Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on her author website.
On my last book, I spent a lot of time working on the pantheon for my world. A pantheon is the collective sum of deities in a specific mythology. Some examples from our own world are the Norse, Celtic, and Greek pantheons.
Since King's Folly takes place on the same planet as the Blood of Kings books, I had already created some of my pantheon. This left me with the unique challenge of going back in time and trying to write the origins of these gods and goddesses and the myths that went along with them. I thought you might find my methods helpful, so here are 8 Tips for Creating a Pantheon for Your Novel.
1. Don't over-think it!
It helps to think of fictional gods and goddesses as characters in your story, whether or not you ever allow them to show up on the page and speak. If you can think of these deities as characters who once existed in your fantasy storyworld, then you can follow the same practice you would when creating any major or minor character, whether they be historical figures or still living when the story takes place.
2. Write an origin story/creation myth.
What does this particular culture believe about the beginning of the world? If you study the various cultures on earth that existed throughout history, you'll find that each has a story on how earth and people came to be. Study some of these to get ideas. Or work from scratch and invent your own origin story based on the people you've created.
3. Know your culture.
Mythological gods were created by humans to answer questions that were, at the time, unanswerable. These deities brought purpose to life. Faith was influenced by the culture of the people who believed. List needs, questions, fears, values, customs, and superstitions of your culture. This will help you know what it's like to live there. Having a well-developed culture will make creating a pantheon easier. Shallee McArthur wrote a wonderful guest post on developing your culture.
Make a list of what matters to your people, then incorporate that list into your pantheon. If your culture is made up of hunter/gatherers, they would value plants and animals. They might also revere the weather, since rain and snow could change the availability of those plants and animals. In King's Folly, I had several different cultures that, centuries ago, were the same culture. This enabled me to use the same pantheon in different ways. One culture valued men above all things. Another valued women. Yet another valued magic and the plant that made magic possible. They all feared earthquakes. And most of my cultures revered the number five to the point of superstition. All these things helped me choose which gods and goddesses each culture worshiped.
4. Decide how many you want.
Since the number five was sacred to most cultures in King's Folly, I started with five gods. But I figured that since my land was ancient, beliefs might have changed over the years for many people. So I came up with different belief systems for the same pantheon. Some people only worship the Five Gods, who they believe to be superior to all others. Then there are people who follow the practice of choosing their own five gods to follow, who aren't necessarily the official Five Gods. Then there are people who worship one of the gods almost exclusively. This might not mean they don't believe the other gods exist. It's just that they've sworn allegiance to one god in particular. And some do only believe in one god.
You might want to do things differently. Maybe you like the idea of having a fixed number of deities. Or maybe your number comes from something else, like the four seasons, the elements, emotions, or colors. Whatever you choose, choose it for a reason that fits your culture. It doesn't have to be terribly logical. But if it meets a felt need of the culture, it will make sense to the reader. This helps your storyworld feel more authentic.
5. Name them.
Naming your deities might be the hardest thing you do. I've received countless emails from authors, asking how to come up with names for characters and places. I wrote a blog post on the topic of choosing names, and I think it applies to naming deities as well. Click here to read that post. Stephanie also wrote a post on naming characters that you can read here.
6. Know how the gods interact with each other and the humans.
Is there a hierarchy in your pantheon? Does everyone get along? Or are some enemies? Has there been a war? If so, is it still going on? Do the gods speak to humans in your story? Do they have powers? How do they treat humans? If they appear to humans, what do they look like? Do they have corporeal form? Is it humanoid or something else? Can they be killed? If so, do they regenerate, are they stuck somewhere until rescued, or something else?
7. Other supernatural beings?
Decide whether or not you will have other supernatural beings in your story, like demigods, angels, demons, etc. If so, you need to know how these beings interact with the gods. What's the hierarchy here? Do they only serve certain gods or must they answer to all gods? If you don't want to have other types of supernatural beings, don't create any. It's your world. Do what works best for your story.
8. Design symbols for each.
Symbols can help a storyworld feel more realistic. A culture might use a god's symbol on their flag, uniforms, shields, or jewelry. Think of Zeus's lightning bolt or Poseidon's trident.
Can you think of anything else that might be helpful in creating a pantheon? Also, for historical pantheons (Greek, Norse, etc), name something about one of them that has always stuck with you. For me, I've always liked the titans, who were the parents of the Greek gods. I found that concept interesting. My husband likes the story of Medusa, who turns people to stone with one look. She's one creepy monster.