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Submitted by on Mar 29, 2022

The term pantheon comes from the Greek noun pantheon, which means “of all gods” or “of or common to all gods,” and is derived from pan- “all” and theos “god.” A pantheon of gods is a typical feature in polytheistic civilizations, and the pantheon’s nature may be seen of as a mirror of the society:

A pantheon is a list of gods and goddesses from a particular culture that represents not just the society’s ideals but also its sense of self. A pantheon led by a thunderbolt-wielding dictator could imply patriarchy and a high regard for combat abilities. A pantheon led by a great-mother goddess might allude to an agrarian civilization rooted around villages. To address the Egyptian pantheon is to confront a worldview defined by a feeling of death and resurrection, as well as the agricultural significance of natural cycles. The Greek pantheon is a metaphor for a pragmatic approach to life that appreciates art, beauty, and personal power while remaining suspicious of human nature.

Scholars like Jaan Puhvel, J. P. Mallory, and Douglas Q. Adams have reconstructed features of the ancient Proto-Indo-European religion, which is the source of the faiths of the many Indo-European peoples, and discovered that it was fundamentally a naturalist numenistic religion. The concept of *dyus, which is found in various religious systems, is an example of a religious thought from this common history.

Pantheons tended to expand in size over time in many cultures. As empires expanded across greater territory, deities originally worshiped as patrons of cities or localities began to be gathered together. Conquests may result in the elder culture’s pantheon being subordinated to a newer one, as in the Greek Titanomachia, and probably also in the case of the sir and Vanir in Norse mythology. As seen with the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans, cultural exchange can result in “the same” deity being renowned in two places under different names, as well as the cultural transmission of elements of a foreign religion into a local cult, such as the worship of the ancient Egyptian deity Osiris, which was later followed in ancient Greece. In his 1922 opus Economy and Society, Max Weber examines the ancient Greek philosophers’ proclivity to consider gods worshiped in other cultures’ pantheons as “equal to and so same with the deities of the decently ordered Greek pantheon.”

National pantheons were often condensed or streamlined into fewer gods, or into a single deity having authority over all of the territories originally allotted to a pantheon. Syrian and Palestinian tribes, for example, worshipped substantially smaller pantheons than those created in Egypt and Mesopotamia during the first millennium BCE in the ancient Near East. Weber also saw a relationship between a pantheon of gods and the rise of monotheism, claiming that a god’s dominance over a pantheon was a step toward adherents of the pantheon perceiving that god as “an international or universal deity, a transnational god of the entire globe.” The creation of the short-lived tradition of Atenism in ancient Egypt, with that duty being granted to the sun god, was the earliest documented instance of a pantheon being consolidated into a single deity, or dismissed in favor of a single god. A similar process is considered to have occurred with the Israelite god Yahweh, who “would have four or five fellow gods in attendance as he became the national high god as a typical West Semitic deity.”

In twentieth-century fantasy fiction and role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, the notion of a pantheon of gods has been extensively replicated. These applications tend to be highly influenced by historical trends. In these situations, it is vital for the writer to create a pantheon of gods that suits the genre, with the gods’ qualities balanced so that none of them may overrun the plot, and so that the characters’ actions are not overshadowed by the gods’ intrigues.

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