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Worshipping a dead god


Hello. It's been a long, long time since I posted here. But I have returned, older and (supposedly) wiser. But we can catch up later, for now I posit a question.
What does a religion look like when you worship a dead god?
I'm not talking about a god that's fallen out of mainstream favor, like Odin or Jupiter; but when a religion worships a god that, in its own theology, is dead.
I was inspired to ask this question by the Pathfinder one of my friends are running, where one of the prominent religions of the setting involves the worship of a dead god (and the veneration of the dead as consequence.) This got me to wondering about other religions that worship deceased gods in their own theology. There's not many real-world examples, the closest that comes to mind would be Buddhism but that's about transcending death and reincarnation to achieve the divine.
Maybe some of you have come up with religions that worship dead or sacrificed gods that explore interesting avenues. I'd like to hear about them, or any ideas you might have in regards to worshipping dead gods.

Eduardo Ficaria

Hi, and welcome back osimur_wil . Your question is quite interesting and, even better, there's at least one historical example of such a case: the mesopotamian goddess Tiamat. Her slain dragoness body ends up used to create the heavens and the Earth by the storm-god Marduk. From what I remember, there's not much known about her cult, if she really had anything like that, but as an example is rather illustrative.
What I would consider if I were making up a world with a religion such as the one you suggest, I'd consider first what would the faithful of that cult expect to gain. I mean, when you consider what's at the bottom of most if not all religions is always some sort of bargain: in classic greek, roman, persian or similar belief systems, you would make offerings or strike a deal in exchange of favor from the gods; with the abrahamic religions you follow the rules so you can reach heaven/paradise. If there's no one to strike a deal with on the other side, there's little point of keeping the faith on that religion ¿right?
Now, if you consider again the Tiamat example, her death had its purpose: it's the substance from which the world itself was created. In a fantasy setting, you could take this notion further and the dead god's body, for instance, fell to the world and turned into some powerful or very valuable substance or mineral, but to get it you need to follow a certain procedure that has been passed down from generation to generation in the form of a strange or complicated belief system. This way you have a useful religion worshipping a dead god, one from which its believers get something out of it that justifies their faith on it. You could complicate this further by adding other gods, the ones who killed the worshipped one, and maybe making them try to stop the cult because they fear this dead god could be resurrected somehow and get back at them.
I'm not aware of any real world religion featuring a god that stays dead but is still worshiped. They usually get resurrected at some point such as in the case of Osiris. Warhammer Age of Sigmar does have an interesting example of a fictional god named Grungnir who died in battle along with the massive monster he was fighting. His followers believe that a magical substance called ur-gold is actually the remains of their fallen god and they offer their military services in exchange for it. They use the ur-gold to carve runes on their bodies for magical effects and believe that eventually they can make their god whole again.

Their culture as far as I know isn't addressed much outside of it's militaristic nature and all the male members are basically mercenaries of sort or have professions geared towards that purpose. I assume you are looking for a more well-rounded and real world example but that's all I got.

Edit: I forgot there are actually many gods in the setting that meet this description to varying degrees.

Khaine who ironically is the God of Murder. His mother, who is not a god (at first anyway), essentially seized control of the religion as it's High Priestess. They have a bit more sophisticated matriarchal society where males are little more than slaves.

Nagash the God of Death. He never stays dead but he has been MIA or otherwise seemingly deceased for extended periods of time on more than one ocassion.

Slaanash, the God of Desire. Technically not dead but imprisoned. His followers whowever don't know where he is and in some cases believe he is as good as dead.
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Well, to start with, there's Christianity. A church adorned with crucifixes is a great example of what you're looking for. Sure, Jesus came back to life, but you'd hardly know it from that decor.

Throw in the Catholic tradition of veneration of martyred saints, and that's even more worship of the dead. Add in centuries of mortification of the flesh, of the very deeply devout praying to suffer because that would be a sign of sainthood, and there you go.


Myth Weaver
Hmmm. I think the christians might split hairs with you a little there.

Personally i dont think i could worship a dead god unless there was some expectation it would not remain so. It would seem pointless or hopeless. I could see reverence, such as i still think of what would make my dad proud even though he has passed on but even there there is a feeling that he could still be looking down on me.

I did write a story about dead gods which featured and undead perspective and kind of looked at all gods with disdain.
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A few reasons I can think of:

- worshipping them will bring them back to life: Raymond E. Feist in the riftwar saga has that as part of the worldbuilding. There's a few dead gods around. Worship them for long enough and they return to life
- Even dead they can still influence the living: Most christian saints are of this variety. Even though they're dead, people still pray to them in the hopes of getting something in return.
- You're not worshipping the god directly, but rather their ideas / legacy. Sort of like budhism. You need to live your life like X, Y and Z, and if you do then you achieve a goal


Myth Weaver
There's so much room to play with this it's crazy fun. There's an old joke that asked "What's time to a pig?" or something like that, so here, it might be useful to ask what is death to a god? This sort of thing is prime material for the Sundering Sagas where the backstory has an Age of God Wars where the gods of various pantheons could reach the world, and when they did, they were capable of being killed. What this means could vary from god to god. Some you might still be able to pray to, others, the connection to worshippers might be lost... so many possibilities.

