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Henotheistic Society

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Fantasy settings are rife with Fantasy Pantheons. Nearly every story involving gods has some that receive worship.

But even in settings where multiple gods are recognized, not all of them are worshipped equally. In fact, some gods may be favored by a person, group of people, or even an entire country above all the rest even though said god isn't all-powerful. This is what's known as a henotheistic society, where a god in a recognized pantheon of worshipped gods whose favor is more important to a certain individual or group of people.

A single god is favored more than others in henotheistic societies because their domain is most relevant to an individual or group. For instance, a Proud Warrior Race will take a War God as its patron deity, holding them in the highest esteem over the Odd Job Gods. A seafaring village may hold an ocean or storm god in higher regard than a Nature Spirit.

The most important aspect in determining if a society is henotheistic is that a god is selected by the individual or group as the focus of worship. Someone may ask for the favor of various gods on occasion, but if one doesn't hold one particular god among the bunch above the rest, then the society is not henotheistic.

The Theocracy may enforce this trope to suit an end, while having an active Patron God may justify it.

A Super-Trope to Ethnic God. Compare Patron Saint.


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    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman: In the Golden Age the Amazons considered gods to be mere impermanent "ideaforms" while worshiping Aphrodite. Post-Crisis they worshiped the Olympian pantheon with a focus on their patron goddesses: Aphrodite, Athena, Artemis, Demeter and Hestia.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Legend of Zelda fanfic Let the World Smile, Hylians worship three Goddesses, but the Hyrulian Royal Family prioritizes Din over the other two.
  • This is a plot point in the RWBY fic Let Us Be Your Poison. Like most people from Atlas, Weiss's family follows the Faith of Decum Luna. There are ten different gods but Atlasian families only worship one of the gods as their guardian. The family's chosen god determines whether they're soldiers, artisans, or craftsmen. Families only marry into families who have the same religious beliefs as them, but Weiss' parents are a rare case of a mixed-belief couple. As a result, Weiss feels some Internalized Categorism that her Fictional Disability of being disconnected from her soul has to do with her parent's taboo marriage.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In The Belgariad, each race has its own patron god. The Alorns have Belar the bear, the Arends have Chaldan the bull, the Nyissans have Issa the snake, the Murgos have Torak the dragon, the Marags had Mara the bat, the Tolnedrans have Nedra the lion, and the Ulgos have UL the albatross. There's also Aldur the owl, but he adopts one disciple from each race, rather than being a patron god to a single race. The later books also introduce Eriond the horse, the new god of the Angaraks, who may end up becoming the god of all other races.
  • In Dark Shores, people living in the West worship the Six Gods but each nation seems to have their chosen deity that they treat with most respect (and who in turn provides them blessings). For example the sea-faring Maarin worship the sea goddess Madoria, while the peaceful farmers of Katamarca worship the earth goddess Yara.
  • The Death Mage Who Doesn't Want a Fourth Time: The world of Lambda once worshipped the Eleven Founding Gods, with certain people honoring one god over the others. After a massive war with the Demon King, three of them were killed and others went dormant, then they got split up even further after a conflict between the gods Alda, God of Order and Vida, Goddess of Love. By the time of the story, the only one of the remaining founding gods that continues to receive worship is Alda and his subordinate gods. The protagonist Vandalieu changes that when he helps spread the worship of Vida and her allies while deliberately snubbing Alda and his subordinates, all in preparation for the inevitable rematch between gods.
  • In The Faraway Paladin, everyone selects one of the gods and goddesses that watch over the world as their patron once they come of age. The particularly faithful and favored may be granted a blessing by their patron deity so that said deity can achieve something through their blessed champions. Among adventurers, it's not uncommon for one to call upon the name of their patron deity as a Battle Cry.
  • N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy: The Arameri Empire is sponsored by and exclusively worships Itempas, the God of Order and Light, after a Divine Conflict where he murdered his sister, enslaved his brother Nahadoth, and recalled the lesser godlings from the planet. After the first book ends his monopoly, cults of Nahadoth return to open worship and godlings start attracting adherents.
  • In Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, adventurers are required to pledge themselves to a god and become one of their "children" in order to receive their falna, a blessing that grants them the superhuman abilities required to tackle the dungeon. Because of this, they're generally required to do as their gods ask. However, most gods will still receive respect from mortals unless they possess a poor reputation. In addition, the gods are officially on vacation as part of their descent to the lower world, so they're rarely worshiped in an official capacity anymore.
