I always preferred mythologies, religions and fantasy novels that had pantheons of gods to ones that just had one almighty ineffable creator. There’s something naturally (and relatively reasonably) inscrutable and undefinable about a single creatrix. One lone god has to be the arbitrary representation of everything in the universe. Something without form and feature. Something impossible to comprehend. Something that might actually be there, but that we can never hope to actually imagine.
Once you start thinking of a number of personifications of natural forces and ideals, then you start to get gods with character. A bit more of a feeling. The god of the floods is comprehensible. Rhythmic and uniform at times, but prone to destructive grumpiness. Giving of life in the right circumstances (flood plains and so forth), but fickle enough to smash whole nations if angered.
I mean, in a way, I’ve got friends like that. Efficient and reliable and kind, except when they’re explosive and raging.
A god of war with a strong but weird sense of justice (righteousness is probably the right word, as it keeps the negative implications I’m trying for…though personally, I think justice is unreliable enough to not feel positive) that resorts to violence at a first opportunity. Not one for reason, or even really anger, just a sense of strength and a willingness to impose that. Possibly lacking in cunning.
Then there’s the tricksters. Not quite evil, but representative of the lies of humans (these ones don’t necessarily sleep). They’re normally presented as bad guys, but it’s impossible to not empathise, because as the liars and cheats and the playful and the flexible, they’re often the most human of the god-like. These aren’t abstract concepts. They’re just impulsive and outside the rules. This is where most of us spend our lives. Possibly not for the best.
So the gods that sleep are the ones I like best. It’s fun to have characterisations of the forces around us. It’s a common anthropomorphic tendency used in a way that can actually be culturally useful. Ways of teaching how worlds and cultures work. We build our gods to teach our children how the world works. It all makes sense.
But once people get monotheic it seems like something different happens. Rather than having gods on a somewhat unrelated plane, we start interacting with a godhead that we imagine we can understand and relate to, even as it becomes increasingly clear that we’re tickling the ineffable.
I can’t understand god. I think anyone who claims to understand and relate to god has got something of a complex.
That’s not to say there isn’t some kind of conscious entity behind everything. Just that its impossible to communicate with such a being. Omniscience is inscrutability.
There’s still stories to be learnt. Brahma dividing into all of the cosmos, providing opportunities to experience self from different perspectives.
But I can’t let lies lie.
I leave my gods asleep, so they don’t have a chance to interfere.
Illustration by Jaime