"Yeah, yeah, I get it… god of war, god of love, ok, its always the same, only the names and rituals change."
Thirty takes on less common, unusual, bizarre, and sometimes incomprehensible approaches to the divine.
1. Whats a god?
When the races witnessed a lightning bolt strike a tree and set fire to it for the first time, they did not look above and cower and wonder in awe and fear, and ponder what greater power may dwell above them. These people were missing that gene. No amount of natural phenomenon would sway them to look to a greater power for an explanation.
There is no concept of worship or religion here. There is not even an understanding of what a higher power may be. Divinity, worship, and gods are three words missing from the languages of the world. The races of this realm are self-sufficient and pragmatic, exploring the mysteries of their world through a more scientific, empirical approach, slowly but eventually understanding the science behind the magic.
Nor, furthermore, do they seek salvation or an afterlife of any kind, believing unequivocally, that they live, and then they die, their bodies decomposing and feeding the next wave of life.
2. As Below, so Below
A nearly impenetrable haze and thick-laden atmosphere surround this world, making it nigh impossible to see the sun and stars. Here the races evolved a bit differently. They did not have the great firmament to gaze upon. They did not have the night skies to decipher and stare at in bewilderment and dread.
Instead the people of this world looked below to reach enlightenment. The oceans of the realms function here as the skies and heavens do in most orthodox worlds.
It is below the endless, raging deep, where the races believe the gods come from. The Oceans are the great mystery, not the skies above, and the realm of the gods can be found in the great unknown below the surface, in some eerie benthic realm of cold and darkness. Many subtle and some profound nuances exist in this world, and in other ways it is not unlike other worlds with intricate, omnipresent pantheons.
3. I’m divine, how about you?
On this bizarre world, there are no "original" gods. Somehow, the races of this realm, evolved themselves to such a point, that occasionally individuals here are born with the divine seed! In fact, many sages speculate that all lifeforms here, have the potential to achieve godhood, and many over the milleniums have done just that!
While most beings here are born, live their lives and die, like beings on most other worlds, some reach an inexplicable ‘full potential’. The specifics are really up to a particular GM, but in essence, any living being here, may achieve a kind of godhood and ascend into the firmament, to join a bizarre pantheon, in their lifetime.
Another place where the nuances of every day life and worship are quite different from the norm. Imagine knowing that you, or the sunflower-seed-spitting dolt sitting next to you at the tourney, has the latent potential to become a god!
4. Emotions are the conduit
Simply put, whatever makes you feel good, is godly/the proper worship of some god. If it seems as the ultimate hedonism, know that there are also evil gods - those who support the worst instincts, indulge in violence and killing. So be careful. The right kind of pleasure/emotions will lead you closer to divinity, and make you a better person. If you only engage in your base desires, you will be looked down by those who have higher, nobler wants.
What makes you feel good, is right to some god - bad feelings come from misbehaving. You only have to be sure, that it is "the right god" driving your feelings. Additional fun comes, when you feel ambivalent about something - the gods must be in conflict!
Why should it be only doom and gloom! You can base all kinds of nastiness on the pleasure principle.
5. Ultimate Sacrifice
People, even ordinary folk can call on the aid of gods - but the helping god will be paid on the spot, usually by draining the caller’s life force. (The form may vary by deity and purpose - sanity, anyone? Priests devoted to that god will seem to ‘pay’ less.) You want a miracle, you get it.
Priests in general are those who can get away with more. But calling for any real favor will get the person hurt - calling for big favors is the same as "Save my tribe, oh lord, and take me as your willing sacrifice.".
(Special thanks to Cheka)
6. They will save us! (But have not yet been born)
Gods do not exist… yet. But we know they are coming. And when they will come, they will know of all our deeds and failings. Act properly, or our future saviours will not be pleased. Thus, everyone is preparing for the Great Divine Birth.
Just need to find out what the gods will be like.
7. Personal Jesus (w/ apologies to Depeche Mode)
Here everyone has a personalized god, all their own, and existing exclusively for that person. As one can imagine there are as many personal gods in this world as there are poeple! Folks will pray to these divine patrons, knowing that the being cannot possibly be busy elsewhere. This world, in essence, is somewhat similar in style to all of those European towns, which adopt minor saints as local divinities, specifically for that town and populace. This world takes that concept even further.
