Death of the Old Gods
Tell the king; the fair wrought house has fallen
No shelter has Apollo, nor sacred laurel leaves
The fountains are now silent; the voice is stilled.
It is finished.A common fantasy trope where the polytheistic pagan gods are slowly giving way to a single unified Christian god (or the nearest fictional approximation), although giving way to new polytheistic gods or no gods at all is not unheard of. Normally their departure is a result of people no longer believing in them, although it's not unknown for them to simply lose interest in the affairs of mortals, or to die out for other reasons. In a few rare cases, the interloper takes their place after beating or even killing their predecessors in a fight. The fading gods and their worshipers are normally portrayed sympathetically, but there are normally underlying messages that their time is up and they should accept their fates. Contrast Götterdämmerung, where the gods go out with a bang instead of a whimper. While the old gods will interact with the mortals on a common basis, the One True God will rarely make appearances despite his new found popularity (perhaps he's too busy keeping things running?). This is generally seen as an improvement compared to their predecessor however.
— The last Oracle of Delphi to a representative of the Emperor Theodosius
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- In Marvel Comics the pantheons of Earth were forced to stop intervening in humanity's progress (overtly anyway) 1000 years ago by The Celestials, beings who guide evolution. Most people — including most deities — do not know this, only the leaders of each pantheon.
- In DC Comics, the Old Gods literally died in a huge war only to be replaced by New Gods; none of these were Earth gods, however.
- Beowulf laments that his people have abandoned "the Gods of might and power for a crying martyr" in the recent animated film.
- The film version of The Egyptian draws parallels between Akhenaten's worship of the sun god Aten and later Judeo-Christian monotheism. The end of the film implies that even though the priests of Amon-Re were able to quash to new religion, it would come again in a different form. It's very interesting to watch this film back-to-back with The Ten Commandments for this reason.
- In Excalibur, Merlin says to Morganna, who is trying to learn his secrets of sorcery, that many old ways are being lost because the One God (of Christianity) is driving out the many gods (of nature).
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Faith of the Seven, which resembles the Catholic Church, has largely replaced the Old Gods, who were worshiped by the original inhabitants of the continent. The only worshipers left are up north. Later in the series, the religion of R'hllor, a militant, monotheistic religion from the East, begins to take a foothold.
- Robert Graves' Greek Gods and Heroes concludes with a chapter titled "The Death of the Olympian Gods", in which, upon the death of the Emperor Julian, the three Fates advise Zeus that the reign of the Olympians has ended. Zeus destroys the Olympian palace with a thunderbolt and the gods retreat into obscurity. The full text of the chapter can be found here.
- Winds of the Forelands series there is a monotheistic god, Ean, with steadily increasing worship and the favor of most of the aristocracy, but the religion of the old gods isn't out of the fight yet.
- Juliet Marillier's The Bridei Chronicles series has this, it's set in Scotland and England during their conversion from paganism to Catholicism.
- Stephen R. Lawhead does this in his Pendragon Cycle of Arthurian stories. In his version, the old Celtic gods (Lleu of the Long Hand being the only one consistently named) give way to the Christian God, albeit gently. It's implied by the titular Taliesin of the first book that the Christian God was always there above the Celtic deities, but was unknown and thus not truly worshiped directly. With the coming of Christianity into this post-Roman Britain, there is no further need for the older forms of religion. The druids and other followers of the older faith after the introduction of Christianity are portrayed rather negatively, with the implication that they're only in it for the power (real, mystical or perceived).
- Lawhead also does this in his Dragon King Trilogy, although here it's a bit different. Quentin, as an initiate at a temple of the old gods, seems mainly to learn less about the gods themselves and more about how the priests manipulate the people into thinking these gods are real, and reaping the benefits of the people's worship of said gods. The implication seems to be that if these older gods actually do exist, they are remarkably silent on all human affairs. Later on in the first book, a very familiar Christian-type God reveals himself to Quentin.
