Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
"You can see for yourselves. She is a god. A god who does not know she is a god."
— The god Majere, referring to the "dead" Mina.
When some form of spiritual being, or deity, becomes encased in a mortal shell, usually causing them to have no or limited access to their powers...sometimes of their own design, sometimes forced upon them.
Of course, any example of this trope would be justified in saying "A God Am I", without the usual implications of megalomania. That said, many go the other route and say "A God I Am Not" due to their new proximity to mortality and humanity.
May or may not be accompanied with the loss of their memories of godly life. This is often justified as them wanting to better understand the lives of mortals, thus living a mortal life without remembering their Godhood. In that case they may simply appear as a fully grown adult with no memory or past, or they may actually be born into a human family and live a seemingly average life.
As such, their human forms may often have a very different personality, and on occasion even alignment, from their True Self. For example, a villain could very well live their human life as a pure and chaste paragon of heroism, but return to villainy upon awakening. And a benevolent deity could very easily be a thuggish Jerk Ass. Although overall, it is more common for benign gods to be good people, and malevolent deities to be bad people. Killing the human form of the god, if it's possible, probably won't actually kill the god. Usually, it actually restores them to their former divine power and memories.
Note that despite the title, this isn't restricted to humans, it can include aliens and the like as well. As the Greek philosopher Xenophanes said: "If horses had gods, they would look like horses!"
Often referred to as an avatar, after the Hindu religious term, but the word has gotten a little bit too commonplace to use as a trope name.
When the character is not a god but is merely pretending to be one, the trope is God Guise.
Compare Physical God, A Form You Are Comfortable With, I Am Who?, Angel Unaware and Deity of Human Origin. Also see God Test. A Human Am I is a subtrope (related to Amnesiac God), where a character is convinced they are human as a result of the loss of memories.
Its "Playing With Trope" page is currently under construction.
open/close all folders
A campaign of commercials for Hebrew National (a brand of Kosher hot dogs who claims that "we answer to a higher authority" as far as quality of their products go) shows God appearing as a hot dog vendor; while the viewers cannot see His face, the other people in the commercial who He is talking to clearly can, so this Trope probably applies.
In Popcorn Avatar, this is the current state for the Devas and Asuras. There's a point to this however, as Lisa explains that it's meaningless to try to even compete for the world if neither side knows of the importance of the world to begin with, and they need a human perspective.
Played With in Fruits Basket: Akito Sohma is the "God of the Zodiac", but she's not technically a god incarnate, or even a reincarnation. She's possessed by the spirit of the god (the same way the other Zodiac spirits possess people), and apparently the other members of the Zodiac have a psychic link to her. Aside from those powers, though, she's an ordinary mortal.
Sailor Moon: All of the Sailor Senshi could be considered this in a way when untransformed, the foremost examples being Galaxia (who casually nearly demolished Tokyo without transforming) and Minako (that multiple characters have called either the Goddess of Love or the Goddess of War).
Death in the Sandman series does this for one day every hundred years in order to experience life and death and better understand both.
Doctor Donald Blake. When he hits his cane upon the ground, it is replaced by Mjölnir and he by The Mighty Thor.
In The Book Of Life, La Muerte and Xibalba disguise themselves as an old woman and an old man respectively. In the Framing Device, they appear as Mary Beth and a museum security guard.
George Burns plays the Almighty in the Oh, God! movie series. (He also plays the Devil in the third one.)
In Pirates of the Caribbean Tia Dalma is the goddess Calypso. This particular case was decidedly involuntary; she was trapped that way by Davy Jones, with a little help from the Brethren Court, and spends the whole third movie trying to get her full power back. It works.
This is also parodied in the second movie, where a tribe of cannibals think for whatever reason that Loveable Rogue Jack Sparrow is a God in Human Form. He thinks this is great- until he finds out that they intend to "release" him from said human form... by eating him.
In the movie Thor, the god in the title is Brought Down to Normal when he is exiled to Earth as punishment, after breaking a fragile truce with the Frost Giants.
In The Virgin Spring, Karin, who prays to Odin to curse her rival, enters the woods, where she meets a creepy old man. He is shown to have a collection of pagan artifacts, and he promises to "give her strength". It is strongly implied that the old man is Odin in human form.
Live-action TV Shows
In Angel, Jasmine fits this trope: supposedly a former Powers That Be who comes from another dimension to spread peace and love, albeit doing a lot of horrific things to allow herself to be incarnated bodily. She also achieves her aims through mind control and eating people.