Most, if not all folks here, will have small individualized shrines in their homes, and carry small idols of their respective gods.
(Oh and yes, my god is better than your god :))
8. We love our women
Regardless of any world’s beliefs, some things are indisputable. On this world, the people are convinced. Anything that can bring actual life into the world, needs to be revered and worshipped. Life springs forth from the womb. And the world has evolved thusly; the men worship the women, as there is no greater force, in nature or otherwise than the ‘Bearers of the "divine Womb". Women here are put on pedestals to say the least. They are treated like living goddesses, nurtured by entire villages, towns, and cities. To be allowed to cojoin with a living goddess, and to be chosen to sire a ‘divine seed’ is as great an honor as any man can be bestowed here, by his "goddesses" of this world. The Mother is Queen.
9. Careful what you pray for (and when!)
Everything here revolves around rituals. Worship here is not unlike worship in orthodox worlds with one major exception. Prayer has to be conducted at precisely the right moments. And only those precise moments. Otherwise dire consequences can ensue, prayers mis-answered and tragedies abounding. The priest class here is of vital importance and of highest standing. They are the Time-Keepers, knowing exactly what can be prayed for and when! Usually, the priests will base their guidance according to a complicated astrological system, not unlike the infinitely complex Hindu astrology of our world.
10. Revolving Pantheons
This world is too small for the sheer power of all deities (or they just can’t abide each other). Therefore, gods take turns in exerting their influence, at other times they are unreachable. If you need support from high on, you have to pray to the other gods, that are present - but be careful, what you ask of whom… not all gods you worship will be pleased by wrong associations. Here, most people will have several from several pantheons.
Whether they revolve by season or by year, all people know it, and religion always involves a little politicking - the priests are the greatest masters of this art.
11. By this triangle, I rule!
Some say, that there are shapes in the seemingly chaotic nature, that always arise in their perfectness and regularity. Others say, that it is these shapes that make civilization possible, and their invoking elevates Man above the Animal. All agree that Gods can only associate with the ultimate beauty, may it be so deceptively simple as geometric shapes. The most devoted to the gods will build their dwellings in their shapes. At the very least, the shape should play an important role in your life.
The Pythagoreans were amateurs. Here the geometry itself is sacred.
12. Secret Names
There is a name publicly known, to designate the deity. But for praying, people use the secret name of their god(s), a name they have chosen themselves, or learned from others (typically, it is passed on in a family). And they better protect it, if others make use of the name, they can:
a) call for favors for themselves - and gods don’t grant many of those!
b) revoke any boons and blessings to the former users of that name
c) possibly anger the power in question!
It is customary to devise intricate rituals with hidden meanings, to appear distinct enough to the god(s). Also, the longer a name is used, the easier the contact becomes. (This works equally well with monotheism - one common god invoked by many names.)
13. Gods for everything. Everything
A few scattered cultures see the divine all around them. The astral plain is filled with gods just as others are, but instead of a small and mighty pantheon, there are billions of gods - a god for every single thing that exists. Every stone, every blade of grass, every grain of sand - all are protected by the divine. How else, they reason, could they sustain existence? Devotion is thus diverse and somewhat vague, as it is difficult to pin down an individual deity to worship. The number of gods, however, makes them no less divine or important.
14. I believe we’ll need some gods!
You know, life is a mess. It’s all hopeless chaos without any sense of direction. Are we just to wander around aimlessly from birth to death? No, we will invent ourselves gods: great, powerful beings, that are far wiser than we are, and will lead us to greatness, and add more order and happiness to the universe. And there shall be wise men who will make the contact easier for the common man.
Yes, we have made them, why should that make them less real? If you think of it, it is. Do not fear, if a god becomes troublesome, it can be eliminated by simply not believing in him. What is made can be unmade.
15. Look, a flashlight! Worship me!
We are all familair with this one, are we not? A technologically, intellectually and/or spiritually advanced race, impresses the native inhabitants of any given world, to such a degree, that the "newcomers" with their "mysterious objects", "alien" minds, and bizarre "powers", begin to be worshiped by the populace, and are mistaken for actual gods.
