Few long-running Speculative Fiction
franchises go without a writer trying to include some sort of god or at least Sufficiently Advanced Alien
in the plot. Then another writer does it, and another, until you've got a whole cast of such beings populating your universe. Frequently, though, they aren't all on the same level: some are noticeably more powerful than others. This may be especially noticable if the writers decide to take all their creations and put them alongside each other
. The result is an implicit, if not explicit, pecking order among the gods.
Compare Physical God
, Divine Delegation
, Powers That Be
, and Anthropomorphic Personification
. See also Our Gods Are Greater
, Our Titans Are Different
, Our Angels Are Different
, Celestial Paragons and Archangels
, Demon Lords and Archdevils
, and The Old Gods
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- In Fantasy Kitchen Sink settings like the Vertigo universe that use the Judeo-Christian God as a character, the standard portrayal seems to be that he's not the One True God, but is a step above the other gods in terms of power. He rarely stoops to appearing on stage and acts through archangels, who are the peers of other pantheons' gods.
- Neil Gaiman's Endless are explicitly said to be above the gods. Individual aspects of them can be destroyed or imprisoned, but when this happens a new one will appear to take the previous one's place. Death is shown to be formally responsible for all death everywhere, but lets other people handle the details, especially when it comes to the afterlife: Hades gets the Greeks, Lucifer (to his annoyance) gets the guilty and masochistic, and so on.
- The Marvel Universe sets up Thor as a superhero, though oddly he seems outclassed by beings who don't present themselves as gods.
- Marvel did put in the One Above All, who surpasses all the other (rather numerous) infinite beings in the Multiverse, who might either be a Shout-Out to the Judeo-Christian God or...Jack Kirby.
- This is without even getting into the "Pantheon of Cosmic Gods", as they've been called on numerous occasions, which includes beings such as the Living Tribunal (who is said to be a servant of the aforementioned One-Above-All); the trinity of Eternity, Death, and Galactus; Master Order and Lord Chaos (and their servant, the In-Betweener); Mistress Love and Sire Hate; the Phoenix Force; Mephisto; The Vishanti, Cyttorak, and many of the various other entities that Dr.Strange often calls upon while casting his spells, and even Thanos while he possessed the Infinity Gauntlet. The Marvel Universe has a LOT of "Cosmic Gods."
- According to some stories in Empath: The Luckiest Smurf, Tapper's God, which turns out to be the Christian God, is the supreme god, and all other gods such as Ares and Hermes from classical Greek mythology are lesser gods who don't stand a chance against Him.
- In the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Authority is merely the oldest of the angels.
- In the Left Behind series, Lucifer claims that God is merely the oldest of the angels. Jesus makes it very clear that Lucifer is mistaken about this, and God is everything Christian theology has ever claimed he is.
- C. S. Lewis was both a devout Christian and a fan of pagan mythology. Therefore, in his Narnia books and lesser-known Space Trilogy, he toyed with the Retcon-ish idea of beings that blended characteristics of Christian angels and pagan gods. Capital-G God, of course, was still the One True God.
- Till We Have Faces goes one step further and uses Cupid as a Expy of God.
- Michael Ward's Planet Narnia notes that Lewis had a particular fascination with the aesthetics of myths and legends well before he became a Christian, and even after converting did not enjoy the story of Jesus so much as he enjoyed how the story of Jesus reminded him of Baldr.
- J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth world has three tiers of divinity: a largely non-interfering creator deity (Eru Ilúvatar), the fifteen Valar, and an unknown amount of less-powerful Maiar, both of which are technically angels (Tolkien being a good Catholic) but for the purposes of the story are functionally polytheistic gods and demigods. The Vala Morgoth introduced evil and started corrupting the world, with a following of Maiar (among them Sauron). Eru does, however, claim that everything done is all part of the plan.
- In the Discworld you have a) Azrael and seven other Great Old Ones, b) a handful of anthropomorphic personifications like the Five Horsemen of the Apocralypse and Time, c) the traditional Gods who live in Dunmanifestin and like smiting people with thunderbolts (like Om, Blind Io, Offler and the rest), d) Devils, small gods, elves & sundry creatures, and e) the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions, which are more like Lovecraftian Eldritch Abominations.
- The Creator(s) should go in there somewhere as well. Higher than the gods, but probably below the Great Old Ones.
- Sourcerers might actually rate a place in the Divine Rank hierarchy too, given that they're vastly more powerful than category d, above. Granted, they don't seek worshippers, but neither do most of the others listed.