Also Illyria. The loss of powers was definitely not an intended result in her case.
Illyria is actually only an Old One, a group is very powerful and old pure demons. Her title as God-King is self given.
If she's to be believed (and while Illyria is quite prone to boasting, it never seems idle), gods worshiped her as a god. The Old Ones aren't just demons, they're demon gods.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anya wasn't exactly a god, but a demon with a great deal of power (granting wishes to scorned women). Then she got trapped in the form of a normal high-school girl.
Also Glory. In her case the human form was not just a different personality, but a different body and gender that Glory periodically broke out of to assume her own shape and at least some of her powers.
In the new Doctor Who series, there are a couple of instances of Time Lords locking away their Time Lord identities and memories, and assuming human form. The Doctor does it to escape a family of short-lived assassins. Later, it's revealed that the Master did the same thing to escape the Time War.
This was done in Power Rangers Wild Force. And Kite/Animus ended up taking away the team's powers because of the current state of the environment.
Steven Baxter in The Second Coming is a very ordinary, not particularly bright bloke who suddenly finds out he's the son of God. He only discovers what he's supposed to do little by little. Killing him, in his human form, means that God dies. His dual nature makes it all incredibly sad: though the death of God is supposed to be a good thing and he eventually accepts this, Steven is also very much human and doesn't want to die at all.
Some Ancients in Stargate SG-1 would chose to descend from their "ascended" status, forfeiting all of the cosmic enlightenment (and in some cases, the memories) they gained while in that form. Also Daniel. Some of them (like Merlin) "cheat" by descending to human form while keeping the advanced knowledge of the Ancients, and come back as a more "advanced" form of human with Psychic Powers. And Daniel has more Ancient knowledge than he's "supposed" to, or at least did one of the two times he descended.
While the Ancients insist that they're not gods and refuse to act like them, their Evil Counterparts the Ori revel in their claim of godhood, and they pull this same trick in the form of Adria. None of them are willing to take a power downgrade by personally descending to human form, so they create a human-Ori hybrid that's "more evolved" than standard humans and packed with as much of the knowledge of the Ori as her upgraded human brain can handle. Adria serves as the Oirici, a messiah figure in the Ori's religion and serves as a way for them to more directly intervene in the Milky Way, but do so without giving the Ancients an excuse to fight back before the Ori are ready. Until all the Ori are killed, and then Adria ascends and takes on all of the power of the Ori.
The gods and goddesses do this sometimes in The Odyssey, though these are temporary shapes, and it's implied that the gods are merely Shapeshifting into a human aspect for their own purposes (like finding out information, or more often conducting a Secret Test of Character.)
Emmanuel, the main character in the novel The Divine Invasion by Philip K Dick, is, in actuality, the Judeo-Christian God - and he lost his memories in a car accident.
Nyarlathotep often appears in the form of a man. He has several other avatars as well, ranging from aforementioned human form to monstrous and inhuman. In Lovecraft's canon he appears in human form in "Nyarlathotep" (the first story he appears in), in "The Dream-Quest of the Unknown Kadath", and (in both human and pseudo-human forms, described as looking demonic) in Lovecraft's sonnet "Fungi from Yuggoth". It's also briefly mentioned that he once took human form in the ancient Khem, better known as Egypt for modern readers. For completeness, he also appears in possibly pseudo-human form in "The Dreams in the Witch-House", in a monstrous form in "Haunter in the Dark", and one of his non-human forms is mentioned in Rats in the Walls. In "Haunter in the Dark" it's somewhat implied that he gained his human form by possessing a human (most likely an egyptian pharaoh named Nephren-Ka).
Margaret Weis's The Dark Disciple series, Mina turns out to be a goddess of light, who was tricked into believing she was a human girl. She becomes a necromancer of death god, Chemosh.
In Small Gods, the Great God Om decides to visit the Disc in the body of a great bull. Instead, he gets stuck in the body of a tortoise, and doesn't have enough godly mojo left to get out.
Also by Pratchett, in Strataall sentient life in the universe falls under this trope, losing all memory of divinity in order to better learn.
The Death of Discworld isn't a god by the standards of his universe, but he does occasionally self-limit his powers and go walking the Disc disguised as a human. Usually fails miserably because: a) in spite of hanging around humans for millennia, he's no good at being one, and b) some supernatural crisis inevitably drags him back to work.
