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Physical God / Literature

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Physical Gods in literature.

  • American Gods: Most characters are some type of god, monster, or Anthropomorphic Personification living among the human population in secret. They don't age or fall ill but can be killed with some difficulty and with sufficient belief persist as a non-physical god and eventually reincarnate.
  • From The Acts of Caine, we have Pallas Ril (formerly Shanna Michaelson) and the Ascendant Ma'elKoth (formerly Hannto the Scythe).
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  • The Black Company: Despite the setting's general reliance on Gray-and-Grey Morality and aversion of Religion Is Magic, one Physical God is stated to exist in the universe. Old Father Tree was summoned into the world in a time long forgotten to act as the can for a particularly nasty Sealed Evil in a Can. The Plain of Fear is the result of His otherworldly presence, sporting coral reefs on dry land, wind whales and flying mantas, talking stones called Menhir, and "change storms" that temporarily distort reality.
  • Lots of characters in John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos. They describe mortals as "cattle" but they live out The Masquerade in the human world.
  • Comes in a couple of flavors in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant:
    • The Elohim are somewhere between physical gods and powerful fair folk; as incarnations of pure Earthpower, they are Pure Magic Beings and have access to elemental magic vastly dwarfing anything mortals can wield, plus being immortal and having vast knowledge. Unfortunately, they're also jerks; their Blue-and-Orange Morality is centered on the idea that they are the most important beings in the universe and always know best, and though they don't really mean harm, they don't take kindly to people trying to deal with problems in ways they don't approve of and have the power to register their objections... decisively.
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    • The series Big Bad, Lord Foul the Despiser, is a physical god of a rather different breed. Once he was the cosmic opponent of the Creator until he got locked inside the Arch of Time, binding him to a single manifestation and greatly reducing his available powersnote . In other words, he's really a Cosmic Being, and being a physical god is a major step down for him, one he's less than pleased with. Like the Elohim, he has the power to register this displeasure on a grand scale; unlike them, he really does mean harm.
  • The City and the Dungeon: All upper-spectrum delvers. Special mention goes to the Eidolons, who have special gear that turns ordinary delvers into violet-level gods modeled after the Greek gods and monsters.
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  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows In The Moonlight" Olivia dreams that the statues were Taken for Granite at the hands of a Physical God, after they had tortured to death his demigod son.
  • Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere:
    • Elantris: The Elantrians are humans who are worshipped as gods and have the power to match. Normally, at least - the plot of the novel is driven by their godlike abilities suddenly having stopped working.
    • Mistborn:
      • The Lord Ruler is ageless, Nigh-Invulnerable and far and away the most powerful Allomancer in the world, and is worshipped as king and god by The Empire. Nothing can harm him, nothing can stand against him. At one point, two rebels stab him through the chest with spears. He completely ignores both the men and the wounds. Vin later realizes that the reason he is so unconcerned with the rebellion is because he is fully capable of slaughtering every single person in the city by himself without the slightest amount of trouble. As it turns out, since he's both a Full Feruchemist and a Mistborn, he can break Feruchemy's Equivalent Exchange and get an infinite amount of any attribute he chooses, such as health or youth. When Vin rips off the atium metalminds he used to store his youth, he ages a thousand years in minutes.
      • In the sequel series Wax and Wayne, the Lord Ruler's method of godhood is well known, but no one can utilize it any more because there are no more true Mistborn or Feruchemists, just Mistings and Ferrings with a single metal each (and atium doesn't exist any more). In The Bands of Mourning, rumors begin to circulate that the Lord Ruler left behind a weapon called the Bands of Mourning, which would give any person full access to his powers. Fans have speculated for years how stupidly overpowered a full Mistborn/Feruchemist like the Lord Ruler would be — and it turns out that they were severely underestimating it. Marasi taps so much speed she leaves behind a vacuum when she moves (then throttles it back to merely causing a sonic boom), and has Steelpushing and Ironpulling strong enough that she can fly by pushing off the trace metals in the ground. When she gives the Bands to Wax, there's enough healing power to bring him back from the dead, then he flies over to his uncle's airship, increases his weight enough to keep it from flying away, increases his mental speed enough that he can calculate all possible outcomes in the time between one spoken word and the next, has his tin flaring hard enough that he can hear someone talking in the engineering bay on the other side of the ship, and finally is able to Pull the ship down to the ground when it tries to fly away again. He can even see and recognize people's souls. And this still wasn't utilizing the powers to their fullest extent.
