Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Formation of Pantheon

I've been dreaming of a post-apocalyptic bronze age setting for awhile now, something like Dominions 3: The Awakening meets The Land of One Thousand Towers (from ASE). Replace the wizards with gods and tone down the gonzo a little (only a little) and you pretty much got it. I'd probably wind up adding guns and ruining everything as I usually do, but it did get  me thinking about old-school pantheons and how they were formed, and thus it's time for a lil history lesson.

Waaaaay back in the day when the good old cradle of civilization was still cradling civilization, each early city had its own patron god, who usually was believed to live directly in the temple.

That large Ziggurat is where God lived

The temple was the biggest thing in your city, it was what everyone prayed to, and it was the first thing visitors saw when coming into your city.

 Now of course, what was the best way to understand which city was the most powerful? 
By who had the most powerful god, of course.
And how did you tell which god was the most powerful? 
By how big, pretty, and impressive looking that god's temple was.

Citizens Bank Park: A Decade in the Stadium We Didn't Want
By the way, I gotta teach this the way it was taught to me, with sports
Now in obviously it was the other way around, the most successful city economically or otherwise was the one with the capability to provide their god with a nice place, so it was all just classic dick waggling. Nevertheless, this is one of the ways religion went from just being important for rituals, lessons, culture, etc. to being important politically and strategically.  It's how you impressed traveling merchants, and maybe even kept people from fucking your shit up. 

Cities of Mesopotamia // history of architecture – architect to be
However, the lone city wasn't a thing forever. Eventually empires formed, some cities and rulers got so big they could conquer and control other cities.
But when you take over a city, what do you do with the god that lives there?

 It's not easy to get everyone to just switch over to your god, and you can't really kill a god so that temple probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon. The solution is: you connect the gods. Maybe Babylon's Marduk is (all-of-a-sudden) the sibling of  Uttu from Nippur. Then later Marduk gets a brother, or was the father to another god, or is the son of an older god from some other city. As more cities are conquered, as the cultures are mixed together, the Pantheon forms. The stories intertwine, gods get absorbed into other gods and a bunch of other even more messier shit.
These tarot cards are pretty alright
That's the gist of it, I like the idea of taking this literally, and having a setting where a conquering tribe or general could collaborate with his patron god to conquer other temples, subjugate their gods and gain their boons and powers to further your conquest. All the gods would be super esoteric: obelisks, ever-burning willow trees, angry statues with glowing eyes, a big weltmaschine thing where every visitor has to donate a trinket to its ever-growing mass. They can't manifest in the world, but can present omens and grant powers, and direct rituals that can cause plagues and curses and shit. I imagine lots of old-testament pillars of fire and city walls collapsing type shit. Maybe if you get their temple big enough they can create apocalyptic world changing events, like the sky always rains blood that burns non-believers or something. 

A final note: 
Hokey sports analogy aside, this kind of "pantheon making" (scyricism is the better word) happens throughout all of history. As religions got more complex (and monotheistic, particularly in the west), so did the processes in which they were blended. Shinto blending with Buddhism, Christians having holidays line up with pagan solstices and rewriting parts of Beowulf  are ones that come to mind. Some random more modern examples would be Hoodoo, Catholicism in Mexico and Guatemala, and Cheondoism.

I hope my meager training at history can help you think about your table-top stuff differently, if you dig this kind of thing check out the first one I did, about time and the apocalypse 

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