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Author Topic: polytheistic little devils
Member # 7977

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My WIP takes place in a fantasy world where the MC's society worships two major gods, and in general this is a polytheistic world (there is one major monotheistic nation, but that's not where most of this takes place). I was writing a scene where the MC as a child meets his father (who abandoned him to an orphanage) for the first time, and I caught myself using the phrase "... and in walked the devil himself."

As I thought about how to reword it b/c I didn't like the pacing of the sentence, I realized that the devil is a pretty Americanized (or at least judeo-christian) way of describing someone, since even those who aren't members of that religion are at least passingly familiar with the idea of a great evil supernatural being. In my world, that almost certainly wouldn't be the case. I actually did spend a fair amount of time setting up the religious environment of the nation the story takes place in, but I spent that time setting up stories about the gods, and didn't give much thought to "the devils."

I'm not an expert on the subject, so I thought I'd query the assembled wisdom of this board. The most appropriate parallel I can draw between a real society and the one in my book (from a religious point of view) is with the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses.

I was wondering, were there bad gods/devils/demons in Roman mythology? As I recall, Hades was simply ruler of the land of the dead; he wasn't necessarily evil. Was he?

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You're going to lose the meaning of the phrase, no matter what because your original phrase is so culturally loaded and it doesn't fit in your world.

You can always reword the sentence, however when you do that you lose the 'code' of the phrase. You'll have to make sure you indicate it's a simile.

In he walked, as if he was a demon from the underworld.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't. It's just that you don't know where you're damned to.

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Member # 4849

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I'd say no. Most of the Roman/Greek (Hades is Greek) gods were overdrawn people. They had heightend traits: jealousy, mischeviousness, "narcissism" , war, theivery, madness, etc.

If i had to pick the most temperamental of the Greek gods, it would be Poseidon: God of the sea, rivers, floods, droughts, earthquakes and horses; known as the "Earth Shaker" or "Storm Bringer".

As far as Roman: Mars (Ares's Roman counterpart) is attributed as God of War, spring, growth in nature, agriculture, terror, anger, revenge, courage and fertility.

But, I don't think you'll find a true Greek or Roman counterpart for Satan. In fact, most of the religions I've looked into don't have a real comparison.

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited May 05, 2010).]

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you could have an orphanage instructor telling about how the other god is so vain that if someone talks about him, he will show up.
Then, you have the father comes in. "and in walked the other. "

my example is bad, but I think it gives you the idea. You can do anything if it is set up at the right time.
Another way is to have people using the phrase all the time, replacing the name of course, so the boy knows the phrase.

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Greek and Roman mythology did not have a devil in the Judeo/Christian sense of the word. All of the gods had a mixture of good and evil traits.

However, there were creatures like the harpies and the Furies who often punished or pursued evil-doers. You might try creating something similar to that for your world.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, from my dictionary, the English "devil" derives from Latin "diabolus" and Greek "diabolos," meaning "the accuser." I'm not sure what, if any, religious significance this had for the Romans and Greeks. (It doesn't seem to derive from Sanskrit "deva," meaning a Hindu god or spirit.)
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A. Why use a cliche?
B. If you're not capitalizing devil then you're not necessarily calling the father The Devil, but a devil.
C. Finally, I have several WIPs with a polytheistic religion as the major faith. I still use some common phrases but with slight tweaks. For example, the characters don't say "god damn" or "God damn" or "goddamn," but they might say "gods damn" as in "Well, gods damn you to burn!" or "If I trip over that gods damned toy again..."

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It might not be wrong at all for your character to refer to his father as THE devil. Even though the Greeks were polytheistic, if you read Plato, you see that much of Socrates's language regarding religion is cast in monotheistic terms. Now granted, I don't think Plato ever talked about the devil (in fact, I'm pretty sure he didn't), but if a polytheist can talk about "the god," it's not inconceivable for him to talk about "the devil."
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Have you looked into Manicheism at all? It's not a perfect parallel to what you're trying to construct, but it might give you some ideas on good vs. evil.