    • Warbreaker:
      • The Returned, people who have died and been returned to life, minus any conscious memories of their previous lives. They are worshiped as gods in the kingdom of Hallandren where most of the story takes place. As it happens, they aren't quite gods, but merely infused with a portion of the power of one. Specifically the Shard Endowment (see The Cosmere for more details).
      • The people of the world also have the ability to give a part of their soul, called a "Breath", to someone else. With enough Breaths, people are capable of incredible things like animating objects, perfectly identifying sound and color, and sensing life force. Approximately two thousand Breaths grant the Fifth Heightening, which gives agelessness. The Returned have this by virtue of their single divine Breath, but they can't use it to animate objects, they have a few oracular abilities and a single-use healing ability that normal people do not have. When absurdly large numbers of Breaths are gathered, like, say the God-King of Hallandrens approximately fifty-thousand Breaths, they are able to break many of the fundamental rules of Awakening, such as awakening inorganic objects like metal and stone, or awakening an object without actually touching it.
    • Hoid, the Inexplicably Awesome worldhopper who shows up in every Cosmere book, is one, though he never uses his powers offensively. At absolute minimum, he's a full Mistborn, a Ferring (possibly a full Feruchemist, making him as powerful as the Lord Ruler, but with a much better understand of how to use those powers), and has reached at least the Second Heightening (and quite likely far more). Word of God is that if his head were cut off he'd just grow another one, he has survived being eaten by a Greatshell on Roshar without any apparent difficulty and he is completely unconcerned with being threatened by a Shardblade.
  • In Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence, the gods are real, and most of them are dead by now. Lich corporate lords killed them.
  • Cthulhu Mythos:
    • The Great Old Ones are said to be powerful Physical Gods... if they ever escape from their prison. Cthulhu himself, when he is trapped in the ocean depths (his Weaksauce Weakness), can barely use telepathy, and even a normal boat rammed through his head turned his head into a paste. It regenerates, but that is enough to subvert this trope.
    • A straighter example would be the Outer Gods, a collection of all-powerful beings that exist outside of the universe. Only some of them fit this trope straight, specifically the ones that manifest in physical avatars, the most prominent being Yog-Sothoth (his physical form is the space-time continuum itself), and Nyarlathotep (has many, many forms).
  • At the end of Dean Koontz's short story, "A Darkness in My Soul", a psychic goes on a Journey to the Center of the Mind and finds God trapped in the psyche of an insane genius. He then absorbs God's powers and then takes over the universe after giving half of the power to his girlfriend. Bored with exploring the universe, they decide to start a world war back on Earth for amusement, using humans as playthings.
  • DFZ: The DFZ is uniquely both the Spirit of the DFZ and the spirit of the physical city. This makes her an interesting intersection of spirit types; apparently many papers have been written on the subject.
  • Played with frequently in Discworld.
    • In The Last Continent, the wizards encounter the God of Evolution, who, ironically, takes a very dim view of religion and considers himself an atheist.
    • Hogfather introduces Bilious, the Oh God of Hangovers.
    • Coin the Sourcerer from Sourcery is a straight example. As an eight son of a wizard, he is a source of magic, so he's able to use it without any spells. He's able to defeat best wizards of Unseen University without any effort, create a tower from nothing, empower wizards, and to seal Discworld gods. He has to leave Discworld at the end of the book, as his power is too much for the reality and it's too easy for him to change it.
  • Discussed Trope in The Divine Comedy; Beatrice explains that the reason The Bible describes God as if he had hands and the angels as if they had eyes since humans can only understand things from the senses, so even non-physical existence must be described with sensory details.
  • Dragaera: The Dragaeran]] gods' main power is to be physically present in many places—learned through training, but also through a deep physical change. This power implies others, including immortality: if a god is killed in one place (by a sentient blade), they're still in other places. Beyond that, the gods have varied powers and forms: Steven Brust shows a dragon, a storm cloud, a black void, a female humanoid, and others. One more aspect of godhood is you can't control or summon a god. They'll help you if it suits them.

    More precisely, the Dragaeran word translated in the books into "divinity" really means "to simultaneously live in multiple forms or aspects of reality", as opposed to, say, mortals, who can only live in one physical plane or be in one after- or between-life at once. (Normal death in this verse is simply moving a soul from one place to another, which can't be done if the soul is already at the destination.) It's explicitly stated the only difference between a "god" and "demon" is that somebody's figured out a theoretical way to bind or coerce the latter, so those classes are more changeable. (It also explains the title of "Verra, the Demon Goddess" - a former slave of the Jenoine.)
