Poll Position: Ancient gods made new

We have a fair number of folks knowledgeable about ancient mythology 'round this here blog, so I thought it might be interesting to see what you'd think about this question of comics brought to life:

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You can look up more information about these various groups of gods on Wikipedia or this nifty site called "Godchecker.com". My thoughts, such as they are, after the jump. Also, some of these are still (more or less) active in the world today, with actual followers and everything -- I certainly mean no disrespect to anyone out there who believes the gods of the given pantheon already really exist. I am referring instead to them as they might play out in a comic-book, super-hero sense, and not in any way to disparage how they are actively worshiped today.

  • Celtic: The Celts were a pretty cool bunch, in my opinion, their gods having to do with all sorts of nifty things like the woods, music, hunting, and bravery. They didn't go much in for wholesale human sacrifice and the like, which is a bonus when ancient deity shopping. Furthermore, they had some pretty awesome attitudes about sex and love. A pretty good choice for the ease and comfort of us workaday mortals.
  • Cthulhuan: I like to think that even a devout squid/octopus lover like P.Z. Meyers would not want to see this particular god and its cult come to life here in the real world, with all the horror and the brain exploding and the soul-eating and the hey-hey. No, thank you.
  • Egyptian: A pretty bloody lot, overall, depending on which one you choose to follow. But for every Bast or Set you let in, you get a winner like Horus or Ra, so it's a bit of a mixed bag. They were heavily into hierarchies and priests and tithing, though.
  • Greek: Talk about your fun-loving group of gods. Unlike their later, grimmer, Roman counterparts, the Greek pantheon knew how to have a good time. Sure, you had to put up with the (more than) occasional Zeus-wenching, but you also had the upside of demi-gods. This had the clearest path to what we think of as super-heroes on a large scale, so it'd be neat in that regard. The gods themselves tended to be capricious and saw mortals more or less as playthings, but they were not, for the most part, deliberately evil. Rather like children with more power than was good for them, but far from the worst of the lot.
  • Hindu: There's a thread of super-heroism in some of the Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata, in the sense that avatars of the gods would walk among mortals and perform great deeds. Despite having read both, a long time ago, however, I am not very well-versed in Hinduism. And as the most widespread of currently-practiced religions on the list, I hesitate to take it very lightly.
  • Native American: Primarily nature spirits, my sense is that we could probably all do better if there were very powerful supernatural beings out there actively fighting to keep us humans in balance with the natural world.
  • Norse: Talk about grim. Yes, they're cool in a Thor-hurling-hammers sense, but these guys made their living in the harshest climates you can imagine, and had the no-nonsense sensibility to match. Be careful what you wish for with Odin and his fellow gods.
  • Roman: Like the Greek gods, only less whimsical and more "the pointy end of the spear goes in the other man".

So looking over the list, I'd probably go with either Native Americans or the Celts. Those gods seemed to be more in the role of big brothers or wise mentors and conservators than either completely evil overlords or stern slave-masters like a few of the other choices.

Which would you choose, and why?

18 Responses to Poll Position: Ancient gods made new

  1. Jeff, there was one God that was not on the list. The Hero Machine God, Jeff Hebert.

  2. But the Roman gods were adapted by the Romans from the Greek gods…they’re the same guys!

    Oh, and I totally choose Cthulu Mythos gods…

  3. William A. Peterson

    Uhmmm…
    Jeff, you’re not too terribly clear on the Celtic Mythos, are you?
    All of the above have drawbacks, of course, but the Seelie were forever playing little ‘tricks’ on Mortals (along the general lines of what happened to Rip Van Winkle), and the Unseelie (think Redcaps) liked to eat us! There really weren’t all that many ‘good guys’ amongst them…

    And, yeah, the Nordic Gods were worshiped by some grim sorts, but they certainly weren’t averse to partying!
    And, there’s a LOT to be said for having a practical outlook on life…

  4. The Atomic Punk

    As for the superhero aspect of dieties, I’d go with the Norse. They’re more along the lines of Batman, Spawn, or even Sandman and Grendel. Brutal yet benign.

    The Hindus are more like the Green Lantern Corps :).

    Not the Celts, but how about Arthurian legends? Kevin Matchstick! Now there’s a movie that needs made. Oops, that’s a separate blog.