- The only Sourcerer seen in the novels easily defeated the entirety of set C at once, but was vulnerable to E because they feed on magic. Other than the Horsemen, whose role was much less than it is in more recent books, the rest of the hierarchy had not been introduced in the series yet.
- "Anthropomorphic personifications" and "gods" overlaps; one god even complained that to live on Dunmanifestin, you'd have to be an anthropomorphic personification (which is obviously not literally true, but maybe it often applies). In addition, there's really no evidence of non-god personifications like Death having more power than a real god or even equal to one, although they can probably always do their job no matter what it would require. The real distinction, if any, is that while gods may phase in and out of worship, everyone believes in Death, Fate, Luck etc.
- The Young Wizards series has the Powers That Be, who could be classified either as a group of non-omnipotent gods or as archangels, and the One, who is omnipotent but has even less involvement with mortal life than the Powers. They form the basis for all religions (on Earth and otherwise), but don't exactly correspond to any of them.
- The Dragonlance universe has the pantheon, a few mortals that are powerful enough to possibly ascend to godhood, like Raistlin, and the High God, described as as far above the gods as the gods are above mortals.
- Even H.P. Lovecraft himself did it to a extent, although in a somewhat muddled fashion. The strict delineation between Servitor Race, Great Old One, and Outer God of the current Cthulhu Mythos didn't come about until later writers and game designers added to the expanding Mythos and desired more concrete definitions; Lovecraft himself was more interested in creating a mysterious and eerie mood than establishing a coherent cosmology and didn't specify whether Cthulhu was greater than Shub-Niggurath or Mi-Go were greater than the Elder Things or which race served what God, and the fairly rigidly defined Mythos as it exists today (or at least the fairly rigidly defined Mythos that humanity has constructed around these beings) didn't originally exist as neatly in Lovecraft's own stories. Although Lovecraft DID point out that Cthulhu wasn't in the same league as Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Yog-Sothoth, merely being "cousins" of those beings, not on the same level of power, and in at least one of his stories he even went so far as to hint that perhaps the Great Cthulhu itself actually SERVED these other, greater beings, which he variously named Outer Gods, Elder Gods, or Other Gods, as the fancy struck him.
- L.C. Suggs possesses an entire ranking of Supreme Beings within the Suggsverse. It starts with Omnipotent Gods, and then it goes higher from there.
- In keeping with Gene Roddenberry's staunch atheism, any "gods" encountered in Star Trek are either Sufficiently Advanced Aliens or just plain frauds, and humankind will usually have Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions. That said, representative members of the Trek Verse hierarchy can be given as:
- The Founders of Deep Space Nine present themselves as gods and have truly impressive abilities in the area of genetic engineering, tailoring minion races to serve their needs. The rest of their technology is pretty typical, though, and non-minions don't buy their pretensions for a second.
- The Prophets (aka wormhole aliens) on the same show have a little more meat to their claims. They live beyond linear time, which at the very least puts them in the "sufficiently advanced" category.
- Oddly, while the Prophets are worshiped as gods they claim to not even be aware of the more typical races on first contact. On the other hand, they are outside time and may have gotten the idea there.
- In the orignal series episode "Who Mourns For Adonais?" Apollo is shown with truly god-like abilities, but loses them when the ship's phasers blow up his temple.
- In the fifth movie, the God figure doesn't use identifiable technology, but is planet-bound, leading to Kirk's line "What would God do with a starship?"
- Q is not literally omnipotent, and can be demoted to mortal status if his fellow Qs get mad enough. However, he lacks the vulnerabilities of Apollo and Star Trek V-God, so the various crews he toys with are normally at his mercy.
- Then there are the single-episode manifestations: Trelane ("The Squire of Gothos"), who turned out to be a child; the Organians ("Errand of Mercy"), who imposed peace between the Federation and Klingons; Kevin Uxbridge ("The Survivors"); the Thasians, who give Charlie his power in "Charlie X"; etc., etc., etc.
- The god-like creatures from Doctor Who range from regular aliens with nifty technology (like the Cailleach), to sufficiently advanced aliens (like Sutekh), to advanced beings (like the Eternals) to anthropomorphic personifications (like the Guardians of Time).
