When the ancients looked into the starry night sky, they saw the vault of heaven, a place where gods dwelt. But what are gods and how do they come to exist? Like modern-day superheroes, they often have an “origin story” that attempts to explain such details.
Yet these stories rarely explain how deities arose to godhood in the first place – I mean in a physical, real-world way. What process makes them gods? What was Odin before he was the Norse god of war and poetry? Some say he was a tribal god whose sphere of influence included storms and passion. Others say he might have been a tribal leader of some sort. How did he become a god?
How do gods come to be?
Many theories abound as to how deities come into existence.
Maybe deities come from us, from the power of our thoughts and actions. Artists and writers often speak as if their works have a consciousness or a will separate from the human who “birthed” them. This possibility implies that deities are rather like egregores or tulpas.
Another possibility is that deities have an existence separate from humans – they just take a form we can understand and appreciate. Whether that form is much-loved [such as Isis or Jesus] or from pop culture [like the Pokémon Arceus], these forms might just be “masks” that actual deities, who are beyond our comprehension, take to communicate with us.
From a panenthiestic point of view, one might believe that God is all things and is in all things – maybe even permeating fictional realms, endowing modern creations with a bit of godhood.
Then again, maybe this whole “deity” thing is all in our heads, a crutch needed to fill some hole in our psychology. But, as Professor Dumbledore once said, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean it is not real?”
Perhaps deities need energy from those who honor, love, respect, and worship them, and like all things that are given energy and devotion, they become “real” and they live through us. In this way, modern gods – those inspired by pop culture – might be created.
Take Superman, the original superhero. His origin story is very much like a god. His mythos is rich and complex. Like many deities, he even has a dying/rising storyline, tales of miraculous power, a good and generous heart, and stories of epic battles against demonic forces. No doubt he has inspired many with his stories – “The Death of Superman” is the best-selling comic of all time, and it moved even non-comic readers to tears.
Modern deities are just as worthy of honor and respect as their ancient counterparts – perhaps even more so, considering how pop culture has a much more powerful impact on our society at this moment than ancient culture. Deities cannot be separated from their culture any more than humans can be separated from their ancestry; taken out of context, things just don’t make sense. Magic works best when we use symbols that resonate powerfully with us. Our own culture has already produced spirits and gods. Why dig through articles on ancient deities when modern ones will likely work just fine?
The dark side
The flip side to the idea that gods can be “created” is that perhaps demons, negative spirits, or dark gods can be too. Left unchecked, our collective fascination with violence may create vicious entities that exist only to destroy.
Many witches and magical people subscribe to the idea of Elementals, beings presiding over Water, Fire, Air, Earth, and sometimes other natural forces. But with pollution run amok, is it possible that these mostly benign, ancient beings might become corrupted?
In some parts of the world, the air is so contaminated with heavy metals and industrial toxins that it is dangerous to breathe most of the time.
And with the epidemic of water pollution, coral reef destruction, acid rain, and overharvesting of fish, how content might the guardians of water be?
During the Cold War, the stockpiling and detonation of nuclear weapons was commonplace. Could these actions have created negative, fearful Elementals presiding over War or Nuclear Fallout?
Great and amazing things can come about from our collective belief. But perhaps we should also beware the darker side of our collective consciousness lest we unleash monsters.
Maybe well-established gods started off as entertaining stories written by an ancient scribe, but once the stories were told to those who loved them, they grew greater and more powerful. Therefore, pop culture deities could be the future of polytheism.
Quantum mechanics has many interpretations, one of which is the multiverse hypothesis. This is the idea that there are tons – maybe even an infinite amount – of universes out there. Some of the universes are basically identical to ours; others are different in every way. We’ve all heard about it, but you may not be aware that a lot of big brains think it might be true.
Could fictional realms exist in one of these other universes? Furthermore, one of the implications of the multiverse interpretation is that we collectively make reality. This is such an amazing idea because it implies that the depth of humanity’s power is unimaginable and untapped. Maybe in the future technologies will exist to better enable us to harness our thought-powers. As the apothegm goes,
Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions.
Our thoughts might also create our world.
After recently discovering “pop culture paganism,” the question of what is a god? has really intrigued me, but I don’t know if I was coherent in this post. Hopefully I made some kind of sense!