Following on from planning how the afterlife works in my fantasy setting (see Death and the Afterlife), it’s time to start thinking about the gods themselves.
The gods of this world are not creator gods, and neither are they all powerful. Though they are beings that dwell on remote outer planes, their power and influence comes from the number and fervour of their worshippers. This also means that there are no creation myths involving the gods, since these beings didn’t become ‘gods’ until after people started seeking their aid and blessing.
This means there isn’t a single pantheon mythology that needs to be inclusive of every religion. Minor gods are easy to add into the setting for local flavour, and powerful new gods can be added as distant parts of the world are detailed, all without breaking a big creation mythology.
The lack of creator gods also fits with the world history. Humanity was originally enslaved by first the serpentfolk, and then the elves, so they don’t actually own their own creation. Which means their gods were never part of it.
Though gods tend to align themselves with a particular aspect, there’s nothing specifically ingrained into the god that enforces this. Gods can change their aspects over time, often as the needs of worshippers change. Gods tend to portray themselves over a narrow set of aspects though, basically for marketing purposes. It’s easier to attract followers if followers know what benefits they are getting out of worship. If a lesser god tries to branch out into another, more powerful, god’s territory, then the greater god may start taking actions against the lesser god in order to prevent them taking away worshippers.
The following examples describe three notable gods of humanity, along with the reasons why people may show them worship.
It makes sense then that the most powerful and influential of the gods in the Republic of Atharia is the god that aligns himself to the needs of the ruling classes. Solomus is the god of leadership and civilisation, and looks after the needs of the rich and important people of the Republic. He has a broad set of aspects because he became powerful enough to be able to get away with doing so.
The laws of the Republic have been written to give him a major advantage. Any settlement that wants to class itself as a city (which grants it the right to collect, and retain, taxes) must have a temple of Solomus. Not only that, but that temple must also be the largest temple in the city. Further, no single god can have more temples than there are temples to Solomus. These rules ensure that the worship of Solomus is far reaching throughout the Republic.
The temples of Solomus are large stone buildings, painted in bright colours of red and gold, and decorated with images and statues of both great leaders and great warriors.
His major aspects are leadership, trade and protection. The first helps keep the Republic politically stable, the second helps the Republic in being financially wealthy, and the third gives aid to its legions to aid in military defence. There is a god of war – Althos – who is generally venerated by the legions, but the two gods are willing to work together where necessary, and whilst Althos is a god of war for the love of fighting, Solomus is the god of war for the preservation and growth of society.
Likewise, there is a lesser god of law – Jaohl – though he is more a god of The Law As Written – venerated by judges and lawyers, and those seeking retribution through the courts. Solomus is more interested in the spirit of the law rather than being interested in specific laws.
Solomus was ‘discovered’ after the Devasation which broke the power of the elves and led to the formation of the human led civilisation. His priests worked hard to bring nations together, and also see to the defence of settlements as their paladin orders were formed. He is therefore quite recent as gods go, but has grown to become one of the most influential around the Middle Sea.
Whilst humans were still enslaved by the elves, the goddess of slaves saw to their needs, providing comfort and aid where she could. After the shackles of the elves were broken, her aspect changed to that of healing, compassion and protection.
Temples to Mishka are common throughout the Middle Sea region, especially in the Republic and to the lands north of that. Though her temples are not as grand as those of Solomus, they are still impressive affairs, in colours of blue and white.
Small shrines to her are common in smaller towns and villages, and roadside chapels are commonly found as places where people can rest for a small donation. Unlike Solomus, her priests will also provide succour to slaves, and though they actively promote the fair treatment of such people they do not push for the complete elimination of slavery.
On the frontiers of civilisation, she has an order of paladins that act in the defence of her followers. They are not as numerous or well funded as those of the more martial gods, but they are often more welcomed where they are needed, for they have a strict code of honour to protect the weak and defenceless, rather than protecting the more general idea of ‘civilisation’ (which normally means the rich and important).
Ix is the god of chaos and destruction. Ix was the god that taught humans how to invoke the Devastation that broke the power of the elves. Ix was the god that gave humans their freedom. Ironically, Ix was also the god that helped humans build civilisation from the ashes.
Despite being a god of terror and strife, humans had many reasons to worship him during the early years of their freedom. They owed him much, and towards the end of their slavery, the teachings of Ix were spread far and wide, and his secret worship amongst humans exceeded even that of Mishka.
The dark side of Ix though could not sustain his worship once freedom had been gained and a desire for stability began to grow. In the nation of Kroth, the priests of Ix created a widespread structure that permeated their society, built upon both human and animal sacrifice. The fear of the priests kept people in line, not love of the god.
By the time Kroth was overthrown by the first Atharian Republic, and the priests and paladins of Solomus dismantled the priesthood, the power of Ix was on the wane.
Today, he is considered a lesser god, though still feared and occasionally given a small prayer in order to ward off evil. Those that worship him do so by making pacts with him, to guarantee their soul a place of power in the afterlife, in return for dedicating the sacrifice of others to him. Those who are otherwise excluded from society often find that he will willingly take them into his arms, and give them power over those that seek to keep them downtrodden.
His worship is forbidden in the Republic, especially amongst slaves.