- In Farscape, there were several Gods, or at least "Sufficiently Advanced" aliens that qualified as God-like beings, revealed during the course of the show: the first encountered was Maldis, an intangible vampiric entity with supernatural powers that verged on reality-warping- including the ability to eventually return from death, if given time. Next higher-up were the Ancients, beings from another plane of existence whose control over space, time, and wormholes gave them God-like abilities; their ambassador created an entire pocket dimension for use as a meeting ground between him and Crichton. Finally, at the highest end were the Builders - as exemplified by Kahaynu - the actual Gods of the Leviathans (like Moya) who were responsible for giving souls to the living starships, making them perhaps the most genuine example of Gods in the entire series. On the more human end of the scale, there was Crichton himself, who, while certainly no God, demonstrated God-like powers when he finally unleashed the Wormhole Weapon, which was so powerful it destroyed an entire planet, and would have continued expanding until it destroyed the entire galaxy, and perhaps even the entire universe, if what Crichton said was true.
- Effectively the case in Stargate SG-1, although they were mostly Sufficiently Advanced Aliens posting as gods. The Goa'uld and posed as various gods, primarily Egyptian, and had advanced enough technology to effectively be gods to most other species. The Asgard mainly posed as Norse gods, and were probably a rank up from the Goa'uld although not quite strong enough to actually subjugate them. Then the Ancients were revealed to have ascended, effectively becoming actual gods much more powerful than everyone else. Then we got Anubis, a Goa'uld who has partly ascended and so falls somewhere in-between in terms of rank. And finally the Ori, a splinter group of the Ancients who actually do consider themselves to be gods. Fortunately for our heroes, their capabilities grow at about the same rate as the Serial Escalation of villains.
Mythology and Religion
religions have a variety of systems, all of which have been used in literature at some point or another:
- In Greek Mythology, the Twelve Olympians (and sometimes the Titans) are what most people think of when they hear about gods, but lesser creatures like nymphs are sometimes referred to as gods as well. Also, heroes tend to be divine-human offspring, and can sometimes send a god running in a fight.
- Meanwhile, there were the Primordial Gods, or Protogenoi, most of them embodying something. The Fates, Thanatos, Hypnos, and Erebus (to name a few) operated outside the Olympians' control. Special mention goes to Nyx (Night) who (maybe) aided in creation and whose wrath even Zeus didn't dare provoke. Oddly, for their power, none of them took a terribly active role.
- The very highest rank is limited to Ananke, the embodiment of You Can't Fight Fate.
- Celtic Mythology has gods, elves and faeries all over the place, and it's hard to tell where one stops and another starts. Also, the offspring of gods and mortals are generally above mortals but not quite at god level, though they still have no particular qualms about telling the gods where to shove it, and then shoving it there.
- Japanese Mythology is even worse. The Japanese language uses the word kami to refer to gods, spirits, ancestors and forces of nature. Shinto priests have apparently complained about westerners translating the word as 'god', as this gives people not familiar with their religion a distinctly wrong idea.
- Many religions in Sub-Saharan Africa have an omnipotent creator god, similar to the Abrahamic God, and other lesser deities that are more like the gods in Greek myth. The former is always distinct from and explicitly superior to the latter. Vodou (or Voodoo), a combination of Catholicism with West African religion, has a similar pattern, with the lesser gods being merged with Catholic saints.
- That is also how Hebrew and Arabic Religion used to work before the Israelites and Bedouins rejected all the lesser gods and decided to worship only the supreme one. According to Pslams and Isaiah most of the lesser gods have died or fallen and people who cannot move on are just worshiping figments of their own imagination. The Book Of Idols states the Arab gods were slain by Muhammad's followers (though canon Islam is less clear on the matter).
- The Celestial Bureaucracy in Chinese Mythology works this way. The highest of them is the Celestial Emperor, followed by major gods and many celestial functionaries, followed by other gods and powerful ancestral spirits. However, some sufficiently powerful beings are both divine and are outside this system.
- Indian mythology also works this way. At the highest is the "Source" of the world who is beyond everything, followed by three deities of Creation-Preservation-Destruction, followed by other gods, slightly below them are the Asura (enemies of the gods), and then various beings worthy of veneration.
- Dungeons & Dragons is the Trope Namer here: Third Edition gave gods a numerical god-stat which would range from 0 (quasi-gods such as the offspring of full ones) to 20 (the greatest beings who have the slightest chance of interacting with mortals). Though it's a throw-away bit of fluff text, there is mention of beings of divine rank 21 and up, who serve as the gods' gods. There are also arch-fiends, whose status is ambiguous: Officially they aren't even divine rank 0, but they have clerics and some resources suggest the DM could go ahead and officially make them gods. Apparently the fourth edition will do this with the head devil, but not the others.
- In a nod to the appropriately universe shaking power levels of the Eldritch Abominations of the Cthulhu Mythos, the most powerful God in the D&D multiverse - arrived at by reverse engineering his (or, more appropriately, its) stats as presented in the d20 System version of Call of Cthulhu, is Azathoth, the ONLY God with a an OFFICIAL Divine Rank of 21.
