Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mythology, Part 2


I’ve been doing a bit of work on the gods.  First and foremost, these deities need names.  One of my weaknesses as a GM is coming with cool and interesting names.  I also rather despise typical fantasy names, with all the weird apostrophes that end up looking like unpronounceable gibberish.  So, I steal.
Between Google and Wikipedia, I’m able to find the names of various gods from Greek, Semitic, Etruscan, and Canaanite sources.  Some sync up pretty well (I choose Adoni for my Fertility/Death God.  It’s derived from Adonis who was a dying plant god, and also means “Lord” in Canaanite), others I just grabbed because they sounded cool—I mean, come on, “Moloch” is just a bad ass name. 

Type
#
Portfolios
Name
Gender
Great-Power
3
Fertility, Mischief, Death
Adoni
Male
Great-Power
1
Competition
Calane
Female
Great-Power
1
Moon
Celene
Female
Great-Power
2
Magic, Agriculture
Cybele
Female
Intermediate
3
War, Fire, Mischief
Moloch
Male
Intermediate
2
Marriage, Prosperity
Vesta
Female
Intermediate
1
Animals
Valic
Male
Intermediate
3
Earth, Prophecy, Arts
Teleus
Female
Intermediate
1
Time
Aion
Male/ Female
Intermediate
3
Agriculture, Weather, Oceans
Dagon
Male
Lesser
1
Strength
Cratus
Male
Lesser
1
Fate
Atropos
Female
Lesser
2
Seasons, Nature
Varro
Male
Lesser
1
Prosperity
Aita
Female
Lesser
2
Death, Sky
Baal
Male
Lesser
2
Sun, Peace
Sol Invictus
Male
Lesser
1
Messengers
Lotan
Male
Lesser
1
Children
Aminth
Female
Lesser
2
Animals, Mischief
Silvan
Male
Lesser
1
Love
Astarte
Female
Demi-God
1
Rulership
Dardin
Male

Thanks to my well-developed case of apophenia, I start seeing some interesting patterns and themes among the gods, but I certainly don’t want to start detailing all of them.  Instead, I want to focus on the “Big Four” of my setting, the “Great Powers.”

Per the chart above, my found gods are Adoni—Fertility, Mischief & Death, Calane—Competition, Celene—Moon, and Cybele—Magic & Agriculture.  When I was coming up with names and genders, my first thought was to make them into two married pairs. But, then idea of a female triad was far more interesting. 
Adoni obviously fits the template of the Dying & Rising god.  The three others are a bit more interesting, but here’s what I’m thinking.  In fact, the most interesting is Calane, a Major God of Competition, which is something I’ve never seen before. 

So, what is competition, and why is it so important in this world? Well, obviously, competition implies struggle which results in winners & losers.  War, conquest, raiding, and the competition between nations and races are obviously under her purview.  But, competition is something more—there are boundaries in a competition, and rules one must follow.  This tells me she’s not the goddess of unbridled all-against-all conflict, but instead the goddess of boundaries and formalized competition. 

As I discussed before, this is a very class and caste based society—you are born a pig farmer, you die a pig farmer.  The only way out of your caste, and acceptance into a new one, is by competition, by earning your place in the new one through a test.  In fact, all of life’s major milestones might be a competition.  One becomes an apprentice and then a journeyman by passing a series of tests.  Major festivities are marked by games and contests—wrestling, boxing, running, etc.  Gambling is a common past time, as people bet on all sorts of thing, not just the winner and loser.  Even things like marriage have a competitive element—the groom and his groomsmen are expected to seize and kidnap the bride to get her to the temple, while she, her bridesmaids and their family seek to avoid them—they fight them off, the bride and her maids all wear the same outfits, etc.  It’s fun, and no one is supposed to get hurt and eventually the groom is supposed to win (the brides brothers and cousins will yell and scream and “fight” the groom for a few minutes before being “driven off”), but it’s how the groom proves himself worthy of her.  In fact, for a lot of young couples the “contest” lasts for weeks before the wedding, as each side tries to find what the other is up to and how to overcome it, while the old folks in the village laugh and place their bets as to who is going to do what, then they all meet at the temple and get falling down drunk.