16. Hostile Takeover
This world started like many others, along with a pantheon of native gods, but a cataclysmic event changed all of that. Here, an alien pantheon of gods, from worlds and realities unknown, came and usurped the gods of these people, imprisoning, banishing, or even destroying them outright. Confusion reigns below, but eventually the new "gods" make themselves known to the populace. Reactions vary greatly. Some take to worshiping the newcomers, some cling to their old, perhaps now non-existent gods. Those priests and certain mages that derive their powers from above, will have little choice though, if they wish their flow of magic to not abandon them.
Perhaps a campaign built around the ‘search’ for the old gods? Regardless, it would certainly make for a dynamic world.
17. Ghost-Gods (Honor thy Grandpa!)
Anscestor worship taken to an extreme. The dead are gods. And the only god is Death. Those that ‘pass’ become his demi-gods. The living are well aware of their reality and indeed worship countless generations of deceased relatives! No guard dogs necessary in these homes. Spirits are always afoot. In fact, one can’t escape their gods. There are more and more every passing generation. And they like to bicker, just like your real-life relatives. These ones however can also grant boons to their living kin, courtesy of the one god, Father Death.
Careful tracking of family trees in this world is a crucial facet of life. Honor thine old-folk! You will soon be praying to them.
18. Oh, they’re real alright! See that guy over there?
A slight but reverberating nuance exists in this world. On other worlds, there are always found a few who do not believe in the gods, but that isn’t an option here. The gods exist! They make their existence and appearance quite known, and walk the earth from time to time, involving themselves much more with the affairs of Man, then gods do on other, more orthodox worlds. It would not be impossible for example, to encounter a god during any random PC adventure. What influence on events any given deity will have in these cases is something for a GM to decide.
19. Rubix Cube(tm)
These people spend their lives searching for the true nature of their god(s). Only if they find out enough about their mysterious deities, may they pass on in peace/be reborn/whatever. God is a mystery….BUT, if you solve it, you shall be rewarded.
A part of their religion is designed to confuse and mislead people, to not make them get to the answer so easily, Everyone is miserable with life, more or less… everyone searches for the secret god… and those, who find him, are unable to explain to others, how they solved the Great Divine Secret!
20. Knowledge, then worship
The philosophers cannot deny the existence of gods, and have long ago realized that all that exists had to have been created by someone. The question, then, is who? What are their names? How should they be worshiped? Is there but one god or many? What exactly is a god? The philosophers ask these questions as they have for generations and, until they can come up with proper answers, will refuse to worship. When it comes to something as important as the worship of creators, they reason, why attempt anything that is less than certain? Thus they debate and think endlessly, hoping someone will produce a universal theory that answers any and all questions on the divine.
21. Deeds, not words
God is in all things material, and therefore he sees whatever people do in the material world… and that is what matters, what you really do - materialism, taken to a divine extreme! There will be various economical systems tried, and differing religions/worldviews on how to manage your property.
Prayers are all nice, but to approach a god you have to actually DO something. Gods do all the really hard work (they run the universe after all), and mortals shouldn’t stay behind!
Some of the worshipers periodically rebuild and destroy their temples, again and again. Most create worthy offerings, and consecrate their products to their chosen patrons. No matter the approach: words alone never work.
From a moral point of view, the droves may keep on babbling, but it is the true substance, the real things, that count. It does not matter what you say: only what you do. That is, what differs good from evil. (Note: may have a special fate for the slackers.)
22. Return to Nothing
Nothing you were, and you will return to nothingness. It was the supreme being(s), that shaped you of inert matter, and gave you life, to dwell, if briefly, in this world. You should not waste this gift of life. And remember, those who control chance and fate, can prolong your life, or shorten it. They can also hinder you from taking your life prematurely, and make it very unpleasant.
There are many ways to blessed life. And there is nothingness.
23. Time keeps on ticking (w/Apologies to Steve Miller Band)
The Gods are just a little moment, maybe even a fraction of a second behind the people of this world, in the flow of time. That means, they are not "here", at this particular moment, though they are ever-present. (And yes, there are dozens of libraries of sophisms on this topic.) To actually communicate with the gods in any way, you need to leave them a message behind - you can’t simply talk to them, it must be a physical object. And the longer the message stays around, goes the common wisdom, the more likely the gods will notice it - hence, temples and shrines are very popular, but praying is an unknown concept. The question of how they can grant your wishes is even more complicated.