- As of Fourth Edition, there is no mention of divine rank as yet, but Asmodeus (the lord of all devils) has indeed obtained full divine status.
- Divine ranks do feature in 4e, they just aren't as prominent. In the core, there are two main divine ranks: Gods and Exarchs, or demigods. In the Forgotten Realms setting, the top gods are Greater Gods, then there are intermediate gods, lesser gods, and finally exarchs. Ao the Overgod is still mentioned; he appears in one of the novel series as being less of a god to the other gods and more as their boss. Moreover, even he has a higher ranked boss who he reports to, suggested to be the Abrahamic God or the Dungeon Master.
- A third-party supplement called Immortal's Handbook is presented as an alternative to D&D's divine rank system (both 3.5 and 4e), starting at low-level mortals with a touch of the divine such as prophets, to demigods, then the standard lesser/intermediate/greater deities, and then Ao-level overgods, which keeps on going to represent living embodiments of planar layers, the planes themselves, and even the entire universe. Yes, it contains rules and plot hooks that allow you to PLAY as Ao's boss's boss.
- The Dicefreaks variant divine rank system expands the available rankings to 30, each number exponentially more powerful than the last. 21-24 are the Overpowers, holding sway over entire pantheons, worlds, and galaxies; unspeakably powerful even by the highest "normal" divine standards, but still only charged with overseeing temporal, physical reality. And though a tiny fraction of the most learned mortals even suspect their existence, the Overpowers can still be seen as "real", with distinct names and roles. They exist. Then there are those even greater. Ranks 25-27 represent the various alignments in the D&D alignment system; the entire planar cosmology of the multiverse is constructed around the traits they embody. A popular theory on the Dicefreaks forums is that Her Serenity, the Lady of Pain, fulfills this role as the embodiment of True Neutral. As the creator and ruler of the greatest city in all the planes, where even the greatest gods are held at bay and the most vile demons and angelic heralds can converse in relative civility, it's a hard claim to dispute. Ranks 28 and 29 were Anthropomorphic Personifications of the many universal laws: Life, Death, Time, etc. As for rank 30, it was reserved for... well... Him.
- In 2nd Edition, god "ranks" were broad terms meant to give an idea of how powerful they were in relation to one another, and about how large their faith was. Further detail usually wasn't necessary because You Do Not Mess With Gods and their possible death was a matter of plot rather than dice (especially in Planescape). Their ranks went, from lowest to highest:
- Quasi-deities, for powerful beings that undeniably had a divine spark but were not really on par with anything truly divine, such as a King in the Mountain
- Hero-deities, for former mortals who have just recently (in divine terms) begun their ascent to godhood through exceptional endeavor
- Demigods, for the most minor of truly divine entities whose faith has not caught on with too many people (or has fallen on hard times)
- Lesser deities, of moderately popular but often rather specific concepts that limits devotion offered
- Intermediate deities, gods of common and popular concepts with wide appeal
- Greater deities, gods of great and omnipresent concepts and forces such as magic, fate, death, or the sun
- Overdeities, rarely mentioned and usually limited to a single crystal sphere (world or solar system), but of insurmountable power within that sphere, such as Ao of the Forgotten Realms setting
- In Exalted, a rough estimation of a god's power can be determined from their Essence stat. The gods of small things usually reside in Creation and have a low Essence score (1-3), while gods of large cities and concepts usually have Essence in the 4-7 region. The highest-ranking gods, the Celestial Incarnae, have the maximum Essence rating of 10. However, given the nature of the Celestial Bureaucracy, a god's political connections are just as or more important in terms of getting things done.
- There are other beings of comparable power level, of course. The most notable example would be the Solar Exalted, created as the leaders in the war against the Primordials; they can easily surpass a minor god. Oh, and they're the standard PCs.
- In Mage: The Awakening, the mythology of the Seers of the Throne holds that the Exarchs (the Ascended god-kings of reality) to be organized into a hierarchy with the lowest levels occupied by millions of servitor gods and Seers who have Ascended, and the highest ranks occupied by the 11 Exarchs whose names are represented by Iron Seals, who are themselves organised with the four Archigenitors higher than the other seven. At least one Seer faction, the Paternoster, believe the Iron Seals to be emanations of God.