- The original Dragonlance trilogy actually subverts this. After the Cataclysm, a world-shattering disaster visited on the world by the gods as punishment for a variety of sins, humanity decides to find itself a new pantheon, and the dwarves and elves seem to be less interested in worship generally speaking. It's later revealed, however, that the old gods were around all along; it was people's loss of faith in them that made them believe the old gods had departed. And, interestingly, it winds up being the goddess of evil who becomes active again in the world first.
- Then they left again, and some schmuck calling himself the One God showed up and started the War of Souls. Turns out the old gods didn't really leave, the world was stolen from them by said goddess of evil, who has disguised herself as the One God.
- Most of Thomas Burnett Swann's fantasy novels are about the fading of the old magic, mythology and gods, though it's implied that some have survived in hiding.
- Neil Gaiman's American Gods is about a war between the Old Gods, who embody traditional myths and are running out of faith, and the New Gods, who embody things like television and the Internet and are rising in power but perhaps only as passing fads (like the railroad).
- In the Merry Gentry series, the many of the Sidhe were
worshiped aswell-known Pagan gods, but lost their worshipers to Christianity. This marked the beginning of their decline in power. It is explicitly stated that Sidhe draw power from such worship, and are therefore forbidden to set themselves up as gods as part of the treaty with Jefferson. Furthermore, the older Sidhe have referred to the Elder Gods and Firblogs, which implies that there may have been even Older Old Gods, that the Sidhe didn't just Put on a Bus to Another Dimension, but actually Killed Off for Real.
- In And Another Thing, Cthulhu applies for the job as a new world's god but he can't close the deal because nobody is currently worshiping him, since he's technically dead.
- The Dresden Files:
- It's noted that most of the old gods except Odin have effectively gone into hibernation over the last few centuries. The Lord Almighty (as Harry calls the God of Christianity) is still very active in modern times.
- Changes reveals some of the Old Gods, specifically Mayincatec ones, to have actually been very powerful, very old vampires of the Red Court, called the Lords of Outer Night. However, from the same books there is indication that the gods really did exist, and the Red Court leadership stole their names.
- Cold Days reveals even more. Some entities can hold different mantles or masks as times changes. Odin may not worshipped much anymore, but he still gains much power from his role as Santa.
- There are a whole bunch of ancient deities so dangerous to the world that an Ancient Tradition of Venatori has been struggling for centuries to erase every trace of their presence, thus preventing mortals from believing in them and allowing them to exist. This invoked example is appropriately known as the "Oblivion War". It is mentioned that the Gods do not actually die, however, they require mortal faith to connect to the mortal world-lack of it does not kill them, merely render them unable to touch the mortal plane.
- Roger Zelazny:
- Part of the backstory of Arcia Chronicles includes the Seven Lightbringers physically destroying all the Old Gods of Tarra. This returns to bite Tarra mightily in the ass nine thousand years later when the Lightbringers leave and a bunch of monsters show up to devour the now completely defenseless world.
- In Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, this has yet to happen to the Norse Gods, but the young hero met up with a satyr who recounts the fall of Olympus.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows In The Moonlight", the sometimes animated statues were caused by a Physical God who appears gone now. (This is polytheist to polytheist situation.)
"What gods?" he muttered.
"The nameless, forgotten ones. Who knows? They have gone back into the still waters of the lakes, the quiet hearts of the hills, the gulfs beyond the stars. Gods are no more stable than men."
- The Mists of Avalon has this going on for most of the book, and being fought against tooth and nail by several main characters. Not that it has much effect in the long run.
- It ends with Morganna realizing how arrogant she was to think her Gods would need her to save them, when the new religion Christianity is just another face for the same Divine being, albeit one which is less tolerant of other paths to the Divine
- In the finale of Lawrence Watt-Evans' The Lords of Dûs series, it is revealed that the prophesied end of Time was simply referring to the death of the god of Time and all that he had personally created. As his main creations were the fourteen greater gods, the world was largely unaffected. With their passing, the lesser gods step forward to begin a new age.