  • The Dresden Files:
    • The Faerie Queens: Mother Summer, Mother Winter, Queen Titania, Queen Mab, Lady Maeve, Lady Aurora, Lady Lily as of Summer Knight, and Sarissa and Molly as of Cold Days. Six women who are among the most powerful entities a mortal is likely to ever meet. Even the Ladies, the least powerful pair, are far beyond anything a human could hope to match. At one point the Summer Lady casually sends a wave of flame hot enough to completely vaporize enchanted metal — metal enchanted by Summer, no less, so it has an even higher heat resistance than normal. The Mothers Winter and Summer are strong enough that not even Cold Iron bothers them, and are a match for the Archangels.
    • There are also angels and their fallen equivalents, Valkyries, the Erlking, Santa Claus, and all sorts of old gods and the like. Only a couple have shown up so far, namely Odin (who is also Santa Claus) and a maenad in the short stories. Oh, and Hades, who so far appears to be an okay guy.
    • The Archive is the sum total of all written knowledge contained in the body of a little girl. She's also capable of using magic, in a world where knowledge pretty much translates directly into magical power. She is incredibly powerful, and proved fully capable of fighting off dozens of Denarians (who are powered by fallen angels) with access to a mere trickle of her power. This is the equivalent of a cute little girl beating up the entire championship lineup of UFC, while holding her breath.
    • Skinwalkers are stupidly powerful shapeshifters with a true form horrific enough that Harry literally has trouble standing after seeing it. They're basically invulnerable. We only know of one that was killed, when a wizard tricked it onto a nuclear testing site and teleported away right as the bomb dropped.
    • Archangels, the most powerful of the angels, are fully capable of destroying galaxies with a thought.
    • Six different necromancers all hit town at the same time in Dead Beat to try to become this. Cowl would have managed it, too, if Harry had been a second or two slower.
    • In addition, there's the Red King and the Lords of Outer Night, the rulers of the Red Court, who are each nearly as powerful as Odin. They are, individually, an immense powerhouse. Even so, they're not invincible, as Murphy is able to decapitate one with a single stroke of Fidelacchius, and the Leanansidhe is able to one-shot several of them when she catches them off-guard.
    • Considering that the Leanansidhe is stated to be second only to Mab in Mab's court, she probably also qualifies.
    • Dragons also qualify as well. When thinking of dragons in the Dresdenverse, it would be a good idea to think less "fire breathing lizard" and more "cosmic deity" in terms of firepower. One of them, Ferrovax, has been stated to be more than capable of taking down Queen Mab herself. And a dozen books later, we still don't know what it's doing or what it wants.
    • Senior Council level wizards are low level versions (technically Cowl is as well, being stronger than Ebenezar). Ebenezar McCoy, the youngest, is the master of the Colony Drop. The Merlin once held off an army of sorcerer vampires and Outsiders with one on-the-fly ward.
    • Demonreach is a genius loci, and essentially omnipotent within a limited area (an island in Lake Michigan). Apparently built of truly intricately layered magic by the guy whose name the White Council has been using as a title for the last millennium or so.
  • David Eddings loves this trope, from the seven gods (eight if you count both Torak and his non-evil replacement Eriond) and their father UL from The Belgariad, to the numerous gods and goddesses of the various races from The Elenium from the nearly elemental Troll Gods, to the sweet, adorable, non-talkative (at least at first) little girl Flute, a/k/a the Styric goddess Aphrael.
  • In Mika Waltari's The Etruscan, the title character Turms is ultimately a "lucumo" or a holy king, not much short of a god, and can summon storms, can't be killed in battle and can converse with gods. For most part, though, he doesn't know it yet.
  • In Everworld the gods of mythology are supposed to have abandoned Earth centuries ago for an alternate universe, taking a portion of their followers with them. They were later joined by gods from other worlds, too, who bear no resemblance to anything from human legend. Including one rather nasty one named Ka Anor.
  • Factory of the Gods: Any normal mortal (or phone) that finds a Godcore becomes a Physical God.
  • In The Ferryman Institute, Charon describes being a member of the Ferryman Council as being the closest thing to godhood any human could hope for.
  • In John Varley's Gaea Trilogy, we see the entity known as Gaea. This is essentially a living personality in an alien computer system. But Gaea is in every practical sense a deity on her little world. She is capable of shaping new forms of life, giving them intelligence and a culture of her own design. She controls the weather, the ground, and every living thing that resides on Titan.
