Q&A

Would It Make Sense for Greek Gods to Create the Masquerade?

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Is there any way to set up a divinely mandated masquerade in a setting involving deities from historical pantheons? The myths I’m going on don’t have a precedent for non-interventionism, as (for example) the Greek and Norse deities regularly got involved in mortals’ lives. I’m also not sure if it’d make sense for deities to follow a course of action leading fewer people to believe in them. I’m thinking of either going with something about free will (like you suggested in your post on explaining the masquerade), or coming up with another cosmic entity to set that rule. Thoughts?

-Anonymous

Hi Anon,

Yes, I definitely think you could use Greek and Norse deities to set up a masquerade. I wouldn’t try to use the same explanation that I would use if there was a deity inspired by the Judeo-Christian god, like free will or non-interventionism. The gods in old pantheons tend to be depicted as very petty and willful, so if I were to use them, I would look for an explanation that fits the personalities they have in mythology. For instance, maybe the gods (or just their leader like Zeus) are still mad that Prometheus stole fire from them and gave it to humanity, so they have decided to punish humanity for the crime by denying them magic.

If you simply establish that the gods aren’t any less powerful if humans don’t worship them, I wouldn’t worry too much about them doing something that makes humans believe in them less. For them, making it so humans don’t believe in them could be like giving humans the cold shoulder.

Then you just have to make sure your magic workers in the story are an exception to the rule. That could easily be done if they are descendants of the gods or another nonhuman from mythology, like the Titans.

The other great thing about using a pantheon from mythology is that the gods are not uniform, and they often bicker. So while everyone generally would try to follow the rule to avoid a terrible fate, you could easily have some gods try to break the rules without getting caught, if that fits your story.

Happy writing!

Chris

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Comments

  1. Cay Reet

    One should also consider that the Greek or Norse gods usually appeared to humans in masquerade, as it were. The wandered the world looking like regular humans (Odin often as an old man, Zeus whatever way got him the woman he was after). The usually didn’t appear to humans in their divine form (one easy explanation for the masquerade which could be derived from it would be that humans can’t handle seeing the divine form).

  2. Jeppsson

    It’s fun how the “gods derive power from people’s belief in them” has become such a common pop culture trope that we take it for granted… Like, there’s no obvious reason why that would have to be the case. Anthropomorphic gods are basically just immortal mages. We don’t think this is a restriction on the power of mages in general, so no reason gods would work like that.

    Also, if you need an explanation as to why they want people to worship them (or wanted this in the days of yore, even if they now have a masquerade going on), it could be plain vanity. Plenty of humans in the real world are obsessed with getting other people’s attention and admiration; as many people as possible, even.

    • Cay Reet

      Yes, there’s nothing in mythology which suggests that the gods needed to be worshipped. They might have granted you some little wish, if you worshipped them, just as a rich person you’d always treated with respect and admiration might grant you a little wish every now and then. Not being at odds with someone who can burn you to crips or make your eternity pure torture is a good reason for some prayer or sacrifice every now and then.

      That way, an old advice I read somewhere also makes sense: Live a good life. If the gods are just, they will see how much good you have done for others and will welcome you. If the gods are unjust, why would you worship them in the first place? If there are no gods, you will be gone, but will live on in the memories of those whose lives you touched.

      • Citrakayah

        I wouldn’t say nothing. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, after the flood wipes out almost all of humanity, the gods are described as swarming an animal sacrificed by one of the remaining humans like flies. The Hittite pantheon was dependent on the offerings of their worshipers (https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/77493/ReligionBA.pdf?sequence=1).

        This is not ‘worship’ as it is commonly thought of today, because sacrifice has been basically eliminated throughout most of the Western world. And, obviously, there would be the assumption that the gods would, at least for some time, be able to sustain an existence independently of humans (otherwise creation myths wouldn’t be structured like they were). But you can see the beginnings of the idea even in ancient times.

  3. Erynus

    Another way would be, like in the Trojan War, when Zeus fobid the divine intervention on the war, and both Athena and Ares disguised themselves as human champions to try to make their side win (Athena with the Greeks and Ares with the Tojans). When Athena nailed a spear into Ares’ groin he went to Zeus to complain, and the King of the Gods laughed His ass off and reprimand Ares for going to Earth against His orders.
    So if a powerful god don’t want other gods to mess with humans, the other would do it in disguise or behind his back.

  4. Leon

    The fun thing about this idea is people normally put a lot less effort into being petty than they do survival. So masks slipping and humans getting behind the curtain becomes a lot more plausible.

    I just had the worst idea. Divine bum fights with gods having humans fight for power, then i realised Homer already did it. IS THERE NOTHING NEW!!!?

    • Cay Reet

      The first rule of writing is ‘there are no new ideas.’

  5. LeeEsq

    From what I remember, the Greek Gods were generally into very big and flashy power displays. I don’t think that they would really do much to hide themselves. Even when they didn’t appear as themselves, they made sure that their appearance was flashy and spectacular. Think of Zeus various guises he used when sexually assaulting mortals.

  6. Martin Christopher

    The big question to me is why gods would want people not to know about their existence? If people don’t know they really exist, they won’t be worshiped. And isn’t that what gods are all about?

    • Cay Reet

      Is it?

      In many of the old pantheons, the gods do their thing and humans are just those funny thingies walking around on earth. They don’t really play a huge role – they can be useful and they can propagate with the gods, creating demigods, which often are of no interest to the gods until they become entertaining. In the Greek or Norse pantheon, humans are more an entertainment factor than a necessity. You can play with mankind a lot (or sleep around with members of it) without having them believe in you.

      • Leon

        Maybe a plausible explanation for a divine masquerade could be the fear of humans developing technology to wield the same power that the gods wield.
        Just look at what we can do with fire and electricity. Greedy murder monkeys with magic would have to scare the holy crap out of anybody.
        If people don’t believe in magic, scientific research into how it works simply can’t happen.

  7. Muskrat

    It’s worth noting that in some mythical-religious systems, the gods are actually dependent on humans–not so much on their belief in the gods, as sacrifices from them. In Vedic mythology and religious texts, it’s clear that the gods require sacrifices to maintain their life–and they in turn sometimes make sacrifices to help maintain the cosmic order. Similar ideas and practices existed among the Aztecs. One of the reasons they practiced human sacrifice is that they believe the gods would die and the cosmos would fall into chaos without them. And, in their myths, some of their gods actually sacrificed themselves, committing suicide, to maintain the cosmic order. Other mythologies have the gods perhaps not dependent on sacrifices but enjoying them. In one version of the Mesopotamian flood myth, the gods decided to wipe out humanity, not because they were wicked, but annoying, making too much noise. They relented at the last minute and allowed Utnapishtim to survive because they realized that if they killed off all humans, no one would make sacrifices to them. (The Mesopotamian seem to have generally acted like petty tyrants.)

    So, if your world is going to include multiple pantheons, you’ll have to account for this in some way. I suppose you could say the beliefs above were just wrong, but then you’d actually need to rewrite some of their mythology.

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