  • The Reluctant King: People in Novaria and surrounding regions seem to believe in many different gods. However, many individuals and countries often give particular devotion to one as a Patron God.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Most worshipers of the Seven pray to them either as a group or to specific gods at the appropriate time. The Silent Sisters are sworn to the Stranger, whom they honor by tending to the dead.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Honor, who for a long time was called the Almighty, is the patron god of humans, whereas Odium is the patron god of the Parshendi/Singers, though the Singers did worship Honor once.
  • Dogs and wolves in Survivor Dogs worship Nature Spirits in a manner similar to deity worship. They revere various Spirit-Dogs, however they tend to feel a connection towards one in particular. Lucky's favorite Spirit-Dog is the Forest-Dog, while Martha (who is a newfoundland) is associated with the River-Dog.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Classical Mythology: In both real life and the stories, there were cults devoted to the worship of one member of the pantheon above all the rest. For instance, the Maenads were female worshippers of Dionysus who drove themselves into a frenzy of dancing and intoxication.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is pretty ingrained in Dungeons & Dragons, to the point where there's usually a dedicated space near the top of the character sheet for a Player Character's patron deity. In most settings, the spirits of mortals travel to their deity's personal residence in the Outer Planes when they die.
    • Eberron:
      • The Sovereign Host and the Dark Six are the Good- and Evil-aligned sides of the same polytheistic religion. Devotees may pick a primary deity but offer prayers to the others (even the evil gods are prayed to for protection from disaster), or worship an entire side of the pantheon at once.
      • The Church of the Silver Flame accepts the existence of other deities but only worships the Silver Flame, through which and only through which the Purified believe the world can be rid of evil and made perfect.
    • Invoked in Forgotten Realms, where the souls of those who refuse to worship any of the gods become trapped within the Wall of the Faithless. However, the exact details vary Depending on the Writer - in some depictions being merely irreligious will send you to the domain of a random god who shares your ideals, and the "Faithless" consist only of those who actively reject the whole system.
    • The Greyhawk campaign setting, several countries have a specific patron deity:
      • The Theocracy of the Pale is ruled by worshippers of the deity Pholtus and takes him as its deity.
      • In the early years of the game, the Archclericy of Veluna was dedicated to the deity St. Cuthbert.
    • Usually, members of the cleric Character Class choose not only a patron deity, but one or more "domains" reflecting concepts such as Animal, Fire, Good, War, etc., each granting specific powers. Each deity has a canonical list of domains which their clerics can access, though sometimes this list is modified for clerics who belong to a specific order or heresy within the faith.
  • In Exalted, the Celestial Bureaucracy includes some gods whose domains are concepts such as or places such as countries, rivers or trees. Some of them became jobless and homeless after their places were destroyed during the Great Contagion.
  • Pathfinder: Golarion follows the same basic pattern as most D&D settings (the game started as a setting for 3E), with all gods being accepted to exist but most people worshiping one or more in particular. 2nd Edition introduced the concept of "pantheons" where a character can devote themselves to a small selection of gods rather than a single patron.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Servants of Chaos can either worship the four Chaos Gods as a whole as "Chaos Undivided", or pledge themselves to a single one and receive different gifts and curses depending on who they worship. Each god used to have an entire Space Marine Legion dedicated to them, but these are now broken down and serve as Elite Mooks: Khorne's World Eaters are bloodthirsty berserkers, Slaanesh's Emperor's Children are hedonistic rockers with superpowered guitars, Tzeentch's Thousand Sons are powerful sorcerers and animated suits of armor, Nurgle's Death Guard are nearly-unkillable walking masses of cancerous growths.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: The human nations recognize a fairly wide pantheon of deities and, while laymen will general pay lip service to most of them, most religious people tend to follow a specific god in exclusion of all others. Hunters and woodsmen follow Taal, the god of wild beasts and hunting; sailors and fishermen Manaan, the Lord of the Ocean; soldiers and everyday citizens Sigmar; Middelanders revere Ulric; thieves and merchants worship the trickster god Ranald; and so on. The more devout a given worshipper, the more likely they are to disdain all but their chosen god and to actively look down on or distrust the others. This is in marked contrast with the Elves, who while often holding one of their deities above the others routinely honor them all situationally as they go through life.

