View Full Version : Society detemines the order among the deities

brian 333
2015-11-25, 08:39 PM
The independent and often warring city-states of Greece were overseen by a pantheon of independent and often warring deities. By the time of the Romans, this pantheon had become a central core of a dozen deities who exerted their authority in all things, while a host of lesser deities served them, much as the Patrician class of Rome ruled the lesser folk without a lot of input from the lesser folk. Similarly, the clan-oriented Norse created a pantheon of cliques and clans, with all of the associated drama, while the Celestial Realm of the Chinese, over time, became a well ordered bureaucracy.

In creating a pantheon one should remember that it is a mirror of the society which created it. While it may well be a distorted mirror which shows what the viewer wants to see, it seldom incorporates concepts external to its originating culture, such that a Norse pantheon comprised of a celestial bureaucracy or a Chinese pantheon built on a family of hard-drinking, hard-fighting warriors would be not only inconceivable, but would stand out to the players as 'odd' even if they couldn't define just how it was odd.

So, while the Norse ideal may have been imposed upon their deities, they were still recognizably Norse. Conquered folk were often forced to take up the worship of their conquerors, but even then they would morph those deities into more suitable forms, such as the Latin American conversion of their formerly native deities into the robes of Catholic saints. And this idea does not exclude the evolution of a pantheon as the society progresses. The case of the Romanized Greek deities comes to mind as well, going from co-equal deities to a patriarchal hierarchy as the worshipers' society evolved.

Let us use a hypothetical example of deity generation using this concept:

The core of this worship system comes from a time before the society had advanced beyond the family group hunter/gatherer phase. A central fact of this group of clans is that they live on a grassland which has severe winters, warm summers, rainy springs, and dry autumns, with each season being associated with winds from a specific point of the compass. North winds in winter bring cold, West winds bring massive rain clouds in the spring, Southern winds in winter bring warm but humid air, and the East winds blow across a desiccated land to the West of the plains.

Thus our tribal people begin with four deities representing the winds, and they assign human attributes to them that align with the seasons: Mild mannered and friendly summer, malicious and hateful winter, mercurial and childish spring, and plump and industrious autumn.

Now the culture encounters another culture which would be rivals for control of the grasslands. A warrior cult grows in strength as it is essential now to the survival of the clans, which must band together in greater numbers to withstand the raiding outsiders. Over this clan of warriors a patriarchal warrior figure is placed, with the attributes of protectiveness and strength. He becomes the most important deity as the raids persist and the four winds are assigned the roles as his brides, (polygamy being common to this tribe.)

Eventually the tribes conquer the attackers, subsuming them into their culture first as slaves, and later as full members of the tribe. They bring with them their most important surviving deity, a goddess of motherhood, who is now attached to the warrior as his wife, with the seasonal deities relegated to lesser roles as his daughters.

The culture has evolved from wandering hunter/gatherer families to clans, and now to tribes. To support the tribes, animal husbandry develops, and deities associated with the herds are 'born' into the pantheon. With the establishment of herding, long term settlement becomes possible, and with long term settlement comes agriculture, which also has its associated deities. However, all are dominated by the patriarchal warrior who has retained power and prestige as the cult evolved from venerating individual prowess on the battlefield to venerating the ideal of a warrior defending his homelands against the various tribes that surround the grasslands.

Then the sedentary agricultural people develop foreign trade across a sea, and a naval tradition begins to grow along the coastal regions. A sea god, borrowed from a neighboring naval power, comes to prominence as a god of prosperity, and to him are attached the four daughters of the winds, as his wives. Now, in addition to gods of fertility and agriculture, the god of trade takes his place.

By now the culture has grown beyond patriarchal clans and evolved in intricacy, with feudal lords who manage local defenses and answer to a local baron, who answers to a local king. The pantheon thus reflects this evolution by attaching feudal trappings to the court, such that the former patriarchal warrior becomes celestial monarch with the various deities now owing fealty to him via ever more intricate webs of obligation. Even the 'evil' deities have a role in the feudal order, as the ones the 'good' deities stand against in the defense of mankind. If they are numerous enough, they too have a feudal order of their own.

The general idea is that a culture and its pantheon should be reflections of one another. A feudal pantheon of a tribal culture makes little sense, given that the tribal culture would not yet have developed the concept of feudal obligation. (Unless the tribal culture was the remnant of a fallen culture, but that is another story.) By the same token, it is rare to see a society that develops a complex social web to retain simplistic deities. As one evolves so must the other. A culture which does not evolve becomes stagnant, often decadent, and unable to cope with natural or other disruptions of the social order.