- The basis of the plot of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Dragonships series involves the old gods (a pantheon obviously inspired by, though not identical to, that of the Norse) getting their territory muscled in on by two sets of interlopers (the Gods of Raj and the Lord of the New Dawn, Aelon), and how that conflict spills over into the mortal world.
- This is how the Books Of Swords end. As humanity ceases to dream of the gods, they lose their power and fade from existence. As the last of them, Vulcan, dies, he senses the presence of some new power, or perhaps a returning old one, come to claim or reclaim the earth.
- Comprehensively, horrifyingly subverted in HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. The Great Old Ones have died/vanished long ago, and nothing really stepped in the power vacuum left... But soon the stars shall be Right again, and they shall rise once more and all of Man's works shall be torn tasunder as anthills under the tread of giants. And there's nobody else to really stop them from coming back.
- Or so their worshippers would have you believe, anyway. In practice, just how many of the various sanity-blasting horrors of the Mythos even "vanished" in the first place is debatable, considering how easy it seems to be at times for people who puzzle out the correct rituals from demented rantings in old crumbling books to still get in touch with them...and yet, strangely enough, so far the End of the World as We Know It hasn't come.
- Played straight, however, in the story "The Other Gods", where the (supposed — they're only ever mentioned collectively and not a single name gets dropped) former gods of Earth have retreated as far from humanity as they can and anyone trying to pursue them still is simply begging for a bad end; "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" also gets touched off by those same gods, though it takes a while for the connection to become wholly clear and Randolph Carter ends up never actually getting to meet them in person.
- Apollo's Grove: A play dealing with the last Oracle of Delphi and the end of the old religion. The page quote serves as the emotional climax of the story.
- In The Soldier Son, the worship of the Good God replaced the worship of the old gods in Gernia (of whom only Orandula, god of death and balances, is named in the text), although some still worship the old gods in secret. Contrary to popular belief, this has not weakened the old gods.
- In Small Gods, the god Om is on the verge of succumbing to this trope, and reminisces about past rival gods he'd driven into extinction long ago. With his own survival on the line, their fate doesn't seem so funny anymore...
- Subverted in White as Snow. While Christianity is spreading, even the priests dance in the woods with the pagans at full moon.
- Two of the oldest pantheons in TunFaire, the Godoroth and Shayir, compete for control of the grungiest temple in the Dream Quarter in Petty Pewter Gods, without which their dwindling faiths will die off entirely.
- Everworld has this in a weird way—mythological figures exist as Physical Gods, but they're currently being threatened by Ka Anor, an alien deity who eats other gods (and whose followers want to eventually kill everyone else). Both sides are also threatened by Senna, who has plans for godhood too.
- Furthermore, the pagan deities left our world right around the time Christianity was on the rise, so there's probably some kind of correlation.
- In Krampus: The Yule Lord, Ragnarok has swept Yggdrasil and now the Æsir has now been killed off, the only surviving remnants include Odin's wolfs and ravens, Baldr (who was destined to be freed from Hel and walk in the new world) and Krampus (who survived through some non-specified reason).
- Battlestar Galactica is all about this. The Cylons seek to replace the Greco-Roman gods of the colonies with their own vaguely Mormon God. At the end of the series it turns out that this God was the only real one and was secretly guiding all of the events, although He was never actually on the Cylons' side. A rare Sci-fi example.
- An episode of Supernatural has two pagan gods eating humans around the Christmas season and one of them reflects on how Jesus is the big new thing.
- "Hammer of the Gods" has a bunch of the "old gods" telling Sam and Dean to deal with Lucifer because they don't want the word to end when it's no longer theirs. By the end of the episode, most of them are dead. Like the earlier pagan gods, they seem to subsist on human flesh where once they subsisted on faith. Despite the fact that Ganesh and Kali are among their numbers, so apparently, India must've converted to Christianity at some point in the Supernatural-verse.
- The show suggests that all non-Christian gods are just powerful people-eating monsters, who kill people themselves because they're no longer receiving sacrifices. Why they went down in the lore as mostly benevolent deities while all the other people-eating monsters show up as, well, people-eating monsters, is anyone's guess.
