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Building a pantheon: names, roles, symmetry

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Nimue, Feb 25, 2016.

  1. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    This post is primarily me wondering about the religious pantheon in my current WIP, but you're definitely welcome to talk about your own pantheons and how you constructed them. These sorts of systems are always cool, and I like reading about them.

    The idea I've got, which is still sort of gestating, is a system with four gods for each of the four seasons. Within each seasonal group, there is always an aspect of the Goddess, an aspect of her Husband, and two lesser gods: one representing a high calling, the other representing a low calling. To put this into more comprehensible terms, here's a list.

    Aspects of the Goddess: Maiden, Mother, Huntress, Crone
    Aspects of her Consort: Lover, Lord, Warrior, Sage
    Sacred Attendants: Healer, Weaver, Bard, Seer
    Profane Attendants: Sower, Fisher, Shepherd, Smith

    Which sorts out to mini-pantheons for each season.

    The gods in spring: Maiden, Lover, Healer, and Sower
    The gods in summer: Mother, Lord, Weaver, Fisher
    The gods in autumn: Huntress, Warrior, Bard, Shepherd
    The gods in winter: Crone, Sage, Seer, Smith

    The lesser gods are also balanced in gender but alternating, so the Healer is male and the Sower is female, while the Weaver is female and the Fisher is male, and so on. Not sure if I want them to be the Son and Daughter and so kind of constant figures through the seasons, or varying and unique figures.

    Does that make sense, and does it seem unbalanced anywhere? Any ideas for better roles? Right now I feel like it works not to give them names (they would be referred to as "the Warrior" etc in text) but part of me feels like I should, particularly since the setting is based on early-medieval Ireland and the Celtic gods did have names. (On that note, does it bother anyone terribly that I've shoehorned a fourth aspect into the Triple Goddess? I just have a base need for symmetry!)

    In story context, the gods will manifest at points in the season, so I don't think I've hobbled myself with a bigger system than I can safely convey, there will be good points for exposition. The real reason for this seasonality is that there are plot-important seasonal rituals, which happen at the equinoxes and solstices. I had originally considered using the Celtic holidays--Imbolc, Beltane, Samhain, Lughnasadh--but the solar points work better with the chronology and I like having some reasoning behind it. While I'm at it, I may as well throw out the names I'm using for the ritual holidays:

    Springsane, Midsummer, Faeltane, Midwinter

    These, I'm not so sure about. Does it bother anybody else that some are prosaic and others are made up? Is Faeltane too close to Beltane in a bad way? Suggestions are definitely welcome.
     
  2. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    I would suggest getting replacing the "maiden" aspect or at the very least renaming it. A "maiden" goddess with a consort is a bit contradictory.

    I don't see an issue with leaving the gods unnamed, as it was something I did with my major pantheon (in the Common Tongue at least). However, having a god named the Lord might get some push-back from certain religious groups if that's something you care about.
     
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  3. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Agreed, though I'd take it in a different direction. I'd nix the Lord, pair the Lover with the Mother, and name the first aspect of the God something else synonymous with a young man.
     
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  4. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Ooh, good call. I like Mother and Lover much better. I'm not incredibly concerned about religious opinion, but the simple fact that Lord has strong connotation already is something I want to avoid. Same reason I have a Sower but not a Reaper, really. I guess I'll just go with "the Youth", which I had thought about before but discarded--I was originally thinking of it as two gods per season, and wanted a little more variety in role, but I think the lesser gods provide that now. Youth, Lover, Warrior, Sage definitely matches the Goddess's aspects better.

    The maiden-with-a-consort thing doesn't bother me. I don't even think they'd use the word "consort" or "attendants" in-world, it's just terminology I'm using to get my head around it. They can be a couple or pairing if it works better, but I want to keep the sense that the Goddess is the primary locus of the religion.
     