The Rifter: The Rifter is an incarnation of part of the god Parfir, who is the world, according to one version of the scriptures. Its current form, John, is certainly very human mentally and emotionally, but he has the power of a god too. He has a connection to the earth and living things which he can use to move storms in their tracks and cause rocks to grow, but also he has an immense reserve of furious energy that can rip the earth apart, and which responds to his negative emotions. Learning to control this power and use it for the good is a major part of the novel. The fact that the Rifter has human form meant that the Payshmura church could misuse the Rifter, killing its incarnations to unleash destruction on their enemies, and deeply damaging Basawar each time. If they’d continued on this way, they would have ruined the whole world.
Ian Mc Donald's novel Out on Blue Six—Kilimanjaro West turns out to be this.
In the Young Wizards series the most powerful of the Powers That Be exist mainly outside of time and, to be able to do anything to that which exists inside of time, not only need to insert fragments of themselves into the time stream(s), but also to put that fragment into a physical body. This is usually done by the fragment hitching a ride in an already living being (usually without the mortal host being aware), which limits the amount of power they can use. However, if the host dies they can slap together a blob of physical matter and shove the fragment into that, giving them much greater access to their powers (and in a few instances the Big Bad starts out that way).
The Devil from Glen Duncan's I, Lucifer is given the choice by God to redeem himself by taking over the body of Declan Gunn. He retains his devilish characteristics, but spends much of his time utterly overcome by the power of his human senses.
A character in the Well World series claimed to be this, more or less.
The group of so-called "wizards" in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, while appearing as old human men, are actually five Maiar, a kind of angelic spirit, who are themselves incorporeal but can usually clothe themselves in any form they like. The five have been sent on a mission to help the peoples of Middle-earth against Sauron, during which they are bound in their physical form, unable to change it, and also limited in their powers and knownledge. (When Gandalf the Grey dies and comes back as Gandalf the White, it's hinted that he regained his Maia powers in "death" and this allowed him to rebuild his body. It might also have been a near-death experience: the text never explicitly says he died.)
In Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, it's strongly hinted a couple of times (though never quite confirmed) that the Martian-raised protagonist may in fact be the archangel Michael in human form.
The former lives remembered by the central protagonist in the Redfern Barrett novel Forget Yourself all appear to be those of Greek/Nordic gods and mythological figures, suggesting the land to have a possibly supernatural origin.
In fact, seeing as The Bible claims that "God made man in His image", this Trope seems to make perfect sense, in a way, depending on how you interpret it.
All human beings are seen this way in some religions. Scientology is one example, considering human souls to be the reincarnations of alien souls. Mormons believe that everyone human started off as something approximate to God; the Veil keeps you from remembering properly and the human experience is seen as developmental and helpful rather than evil. In Gnosticism, the Demiurge is keeping you in a human state: for instance, Adam, the first human, was originally (and again once his human body died) the archangel Michael.
In Buddhism, the object of enlightenment is to reach Nirvana rather than become a god; although gods are seen as beings longer-lived and more powerful than humans, they are not much better or all-knowing. In Mahayana Buddhism, Boddhisatvas (which are basically all-powerful and all-knowing) can manifest in human or animal form if need be.
In Norse Mythology, the god Odin was known to appear to mortals in the guise of an old man.
As mentioned above, the Hindu concept of avatars is one of the most widespread and influential implementations of this trope.
As Hinduism is often seen as a Pantheistic religion, all of reality can go under the umbrella of God in X Form.
In Greek mythology, Apollo served for a year as the human-seeming shepherd to King Admetus.
Similarly, Demeter became nursemaid to King Celeus' son Triptolemus when she was too exhausted to continue the search for her own daughter. She wanted to make Triptolemus a god by covering him in ambrosia and putting him in the fire, but was unable to complete the process due to his mother Metanira walking in on her and freaking out. Demeter got a little annoyed, but unlike the more vengeful gods, she understood Metanira's feelings and groomed Triptolemus to be the first priest of her Eleusinian Mysteries as consolation.
Zeus made frequent forays to the mortal realm in human form to boink various hot chicks. And, on occasion, to test mortals, like he and Hermes did in the myth of Baucis and Philemon, where they disguised themselves as two weary travelers and visited a town. The rich folk living there turned them away, but the elderly couple Baucis and Philemon received them with glad hospitality. Zeus rewarded them for their hospitality by granting them their wish: that they should die at the same moment so neither of them had to live widowed. When they did die, they turned into trees, their branches forever intertwined in love.]]