- The miniseries Merlin (1998) has Merlin attempting to defeat the old gods (and put an end to magic itself) by spreading Christianity.
- Xena: Warrior Princess plays fast and loose with this. Early on, she runs into a monotheistic cult that seems to be analog of early Christians but later turns out to worship pure evil. Later, she is sent forwards in time a couple decades and sent on a quest by the the prophet Eli to wipe out all the remaining pagan gods.
- She also ran into a Greek Expy Abraham before any of that and discovered it was the Ishmael Expy tricking him into sacrificing the Isaac Expy (using Bamboo Technology). While she's able to stop the ruse, she was busy fighting "Ishmael" and can't explain where the voice ordering "Abraham" to stop the sacrifice came from...
- The Star Trek episode "Who Mourns For Adonais" has the Enterprise meeting Apollo, the last of the Greek gods (who were actually Sufficiently Advanced Aliens). Kirk pretty much tells him to stuff it, and then gets schizophrenic about if humanity has Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions as religion in general, or just moved on to Christianity.
- On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Worf explained that Klingon faiths do not have any gods. According to him, Ancient Klingons killed their gods because "they were more trouble than they were worth".
- More or less the plot to Stargate SG-1 as over 10 seasons the Old Gods are all killed off. Aside from the fact that they weren't gods, just Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
- The BBC version of the Arthurian legends, Merlin, can't seem to be able to make its mind up about the 'Old Religion' (the pagan religion that existed before Christianity and, despite the show's claims, did not involve priestesses using a pygmy hydra to control peoples' minds): after three years of portraying these old ways as almost uniformly evil, Series 4 begins with the royal court of Camelot celebrating the feast of Samhain, briefly mentions Ostara and ends as they prepare to celebrate Beltane. All of which are fire festivals celebrated by the aforementioned 'Old Religion'. To confuse matters further, King Arthur (in this same series) "swears to God" at least twice.
- From what we got at the Samhain feast, the festivals aren't religious. While we live in a world where there's no proof of an afterlife, in their world the veil between the living world and the dead world growing thinner is a fact and if you sever it you can walk up to the veil and see it for yourself. It's less worshiping a god and more of an acknowledgement of a natural event, like a birthday or a harvest festival.
Myth and Legend
- Most modern re-tellings of the Arthurian legends have this going on at least in the background.
- This is particularly notable in Irish mythology. The Mythology is largely based of the pre-Christian religion, and was first written and documented by Irish monks (who stripped them of their religious connotations). Many of the tales were edited to foreshadow the coming of Christianity or include Christian characters specifically. For example in the tale of Clann Lir (*Children of Ler*) the children are freed from their curse after meeting a Christian monk who baptises them. They then die as Christians.
- Japanese Mythology has the progression of the ages, from the age of the unknowable divinities, to the age of the titans (Izanagi and Izanami), to the age of the gods (Amaterasu and her siblings), to the age of humans (the Japanese emperors). The gods aren't dead, they simply leave the runnings of things to their successors.
- However some clever writers have stated that Hoso-no-Kami, God of smallpox, is pretty much dead as there are only two known samples of smallpox left.
- An apocryphal tale from the Roman Empire tells of a sudden outcry heard by some ship passengers: "Pan is dead! The great god Pan is dead!" The date? Just after Passover, AD 30.
- The main idea behind John Milton's poem "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity."
- In Pendragon the Christian religion is replacing the old nature gods of Britain.
- Averted in Scion, where All Myths Are True and each newly risen pantheon gets the divine equivalent of a fruit basket from the old ones. The reality of the Abrahamic religions are left up to the Storyteller, but they don't seem to have done any damage to the old gods (most of which don't really care about having worshipers, since Fate loves to screw with them via those links).
- Fandom states that YWHW was driven insane by three different religions and countless splinter version of them all fighting over what he really wants. Jesus and the Saints locked him away for his safety and others. They would help him heal and recover but The End Of The World has put a damper on things.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Most of the old gods of the Eldar were eaten by Slaanesh, and only a few of them are left: Khaine escaped Slaanesh by shattering himself into hundreds of pieces and became part of the Infinity Circuits of the Craftworlds; Cegorach The Laughing God hid in the Webway; and Isha is now imprisoned by Nurgle, who uses her as a guinea pig to test his new plagues.
