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Polytheism

Discussion in 'World Building' started by D. Gray Warrior, Sep 1, 2019.

  1. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

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    It seems that most fantasy settings have some sort of pantheon in place with characters occasionally bumping into priests inside of temples dedicated to one of them.

    How would you go about making a pantheon original without it seeming to be a rip off of Greco-Roman mythology and to stand out from other fantasy pantheons?
     
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  2. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    One easy version is to first read up on a non-European pantheon and then base it on that.

    The difficult version is to first define what your pantheon is going to do, what role it will play in the story and work from there. A really unique pantheon that fullfills no point in the story will be glossed over, but even a half-way steretypical Greek one that's central to the story will be interesting to the reader.

    Don't get lost in the world-building maze.

    Here's a link to a RPG setting's pantheon that's based on, as I've understood it, primarily on Mesoamerican mythology and Hinduism with additional stuff throw in for good measure.

    Tékumel :: The World of the Petal Throne

    The different gods are in a list to the left.

    Don't be afraid to try new paths, but...

    ...read my signature because that's really important when world building as well.
     
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    First step: I forget about being original. For one thing, no matter how original I think it is, someone else is going to think it isn't. I'd be spitting into the wind. For another, originality ain't all it's cracked up to be. Original by itself gets you a grand total of zero.

    Second step: I'd start thinking about my story and my world. What sort of god(s) do I want? Why do I want them at all? Are they going to be remote, hardly more than abstract principles? Are they going to be interfering directly in the world? Is the story going to be about the gods themselves?

    Once I had that sorted, then I'd be able to start thinking about what sort of gods. I'd also lose the word pantheon, because that leads the reader's mind right back to the very thing I'm trying to leave behind.
     
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    There was a study done some time ago where two groups of people were asked to draw aliens. One was told "be original," and the other was told "be yourself." The second group created objectively more original aliens.

    So first, be yourself. Relax a little. Don't worry about being original if only because that worry is going to work against you.

    Next, dump the word polytheism. That word is a label, a definition, a prompt that will immediately push your mind towards Greco-Roman and others more than anything else. You need a new prompt. In one of my settings I used the organ systems of the human body as a template for the biggest creatures, artifacts, and such in my setting. Lots of things will do - and you can use more than one kind of prompt if you don't want too much of a theme, or merge a few prompts. What kind of deities do you get if you merge oceans, clowns and the brady bunch? Something very different, I'll tell you that much.

    Finally, you don't need to lock yourself into an idea of what the gods are. The normal thought is that they're somehow beings on high responsible for how the world was made and for much of the wacky, random stuff happening inside it. Let the image go. Work with your ideas and let them lead you wherever they go on their own.

    At some point in typing this post, I had the idea that the gods once created everything, but then the people turned against them, found ways to hunt them down, and that now the last of the gods live in something like a bunker, afraid to show themselves, hoping to stay forgotten. Only, they've been bunkered down so long that they don't realize what's happened in the world outside. Instead of almighty creatures to hunt, they've become revered and celebrated, and the weapons and skills once used to stop them have also been forgotten. So when Kingdom A found this strange bunker and broke their way inside, the gods burst from it in a frenzy of violence, destroying that kingdom, latching on once again to their role as gods, and leaving the world terrified.
     
  5. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

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    It doesn't matter what type of polytheistic system you create as long as there is something that makes your system stand out from others. In my WIP the "gods" are an advanced life form rather than gods in the metaphysical sense.
     
  6. Yora

    Yora Sage

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    It doesn't even have to stand out from others. What is important is that it feels like a natural part of the rest of the world.

    The main thing that makes something a cliche is when a writer copies the form of something that is commonly done, but without having the function that justified its existence in the first place.

    The classic examples is elves having declining culture and their population gradually collapsing. You find it in Irish mythology and then again in The Lord of the Rings. Which are both meant to tell a story that explains why there are only humans now and we don't see mangic anymore. But then you got all the imitators who made their worlds with elves whose kingdoms are mostly gone, because that's how it is in the classics. Not because their story deals with the transition of the ancient mythic world to the contemporary world. That's when you have a cliche.

    When setting out the basics for a world, the important thing is to have a grasp of its narrative purpose. Then you can decide what elements are appropriate for it or not. If they have been done before or not does not really matter.
     
  7. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Hmmm....

    1 - Religions borrow from each other - a lot. There may be substantial denials, but it happens.

    2 - Religions abound in contradictions. There are also crucial omissions, and entirely false additions.

    3 - The Gods of one era are often deemed, rightly or wrongly, the demons of the next.
     
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  8. MrChristopher

    MrChristopher Acolyte

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    You could always take the Neil Gaiman approach like he did with American Gods. His approach to creating a pantheon of "ordinary" gods was very original in my view. I'd agree with the other posts and don't worry too much about being original. Maybe just focus on what you want your gods to represent, then they should stand on their own two feet...or clouds.
     
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  9. Yora

    Yora Sage

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    In the case of Greek, Roman, Celtic, Norse, Slavic, Iranian, and Indian pantheons (and various less well known ones), they are actually the same pantheon that morphed into various local forms over thousands of years. It's the one where the universe starts as chaos and you then get the Sky Father and the Earth Mother, and the sun chariot, divine twins, the two races of gods, and all that stuff.
    The notable exception is the Egyptian pantheon that has a different origin, and once you look closer there are very few clear analogs to the other pantheons, but you still get the idea of the divine royal family. (Even though the Greek rulers of Egypt worshiped Hades-Osiris under the name Serapis, and Isis got pretty popular with Greeks and Romans.)
     