This also tells me that dueling and trials by combat are a major part of the world.  Sure, trials (as we see them on tv) exist, and are themselves a form of competition, but one of oration.  Those found guilty can be sent on quests or crusades to “redeem” themselves, rather than facing execution.  Even artistic events are competitions—you don’t just see a play, but a week of plays and at the end one of them wins.  Or, maybe there are multiple awards for playwriting, acting, directing, sound effects, etc.  There might even be competitions where people perform the same play, or the same song, or the same poem, and there are judges who rate the best. 

So, if Calane is the goddess of Competition, but also Boundaries and Rules, this helps me figure out the three goddesses.  Cybele is the raw creative force, a mother of nature and creatures, whose offspring and creations overflow the world.  Her association with magic shows how dangerous and unpredictable her creations can be, and hers is a power many mages seek to tap into without performing the proper rituals.  Calane constrains her sister, sets limits on how far things can go, and establishes the rules with which the creations will interact.  Celene exists outside both her sisters, and is the goddess of the void, the black cold space that exists outside the world.  She is death, the one that brings an end to Cybele’s creations.  But she is not entirely cruel, for as she waxes and wanes, she shows the harmony that can come about with stillness, for she is also a protective goddess and one who gives the world a glimpse of immortality.

These three sisters are mirrored by, or actually are, the Fates, of whom Atropos is the most well-known.  
The Fates set out each creature’s life, determines its length, and the end it.  Even the gods are bound by their rule.  Well, all the gods, except Adoni.

Adoni is the one deity that exists outside the structure created by Cybele, Calane, and Celene.  In the Great War against the Old Ones (yes, I’m making room for Cthulhu in my world, naturally), Adoni was slain by his enemies and exiled to hell.  He was not a warrior who killed his way through the dark places, but clever and wise, who out thought and out tricked his enemies, and stole the key to hell from Hastur and threw open the gates, releasing the dead and turning them into his army for the final battle.*As the one who has conquered death, he is beyond the power of any other god, and rules now as the king of heaven.  He is also the most likely to disguise himself as a mortal, to walk around the world, testing mankind, and making time with particularly comely lasses.

*the ancient poems are a little unclear as the whether his happened at the dawn of time, or will happen at the end of days.  It’s rather irrelevant to most people.

5 comments:

  1. Recycling old names works really, really well, I think. And, c'mon, names like "Moloch" and "Baal" are just on the edges of most people's recognition, so they know that it's something Middle Eastern, and something kind of sinister, but it's malleable enough that you can make it your own.

    Unrelated thought: Been flipping through Neal Gamain's "Fragile Things" and liked one part of the first story, "A Study in Emerald." Here, "royalty" means "alien beings" (Mi-Go, to be exact) in ways that are perfectly normal to most people, but still tinged with Lovecraftian dread. Having the royalty (or gods, or elves) be something really bizarre / normal (just shadows, for instance) could work quite well. Perhaps not for this world, but for a future one.

    "You hear the hum of an elven carriage before you see it. People pull their mules to the side of the road, and even the young toughs starting a fight in the square quiet and move aside. As the carriage enters the square, cobbles hissing and crackling under the violet fire of its suspensors, only a brave few do not avert the eyes. There is a ripple as it passes, not in the air, but seemingly in a fabric on which the air is just painted. And then it is gone."

    Finally - this triad of goddesses - that the Hindu Trinity you're talking about there? Brahma the creator, Vishnu the ruler, Shiva the destroyer (and then back to creation)?

    And post-finally - competition. Isn't that more or less Athena? Goddess of strategy, tactics, organized war (as opposed to Ares). Re: competition, there's a lot of anthro on "mutual contests of honor." For instance, amongst the Indians of the Pacific Northwest there used to be this tradition of the "potlatch." A king would throw a party and just toss all his stuff out to sea. Expensive dishes, bronze goods, toss! Or give it away. Then, rival kings would have to do something similar. The point was to compete to see who could waste as much and as valuable stuff as they could, as this destroyed stuff was converted into a sense of social prestige, honor, what we might call "coolness".

