Thursday, October 25, 2018

Dividing the Universe

So far, we have talked a lot about gods, what they can do, why the do what they do, how people treat gods, etc., but we haven’t addressed which gods exist near the Trollenmere. So let’s finally get down to brass tacks. Today, I’ll start off by dividing reality into a bunch of aspects and then assign them to deities. Of course, I’ll do this with lots of longwinded reasoning, and I’ll probably meander as usual, too. So buckle up; we’re making gods.

Spheres of Influence

Before we start actually naming gods and deciding relationships, and other craziness like that, we need to divide creation into bits. After all, each god is responsible for only a subset of reality. To do this, I’ll begin by listing out some of the major ones from a couple prominent real-world polytheistic religions.

Let’s start with the obvious ones – Agriculture, Air, Art, Civilization, Childbirth, Death, Earth, Fate, Fire, Fishing, Healing, Hearth, Hunting, Law, Luck, Madness, Magic, Messengers, Moon, Night, Protection, Rain, Sky, Storms, Sun, Thunder, War, Water, Wind, and Wisdom. These are all pretty straight forward and don’t bear much discussion. The four seasons can also be tossed into the mix pretty easily, too. But notice that there are two common ones that are missing: Love and Women. There’s a reason for that.

Different cultures have subdivided the concepts of both Love and Women into finer detail because so much of survival and basic human instinct revolves around the ability to procreate. This might not seem like it fits in a hack and slash game, but I argue that it does. It is through the gods that the game society’s views on both subjects can be very easily conveyed to the players so they know what is acceptable and what is not. Should they kidnap the princess and force her into marriage to gain lands and title? Or is that not what women are for? Maybe there’s the “good” kind of love and the “bad” kind of love. Maybe there are dozens of kinds of love. This sort of thing is reflected in the deities, so let’s reflect!

Love. There’s marital love and there’s the lustful love that aids in procreation. One is a more mature feeling that arises from years of shared experiences and mutual support. The other is an instinctual desire to make more humans. One helps foster the bonds that tie civilization together, the other ensures that there are people to continue civilization. Neither is evil, but they are different. Thus, we will have Love and Marriage as separate spheres, and we will make sure they don’t land in the same deity.

 Deities also reflect human ideals. Thor was the archetype of what a Norse man should be; the same can be said of Herekles, even if he wasn’t a god himself. Men don’t have many different archetypes to aspire to – they should be strong, courageous, honorable, etc. They also don’t have a very special role in the perpetuation of the human species. But women do, and they often have multiple ideals. There is the ideal untouched maiden, the ideal wife, the ideal mother, etc. These should all get special mention individually, in different goddesses.

We should also consider deities associated with geographic concepts like lakes, mountains, woodlands, swamps, hills, the arctic, etc. We also need to consider deities associated with various types of spirits, too. And lastly, we should consider some more abstract ideas like thresholds, borders, crossroads, light, shadows, etc. Many of these take on metaphorical meanings that can deepen our deities.

The Nine Billion Names of God

Now that we know the sorts of things our deities will control, how many do we need? We could say, of course, one sphere, one god and be done with it, but that’s kind of lazy and shallow. Instead, let’s take a look at the preliminary calendar I have not shared or finished creating whatsoever. I’ve decided the year is 374 days long because that gives us exactly thirteen lunar months and some interesting seasons. I’d like to have each month dedicated to a different god, so that gives me…wait for it…thirteen main gods!

Will there only be thirteen gods? Heck no, but I think that will be the number of main ones. Since any spirit that performs miracles on behalf of mortals is technically considered a god, there are probably an infinite number of gods, and I have no problem adding in lower gods later. In fact, I suspect the seasons will also get a personification a piece, and there will be powerful faerie spirits, genus loci, and elementals that will join the pantheon at some point, too. But for now, let’s focus on the deities of the month.

Putting It All Together

Alright, so I think it’s time to start assembling some spheres of influence into what will become our gods. I may hold off naming them here, since I usually have to go through several iterations of naming before I’m happy. Still, we can settle on spheres of influence and maybe a few minor details here and there.

Let’s briefly consider where Alnwich is. It’s north. It’s cold. It’s on a really creepy lake surrounded by a creepy forest. That already gives a few clues to deities we will need:

Winter This deity is all about anything cold, making things cold, and things associated with the cold – mostly death, spirits, and the arctic. If it’s not the personification of Winter, then Winter works for this deity. Actually, that’s sufficiently malicious to be cool. Because of its associations with death, ghosts and wintery spirits are also associated with it.