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  10. My personal favorites to pull from for inspiration are the large number of Catholic Saints. Not so much the better known among them but ones like St. Expeditus, the patron of emergencies, expeditious solutions/finding lost objects, merchants, navigators and strength against procrastination. That's just one saint and rich with possibilities.

    I also love the real life example of the Pharaoh Ankhenaten who, in a short period of time, did away with the much of the old, temple driven structure of the Kemetic/Egyptian pantheon and installed the Aten (the sun) as the one divine being, even creating a new city in the desert as it's center of worship. In a story format, I might give the Aten deity a voice and a will and then create an old, disregarded pantheon full of disgruntled, out of work deities who've lost their swagger and plot his downfall. :)

    And I'm always drawn to think of the Guardians of Forever from the Original Star Trek series episode, City on the Edge of Forever. Not gods by definition, but creating a being that inhabits/possesses/guards the gates of all of time, how much more powerful could a deity be? So I'd look at that example of creating something out of the ordinary that would have great influence over the population without being based on a past earth culture's pantheon.

    But if a pantheon is what I required, then I agree with the idea of making it very simple and basic. More folk magic based than high and mighty pantheon style. That's what I love about the saints.
     
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  11. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I just picked a few things I don’t like seeing in other fantasy pantheons and I changed them.

    I didn’t like the genealogy involved in mythologies so my gods are biologically unrelated.
    I didn’t like how gods are either indifferent to mortals or use mortals as a source of worship so I gave my gods very personal/ideologically-driven reasons to be involved with mortals.
    And so on.

    Overall, I think this process has worked well for me. Although, I try to avoid the “figure out what you don’t want to write first” advice.
     
  12. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

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    I knew a thing or two about Egyptian mythology and it is the only one I really knew anything about aside from Greek mythology. I did read up on more of it after reading your post and I think I may draw inspiration from it.
     
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  13. Yora

    Yora Sage

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    I had to look it up myself, but the Mesopotamian mythologies are also separate from the Indo-European one. I actually don't know anything about those, except that Ishtar is a very important goddess, but that's where it ends.
     
  14. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Sage

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    There are, after all, literally thousands of mythologies one might steal, um, borrow from. I've mined the Oceanic vein quite a bit, not only Polynesian but also Malay, Papuan, Australian. I haven't figured out a way to slip Bluetongue Lizard or the Rainbow Serpent into one of my stories yet but give me time. My whole premise is that ALL these pantheons (or whatever word we wish to use) exist in their various universes and, mostly from boredom, occasionally choose to interact with mortals.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2019
  15. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Archmage

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    I'm of the copypasta group, with what changes can be made. I am more a user of the Archetypes and Domains when it comes to the deities of Eld, including the Elder Gods where the setting gets it's name from. They are more Titans and less Eldritch Horrors (those have a habit of getting eaten in my cosmological backgrounds). And all of them can be killed by mortal hands, though the Elder get to be reborn as they are effectively the very foundation of the entire world. Also most of them are moons.

    And the racial pantheons are often connected to how they more or less came about. The wood elves pantheon being represented by tree types (often bloody), beasts of the forests and hunting and slayers. The current ruler of the Pantheon is Quercius, The Bloody Oak. A war god represented by the Sun Oak tree's and patron of the Sunleaf royal family line. He tends to represent that the wood elves are assholes a lot. And I just roll down that way. And keep much vague because it's a lot of work to make entire pantheons and I keep it to the ones that are important and show up.
     
  16. The Dark One

    The Dark One Inkling

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    How important are your gods to your story? Just background, or major plot kickers?

    If just background, it won't matter much what you do. If central to the plot, it matters a lot. The gods and their purposes/functions have to make sense.

    On earth, gods have always been created as a function of mode of production / social arrangement. If you want a pagan pantheon then you will have an agricultural/pastoral economy (prevailingly) with a mostly rural (village) social arrangement. The gods can serve just about any purpose but they will be there to intercede on behalf of your people who will perceive themselves as play pieces in the great game of the gods. Intercession, of course, is dependent on an acceptable sacrifice.

    You'll find that more or less sums up all earthly pantheons throughout history.
     
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  17. CelestialGrace

    CelestialGrace Minstrel

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    Because of my love of history, and my own personal believes, I've always loved the idea of all the gods of mythology living in their own realm, side-by-side. So that's the idea I've been working on, for 3 of my series that are set in the same universe. After I started working on this I was told of American Gods, so I had a quick look to make sure that what I was creating didn't inadvertantly rip-off Gaiman's ideas. There are a few similarities but not enough that I have to throw it all away. So the challenge is to create something kind of new, from elements that we are familiar with. And tossing out what doesn't work.
     
  18. The Dark One

    The Dark One Inkling

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    I thought the idea behind American Gods was pure genius but I was disappointed with the execution. The episodes got very same-ish and it became a bit too predictable.

    Adrian Deans’s review of American Gods
     
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  19. Solusandra

    Solusandra Dreamer

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    Ripping off the greek/roman pantheon is fine if you want a generalized fantasy realm. If you want one that's memorable (personalized) though, you need to think up your own. Best advice I've read is to think up a series of concepts you see as positive negative and neutral and then make up a personality for each, and then make a story around them.
    lulwut... If you've played any fantasy RPG with any regularity this is simply false.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2019

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