What Makes a God?

What makes a God? It’s a simple question, but it’s one that I’ve pondered over the past nine years as I’ve been writing Reckoning of the Gods. There are plenty of gods from different religions all over the world, but what do they all have in common?

In the early stages of RotG (Reckoning of the Gods), I tried explaining my newly-created mythology to several friends and the most common question I received was, “Yeah, but who created those gods?” From my experience, there’s no answer to this question. Christianity, for example, postulates that God has always existed, meaning there never was a time that He didn’t exist. For beings with a beginning and an end, that’s difficult for us to comprehend. In the case of RotG, the gods simply exist, and I don’t spend much time trying to explain their existence because that is not the focus of the story. Reckoning of the Gods is not a creation myth; it’s an exploration of the gods, their powers, and their direct impact on the world.

Speaking of powers, gods typically have some power or ability that sets them apart. While some gods are omnipotent (like Allah and God), many are limited to certain abilities. The Greek gods, for instance, are associated with various elements, ideas, and things. Artemis was goddess of the hunt, moon, and nature while Poseidon was the god of the ocean, earthquakes, and horses. Some of these powers can seem rather arbitrary, so for the sake of simplicity, I’ve limited the gods in RotG to elements. Gerra is the god of Fire, Ohr is the god of light, and Astarte is the god of the Wind. You get the picture.

Poseidon aka Neptune, god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses.

Previously, I mentioned that the gods in RotG have a direct impact on the plot and the world, and by that I mean, the gods directly interact with their subjects. One of the biggest problems that I had was deciding exactly how many gods I should create. In the earliest drafts, there were hundreds, if not thousands of gods. While this is a valid approach for some stories, I wanted each god to have a personality, and more importantly, I wanted the worldbuilding to make sense. To that end, I decided on no more than a dozen gods, and that number may drop to ten by the time the series is finished. Of course, with fewer gods, I have more time to explore their personalities.

When you hear the word “god”, you might think of some omniscient and omnipotent presence. Or, you might think of a hammer-wielding person that controls lightning. Or, maybe, nothing at all. The point is that our perceptions of gods are entirely dependent on our culture and upbringing. American culture, for the most part, celebrates monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism), but if you are from a different part of the world, you might worship many different gods. In addition, the personalities and traits of these gods differ greatly depending on your culture. The Greek gods are infamous for being extremely flawed individuals while the Judaic/Christian God is without flaws.

In the case of RotG, each god has their own personality, and their subjects are completely at the whims of their particular god. Some gods are benevolent while others demand sacrifice, but each god has their own motives and endgame that will affect the overall plot. As you can probably tell, the gods of RotG most closely resemble the Greek gods, and that’s probably because of my aforementioned infatuation with the Iliad and the Odyssey. If my gods are going to be fully-realized characters, they need flaws, and plenty of them.

To recap, gods must have an origin/creation story, abilities or powers, and they must interact with their subjects in some way, but we’re forgetting the most important ingredient of a god: worship. Worship is important because that establishes traditions, culture, and a relationship between a subject and a god. Without worship, gods are simply superheros. With RotG, worship is a vital part of the story, and it’s also how the gods receive their power. Take away worship, and a god will wither. That’s all I can say without revealing too much.

If you’ve finished this post, I hope you’re excited for what’s to come. Given the title of the story and the tagline (“the Gods are cruel”) you might have an idea of what to expect, but I promise you’ve never read a mythology tale like this one.