Thoroughly averted in Islam. To believe that God would ever put himself in human form is not blasphemy or apostasy, it makes you non-Muslim by definition. Islam is very big on picturing God as a transcendent if benevolent being bordering on the Eldritch and is very critical of Pride (to say that God would take human form is to hold the human form somehow equal to Him, which is prideful on humanity's part) so it makes sense.
In point of fact, the religion scholar Stephen Prothero has gone so far as to say that this is the defining characteristic of Islam: the belief in the transcendence of God to the point where opposition to Pride is the central aspect of the faith (and in a way, he's indisputably right: Islam is, after all, Arabic for "submission/surrender"). This is why Islam is very definite on having no images of God; some very strict Muslims believe it's wrong to create anything at all (being that only God can create).
In the Dungeons and Dragons Avatar Series (books and adventures), the deities of the Forgotten Realms are forced to descend to Faerun in their considerably weaker avatar forms as punishment for the misdeeds of two of them.
In the Dungeons and Dragons Dragonlance setting, the god Paladine appears in the mortal world as the wizard Fizban.
4th Edition has taken this to new levels by actually allowing player characters to be the mortal embodiments of a god with the various divine Avatar epic destinies, which represent a character discovering that they are a God in Human Form, or at least part of one, and ultimately ascending to rejoin that god.
Eberron has "The Traveler" who is rumored to walk the world in thousands of humanoid guises.
In Warhammer 40,000, the God Emperor of the Imperium is the God of Humanity ...and a mortally wounded and crippled man kept alive in the most complex iron lung imaginable.
The Eldar can call forth the avatar of their god of war into one of their own for combat.
Also, the form the C'tan, and possibly the Chaos Greater Daemons, take on the battlefield.
One of the C'tan, the Deceiver, often takes on a human (or alien) form in order to manipulate people to do his bidding. Seeing how the C'tan are heavily inspired by Lovecraftian deities, he's essentially 40k's version of the aformentioned Nyarlathotep.
Scion has the gods occasionally take on human form in order to conceive the titular Scions. One divine power, Avatar, allows them to temporarily lower their Legend to make the job easier (the higher a god's Legend, the more power they have to expend to take on physical form).
While not exactly a human (especially if you go by his toy design, which doesn't have organic features) Mata Nui from BIONICLE went through such a phase, after having been robbed of his own body, that of a Humongous MechaPhysical God, and forging a new, much smaller ( this time, a mostly organic) form for himself from sand. He lives with "normal" people for a while, but later swaps his body for another giant robot to beat the Big Bad. May count as a light subversion, as the people he met didn't regard him as a god, as they never even knew him, and those to whom he was a god didn't get to see him in this form.
Hakuoro and Diy of Utawarerumono. Technically the same person, actually, but due to being unable to die and having a huge mental breakdown some indeterminate but loooong time before, the person called 'Iceman' split into them. They tend to fight each other a lot as they embody separate aspects of his character. Hakuoro seems to vastly prefer his existence as a human, being the side of him wishing for peace/to be destroyed instead of to destroy while Diy is his violent chaotic side which seems to prefer Godhood so as to blow stuff up as part of his evil darwinist philosophy.
Arawn in Tears to Tiara is called the Great Demon God and actually hasn't really been depowered since before being killed a thousand years before. The actual problem is that he currently possesses a much more humanlike shell and that actually using that power properly will destroy his nerves and muscles, so he doesn't. Except he has been the entire time, leaving him incredibly worn out and ragged by the end. Also, even before when fighting with Pwyll he was already a depowered deity-level figure from being one of the Twelve Angels, and taking that form again causes him immense damage.
The God of Harmony in Lost Kingdoms has the form of the old woman Gurd. Or at least it's heavily implied if you find the secret room in the cathedral and read the books. But she just comes out and says it in the sequel.
Lufia and Seena from the Lufia games are the God of Death who occasionally take human forms.
The Lunar series has Althena routinely taking the form of a human girl (usually a singer), who is the incarnation of the deity. They don't usually know this fact, nor do the other characters. Lampshaded in Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, when Alex tries to make a sculpture of Luna, and the person looking at it notices the similarity to the Goddess Althena.
If you play your choices right in Dragon Age: Origins, You can conceive one of these with Morrigan, a child with the soul of an old god. This will presumably have great consequences in the sequels.