How do your characters explain away the evils of the world? Do your gods have helping spirits (like angels, devils, etc.)? Depending on which god your POV character most closely identifies with, might not that character make negative parallels between the other god's followers and a person s/he doesn't like?

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I'm with babooher, and I'll go with answer A, too.
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Hehe... I knew I asked the right set of people. I never planned on using the phrase as is when I saw it didn't fit in my world. In fact, I might not use a "demonically inspired" phrase at all. I just wanted to flesh out the religions of my world a little more after I realized there was a great big gaping hole in them.

To give a general summary, the nation in which most of this place is technically polytheistic, but they are in a sense "duo"-theistic. They worship one somewhat stereotypical vengeful and masculine god and one more earth-mother type, and the two are (in their mythology) married. Both played a role in freeing the people from their centuries-long enslavement, the masculine god by protecting and empowering the warriors to drive out the enslaving nation, and the feminine god by providing them with their essential tool to fight, the magi stones, as the planet "gave birth" to the stones right beneath the now-blessed nation.

In "modern" times (in which the story takes place) this translates into two state-affiliated churches that are semi-united, though most people pay primary homage to one or the other. There is a certain discrimination present against those who don't worship one or the other of those two gods, though in theory there is freedom of religion in the society.

To answer specific questions:
babooher - It didn't feel cliche at the time I wrote it; the narration is inside the head of an 8-year-old who freezes in terror at the sight of his father (though the father doesn't recognize him). The father is sort of a supernatural creature of evil to the boy. I'll certainly be tweaking that sentence, though. I have tons of "tweaked" phrases; characters exclaim "Gods, that hurt!" etc. "Where in the five hells have you been?" Odd that I decided there should be five hells, but didn't really think of what they were or who populates them (I just thought the phrase sounded cool and I had already "finished" constructing the religion).

I wasn't capitalizing devil.

Kitti - I've never heard of Manicheism. Will look into it. With regards to what they attribute the ills of the world to, I was inclined to go with human nature, but perhaps I should flesh it out more than that. The nation is fairly cosmopolitan and modern, but it still has its religious beliefs and traditions; complete atheism is unheard of (though the main character hates/doesn't believe in any of the gods for his own reasons).

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Pyre Dynasty
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I'll just add that it bothers me when people portray Hades as an evil devil. It bothers me even more when they portray him as trying to take over the sky from Zeus. It shows an incredible ignorance of the mythology they are portraying. When the Olympians defeated the Titans, the big three, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades cast lots over who got first choice of domain. Hades won, he had first choice and he chose the underworld, and he was perfectly happy there.

Sorry about that. Yeah, you need to take a close look at your religious inspired language. I mean, does 'damn' even make sense for your setting? Do the gods stop people from entering a 'heaven' for their 'sins'? That isn't the case for the Greeks, they would most likely use the word curse to mean something similar, but it's not quite the same.

JSchuler: I wonder if those monotheistic terms existed in the original Plato or if they are just the result of a monotheistic translator. Just some food for thought.

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There are no demons in Greek mythology the way you might think of them in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but there are comparable beings. The Titans, trapped in Tartarus (one realm of Hades) might be able to serve that purpose. There are plenty of denizens of Hades, including the dragon Campe which guards Tartarus, Cerberus which guards the gate, etc. Not straight-up demons, but you could model demons off of them easily enough.
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I think you need to look into the five hells concept. If you want to throw out a comment like, "Where in the five hells have..." which I like by the way, then those five hells should really be expanded. I know you have finished plating out the religion culture of the story, but every thing of light has it's opposite. I would really explore the hells.

And may I suggest an option. What if included in your married gods concept you add in a third wheel. Maybe an invisible god, or a brother god, or a rival god. Silent, or God of shadows, or something. Maybe he could rule those five hells, and you can build up the mythology so that when the boy sees his father and compares him to this third god, it will make sense, and not read as a cliche.

I'm not trying to change the story, but if your giving yourself so many clues about these hells, and a devil, and it feels honest to you, why not listen to your instincts and go with it.
If you can make gods, then why not add in a devil?

