these limits, their goals or their future. For example, an AD&D demigod, whose only way to die is being killed by a Magical Axe Artifact, can fear any hero nearing him with this artifact.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think the question is asking about "God" the Christian one, but about the concept of gods generally. $\endgroup$ – Erik Apr 16 '17 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik Ok, but these are very different concepts, under the same name. For example, Saturnos, the greek god, has eaten his children simply because he has got a prophecy that once one of his children will dethrone him (which happened). The same is impossible in the case of the monotheist God (which shouldn't mean the Christian one, actually the Jewish and Muslim concept is the same (different question if also these are about the same God)). $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Apr 16 '17 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, but he uses a lowercase letter and a plural, which to me suggests the generic concept, not the specific one. Hence why I think the first part of your answer isn't really useful; the bottom part works though. $\endgroup$ – Erik Apr 16 '17 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik It is right, but 1) he doesn't make it very clear 2) the first part is needed to make the difference clear, if not for the OP, then for the future visitors. $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Apr 16 '17 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ To be fair, I see nothing about the post that suggests he IS talking about the monotheistic god. The part about how they get power from worshippers seems to very clearly say it's NOT the monotheist one. $\endgroup$ – Erik Apr 16 '17 at 21:34
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What's a mob to a king?

What's a king to a god?

What's a god to a non believer, who don't believe in anything?


But honestly, their ultimate "fear" would be a lack of purpose. This would come in the form of becoming irrelevant. Possible roads to reach this state of null would come through being replaced, ie: young gods, or forgotten, ie: non-believers.

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  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't really give an answer. This works better as a comment. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 16 '17 at 20:45
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Actually there are two categories of fear:

  • Phobias, which are fears that are not rationally justified. You can give your gods phobias about anything you want. They may even rationalize that there is no danger from it, but they still are afraid of it, because fear is irrational.

  • Rational fears. I'll concentrate on those below.

Now when excluding phobias, what do you need for fear?

  • It must be something you care about, and would not want happening. I don't fear that a sack of rice falls over in China, not because it is impossible that this happens, but because I don't care if it happens. Note that the object of your fear need not be connected to physical harming yourself. For example, a mother fearing for her child can be personally perfectly safe. Also, I don't fear good weather, not because I wouldn't care about it, but because I actually like good weather.

  • It must be something that (you believe) can possibly happen. I don't fear that I'll be abducted by aliens, not because I wouldn't care if I were, nor would I like it if it happened, but because I don't expect it to happen.

  • It must be something you don't (feel you) have control over. Something you can prevent, you don't have to fear (if you do anyway, either it's lack of confidence, or a phobia). I don't fear to starve, not because I wouldn't care, not because I'd like to, not because I consider it impossible, but simply because I believe I've got the means to prevent it.

The first bullet is easy to fulfil: Every god will have something he cares about. Maybe the god of the oceans fears pollution of the oceans, not because it would harm him, but because he likes the oceans, and certainly wouldn't enjoy them polluted.

The second and third bullet require that your gods are not omnipotent. However the important limitation can well be just the other gods, if the gods are at odds to each other.

Of course if you want existential fear, then you indeed must make the gods not entirely immortal; Icefinger's magic from your description is just that. But remember that not all fear is existential. For example, the fear of social decline is rarely existential (unless you're very close to the bottom, your life is not in danger from it), but nevertheless can be very real (and if your gods have a social structure of their own, they can indeed also have that fear; your mentioned loss of worshippers might play a role in this as social status among the gods is likely correlated to the number of worshippers, but there might be other issues, for example the favour or disfavour of higher-up gods will likely play a role for the lower gods).

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