2

In my fantasy world, there are various religions and beliefs. To not get too obsessed with the worldbuilding (it is already pretty thick and heavy,) I was thinking of, in terms of their religions, including gods from real-world cultures. For more details:

  • This Story is not Urban Fantasy! Forgive the bold, but this story takes place in a completely different world, such like ATLA, Skyrim, or the Witcher.

  • The main gods from real cultures include but not limited to:

    • Norse/Germanic Pagan gods
    • Roman/Hellenistic gods
    • The Christian God (though he is called by his actual name, Yahweh, and has statues based on the old Canaanite version)
    • Egyptian Mythology Gods
    • Aztec Gods
    • Hindu Gods
  • They coexist with my own made up gods, religions, and pantheons, sometimes even mixing

  • Because humans are not the only intelligent in my world, certain gods have been changed to be like some fantasy races

  • Certain parts of the mythology are the same (Creation stories, certain events, etc.), there are some that are either removed or myths I wrote, mainly to fit the world

  • Their existence is left a mystery, though there are several clues and hints that imply whether they exist or not

  • Most of the gods still use the names that we would call them in the real world

In a high fantasy setting, is it okay to use the gods from cultures and religions in real life and plant them in a fictional, rather than just creating a god "inspired" by them? I will also accept ideas on how to go with it as well.

2
  • +1, it's an interesting question, because in a high fantasy setting gods are often inspired by northern european culture.
    – Sayaman
    Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 23:28
  • "American Gods" use real world gods and twist their stories plus new invented gods like "Technology/Internet" gods. It is working for them, so it would work for you. The only difference is that you have a fantasy world. Using real world gods is a short-cut to complex relationships and conflicts.
    – Bassem
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 9:54

2 Answers 2

1

It is certainly possible. And it could certainly be quite interesting. There are challenges.

Lots of stories have used gods of one sort or another in something of the way you describe. So, there is the possibility of being perceived to be cliché. Movies about ancient Greek heroes often have the Greek Pantheon participating directly. Recent TV shows have had various deities romping about. One of my favorite books "The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul" by Douglas Adams has several of the Norse gods as major characters.

You need to decide on the basic nature of the gods in your cosmology. Are they beings that are very much more powerful but still "feet of clay" so to speak? That is, you could imagine that if you took some randomly selected guy and gave him lightning bolts and the ability to fly and made him just amazingly hard to kill, you'd have Thor. Or, are the gods an aspect of reality, representing forces of nature? So Thor exists because lightning exists. So it would be very much harder to kill that sort of god, because you'd have to make lightning stop existing.

Usually you get drama in a story by the characters having something to gain or lose, or something to learn. If gods will be characters, then you probably want to find a way that they can come into conflict for things that they care about, whatever those things might be. In some pantheons, the gods can suffer loss. Odin lost an eye, for example. One of the Egyptian gods got cut up into multiple parts that were then dispersed over the world. If they are to be characters then they probably can't be just totally invincible. It has to be really difficult to beat them. But it has to be possible. Maybe only by other gods, but somehow.

If they are to be totally invincible, then you probably want to make them background. So if you've got Thor, and if he absolutely cannot be defeated in your cosmology, then Thor and a thunderstorm would have direct similarity. You don't go out and try to defeat either one. You learn how to get out of their way.

Some times gods are the source of ideas, especially ideas about culture, morality, ethics, or what constitutes a good life. The king may be the king because the gods said so, for example. Or the people may be required to eat "fish on Friday" because the gods said so. Or various other things. One thinks of any number of rules about what food can be eaten, what clothing to wear, what festivals to hold, how to teach children, how to get married, what a funeral should be like, and so on. In many cultures these rules are "from the gods." If the gods can actually come walk around and make their opinions known directly, it could be pretty interesting.

You could have a lot of fun with different pantheons having different primary driving ideas. The Norse Pantheon is interested in battle glory, for example. While the North American Native Pantheon might be interested in balance with nature. The South American one might quite like stone buildings. The Asian one might be interested in family loyalty. And so on.

You could have a lot of fun with priests and such. People who claim to speak on behalf of a god, then the god comes by and straightens out the mistakes. You need to be careful with that though. It's a very old idea that has quite a few versions already told.

-1

I would say that the Abrahamic God (Judeo-Christian-Islamic God) being mixed with a interfaith pantheon of polytheistic gods might be a little much, as a major tenant of this deity's followers is that he's the only god and all other gods are make believe (over simplification there). Zorostarinism holds a similar tenant but I'm personally not sure if Ahura Mazda is considered to be the same being as Yahweh.

Further complicating this that certain "polytheistic" religions aren't really polytheistic. For example, Hiduism is a monist faith. Monism holds that there is one supreme being who is beyond human comprehension but interacts with the world through different personas that can better help people understand this supreme being's intentions. Thus all Hindu gods are merely one of many personalities of this supreme being. This concept also allows multiple other faiths, both non-Hindu polytheistic and monotheistic deities (and even some holy figures from other faiths that are explicitly not gods) can be worshiped in Hinduism without conflict.

In West African originating faiths (I'll refer to them as Voodoo for simplicity here) has characteristics of both monotheistic faith and polytheistic. In these faiths, it is believed that there is one supreme deity named Bondye ("Good God") and that the universe aligns to his wishes. However, either because he's busy with the job of running the whole universe OR it's socially not acceptable for the faithful to bother him at all, Bondye does not directly interact with humans, neither prayed to nor receptive to the prayers of the faithful. Rather, a group of intermediate beings called the Loa or the Iwa, are allowed to interact directly with Bondye with regards to specialized areas of their domain or patronage. Humans will make offerings to the Loa, typically of items, foods, drinks, and luxuries a particular Loa is known to enjoy with the understanding that the Loa will plea their case to Bondye on their behalf. This is similar to how the Saints in the Catholic Church opperate, so much so, that several voodoo variants are syncraticized with saints in the Catholic Church. The critical difference is that in the Catholic Church, the faithful can pray directly to God Or as the saints to Pray to God on their behalf OR do both (In prayers invoking a saint, you will almost always see an explicit request to "pray for me/us" where no such phrase exist in prayers to God... because God is the guy who receives the Prayers.).