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  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    My only reaction is that it's a little neat and tidy, you could wrap it up perfectly in a 4x4 grid. Real things are sprawling and messy. I feel like, now that you have your grid box, you should take a hammer to it and add something to the rubble.

    Just as an example, you've got Weaver as Sacred and Smith as profane. That seems backwards to me - but nevermind me. Maybe it was true, but a hundred years ago there were advances in metallurgy, and now Smiths are held in higher regard and nobody cares about Weavers. So now the Weaver/Smith thing is weird for people. That's the kind of messy and weird (and admittedly, probably irrelevant) thing that makes things feel real.

    It's like you have . . . . . ohh gag me for saying this, but it's like you have a Mary Sue system.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
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  6. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Haha, you know we can't settle on a definition for a Mary Sue--how're you going to apply that to a religion? What the heck is a Mary Sue system of belief xD

    I get it, though. The sad thing is, I love symmetry and I love things fitting into little boxes and you can pry that away from my cold, dead hands. It's possible that some grit and subtlety will build up around this, as it's just an abstract thing right now, but I like having a balanced symbolic base for it all. I hear your crit, but realism honestly isn't the primary thing I'm aiming for with my stories. I'd like them to feel more like fairy tales than history. Not everybody's cup of tea, just mine.

    Incidentally, I was thinking that the difference between the sacred and profane callings was that magic would be commonly infused with the sacred ones--druids were likely to be healers, weavers, bards, or seers (for sure). Weavers is probably the weak point in that line of thought, but weaving magic does show up in the story-background...

    *ruminates*
     
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Okay, to give a more concrete example, because the Smith/Weaver thing was probably just useless, I have six gods paired off into couples, where each god is responsible for a magic system that's related to the other one in the couple. Karma and Rebirth, for instance. Six gods, three pairings, six types of magic (related pairs). Neat and Tidy.

    The gods took a vow that limits their interactions with the world to their role in the magic. Only, one of the gods broke the vow, and now the system is all out of whack.

    On top of that, there's a sprawling mess of ancient artifacts and magical traditions and even immortal reborn souls which all tie back to the gods and their influence.

    That is, there's the neat and tidy system, but it's broken, and sprawling, and messy.

    In my case, though, it's also an integral part of the story. It's front and center, so the system has to feel more lived in and used. The more your system is in the backdrop, the less important that might be.
     
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  8. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    I wouldn't necessarily call it backdrop, but the gods in this story are very distant, far more like forces of nature than people. They can't meddle directly on earth--or maybe they simply won't, unless something is asked of them and a suitable ritual or sacrifice made. They maintain the balance of seasons, life and death. While their influence does show up in the story, the plot isn't about the gods, it's about an ancient king who stole power from the gods, the curse that resulted, and the hero and heroine unraveling this curse and righting the balance. Yes, it's incredibly cliched, and I love it.

    However, I think your point holds in regard to the humanizing trappings of the religion built around these gods. I think there would be a great many idiosyncrasies in the way that common folk relate to them, tell stories about them, and how they believe that they work. I generally feel out this sort of thing as I write. There will undoubtedly be an editing run at some point to create a cohesive impression of the religion in how people pray, think, and speak about the gods.
     
  9. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    Having both Sage and Seer seems redundant, maybe you should give a new job to one of them?
     
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  10. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Troubadour

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    My reaction, other than agreeing with Devor that its a bit tidy, is that I have no idea what this religion is doing for people. There's no inherent conflict. Most religions offer something to their believers. There's usually some sort of division order vs chaos, suffering vs enlightenment ect. There may be more than two sides, but the incentive for following a religion is usually that you want what its offering and something is preventing you from achieving it on your own.

    Of course this is fantasy, so you could have a religion that doesn't do any of that, I'm just a little weary.