    I'm thinking - if you need something to read - that some of these old anthro books might be really interesting for you. I can make some recommendations, I can even send you PDFs if you like... just let me know!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Trinity--Now that you mention it, yeah, I guess they do parallel the Hindu Trinity. Honestly though, I wasn't trying to fit them into any sort of pre-existing mold. I was just trying to make sense of the random rolls I made--one of the reasons why I love randomness in games.

    I like the potlatch idea. In fact, it might be a solution to an idea I had. In AD&D and earlier games, there was the training rule. You got XP for getting gold out of the dungeon, but getting enough XP didn't mean that you "leveled"--just that you COULD. You still had to spend time and money training, which had an exponential cost. Others took this idea and based it on spending the money--a "Wine, Woman, and Song" rule.

    Maybe the Potlatch is another way of doing it. To gain a level, you need to waste the money--either give it away or toss it out. The gain in social prestige and honor is what results in the xp you get for money.

    If you have any cool pdfs/recommendations, I'd love to check them out!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey man,

    OK, sending you some things.

    I also thought to give you the "biographies" of some of the "gods" whose cults (in the Catholic sense) I've been working with for the last couple years. All of these are what you might call "local spirits" as they're tied to a particular place - mountains, generally, or rivers. But they're not what you might assume them at first to be. I'll give you an example:

    Grandmother and Grandfather Sae

    Once upon a time, there was a family of giants (yakshasa in Sanskrit, what I think D&D has, taking the Japanese "oni" as a template, called "Ogre Magi"). They lived on top of a mountain where they preyed upon the local people, capturing them and eating them whole. The Buddha (here, you can substitute whatever kindly god or goddess of mercy you've got) was wandering through Northern Thailand at the time and found them. They advanced on him, preparing to eat him, but he told them to stop. "Do you know how much sin you would acquire from eating someone like me?" he asked. They hesitated, and he preached to them. The giant's son understood and wanted to learn more, so the Buddha made him a monk. The parents were impressed with the Buddha's powers, but they didn't want to stop eating people.

    "Could we perhaps become Buddhists and still eat people?"
    "No."
    "Could we eat people once a year?"
    "No."
    "Could we perhaps eat a buffalo in a very messy manner?"
    "Yes, so long as its horns are exactly the same length as its ears."

    So new gods were made: the Grandmother and Grandfather of the mountain, and the monster-hermit son. They serve different roles now. The Grandmother and Grandfather now use their power to send cool air down into the city during the hot months, and make sure that the springs atop the mountain keep pushing out clean water. They are nature spirits associated with the city: they represent the city's need to draw upon the wilderness as well as what the city has triumphed over. But they are still hungry. So once a year, there is a ritual where two mediums become possessed by the spirits and devour a buffalo (with horns as long as its ears) raw, drinking its blood. This is in May, just before the rainy season starts. As they eat, they dance and toss out string bracelets to worshipers, bracelets that grant good luck and protection. Then, as they get more and more into the dance, monks watching over the rite unfurl a giant banner with the image of the Buddha on it. As the wind ripples the cloth, the giants are fooled into believing that the Buddha still lives. They fall to the ground in prayer, remembering their vows not to eat people.

    The son has a longer story that I won't go into today. But he becomes more of a "wise old hermit" and magically builds the first city in the North.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Re: Competition and marriage.

    There's always the "bride-capture" practice in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Finland, etc), wherein a "real" groom is supposed to execute a daring raid into a bride's house and carry her off. Naturally, the bride's parents are usually in on the whole thing, but still it's supposed to be (WAS supposed to be) a feat of dashing derring-do. You could have the whole thing be a kind of mock-combat...

    Actually, this sounds like a blast. How come you didn't do this for your wedding?

    ReplyDelete
  5. My in-laws are police officers. My friends play video games. I don't think we would have won even a mock-combat...

    ReplyDelete

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