1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Not-all-powerful Gods

Discussion in 'World Building' started by speculativejester, Feb 9, 2015.

  1. I'm working on a novel that heavily involves the death of a particular god. I'm trying to make a system that explains why gods are not all powerful, and how they rise/fall in power and how they can die. The following is what I have so far in my notes:

    "As the Eien became so dense with spiritual energy, some of the souls were able to take physical form in the spirit realm. These homunculi of spirits became sentient in a way similar to mortals and, by using a large portion of their own spiritual power, could exert their own presence upon the mortal lands. Due to their incredible power when compared to normal humans, these beings are referred to as Gods. "

    Eien is the collective sum of humanity's spirits.

    So, any ideas?
  2. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    Baldr in Norse mythology died from an arrow made of mistletoe, because it was the one substance in the world that hadn't sworn not to harm him. You could use one substance as a weakness, or you could simply make the gods ageless, but not invulnerable to violent death.
  3. Letharg

    Letharg Troubadour

    I'll just spit out some ideas that come to mind, hope it will be of assistance.

    It depends. What kind of power does mortals have? If they have magic then maybe enough working together could injure a god?

    Gods can often be injured by each other too, they could have internal power struggles.

    If they are pure spirital beings then their physical form could be unstable, if one got close enough to attack it with a physical weapon then that could disperse them.

    Some examples that I have read is that gods need to have followers or they die, though this might not fit in well with you world.

    Might your gods need to feed somehow to maintain their power, if Eien is the sum of humanities spirits then maybe a spiritual being from there would need to consume human spirits to control their powers (this was done in Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson).

    If they are created by the energy of the human spirit then should not the human spirit be able to hurt them in some way?
  4. Well, I have it so that most people really have no idea how to use their souls for magic. Those who do use magic can only generate small amounts (think Gandalf when he isn't being a super-wizard). People in times of high stress might accidentally use magic to perform extraordinary feats (you catch your wife cheating on you, and you kill the man she was with with a single punch). Using all of your soul will actually kill you, so most magi aren't all that powerful beyond the commonfolk.

    The gods in my world are really just a lot of human spirits and while I could weave "believing" as a way to determine their power, it isn't something I was originally planning for when I devised this realm.

    I think you're on to something by making them vulnerable to mundane weapons. I think I could twist that into them being vulnerable to a weapon (weapons, possibly) that injure the soul rather than the body.
  5. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Yeah I like the whole idea that gods depend on worship of their existence / power. That way they grow old when their believers start to thin or run out of faith. I have several novels in progress that operate on that idea in one way or another. And it comes with some interesting corollaries.

    For example if two gods are battling, the one with the most followers is strongest. And if one of them wants to win, his real target should be the temples and believers of the other. Kill enough of them and his enemy is greatly weakened.

    Equally, if a god is getting old and weak and feels the need to recharge, he should perform some public miracles. Do something that people will love / remember. Drum up belief.

    Cheers, Greg.
    KC Trae Becker likes this.
  6. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

    If you go with the belief idea as the source of the gods' power you could have them shrink as their believers lose faith. This correlates to the historical precedent of the Celtic gods, among others, shrinking and being driven underground as their cultural relevancy fades.
  7. Pythagoras

    Pythagoras Troubadour

    Egyptian mythology deals with the "dying god" motif a lot. Maybe do a little research into that for some ideas.
  8. Pythagoras

    Pythagoras Troubadour

    One thing to consider: in many world mythologies, the "dead god" is actually a much more powerful being than your average deity. To use the example I suggested above, think Ra or Osiris in Egyptian myth. The idea is (much simplified here) that once the god has died (Ra) or been killed (Osiris), he or she transcends worldly limitations and becomes virtually untouchable. One could think of Jesus Christ in the same way.

    This concept is of course rather different than what you seem to be going for here, and in many cultures, a god is indeed considered "dead" when he or she falls out of favor and worship (Indra in the Hindu tradition, though he becomes subordinate rather than "dead", is probably one of my favorite real-world examples of this process). Neil Gaiman's American Gods is a phenomenal novel that explores this notion.

    The main difference between these two ways of deity-death, of course, is that in the former, the death is written as part of the mythic canon, while in the latter, the death is more symbolic of a real-world cultural change, and is rarely written down.