With these ideas in mind, you will find that in many works of fiction where one or more pantheons of polytheistic faith exist, they almost never use figures from Monotheistic faiths, because the notion of more than one god, or that the big "G" God of the monotheistic faiths being on par with the little "g" gods is offensive at worst and illogical at best, since deities in monotheistic faiths tend to be all powerful, while deities in polytheism have domains or patronages over certain aspects of the world (both physical and abstract).

For this reason, in many fantasy settings with an "All Myths are true" dynamic, you will often see polythistic gods are more directly interacted with by mortals BUT they may make passing mention to some of their actions being done on orders from on high, revealing an existence of someone higher than them forcing their had. This higher being is never directly named, but is vaguely implied to be a Monotheistic God, though never directly stated to be the God of a specific monotheistic faith. This works because in most polythistic faiths, the gods earned their domains or were given them by superior gods or divine parents (Zues, Posiden, and Hades usurped their father, Chronos, and divided his domains over the Sky, Oceans, and Underworld among themselves). Most even have named parents or are parents to other named gods. So the idea of one more "God" who is the true power behind the Pantheon is perfectly acceptable. It also works in Monotheistic faiths, because it's not unknown for "God" to employ the aid of celestial servants to pass messages onto humans for various reasons. Even Yahweh was fond of having Angels tell people about what he's going to do, rather than directly interact with them (Frequently, it's because their power is so great, that humans interacting with them are going to suffer detrimental effects to their health.). I mean, in the Christian Bible, God sent the Angel Gabriel to Mary to ask her if she wanted to have God's Child (thus Gabriel is the patron Saint of Wing Men and Best Bros... maybe... don't quote me on that.). Plus, it preserves the single supreme being while avoiding Taboos such as making graven images, which certain faiths and sects will mean no pictures or statues of god. Among monotheistic religions, most do generally think of each other's singular god as the same being, but under a different name (The Abrahamic religions explicitly hold that they are all worshiping the same God) and even in their own faith, God has multiple names (For example, among Jews and Christians, the term "God" is translation for that term. Arabic speaking Christians do call their God "Allah" because allah means "god" in Arabic. Islam calls him Allah because Islam does not allow vernacular languages in prayer or worship, but they do believe that Allah has 99 names or titles which they may refer to him by. Zorostarism pre-dates the Abrahamic religions, but originated in Iran, close enough to the place origins from the Abrahamic religions, and Voudon is heavily syncraticized from Christianity, so in all likely hood, most major Monotheistic faiths could have a concept of a proto-Supreme God at the origin of their own deity.

Again, the Monotheistic God, can be worshiped directly by humans in fiction, but typically is rarely depicted, and never called by the name of any one faith, but rather give titles such as "The One above All" or "The Supreme One" or "The Highest" or "The Holiest" or other similar variations. It may even be that there are several layers of divine (For example, in the Marvel Universe, all polytheistic pantheons exist and are roughly on the same level, but are below several Cosmic characters of immense power that are Marvel Originals (Eternity, Lady Death, Galactus, and the Living Tribunal are all more powerful than Thor and Hercules) and they are all below the "One above All" who is strongly implied to be the Monotheistic God (and the one time we met him, he was portrayed as a comic book artist that looked like the late Jack Lee. In the films, there was speculation that Stan Lee was "One above All" his cameos were so omnipresent that it was one of the few plausible explanations.). In the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan (the God figure of Narnia) explicitly states he exists in the universe of Earth, but that the children know him by another name. By this time in the series, Aslan was already a pretty transparent metaphor for Jesus and a very Christian God, and the children he says this two are probably well aware of Christianity given their British upbringing.

In meta-humor, the "Supreme Being" is often a meta-joke reference to the author of the work, since, well, he or she created the universe, and in Dungeons and Dragons, fans will frequently equate the person playing Dungeon Master to this role, since this player will be responsible for all the Polytheistic gods interactions with the players. Often times this will be joked about in a mock religious worship gag prayer by the players ("Yay, as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, because I brought the DM's favorite snacks this session.").

For a quick TL;DR: You might not want to put a direct reference to a god of a Monotheistic religion on the same level as God's of Polytheistic religions, but rather make a divine hierarchy with a singular being that codes similar to monotheistic god at the very top. Extant polytheistic faiths likely wont be bothered by one more god, while extant monotheistic faiths will read between the lines and see who it is. Generally, it's best practice to avoid direct references to extant or widespread religions (Dungeons and Dragons DM Guide lists several pantheons including their own fictional one as well as the Hellinistic, Norse, Egyptian, and Celtic Pantheons as part of their setting lore but curiously makes no mention of the Hindu Pantheon (the argument that Hinduism's gods number in the millions doesn't hold as several listed pantheons are also quite long but omit some of the lesser known gods. For example, the real Greek pantheon includes a "god of constipation" (obvious pun is obvious but I shit you not, this is real) but the DM Guide makes no mention of him.) and in all likely hood it's likely due to Hinduism being one of the largest religions today and among the top five faiths practiced world wide, is the only polytheistic one (It's weird with Buddism, since Buddism is agnostic and neither asserts nor refutes the existence of any divinity. It simply doesn't know. You can be a Buddist and worship a deity of another faith. Several if you wish.)) but it's probably best practice to make acknowledgements of their existence but not explore the faith closely.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.