The people are a) building a perfect mind (supercomputer) to take care of all their needs and solve all of their problems or b) they have it already, and now they only have to wait until the solutions to all their problems are computed.
25. Who needs whom?
It is a theological maxim that mankind needs the gods. But do the gods need mankind? In this world, yes they do. The gods are sustained by worship; it is for them food, energy, life. For a god to be forgotten, its shrines abandoned and prayers unsaid, is to kill it. Thus, while mortals depend on various gods for their needs, the gods compete too for worship and rely on it. If a god is forgotten by all mortals, it fades away into the void. The system of religion, then, is mutual.
26. "Please, can I help you?"
The gods were punished by a greater power (possibly the creator god). They are bound to wander the earth, trying to attract genuine worshippers, until they amass a certain number, or the chief deity decides. Only then can that particular god return to the "heavens". In the meantime, they all walk the earth, weakened, desperate… and quite un-godlike.
27. Fear the Gods
Gods are very dangerous creatures, sometimes friendly, mostly not. Temples are the way to make contact with them… if not easier, then at least it is concentrated in one place. Were it not for the temples, gods could be running amok among the people!
Therefore, mortals have to keep the gods close to temples, entertained and worshipped. It doesn’t make the worst of them any better, and there is no guarantee some won’t go on trips now and then. Still, there have to be priests that are hardy men, able to survive the rigors of their position, get a sufficient number of worshippers to make the gods feel important enough, and mediate the contact between mortals and immortals. They are the diplomats, and defenders of mortals. The gods are miserable bastards, deal with it (and don’t say it out loud).
28. Gods inside the shadow
The big difference is that people believe that the gods are hidden in, or watching them from, their own shadows. The shadow is the basic factor to wrap things around. Think of the impact on worshipping, rituals, phrases etc.
- "The gods are with us, the sun is high."
- conversely, a godless place is one without shadows; unclear shadows mean a weak presence… be afraid.
- "You can’t run from your shadow. You may be able to avoid it at times, but it is always there, always." - a play on divinity, but also on conscience.
- Vampires and similar creatures are the ultimate evil.
- and so on, and so on.
29. They gave us the children
Children are a gift, and here it is more true than anywhere else. The higher powers send down the offspring, and it is the duty of the people to take care of it - for it is the divine, that is manifested most clearly in them. For gods, in all their glory, are close to mortals in their moods, and tendencies, and small children can be as fickle and unpredictable, destructive even. Parents have to be careful to recognize, which gods are reflected in a child most, and act accordingly. In turn, deities are indirectly identified from the children’s behavior.
Note: raising children, and raising them well are of a great cultural importance.
30. It’s okay that I take this gold
The god are not much active in this world, but they are really hyperactive in the world after. And boy, they do judge harshly. There are legends spun about many famous dead, and their ordeals and punishments on the other side. No deed is left out, so it is said and believed.
Worship is basically explaining away anything objectionable, the rituals can easily turn into litanies on your good intentions, or the bad intentions of the victim of your deeds. Offerings are always a tricky balance, between good form and avoiding to look like bribes. Wars are fought as everywhere, but at least they are more often declared.
Further Divine Concepts (which weren’t fully conceptualized):
- Literal idol worship - idols don’t represent gods, they ARE gods
- This world is a ‘recruiting ground’ for another, much greater and more amazing world. The gods get to choose who to take with them - and who stays behind, or will just be ‘dropped’. So worship your chosen god properly, and he may take you with them. (The UFO sect option.)
- in this world, the gods come in precise, opposite pairs. So if you want something from one, you have to weaken his opposite, so your chosen can get stronger. Go figure.
- in this world, it is easy to worship multiple gods, even profitable… but all know that after death, the gods will take the souls of their followers, meaning that they will take a respective part of their soul… tearing it apart. There you’d have priests all too willing to offer help to anyone, and people extremely careful to not accept it, once they have chosen one. The more you accept the help of a certain god, the more of your soul belongs to him, that’s the deal. Afterwards, that ‘parts’ may be put together and reincarnated, but most want to stay a whole person.
Honorary mentions to val and Cheka!
Additional Ideas (1)
This small city state has probebly only survived by having Mathom, the God of Delays as it's god. Time seems to move very slowly here and not much seems to get done, but it is a pleasent place to live, and those armies who have invaded it have met with a myraid of incidents that have wrecked their campaign.