    I'm not sure if this is of any help, but I do hope it gives you something to think about.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2015
  9. I took a look into the different religions you cited, and it certainly did help with character inspiration if nothing else. I think I'll make the gods actually vulnerable to magic itself, seeing as magic in this world is are just projected spirits/souls.
  10. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

    The Craft Sequence books by Max Gladstone involve a world where powerful wizards rose up and slew many gods because they were tired of the gods running their lives. It's almost a century later and each book (there are 3 so far) takes a different look at how the world has changed. The first one revolves around the death of a city's patron deity. The second around a terrorist group trying to resurrect a god and the third about a tiny island that will set up a deity for you to believe in.

    Worth checking out by anyone attempting stories about gods, and or modern fantasy settings.
    speculativejester likes this.
  11. Thanks for that, Hainted! That actually sounds pretty damn close to what I had in mind originally for m novel. I think I'll read those!
  12. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

    They helped me look at the gods in my world differently, and along with American Gods and Anansi Boys(Especially Anansi Boys) are what I would consider required reading for any writer.
  13. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

    Just because they're worshiped as gods and have immense power doesn't mean they're not fallible and mortal.
    As Bill Murrey quipped in GroundHog day -

    "Well maybe the *real* God uses tricks, you know? Maybe he's not omnipotent. He's just been around so long he knows everything."

    OR maybee they're just ordinary people who have stumbled onto phenomenal power and have ended up being revered and worshiped for something they're not.

    A bit Like Jayne in the 'Jaynes town' episode of Firefly.
  14. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    Terry Pratchett has an interesting use of gods in Discworld. In the book Small Gods, he explores how "gods" are really just beings that basically "feed" off of human belief to grow stronger. If people stop believing in them they grow weaker and eventually revert back to basically nothing more than whining voices in the desert. Thematically, it explores how humans may need gods, because they need something to believe in, but gods need humans even more.

    You might be able to take a similar approach since your gods also have the source of their strength in humanity.
  15. ArenRax

    ArenRax Sage

    It could be that your gods are Immortal and have great amounts of power but that doesnt mean they cant be destroyed.
    3 things on Immortality.
    1.never age.
    2.never die.
    3.never age and never die.

    I read a book a manga and in it there was a 500 year old wolf goddess, she is immortal she can never age but she could die hence she feared being hanged as a witch by the church. also she had power over wheat since she was the goddess of harvest but because she made a deal with a village and dwells in their wheat fields to leave she has to have wheat from that feild in a small pouch around her neck.
    and to turn in her wolf form she has to either eat wheat or drink human blood.

    so your gods may be really powerful and never age and be hard to kill but that doesnt mean they cant die.
  16. Well, I've been trying very hard to avoid the whole "gods need believers" thing. I want it to be evident in my story that from a philosophical standpoint, gods are nothing more than the creation of humans. Here's what I developed thus far:

    As the Eien became so dense with spiritual energy, some of the souls were able to take physical form in the spirit realm. These homunculi of spirits became sentient in a way similar to mortals and, by using a large portion of their own spiritual power, could exert their own presence upon the mortal lands. Due to their incredible power when compared to normal humans, these beings are referred to as Gods.

    Gods are not invulnerable to death or harm. However, being harmed by normal weapons is impossible. Gods are vulnerable only to other spirits- thus, magic does work on them (Magic in this world is using one's spirit to alter the world around them at the cost of burning up your spirit like fuel).

    The power of a god is determined by the number of souls that form them. After death, a human's soul disseminates into the various emotions it felt while alive in proportion to the intensity and frequency of the emotion.

    Gods are known to take on amalgamous personality traits of the souls that make up their being. Thus, every god is unique and has their own emotions, motivations, and thoughts similar to a human- however, due to their nature of being a composite being, they usually have a personality that is much deeper than one individual human. For example, the god of anger is far more hateful than any human could possibly be, even though he has the capability to be calm and even reasonable.

    It should be noted that while gods are made of the composite of their human souls' experiences, they do not retain all of the knowledge gained by those souls.

    Does anyone see any glaring issues with his?
  17. ArenRax

    ArenRax Sage

    that whole they need beleivers stuff. is crap.
    never see anyone craft an Immortal characters that way though.
    pretty cool.
    just read a bit on how gods should not have domains in Toms pantheon post.
    dont know much on pantheons myself, i know of Immortals,thier domains, and powers but thats it.

Share This Page