  5. By Thoth! When I think about the pagan religions, their human sacrifice, the blood, the mire and the filth they imposed; the caste systems; the misery they inflicted – bringing them to life? My gorge rises at it.
    Consider the Aztecs and the sacrifices of 4000 victims a year to Tlolec and Queztalcoatl and Huitzalipoctli – excoriations on type of the temple of the sun and the bodies rolled down the steps, greasy with blood, to be hacked up into burritos below. And the victims were probably mostly willing, too.
    Or consider the Celts with their open air temples surrounded by rotting human corpses impaled within ash tree cages; pits of human remains nearby; and the skulls embedded on the lintels.
    Or consider the Egyptian pantheon with their fixation on the Necropolis; the descent into the Duat and the willing sacrifice of hours of manpower to build monuments to… what?
    The Cthulu mythos, though terrifying and well constructed by Lovecraft, never, thankfully, took root in any culture’s imagination.
    Hindu gods and Norse moreso are a bit more palatable; though they both encouraged caste systems and slavery (witness the entire population of the Volga river valley sold to Byzantium by the Norse; hence the word “Slav”) Moreover with both Norse and Hindu the end of the world; Ragnarok or Shiva Destroyer, is a bit of a sobering prospect.
    Even the Greeks in their earlier incarnation of Minoan and Mycenaean gods were none too pretty. But the Greek Gods of Olympos at least proclaimed some level of reason and order – the slaying of that primordial terror, the Python, by the god of light and the taming of the Eumenides by the rational actions of Athena and the judges of Athens. So… I choose them.
    And Romans, though good at war, were just copycats when it came to religion so to Hades with them.

  6. OH, and what about the Zoroastrian pantheon? That would be sort of cool. Of course YHWH and El would be a part of that to some degree and then you’d get some anti-Jewish anti-Christian flak, I guess. But the killing of Tiamat and the glory of Ahura-Mazda would be pretty sweet. Plus the hero Gilgamesh and his pal Enkidu. And the love goddess in the form of a big, white, cow with long horns.

  7. Finally, I’d actually vote in favor of Pastafarianism. It seems to make the most sense at this current junction in history.

  8. Well, maybe I am thinking of the Celts as more in their modern interpretation. I freely admit I wrote most of my descriptions by pulling ’em from my ass. Except the Hindus and the Greeks, I actually have studied those, though in the past.

  9. @Gero: The Roman Gods may be adapted from the Greek Gods, but the Romans made some changes. In the Main pantheon of Roman/Greeks that most of us are familiar with those changes are very minor, but as you get into the more obscure figures of the the two Pantheons those changes become more obvious.

  10. As fun as the Greeks would be, I’d be forever paranoid that Zeus might come down take my appearance and sleep with my wife. Then what could I do? Nothing! Then I’d be stuck raising his kid, with virtually no chance of child support. Deadbeat dad, that’s what he is!!!! 🙂

    I’d go with Native American myself, They seem to be more of a mentor than ruler. And that’s something the human race needs right about now.

  11. Well, my Klingon side says no Gods. (Klingon mythology goes like this: The Gods made the first Klingons. Then the first Klingons promptly turned around and killed the Gods.)

    However, I’ve always been a fan of both Greek and Norse mythologizes, so a hard choice. They both include a lot of meddling in human affairs, and their lead gods are very promiscuous (both Zeus and Wotan), so we could have demi-gods either way. BUT, not to go into too much detail (I could go on for a few pages here) I think I’ll have to go with my first “love”, the Greeks.

  12. There’s also the Mayan or Aztec pantheon to consider. Although that does tend to lean towards the human sacrifice side of things.

  13. Well, as a bit of national pride, I’ll go with the Celtic gods.

  14. I’m tempted to go with a number of these pantheons, but I ended up choosing the Native American “pantheon”, because they are the least apt screw around with and otherwise wreak havoc upon humanity.

  15. I have to go with Norse!
    Always my favorite pantheon and my ancestors were Vikings.

    But why didn’t you include the Sumerian-Babylonian pantheon?
    It is full of great characters.

  16. Jadebrain_Prime

    Norse for me too, though I think that may have been obvious with my position on a previous poll. I’m approximately (key word there) 49.5% Scandinavian, 49.5% Highland Scottish, and 1% other, but I have some subtle cases of atavism, and they’re mostly within my Scandinavian ancestry, so I consider myself closer to the Norse.
    On an unrelated side note, add that atavism to my Asperger’s/Autism, as well as a few various other things, and I release several times as much adrenaline for any level (how they measure that, I’ll probably never know) of anger as the average person… In effect, I practically become the Hulk.

  17. I’m Scotch-Irish so i went with Celts and William i dont think you are entirely clear on that pantheon either. the Seelie and Unseelie were Fae not gods. Here is a link you might want to look at next time http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Celtic_deities

  18. I vote for Cthulhu, for a complex reason. Yes, these gods were above individual humans in power, more concerned with more important matters – but in the stories, humanity wins. The Great Race had the ability to project their minds through time – they chose to escape the Elder Things by projecting to a time after humanity defeated the things! Cthulhu itself was burst into a cloud of noxious gas by being impaled by a steam ship. And time and again in the stories, whatever rears its head is forced back from mainstream reality (by the barest of margins, with the sacrifice of individuals, but still every time). And this pantheon, more than any other, would accomplish great good – by forcing people to band together against them. Much the same as the ending of Watchmen, the horror and the death would accomplish much good in the long run.