- The designer and editor of the Call of Cthulhu RPG were initially forced to clear up the tangled relationships, allegiances, and power level ambiguities between different kinds of gods and godlike beings in the Cthulhu Mythos (see Literature) in order to create a playable background for the game. While doing so, they also edited out some of August Derleth's less helpful contributions to the study of the Cthulhu Mythos, such as connecting gods to philosophical elements and the Good-vs-Evil dynamics. However, decades of adding new, sometimes not quite consistent, material in supplements, adventures, and companion volumes have somewhat re-tangled the Mythos in the game context. Arguably this has been addressed in later incarnations of the game.
- Scion has three main tiers. Lowest is Hero, the mortal-born children of the gods, who have access to basic divine abilities. The middle is Demigod, where a Scion has become more divine than human, and has grown appropriately more powerful. Highest is God, the tier of the purely divine, immortal spirits in bodies of pure ichor. Pantheon leaders tend to be of a similar level to the other Gods, but have mastered more powers. The Titans, parents of the earliest Gods, are essentially concepts given form, and can command sufficient forces to go toe-to-toe with entire pantheons. Above and beyond even them is the mysterious force known as Fate, essentially the Law Of Narrative Causality.
- Scion 2e changes things up and adds certain capabilities; notably, God-born, the divine children of the Gods, are a viable character option, and forming your own pantheon is possible at Demigod level.
- Each Pokémon game up to Pokémon Diamond and Pearl has introduced higher and higher legendary Mons which control various aspects of nature and reality. This led to Arceus, who has created the whole goddamn Pokemon world... so they scaled back down in the next generation.
- World of Warcraft has the Old Gods and their servants, as well as the Titans, their Titan Watchers, the various Stone Watchers below them, and their dragonflights, each of which is headed by a Dragon Aspect. There are also a huge variety of lesser gods and demigods—though it should be noted that the evils they have faced have been a fallen Titan and a fallen Dragon Aspect, with ranks of their own, and gods are not immortal in this multiverse. In fact, many nature gods fell during the first invasion of the Burning Legion. As well, mortals of sufficient power may be able to face such beings on their own, such as Azshara or the Guardians of Tirisfal.
- Touhou. As it's basically Shintoism meets Moe (the main character is a Shrine Maiden), it's full of kami (which may or may not be translated as "gods"). The least of them are barely sentient, inhabiting every object— these are the fuzzy balls that follow you in episode 10. Above them are gods of concepts, such as Harvest (the Aki Sisters) and Misfortune (Hina). Higher than them are powerful individual gods, such as Kanako and Suwako. And waaaaay above everyone else is the Dragon of Gensokyo.
- The PC-98 games had gods of 'dream worlds'. Their relative status is unclear, and they've probably been retconned out.
- The Nasuverse doesn't particularly have a formal hierarchy, but one can easily enough be made. At the top are the spirits of the planets themselves and their champions, the Types. Under them would be any other agents of a planet, such as the Beasts of Alaya and Gaia, though they share the place with the True Ancestors. Just a touch under them should be the other Counter Guardians, such as the Heroic Spirits, most likely with the Demons and Divine Mysteries. A tier under them should be most of the Dead Apostle Ancestors who don't have the Brunestud title. Now we finally reach most Magus, though they have been able to range all the way to defeating a weakened Type in their outliers. After all that we've got normal humans. Enjoy being at the very bottom. Trying to make a list like this isn't helped by the anyone-under-special-instances-can-beat-x rule system. Let's not even try to fit in the Ether Liners or multitude of rule breakers.
- Shin Megami Tensei: Gods, like everything else, draw power from humans' faith and prayers. As a result, the hierarchy is always shifting around as to which gods are strongest at any given time. It gets really weird after awhile, especially since different forms of worship can even create multiple versions of the same deity. However, above all these stand God and Lucifer, who will never truly fade as long as even one person desires salvation over freedom, or vice-versa.
- In Adventurers!! there are Eternals, Lesser Eternals, humans promoted into Eternals with Flowgem masks who are weaker than the real ones, and humans using small pieces of Flowgem to upgrade themselves.
- The authors of the Whateley Universe kindly put some of the details of this in a section on their web forums. It's needed, since there are Great Old Ones, Outer Gods, demons and devils, God and Satan (or so it seems, anyway), mythological creatures, mutants wielding major magical powers, and so on.
- The Archailects of Orion's Arm range from level 3 to 6 on a scale of sentience where 1 is already superhuman. In fact they're so far above humans that the divine ranks they use to rate their abilities are nearly incomprehensible to human beings.
- The Trope Pantheons of TV Tropes, following Dungeons & Dragons, has various ranks of gods in each of the houses.
- The ranks are Overdeity, greater god, intermediate god, lesser god, demigod, quasideity.