- The whole theme of the awesome Graham McNeill short story The Last Church. It's about what is implied to be the last Christian church on Earth, run by an old and lonely priest. A mysterious stranger walks in and begins having a debate about religion and morality (the figure believes that religion is evil and should be abolished by this "Emperor" guy, and the old priest argues that religion can do good and this "Emperor" guy really should stop forcing everybody to do what he says. Here's the kicker: the stranger is the Emperor, and he's come to burn the church down with a band of twisted prototype Space Marines, but he offers the old priest a chance to recant his beliefs. The priest refuses, giving the Emperor a scathing speech pointing out his hypocrisy and coming failures, and then calmly walks into his burning church and perishes with his faith. As the Emperor and the marines walk away, they do so unaware that a clock on the wall has begun to ring it's bell, one that was prophesized to only begin ringing when the end of humanity came...
- In the Forgotten Realms, the gods of Netheril, such as Amauntor and Moander, were replaced by the current human pantheon following Netheril's fall.
- Not really, but it is a convenient simplification (it's not an orderly process of old pantheon dies, new pantheon replaces them, more a gradual process where gods die and gods rise, and sometimes pantheons merge and the gods with the same portfolio have to fight it out for dominance. Also, Amaunator more gradually faded away than actually died, while Moander stuck around until fairly recently).
- Eberron has a more historical version, due to its ambiguity over whether most of its gods even exist - the Sovereign Host has, in syncretic fashion, absorbed most of the "old gods" of other religions, save one goblinoid deity, who apparently had no place in the Sovereign Host's cosmology and who has been Unpersoned to the greatest degree possible. The Silver Flame religion believes this is going to happen, with the Flame's worship gradually taking over Khorvaire and supplanting the Sovereign Host, but Flame worship is only really dominant in Thrane and the other countries have been slow to convert, especially after some Thranic atrocities during the Last War.
- Microscope: This is an example metaplot item that can be part of the history that the player/storytellers create.
- RuneQuest: Deep in the cosmogony of Glorantha (the game's main setting), the oldest gods are the primal Powers and Elements of the Celestial Court. In the Gods' War, these gods are displaced by more specialized ones, so (for example) the gods Light and Air are displaced by their descendants, Sun (Yelm) and Storm (Orlanth).
- In Dragon Age the Old Gods of the Tevinter Imperium (AKA Dragons) were struck down by the Maker. Most of the world now worships the Maker and his prophet Andraste, and the Old Gods slumber beneath the Earth until they're awoken, one at a time, to lead the corrupted darkspawn in a Blight.
- This trope is played with in that worship of the Maker actually preceded the religion of the Old Gods. The Maker's prophet Andraste didn't introduce the concept of the Maker to Thedas so much as re-introduce it. At least that's what the Chantry claims.
- The elves' gods were tricked by a being known as Fen'Harel that trapped both them and their mysterious enemies beyond the reach of their followers, presumably keeping them from helping the Elves when their ancient empire was destroyed.
- God of War shows why Greek Gods don't exist anymore: Kratos kills them all.
- In Breath of Fire II, the old animist dragon gods are being forgotten in favor of a new I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Catholicism! monotheistic religion which is really a Path of Inspiration serving an Evil God.
- In the Shin Megami Tensei series, YHVH is the Big Bad, who intentionally tries to destroy all other gods so only he will be worshipped. However, YHVH is (according to Word Of God) not the real cause behind this (his evil is a symptom, not the disease).
- In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, the pantheons of the old gods have all been forgotten, except for a few like the Cult of Geshtianna (because they have annual orgies), and the pacifistic Order of Halcyon. The greater populace is being swept up by the Panarii religion; a deliberate Christianity likeness centered around the teachings of a Jesus-figure elf called Nasrudin. Ironically the Christianity-like religion is secretly being run by the agents of its banished devil-figure, and was never supposed to be a religion anyway, whereas the Old Gods are still alive and able to give blessings (stat-boosts) to those who worship at their altars. There's even a side-quest involving a complex ritual of offerings that let the protagonist become a god themselves.