Lake It only makes sense for the lake deity to be associated with fishing and water, also. It should be foreboding, mysterious, and generally feared. Mists and fog would also fit this deity, so maybe confusion, getting lost or being found also fit. The fog of time might also be cool, so let’s roll time into this deity, too.

Forest Forests are where people hunt, so that’s a natural association. I’m going to also pull directly from Greek mythology and tack on maidenhood and bloodletting here. Artemis was a bloody, fickle, and savage goddess, and that fits the kind of foreboding the forest should engender. And while we are at it, let’s mix in a touch of love, since maidens are often the subject of lustful love. Maybe color this one goddess with sprinklings of Freya, too.

Since we just did maidenhood, let’s do womanhood and manliness.

Womanhood This goddess is the ideal wife – faithful, fertile, fierce, strong, supportive, and wise. She governs marriage, childbirth, fertility, and protection. She is probably the wife of one of the main gods in the pantheon, and may or may not have Hera-levels of jealousy.

Manliness What sort of things do the people of Alnwich value in a man above all else? Courage, strength, honor, integrity, strength. Yeah, this sounds a lot like a warrior, so let’s make a powerful war god. What is unyieldingly strong? A mountain. Yes, a mountain of a man clad in armor, as unmoveable as the earth itself whose blows fall as an avalanche. I think we have a winner.

While we are mentioning elements, let’s knock out the last two – air and fire.

Air some associations spring to mind immediately, namely sky and weather, but let’s be weird and not give the Air deity power over weather. Let’s stick with the sky, though, and tack on the night and stars instead. This might suggest an association with whoever ends up with Moon (let’s add that deity and the sun to the list, too).

Fire A fire deity can go a lot of different ways. Fire is destructive, but it brings warmth. And Alnwich is generally wanting for warmth. So let’s make the fire deity dangerous but not malicious. The idea of scrying by staring into flames is appealing, too. It fits the image of people sitting around a fire for warmth, watching the flames dance and lick the falling snow. So our fire deity will also be in charge of fate. Perhaps he shapes it, and thus is also a craftsman.

Moon The moon is historically associated with lunacy, and any nurse will tell you people get a little crazy on the full moon. But rather than just saying “insanity’, let’s call it divine madness – that is, the kind of revelry that Dionysus and Oden were known for promoting. And while we are on this track, let’s add in some wisdom, since madness sometimes gives way to startling clarity.

Sun The sun let’s things grow, so agriculture is a natural fit here. The sun also brings light, which can be interpreted as knowledge, so let’s tack on civilization, since that is the intersection of agriculture and knowledge in a lot of ways. Lastly, let’s dab some protection in there, too. The sun protects against the darkness and those things that lurk therein.  This will be a powerful deity and probably the patron of Alnwich.

We have nine gods so far, so let’s see what remains. We haven’t talked about thresholds, storms, hearth, or art yet. Let’s wrap this up and call it a day, shall we?

Thresholds These are liminal spaces where the nature of a thing changes. This deity will govern not only thresholds, but also changes and transitions. This makes the deity an ideal psychopomp. And since the deity moves between the mortal and immortal world, it makes sense that it is both a messenger from the gods and a deity associated with spirits in general.

Hearth The deity of the hearth guards over homes and makes sure they stay fit, healthy, and safe. This makes it a good candidate for the health domain. It watches over a home’s inhabitants while they sleep, keeping them safe through the dangerous night, so let’s also give it power over dreams and sleep, too.

Storms Storms are a type of weather, so I think all type so weather – rain, winds, hail, thunder, snow, etc. – can be lumped together here. There is a chaotic destructiveness to storms, though, that is akin to the seething maelstrom of battle. This deity will also have some sway over the destructive aspects of warfare, then, as well.

Art What is art but the product of inspiration? And can’t that idea of inspiration be extended to luck, as well? And when art is sufficiently elevated, it is truly magical, so this deity will also govern that sort of magic – not the hokuspokus kind. The kind present in a perfect performance or a flawless statue. It’s an ephemeral thing, very much like faeries, so I think I’m going to also make this deity associated with faeries, as well.

With that, we have our thirteen initial deities. Next time, I will talk a bit about the template I’ll be using to describe deities, and then I’ll start fleshing these out and posting them periodically. Until then, what sort of gods and goddesses are in your games?

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