    I also agree that having sage, seer, and crone is a little redundant. I would have one fulfilling a wise woman/man role (knowing what has passed), a seer (knowing what is to come) and then replacing the third with something else. Personally I think the addition of a more playful aspect like an adventurer or a fool might be a nice choice, but that's not really a winter aspect in my opinion.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
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  11. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Er, well, I haven't really gone into the principles of the religion--this was mostly just a post about names and patterns in a pantheon. I haven't put as much thought into the practical aspects of the religion as the grand plot-important parts, but I can try to expound on it.

    The setting is an island hold, and an agricultural, pastoral, maritime society. Folk worship the gods primarily to ensure good harvests, good fishing, fertile livestock, healing from illnesses, etc. Rituals and offerings of milk, first fruits, crop harvest and animal sacrifices on the four solar holidays are an important part of that. The two sides here would be the seasons in cycle, death bringing life and fertility again, versus a world out of balance. There's also an aspect of power balanced between lords, druids, and common folk, hence the roles represented in the pantheon.

    When the story starts, the land is very much out of balance because of a power-hungry ancient king and sorceress, but I'll not type out a plot summary on my phone if it doesn't help answer your question. Certainly, none of this is original, but I like the way it feels.

    Edit: Forgot to address the sage/seer thing. I've thought about it, but I like having those as separate figures. The Sage is the wise old man, and the Seer is specifically a figure of divination, represented with tools of augury. Among the druids, a seer has a very specific role, so I feel like it's distinct enough. I'll definitely think about it though.

    I'm not sure that a trickster god would really fit in--all of these figures are more representative of productive roles in society, rather than personalities.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
  12. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    I agree with Devouring Wolf that it would be interesting to have some more conflict within the pantheon. You said that a trickster god might not fit in, but what about a god for the criminals? They might not represent a productive role in society, but an antagonist is usually present in every religion to clearly show its followers what not to do/be.

    Aside from that, I like it a lot.
     
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  13. Velka

    Velka Sage

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    I see the Sage and Seer being two distinct entities.

    I also like things neat and tidy, especially if what you're going for with your pantheon is reestablishing a balance that has been mucked with by mortals. If the gods are all messy and causing strife anyways, it leads to the question of why bother trying to fix it if they're just going to bugger it up themselves?

    I do like the idea of incorporating a wildcard figure into the mix though, perhaps not a trickster, but what about a 'Stranger' or 'Wanderer'? They can be a figure of hospitality and represent the unknown.
     
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  14. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Yeah, the primary opposition in this system is the darker human impulses, rather than a figure in the pantheon. Greed is probably the cardinal sin in this world. The hunger for power, the desire to cheat death, harming others in pursuit of your own ends--when these things mix with the gods' magic, there are consequences. Madness, blight, disease, etc.

    I like the Wanderer and Adventurer ideas, just not within the framework of this seasonal system. Although, now that I think about it... If there was an opposing figure, it'd be a Sorceress. By definition, sorcerers and sorceresses are those who follow the path outlined above, hoarding their power, sacrificing other lives for it. They pull the world around them out of balance. Interestingly, there has been a line of sorcerers living on a hidden isle for more than a century, though the story begins with the last of them being killed. I wonder if this mysterious figure, though by no means a god, might have taken on a sort of superhuman, godlike symbolism of malice and poison among the common folk. This wouldn't relate to the plot, but it could be interesting flavor. Hmmmm....
     
  15. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    I kind of like but as said it could use some more chaos if you wanted it to feel as an organic polytheistic tradition. Thus I would need to ask, how is this faith/tradition organized? Is there a formal priesthood who could have brought this into a system and developed an advance theology for it? If there is, it makes sense its rather tide as there are people who would have cleaned it up and formalized it to a degree. But if you imagine that this polytheistic tradition lacks an actual priesthood that could have done such a thing, a bit more chaos could perhaps be injected?

    The idea of using archetypes, or at least that's how I've understood it, looks pretty interesting and opens up for additional deities, not necessarily large ones but minor or local ones if you'd like that.
     
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