Oh, My Pop Culture Pantheon: Gods Alive!

Many stories circle around one particular religion or mythology. However, I think it can be equally interesting when a book or show addresses multiple mythologies simultaneously—when a story posits that all the gods and goddesses from various religions exist and interact. What are the politics like between these groups? The power dynamics? Let’s look at a few examples.

Percy Jackson/The Red Pyramid:

The original Percy Jackson quintet doesn’t touch on any sort of gods outside the Greek pantheon, and on its face, The Kane Chronicles (of which I’ve only read The Red Pyramid) is entirely about Egyptian mythology. However, there was one really interesting moment in The Red Pyramid when the two main kids are hiding out in New York and they look over to Manhattan, seeing thunder and lightning over the Empire State Building (new home of Mt. Olympus in the Jackson books). When they ask their mentor about it, they are told that Manhattan is Greek territory and Egyptian deities don’t go there. This suggests a world where all the pantheons of previous civilizations still exist, are aware of each other, have at some point agreed upon divisions of American territory between themselves, and respect each other’s power. This one throwaway line made me wonder what other pantheons Riordan will eventually delve into—Norse? Aztec? Hindu? I’m excited to see.

Supernatural:

Lady Geek Girl touched on the fail of Supernatural where it concerns Hinduism last week, but I’d say that it fails concerning pretty much any non-Christian religion. The idea that the show appears to work from is that the gods of all other traditions, including ancient ‘pagan’ (the name they give to any sort of Druidic or less-well known gods, mostly Anglo-Saxon) traditions, still exist, but their power is derived from their worshippers, and they no longer have as much clout in the modern world because of the rise of Christianity. LGG pointed out that in this mindset, the Hindu and other Asian gods should be much more powerful than they are portrayed, but most deities of non-Christian mythologies, although more powerful than the average ghost or demon, can usually be killed with a fancy stake or bled-upon ram’s horn. Nothing from a non-Christian pantheon can come close to the power of the angels or other Christian powers, and the non-Christian deities are portrayed as having to band together to protect themselves from complete destruction.

American Gods:

American Gods is a wonderful book by Neil Gaiman.  It also works from the idea that gods are only as powerful as the population of their worshippers can make them, but takes this concept in a far different direction from Supernatural. This story posits that the gods of the Old World immigrated to the US like so many other groups in the last two centuries, and have lost much of their power. Now, the old gods are banding together, and they are massing to make war against the New Gods of America—not Jesus or the Judeo-Christian God, but rather powerful personifications of Media, Celebrity, Drugs, and other fascinations of modern culture. The focus of this story is on Norse myth, but many other traditions’ gods are portrayed, in what I think is a realistic way: they all are aware of each other’s powers and are justifiably suspicious of each other, but have grudgingly put aside their differences to defend their place in America.

What stories have I missed? Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comes to mind, but I figured I’d focus on the more topical of Gaiman’s works here. Anyway, let me know in the comments, and, as always, tune in next time to get some religion!

2 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Pantheon: Gods Alive!

  1. Hello. Sorry I’m commenting two years after this article was written, I only recently discovered this site (which I like very much by the way!) and am exploring everything it has to offer. One of my favorite series actually exactly represents what you are discussing here. The series is called the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (a few books in the series are “The Alchemist”, “The Magician”, “The Sorceress”, “The Necromancer”, “The Warlock”, and “The Enchantress”). I’m not sure if any of you will notice this comment, but I think you would really like this book. It basically follows an urban fantasy plot where the older gods from various non-Abrahamic religions are waging a war between the Dark Elders and the Light Elders, gods either trying to protect humanity or re-enslave them. There are deities from the Aztec, Norse, Celtic, Sumerian, Greek, Egyptian, and many other cultures. In the universe of the series itself, the Abrahamic gods don’t exist at all, only the various elders vying for power. I highly suggest reading the series, it is amazing and extraordinarily detailed.

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