kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
[personal profile] kent_allard_jr
When it comes to con-myth (constructed mythologies), there are a few tropes that annoy me. One of them is that a god's power is proportional to their worshipers. Cult members send power through their prayers, and the gods bounce some of it back through miracles, keeping the surplus. Thus a god without worshippers is powerless, while a popular god with a huge cult is very powerful. I dislike this for a number of reasons:
  • It denies the gods any role in creation. How could gods create the world before the source of their power even existed?
  • It also implies a double standard with the monstrous rivals of the gods, who don’t have any attested cults and thus must be drawing on alternative sources of power.
  • If taken to its logical conclusion, it turns the gods into a pack of politicians, grubbily competing over worshipers as if they were choosy consumers ("Apollo, now with 50% more healing power than other leading deities!").
  • Turning the gods into politicians makes them comfortable and familiar to our 21st-century tastes. But I don't want them to be familiar. I want them to be awe-inspiring.

Now there is some historical precedence for this trope. Vedic religion was greatly concerned with sacrifices to the gods. Over centuries, theologians decided that the Devas derived much of their power from these sacrifices. The outcome, though, is telling: They decided the Devas were no more powerful than the Brahmins who officiated the rites. This (among other factors) led to a decline in the prestige of the Devas and the dwindling of the sacrificial cult altogether.

As an alternative, I would suggest that the gods don’t need worshippers for their powers. They don't, in fact, need much at all. Instead, they respond to prayers, punish sacrilege and so forth because they feel like it. They do so out of compassion, vanity, or both. They like flattery, they don’t like to be insulted, and sometimes they pity mortals who are weaker than they are. Some gods may ignore humans entirely. Those gods won’t have cults -- there’s no point in praying to a deity that doesn’t listen to them -- but they won’t be any worse off than those who do.

I'm sure many folks read this and think, "BOR-ing!" Yes, it's true: My approach would take away opportunities for Small Gods-style goofiness. That's kind of the idea. I don't object to thought experiments about miracles on layaway and so forth, or to folks who engage in them, but I don't think they're suited for much beyond comedy. If you want gods to be taken seriously, I'd say my approach is better.
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August 2012

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