  • In The Girl from the Miracles District, the Norse gods are physical enough that Nikita can threaten to cut out Odin's one remaining eye with sacred scissors. This being said, she does note in her narration that he'd curb stomp her if she tried.
  • In Jesse Hajicek's The God Eaters, people become gods through the belief of others, then make a practice of devouring each other to consolidate power.
  • The gigantic sandworm hybrid Leto II Atreides becomes in God-Emperor of Dune fits many of these requirements (invulnerability, difficult to kill—except with water—limited omnisciencenote )...except for the fact that he doesn't consider himself a god. He naturally lets the people worship him (it's all part of the plan), but he never buys his own propaganda. On the other hand, it's not clear if Frank Herbert exactly meant that he wasn't a god: one of the novels' themes is the meaning of messiahdom and godhood.
  • The Shrike from the Hyperion Cantos. A nigh-invulnerable construct/machine/being who can manipulate/travel through time and space, he/it is the most feared entity in the universe. He has a church devoted to him (although it doesn't seem to answer prayers or supplications).
  • AM from I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is a Earth-spanning computer of such power it is almost omnipotent. Unfortunately for the last five humans it is also an insanely spiteful sadist.
  • Journey to Chaos:
    • Tricksters are physical manifestations of the goddess Lady Chaos, whose true form mortals cannot grasp. All of them can fly, teleport and possess Complete Immortality but the level of divine power varies between them depending on their attunement.
    • When reapers manifest in physical reality, they take a physical form and this form is usually whatever the locals think of Death. Regardless of their form, their supernatural ability is far and away beyond any mortal mage. Teleportation, intangibility and immortality are only a couple of their powers.
  • All the resurrected gods in the Krim Pyramid books have physical forms and can be injured or restrained by sufficiently powerful attacks.
  • Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is chock full of these, called Elder Gods and Ascendants. All are implied to have physical forms even if they don't outright appear that way in the novels. At least two of them are humans who took over an attunement that was vacant.
    • They are far from omnipotent, though. In Reaper's Gale, Trull Sengar, a mortal Tiste Edur, manages to hold his own in combat against ancient Ascendant Silchas Ruin, at least for a while. Though at that point Trull Sengar is also far from mortal, having become the Knight of Shadow in The Bonehunters.
    • The Crippled God himself. Some of the implications of this trope are defied, however; thanks to his crippling and chaining, his physical form is actually very weak. Withal — who, aside from being an incredibly skilled smith, is a vanilla mortal — is able to shove him over and collapse his tent on him at the end of Midnight Tides, and the Crippled God can't do anything about it but flail helplessly and shriek threats. It is then doubly defied in the last two books, which reveal that that wasn't actually the real body of the Crippled God, but one he managed to make for himself, and his real body is shattered and strewn across the planet, with his heart being chained to the Spite in Kolanse and being used as a source of power by various other gods.
  • Night's Dawn: The Naked God, an artificial construct with godlike powers and a benevolent personality.
  • The One Who Eats Monsters: The protagonist, Ryn, is an Elder being from the Long Ago. She can't die, is super human in basically anyway you can name, and is a goddess of vengeance in all but title. She also not the only being like herself running around.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero's Daughter trilogy, the Greek wind gods are major characters. They are, in fact, balanced with the main characters, Prospero's children.
  • A favorite of Rick Riordan's series. Percy Jackson and the Olympians introduces the Greek gods, The Kane Chronicles has the Egyptian gods, The Heroes of Olympus has the Roman gods, and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard has the Norse gods. The main characters of all the series are Demi-gods (half human, half god) with the exception of The Kane Chronicles, in which the main characters are avatars for the various gods. Greek and Roman gods can be killed permanently, and they have attunement to their dominions: for example, in the first book of Olympians, Ares is manipulated by Kronos into inciting a war between the gods because of the power it would give him.
  • Sister Alice has the Great Families. As Family members age and become more experienced, they are given more "talents" - nearly intangible dark matter machinery - which give them godlike abilities. Sister Alice thinks several thousand times faster than a regular person, can Terra Form entire worlds in mere decades, and has the power to rip apart stars with the same effort it takes a person to flick a bug off their arm. Later in the novel, more of the talents available to elder Family members are shown, such as Anti Matter creation, and internal weapons, such as X-ray lasers.