And in Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Dread Wolf Fen'Harel joins your party, although for most of the game he goes by Solas.
In Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 3, both halves of the Dragon-God get depowered and assume human forms as a result. Kokuryuu/the Dark Dragon had his weakened human body destroyed and his powers snatched by an enemy, although it didn't cause power loss to his miko. Hakuryuu/the White Dragon is initially found in the form of a pre-teen kid (also qualifying for the Really 700 Years Old trope as the Dragons have been around for at least 300-400 years by that point); he partially retains the ability to cross time-space, and later regains some of his power and assumes a moreadult form. In one side game, both Dragons can be seen in both childlike and adult human forms.
Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 5 features human forms of The Four Gods. Needless to say, they're extremely pretty (especially Suzaku and Genbu).
Oracle Of Tao, this is the basic premise behind the hero's amnesia. Things don't add up with her memories and she thinks that she might not exist, but the truth is in fact she's the only one who does exist, and the world is a dream.
Miang, the Big Bad of Xenogears, is essentially the physical avatar of Deus, created 10,000 before the beginning of the game, manipulating history in order to orchestrate its revival.
In Final Fantasy XIII the Fal'cie seem to have the ability to do this. Most prominently, Barthandelus uses the guise of primarch Galenth Dysley to control Cocoon while avoiding its residents' eyes.
You know that gas station attendant you meet in the "the-first-day-you-reach-Inaba-kind-of-early" early beginning ofPersona 4? Well, that person happens to be Izanami. As in the Japanese Shinto Goddess, Izanami. And did we mention that she happens to be the true and finalBig Bad of the game?
One other thing. You know your playercharacter's very first Persona, Izanagi? Yes, he is based on, if not is, the Japanese God, Izanagi, the brother/husband of Izanami.
Across the main series, YHVH has mostly ceased to appear directly, instead sending avatars to oversee and confront threats, such as the Ancient of Days and Kagutsuchi.
In Mass Effect 3, Javik explains that the Protheans believed that certain beliefs or concepts could manifest in physical form, being found in the truly extraordinary people in the Galaxy. For his actions during the Prothean-Reaper War, Javik was identified as the Avatar of Vengeance.
He later states his belief that Shepard is the current Cycle's Avatar of Victory.
In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: The Shivering Isles, you meet the Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath, in the form of a human in a purple suit. At the end, the player character becomes the new Daedric Prince of Madness.
In the Knights of the Nine expansion, it's heavily implied that the prophet is Talos in disguise.
In The Gamers Alliance, gods can end up in human form whenever they possess a willing mortal host. Although possessing a mortal makes the gods unable to use their full powers, it also prevents them from being permanently killed off (if the host dies, the god's essence can simply leave the body and return to the High Plane unharmed).
The Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise centers around this: The World Spirit continually incarnates into human form (the namesake Avatar) in order to understand mortal life better and therefore appreciate what it is there to protect. See also the Moon and Ocean Spirits, Tui and La respectively, from the same series — except their physical form is a pair of koi fish.
The Sequel Series, The Legend of Korra expands on this further: the Avatar Spirit's name is Raava, the spirit of light who decided to be eternally bound to a human host in order to bring peace to both human and spirit worlds. The cycle of reincarnation also makes Raava stronger with each rebirth, as when the previous Avatar dies, his/her power is added to the Avatar Spirit, most clearly seen when each Avatar is in the Avatar State.
Disney's Hercules series had Zeus turn himself into a human teenager, ultimately even less powerful than Hercules, to prove a point to his son. This backfires on him dramatically, especially after Hades finds out that his nemesis is temporarily mortal. He maintains his memories throughout, and it only lasts a short while before he returns to his godly form.
In The Simpsons episode "Homer the Heretic", God appeared more-or-less human (still rather intimidating, and you couldn't see His face) when He appeared to Homer in a vision. (Homer's description of Him was, "perfect teeth, nice smell, a class act all the way". Curiously, He had five fingers on each hand, unlike most characters on the show.
Transformers Prime has the Covenant of Primus reveal that Orion Pax is the reincarnation of "Thirteen," the last of the thirteen original Primes, who willingly entered the Well of Allsparks so he may be reborn anew as an ordinary Cybertronian in order to better understand the needs of the new generation of Cybertronians. When he accepted the Matrix of Leadership, he regained his memories and retook his original name: Optimus Prime. It should be noted that the only ones aware of all this was Alpha Trion, and after regaining his memories, Optimus himself.