Good luck,

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In the Percy Jackson books, which are set in modern-day but feature the greek gods as running things behind the scenes (with demigods, half god, half human children being the main characters) there's some great insults when one or the other character tells someone to "Go to Tartarus!" (which is the precursor to Hades and is underneath or seems so as far as I can tell and is the pit into which all the pieces of Kronos were thrown after he was torn to bits by his children...who were cut out of his belly because he used to eat them...lovely stuff in ancient greek mythology...)

Anyway, it's just another idea as you're figuring out how the people in your world would refer to it.

Battlestar Gallactica (the newest version) had a polytheistic religion for the humans, so they would say "gods damn" and things like that. The cylons (manufactured people/robots that look human) worshiped a single deity, so that was an interesting point of contrast where they would say "god" in the singular. They also had this great expression "So say we all" that would come at the end of sermons and eulogies and major speeches, and over time built to be a really meaningful expression throughout the series. The fun part of inventing a world is that you get to invent all this kind of stuff, too.

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Pyre Dynasty: While I am not able to read Greek, the sources I have read offering analysis on Plato do state that the monotheistic language is in the original, and not an artifact of translation.
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Sheena - Oh, there are other gods alright. As a child, the MC simply hasn't heard of them. He sort of creates/becomes one as he gets older.

Pyre - Interesting question as to whether the word "damn" even makes sense in the context of my story. Given my postulation as to the existence of a negative afterlife as some sort of punishment for the wicked, I think it still works out. One reason I'm particularly inclined to make it so is that part of the overall atmosphere of the story is that the society seems in many ways utterly familiar to a modern day Anglo/American reader; nobody's worn a suit of armor since the advent of modern magic, everybody in the city reads at least one newspaper at least once a day (the big ones print twice), they hop on trolleys to catch a play before going out for a nightcap at the casinos.

Getting back to the religion, perhaps the hells could be the domains of fallen deities, the only remaining dwelling places for those who are not worthy enough to be taken into the presence of the so-called "better" gods.

I do want to flesh this out, though mainly for my own satisfaction as I doubt too much of it will make it in to the book. We'll see.

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You know, a "curse" doesn't actually apply to what will happen to you after you die. Most of them seem to deal with terrible things that could happen to you in the future.

If you think about what the words actually mean, the only one I can think of that applies to after you die is "damn" and in a punnish (ooh! pun with punish!) kind of way, it can also mean to "dam" or stop progress, and that can happen before death as well.

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Pyre Dynasty
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JSchuler: Good to know, thanks. I don't read greek either.

Corky: That is exactly what damn means, the gates of heaven impede you and so you have to go to that other place. (The only reason we put an n at the end was to distinguish from the thing keeping that lake from flowing over us. And so good little boys can make dam jokes on car trips. "Mom, look there's a dam, can we go on the dam tour. I want to ride the dam elevator and see the dam turbines. We can feed the big dam fish. Come on mom it will be dam fun.") This is a Judeo/Christian/Muslim concept not an ancient Greek one. Their view of the afterlife is more often couched in terms like blessings and curses. Tantalus was cursed to always hunger and thirst but never to eat or drink. Sisyphus was cursed to roll a rock up a hill but never get it up there. Achilles was blessed with an eternity hunting in the Elysium fields.

Good luck micmcd, this religion of yours sounds interesting. (If you'll just leave a pamphlet and get off my porch I promise to consider it. Sorry, I had to do that.) Just make sure your words actually make sense to the setting. I've been burning through my Sliders DVDs and it's amazing how much they can change while keeping the world feeling current. (Well current to the 90s.)

Note on the word "hell" (just because I like this subject): it actually comes from Norse mythology, Hel was the goddess of the afterlife. She was half corpse (the left half I think) and half alive. I forget how the word became used in the english bible, but it is a translation of three words, Hades: which is just the whole greek afterlife, Tartarus: which, as has been said, is the deepest part of Hades and is the lake of fire and all that, then Ghehenna(sp?): which is the garbage dump of Jerusalem.

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