Question From Jonathan O’Dea. Answer by Greg Stafford. Published Oct 1998.
Q: I have seen references to deities which seem to indicate that they are of different sizes, or powers, or capacities, or something. How is a god’s size determined?
A: A deity’s IMPORTANCE is the determinant of their relative measure. Deities’ importance is shown by their being quantified as either a High Deity, a (normal) Deity, or a Minor Deity. Here are the ways to figure out if a deity is high, normal, or minor.
Breadth of Manifestation
Multiple manifestations of a deity are indicative of greater importance.
The most powerful of these deities have manifestation in many of the separate hero worlds. Orlanth is present in the entire moving atmosphere of the central world, in the Underworld as quester and rescuer, in the sky with his own weird constellation, in the chiefs and kings of the peoples, in the background of many Ernalda stories, etc.
Sometimes the powers are abstract or so basic as to be unstated or philosophical. Such underlying assumptions are considered to be everyplace, and so are signs of a normal or High Deity. Thus the life-giving powers of Yelm, though unstated, indicate his High status.
Depth of Magic
Deities have many ways of manifesting their powers. It is called magic. Magic in the world occurs when people and gods perform the same mythic actions at once, one willingly and the other as part of Nature, subject to the will of mortals.
A deity which has a narrow range of magic is most likely a minor deity. Lanbril, a thief god with widespread but thin worship through the Dragon Pass regions, is a minor god.
Ultimate Secrets of Existence
Many deities deal in some way with the ultimate secrets of the world, and those secrets are basically of Life and Death (or some other transcendent meaning). If such lofty subjects are not essential to a deity’s mythology and reason for being, then it is a minor deity.
These secrets are important to the inhabitants of the Mortal World, the Land of Life and Death, for they are the ONLY beings which can CREATE MORE of those two powers (Life and Death). The important deities’ myths show methods for mortals to interact with the ultimate powers, usually by duplicating or copying the actions therein to produce magic.
Deities usually intervene between those ultimate things and interpret it, creating social customs and methods of worship. Customs and worship instruct and shield the worshipper during its life. These often appear to be restrictions to the followers’ freedom, but actually define the realms within which the deity’s protection is guaranteed. Go outside these spheres of allowed activity and guarantees disappear. Thus if someone keeps disobeying Orlanth’s rules of hospitality, the god won’t guarantee his protection, and will eventually stop all help, then help others hunt him down, if needed. Likewise, Orlanth has no power in the realm of the Sun, and demands his worshippers not participate in sun worship.
Deities which have many different ways or spheres of magical action are more important than those which have only one or a few.
Powerful deities all have a formal relationship with mortals in their world, the Surface world, which is the World of Mortality where humans and ludoch and mostali etc. dwell. This relationship is called Worship.
Worship is a nonequal but reciprocal exchange between mortals and the gods. (basically the gods get the sacrifices, mortals get “magic,” which is any manifestation of the divine power into the mortal world.)
Worship is critical because it is the conscious merger of the unchangeable gods and the always-changing mortals.
Worship makes gods stronger. Deities without worship are always weak.
Number of Worshippers
Widespread worship increases their strength.
Simply said, more people worshipping make a deity stronger.
Types of Worship, Other Empowerment
Worship varies according to various types. It can be collective, dedicated, fanatical, or collateral.
Many deities receive worship as part of their larger pantheon. This is collective worship, and is probably the most widespread type, enough to be called the standard type. Collective worship is characterized by large public ceremonies with many worshippers celebrating the presence of many gods and goddesses.
Dedicated worship makes a god even stronger. Dedicated worship is when an individual consciously sets itself to worship only one specific entity, as much as possible. Wanting to do this doesn’t count as being dedicated, but individuals who are successful really help the deity be stronger. Restrictions on the dedicated worshipper are often significant, but powers are often strong in exchange. Initiates are dedicated worshippers, so deities which have initiates are stronger than those which do not. [NOTE: Not all deities have initiates!]
Fanatical worship goes even beyond dedication. A fanatical worshipper ignores all other deities and spends all of his time and energy working with a single deity. Fanatical worshippers are often reliant upon others for maintenance of their lives.
Collateral worship is widespread, and supplies the weakest link between deity and worshipper. Collateral worship means that a deity is getting its worship indirectly. This indirectness might be because another deity in between and is thus getting part of the worship, getting credit for the collateral deity’s power, then passing it on. For instance, Orlanth collects some collateral worship through Entekos, the Dara Happan Atmospheric Goddess. Orlanth also collects collateral worship through the sacrifices made to Worlath, an inferior manifestation of him.
Intentional deceit can reduce a god’s worship to be simply collateral, such as disguising the Blood Sun to be the Red Sun.
Alternately, sometimes collateral worship begins when ambitious mortals “create” a god. This created deity is often a misunderstanding of a greater entity or a single aspect of the deity.
Finally, ambiguous admiration, far flung fame, idealization of an individual, and other such transient human notice contributes to a god’s strength, but only weakly. Slightly more powerful are vague fears, far flung lies, demonization of an individual, and similar worries.
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