If the god was just a superstition to begin with, well, I think the possibilities for the style of worship are wide open.

Much would depend on the how and why the god died. If Jesus had died in a bar brawl it would alter a great many things, heh heh. That's fun to just contemplate. Mark Twain should've written that alternate history. Great theological debates over not whether Jesus owned the sandals he wore, but what he drank before the fight, wine or beer. Rye or gin. And who paid for the drinks.
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Myth Weaver
I wish to say christians do not look at saints as dead. They are people who are believed to have ascended to heaven and thereby achieved eternal life.

Praying to them is not asking anything of the dead. Its asking for more help in laying things before god.

Christians would not agree they are worshipping saints or praying to dead anything.

Just sayin… and that is all.
Praying to them is not asking anything of the dead. Its asking for more help in laying things before god.
This just shows that the main thing to consider here is what dead in this context actually means. Those saints are very much not alive anymore. And they can still influence things in the real world. The how in this case doesn't matter all that much, it's mainly that they still influence the world of the living, even if they do that by asking god to intervene.

Death comes in a great many varieties in different religions. Some you simply stop existing. Some you go to heaven or hell. Some you just wait until you return. Each of these has different implications for why people would worship you.

. If Jesus had died in a bar brawl it would alter a great many things, heh heh. That's fun to just contemplate.
That very much sounds like the premisse for a Dan Brown novel. Or maybe a Monty Python parody on a Dan Brown novel...

Ruth Chris

Yeah it seems to hinge a lot on a description of the weight of death maybe? Is, for example, a spirit dead? Are you dead if you are a wraith shivering down in the depths of hell? Reincarnated? Turned into a statue, a photograph, a memory?

I think in general a religion or a religious mindset prompts a blurring of the lines between life and death. Like I don't think it's wrong to say Jesus died. He definitely did die (suffered death) AND he rose again AND he ascended to some kind of unity with god and the universe. I think the idea of parataxis is helpful, which means that two clauses are connected without subordination – this AND this, rather than this or this, for example. Not to talk too much about christianity but the idea of transubstantiation (e.g. the eucharist in Catholicism) I believe has to do with the representation becoming the living embodiment of the spirit – the bread and wine stand-ins becoming the flesh and blood of that which has been sacrificed and then being understood as living on.

I mean, the whole idea of sacrifice is really interesting in terms of suffering death toward being transubstantiated into a broader living cosmology. ((or something!))

But it sounds like you have a kind of specific idea about what you mean about the god being dead – so maybe you already know the answers you seek!
I kind of like the idea of a battle or moment of death being stopped in time. Like you can go somewhere and the deity person is there still, for however many thousands of years, crumpled against a tree pierced with arrows. Impossible to touch and always with un-caked blood at their lips.

ANyway good luck and it's an interesting thing to think about, thanks! RC
A dead god is still a god.

Not a person, but a force. It still has energy in its name, invoking it still means something. The world doesn’t easily forget a living embodiment of natural forces or laws.

Just because it’s not listening anymore does not mean you cannot invoke it.

Just like a dead whale supporting an entire ecosystem, a dead god supports an entire religion and people.
This just shows that the main thing to consider here is what dead in this context actually means. Those saints are very much not alive anymore. And they can still influence things in the real world. The how in this case doesn't matter all that much, it's mainly that they still influence the world of the living, even if they do that by asking god to intervene.
This, exactly. The whole reason saints can intercede with God is because they're dead. If not for that, you might as well pray to living people. But that's not what Catholics do. Nor Taoists, who also have a practice of praying to saints, and Taoist saints, like Christian ones, are real people who've lived and died and are now patrons of something they were associated with in life. The main difference between Taoist and Christian saints is that many of the Christian saints are best known for how they died, while Taoist saints are not; there's no martyrdom tradition in Taoism.

And that's another point with the Christian saints: many of them are sainted solely for being martyrs, so solely for how they died. Not for how they lived. Sounds like worship of the dead/death to me.

Even if the idea is that these dead saints are living in the great beyond, close to God, so are all dead people in the Christian worldview (except those who went to hell, or, in the Catholic tradition, purgatory). They still have to be dead to get there. And to become a saint, it helps to die in some horrific way. But only as long as you die horrifically and piously.


Myth Weaver
Well, I don't see going round and round about it. Clearly, these people have died and left behind a corpse. So...dead applies in that sense.

But Christianity is about eternal life, and the good news is anyone can have it. Saint is just another term for someone who is believed to have gone to heaven, and is eternally living. Perhaps some of the Christian denominations have found a different definition of saint, but Catholics do not believe that saints are the dead. They believe they are saints, living eternally.


New Member
I had a religion I created for some people or another once upon a time where they worshipped a goddess who sacrificed herself for the making of their world. Their belief was that the dirt and rock they lived on was quite literally the body of their goddess. So, I suppose, they ended up with a round about way to worshipping the land itself. I had some convoluted explanations for how the sky was a blanket placed over her by her parents, completely separate deities in their own right, but that's unrelated.

Anywho, the people who worshipped the goddess they called the World Bones had a distinct reverance for life out of death. Giving themselves back to the land after dying was a major part of their society so much so that they took steps to speed decomposition and buried their dead completely naked with nothing in the way of that decomposition. I thought it was a neat idea at the time and wanted to give my example!