    Video Games 
  • In Bravely Default II, Gwydion is the Lord of Dragons who is worshipped solely by the people of Rimedhal. He acts as its Guardian Angel in times of need, and is said to speak to them through the archbishop Domenic. But in recent times, Domenic and the inquisitor Helio have led a crusade against fairies, blaming them for all of Rimedhal's ills, and purging suspected fairies in Gwydion's name. Meanwhile, Gwydion's voice has fallen silent on Domenic's ears.
  • In Dwarf Fortress, there are abstract "forces" who are worshipped by the elves. Although they are not considered gods in the traditional sense, they are nonetheless glorified by their elven followers.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Despite the Nords worshipping the other Aedra of the Imperial pantheon, they hold a far greater reverence of Shor/Lorkhan than most of the other races of men, as they believe he saved all the spirits from the static cage of pre-creation, and welcomes any Nord who died honorably into the hallowed halls of Sovengarde, which he created for them.
    • Like the Nords, the Bosmer too worship the Imperial pantheon, but for them, it is Y'ffre, who was responsible for bringing nature itself to Nirn, who is held in higher regard.
    • Though they worship the Aedra as well, the Dark Elves hold Azura as their patron Daedra, and they also have the Tribunal, who were Chimer (The Ancestors of Dark Elves) before they ascended to godhood.
    • Talos is another Deity of Human Origin, and is held in high regard by most men, but especially the Nords.
  • Fate/Grand Order:
    • Medea and Caster of Okeanos mention their patron deity Hecate, whom they worship and derive their blessings and techniques from. Medea explicitly went to Caster of Okeanos to get trained as a priestess of Hecate. Following her Rank Up Quest, Medea also gains a skill called "Blessings of Hecate".
    • Nagao Kagetora is a devout Buddhist who particularly favors the protection of the War God Bishamonten, riding into battle and shouting his name as a Battle Cry. Her reputation as a nigh-invincible warrior in the Warring States period eventually led to others calling her an avatar of Bishamonten himself, and she too began to declare herself such.
  • The people of Eorzea in Final Fantasy XIV collectively worship a pantheon known as The Twelve, though each of its major city-states have a dedicated patron deity. Other gods are acknowledged, but the deities in question have particular import to the culture of each city-state:
    • Limsa Lominsa, a port city and pirate stronghold, has Llymlaen the Navigator, goddess of wind and seas
    • Gridania, a forest city that lives in harmony with the elementals, has Nophica the Matron, goddess of earth and harvest
    • Ul'dah, a desert city full of merchants, has Nald'thal the Traders, twinned deity of fire, commerce, and the underworld
    • Ishgard, caught in perpetual conflict with dragons in the frozen north, has Halone the Fury, goddess of ice and war
    • Ala Mhigo, a near-eastern analogue conquered by the Empire, has Rhalgr the Destroyer, god of lightning and destruction
    • Sharlayan, the dogmatically pacifistic land of learning, has Thaliak the Scholar, god of water and knowledge
    • The fallen nation of Belah'dia had Azeyma the Warden, goddess of fire and inquiry
    • The fallen nation of Nym had Oschon the Wanderer, god of wind and travelers
  • Genshin Impact has the Archons, which were seven minor deities that ascended to the status of God, being known as "The Seven" of Teyvat. In this world, there are seven nations that are patronized for every Archon that also represents one of the seven elements in this world. Until now, the seven nations (Mondstadt, Liyue, Inazuma, Sumeru, Fontaine, Natlan and Snezhnaya) are patronized by the Anemo Archon Barbatos, Geo Archon Rex Lapis (both reincarnated into human and playable characters Venti and Zhongli), the Electro Archon Baal (known primarily by the title of Raiden Shogun), Dendro Archon Buer (known as "Lesser Lord" Kusanali) also known as Nahida, Hydro Archon Focalors (publicly known as Furina), the Pyro Archon (who goes by Murata) and the Cryo Archon (known as the Tzaritsa). Despite this, there's nothing against praying to a foreign deity with Sumeru merchant Dori once praying to Rex Lapis due to him being the God of Commerce.
  • Zig-zagged in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. While the people of Zemuria worship the goddess Aidios as their sole deity, the nomads of the Nord Highlands (which includes Gaius Worzel) worship the winds instead, but they also integrate some of Aidios' teachings into their beliefs as well, creating a cross-belief system in which the two faiths can co-exist. As a result, the nomads don't prefer one belief over the other.
  • In The Legend of Zelda, Hylians and Hyrulians as a whole generally worship the three Golden Goddesses Din, Nayru, and Farore. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword introduces a fourth goddess named Hylia, who had previously only been alluded to by having a lake and species named after her. Hylia is an Ethnic God for the Hylians who the original Zelda is a reincarnation of. By The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Hylia worship prioritizes worship over the Golden Goddesses. None of them are referenced, however Hylia statues and churches are seen throughout Hyrule.