- Happens in Touhou, magic is giving way to rationalism and thus the old gods give way to a whole new godless world. Suwako was prepared to accept it, but Kanako decided to fight this fate. On the other end of spectrum, the oni also accept that they have no place in the modern world, and retreated underground. Except Suika.
- Castlevania: Lords of Shadow mentions this, that all the old physical gods and mythical beasts are slowly disappearing from the world. When Gabriel kills Pan in self defence during a test of his worthiness, the last of the gods has died. Ironically, Pan was an ally of capital-G God, so when Zobek's narration praises Gabriel for killing him, it foreshadows Zobek's true nature.
- In the distant past of World of Warcraft the Titans came to Azeroth and defeated the Old Gods, binding those they could not kill (Yogg-Saron and 2 others) beneath the surface of the planet along with the remains of ones they did kill (Y'Shaarj and the Not Quite Dead C'Thun). After their defeat relatively weaker beings, such as Hakkar and Elune (and various demigods), came to power and have remained distant from mortal affairs. Despite being (supposedly) asleep and imprisoned, the Old Gods remain active and keep trying to escape. It is rumored (if "could not defeat" means "did not imprison") that N'Zoth is outright free.
- Dark Souls: The Age of Fire is ending, and the ruling deities are about to go with it. Presumably, some other race of supreme beings will follow, just as the current gods followed the dragons that came before them. You get to choose to put the Age of Fire on magical life support by sacrificing yourself, or you can choose to let it end so that the Age of Dark can begin, which may or may not be better for humanity in the long run anyway.
- Unreformed pagans in Crusader Kings II are more easily converted by Abrahamic missionaries, have a harder time of winning converts of their own from those religions, and are very prone to splintering amongst themselves. If no single leader arises to reform a given pagan faith into an organized religion, it's quite likely that that faith will wither away under the pressure of holy wars and missionaries.
- The Zoroastrians are in a similar boat. While it is an organized religion and doesn't have as many problems converting conquered provinces, the few tiny Zoroastrian nations left are a two tiny counts and one duchy, surrounded by conquest happy pagans and infidel hating Muslims.
- The backstory of the Nasuverse explains this is how the Age of Gods ended. Early in humanity's history there were many gods born from the beliefs of humanity that certain natural phenomena were the acts or incarnations of gods. As humanity evolved and began to understand and master the world their belief in the gods weakened. By the time of the modern era, the Age of Gods has long since ended and the dominant supernatural authority is Gaia/Alaya.
- Gilgamesh was created by the ancient gods of Mesopotamia who foresaw this possible end. He was intended to act as a keystone binding the fates of god and man together. When he rebelled against that role and chose to rule humanity for his own reasons, it hastened the end of the gods.
- Tales Of The Galli: Main plot relates to the beginnings of a power struggle within the Roman Empire between the pagan followers of the old Roman gods, and the Christians who desire to replace those those with their god and savior.
- The Gods of Arr-Kelaan has a very unusual example. The old gods are gradually forced away from earth by the expansion of the universe but Hephaestus designed the Abrahamic faiths around a non-existent god so all the worship could be redirected to a big battery. They didn't so much remove the old gods as outlast them, most of the angels were originally one of the old gods. The planet of Arr-Kelaan qualifies too, but just barely. The Traveller gods do kick out the old gods, but the old gods are immigrants from Earth's universe who've barely held established religions longer than the Travellers.
- In Sluggy Freelance (in "Holidays Wars"), there's a brief mention of the ancient Greek pantheon having existed in the past but apparently having somehow fallen, at least out of power. Zeus is said to have foreseen a time when he would no longer have the power to interfere and for that reason having created the Deus Ex Ovum to act as a magic Reset Button for certain matters. There are no signs of the pantheon being active in the present.