    Web Comics 
  • Digger: It is mentioned that most (non-Wombat) peoples have pantheons of multiple deities, but most godly people tend to pick a single Patron God. Murai is a member of the Veiled, an order of Warrior Monks that serve all gods equally, but she is also counted as a worshipper of Ganesh due to having grown up worshipping him.
  • In The Order of the Stick, most believers focus their active worship on a single deity despite believing in all of them. The dwarves like Durkon in particular almost exclusively worship Thor to the exclusion of the rest of Thor's pantheon.

    Real Life 
  • The Roman Empire has held several gods in particularly high regard over the years, with the favored gods changing with the times and the whims of the people in power.
    • Many people in the territories conquered by Rome had a god or gods of their own, and Rome didn't mind just so long as you also worshiped their own pantheon. But Rome particularly valued Mars, the war god, especially highly, as Augustus, the first emperor, allegedly traced his lineage back to the legendary king Romulus, a son of Mars and descendant of the Trojan warrior Aeneas.
    • The Vestal Virgins are a group of priestesses dedicated to the worship and tending to the flames of Vesta, goddess of the hearth, home, and state. They believed that Rome's prosperity was tied to Vesta's favor, and kept a sacred fire burning within her temple to preserve the goddess' protection.
    • During the Crisis of the Third Century, Sol Invictus became favored by the Roman military. Aurelian made Sol the main deity of the Roman Empire, intending to give the entire population of the Empire a figure they could believe in without betraying their own gods.
    • The Roman emperor Elagabalus attempted to institute worship of his namesake Syrian-Roman solar deity as the supreme god, above even Jupiter. He further ordered that Rome's most sacred relics be moved to the temple Elagabalium, and that Roman religious minorities (particularly Jews, Samaritans and Christians) must practice their rites in the temple as well. These decisions were enormously controversial, and contributed to his assassination in 222 CE.
  • The Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep IV, who renamed himself Akhenaten, promoted the worship of the sun Aten over the other gods. Aten was originally an aspect of the sun god Ra (always one of the most important gods of the Egyptian pantheon), but Akhenaten reinterpreted him as a completely separate god to replace Aten, which didn't go over well with the powerful priesthood of the old gods. And then went even further by trying to make people worship only Aten, in an early example of monotheism. This went over even worse. After his death the priests of the older gods started destroying his temples and some archaeologists believe they killed his son Tutankhamun (though most think either a combination of inbreeding and malaria, or a mishap in battle, to be more likely). Tutankhamun was originally named Tutankhaten, but after Akhenaten's death changed his name removing the reference to Aten in favor of Amun, another major god of the old pantheon who over the centuries had been merged with Ra.
  • There's archaeological evidence to suggest that, prior to the exile in Babylon, the Israelites worshiped other gods besides YHWH, but venerated Him above all others. God is even thought to have had a wife. (Note that the Exact Words of the First Commandment are usually translated as some form of "I am the Lord your God, and you shall have no other gods before me.") This is believed to have changed after the Israelites were freed to return home when the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonians, possibly influenced by the monotheistic Persian state religion Zoroastrianism: the Jews of the Second Temple ceased to worship other gods and became fully monotheistic. Occasional passages in the Hebrew Bible that otherwise seem a little odd show that not quite all hints of this early henotheism were excised from the stories by the time they were first written down: for example, many of the prohibitions in Leviticus against homosexuality are contextually tied to efforts to abolish various pagan sex rituals among the Israelites.
    • In the Bible itself, the Israelites are said to have repeatedly started to turn to the gods of their neighbors for various reasons. It's never said that they stopped worshipping YHWH, and indeed they probably just started considering him Top God of a pantheon, but putting pagan gods on equal level to Him was just as blasphemous, and tended to result in him withdrawing his support and the Israelites getting their asses kicked until the next prophet would get them back into shape.
  • While Ahura Mazda has always been the supreme god in Zoroastrianism, there is evidence to suggest that some pre-Islamic Iranians worshiped other deities as well, especially Mithra and Anahita.
  • While the many beings of indigenous Australian religions can technically be considered gods and almost all cultures acknowledge the existence of multiple agents at work, worship usually is/was restricted to one or a few. For example the Gamilaraay worshipped Baiame and nowadays compare him to the Judaeo-Christian god, considering him more sacred than the other supernatural beings, but the latter still existed and were cause for concern/wonder. The Yuin by contrast revere/d Daramulum, which to the Gamilaraay was a relatively minor child/brother of Baiame.
  • The Aztec (in)famously revered Huitzilopochtli above other gods, resulting in the stream of Human Sacrifice. To solidify his superiority the Aztecs actually captured tokens of other gods from rivalling nations.