  • In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, the Ashëans are said to have been Physical Gods who'd live in enclaves and were often associated with certain nations and/or people. Demane claims they've since abandoned their towers and become light, leaving their Semi-Divine offspring behind.
  • The dead god, from Terry Mancour's The Spellmonger Series. He is a decapitated skull, magically resurrected by goblin shamans who encased the head in globe of irionite the size of a large pumpkin. This gives him so much magical power that his presence makes a dent in the fabric of reality.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Magic: The Visages are unspeakably powerful, to the point that the mere idea of fighting one is unheard of. Seeing a mortal with two or three attunements is rare; there are estimated to be fifty or more, and the Visages have all of them.
  • A Taste of Honey: Played With. The Olorumi worship the Ashëans of the Ashëan Enclave as gods, and those certainly have strange powers and are much longer lived than humans, but Perfecta claims that the Ashëans are not gods, just people who retain some of the gods' theogenetica, and the true gods left the planet after terraforming it.
  • Titan's Forest: The Thirteen Gods are, physically speaking, fully human — they have human bodies, can be harmed and killed like anyone else, need to eat, sleep and relieve themselves, and grow old and frail in the normal human pattern. The reason they are called gods is because each one possesses stupendous magical power over a specific part of nature, which they can share with their servants, and because they reincarnate into a new body every time they die.
  • The Traveler's Gate: The Incarnations are Travelers who have drawn too much power from their Territories, and have become a physical expression of those Territories. They can draw unlimited power, are almost impossible to kill, don't need to eat, sleep, drink, or breathe, and their mere presence starts deforming the world into something like their Territory. Their primary weakness is that if they ever enter their Territory again, they will soon be trapped and unable to leave, since they are very much part of the Territory. Once they are trapped, the insane single-minded nature of the Territory fades, and they become much more human again. That's the way the Incarnations are supposed to work, but hundreds of years ago someone created a bunch of Incarnations and convinced them to stay in the real world.
  • The Ainur from Tolkien's Legendarium 'verse (most elaborated on in The Silmarillion, mentioned in The Lord of the Rings) are a whole race of these. They're incorporeal spirit beings created by the creator deity before the physical universe, and some entered it. Those can and many choose to freely clothe themselves in physical forms. They greater spirits, or Valar (Powers) fill the roles of traditional Gods but act more as caretakers or stewards of the World (Arda), with one notable exception. Among them the most powerful are Morgoth/Melkor and Varda/Elbereth. The lesser spirits, Maiar, are "kin" and "people" to the Valar, and appear more in Lord of the Rings and include Sauron, Gandalf, Saruman, and the Balrog of Moria. Another good example would be Melian, a Maia, who was able to have a child with an Elf, and who used her powers to defend the kingdom of Doriath. It's worth noting that while Maiar are usually seen as "lesser" spirits, some among them, like Sauron, Melian and Arien, are vastly powerful in their own right, and can contend with the Powers themselves or put them on the defensive.
    • Tolkien discussed at length the effects of being incarnated, especially where Morgoth and Sauron were concerned. Generally speaking, being incarnate creates an advantage in the physical world, but also creates a weakness: when the physical form is damaged or destroyed, the Ainu loses part of their power and can even be killed.
  • Roger Zelazny likes to mix mythology in with his SF, and as a result, has used this a few times:
    • In Creatures of Light and Darkness, some of the gods are ascended humans, some aliens, some are techno-things, and some are just, well, straight up gods. (In his similar novel from the same era, Lord of Light, they're just pretending.)
    • Eye of Cat features Native American Physical Gods in a futuristic setting.
    • And then there's the royal family in The Chronicles of Amber. Or at least Dworkin, who created the entire multiverse.
  • After Luke kills Shimrra in the New Jedi Order, Onimi declares that he must have been the war god Yun-Yammka in mortal form. He most likely wasn't, but he did achieve Oneness without dying first, which is about as close as one can get in Star Wars.
  • Wearing the Cape:
    • Omega-class Breakthroughs are supposedly ordinary humans who had a Traumatic Superpower Awakening that put them so far beyond even the strongest normal Breakthroughs that their threat assessment is typically "don't." They mostly stick to their extrareality pockets, where they are omnipotent gods. Of course, it's not clear if they are actually Breakthroughs or something else entirely. There is no evidence of a human becoming Omega-class, and the Omegas themselves aren't talking.
    • The first Omega-class Astra meets is Kubuki-cho, which appears as a floating, talking goldfish that likes odd games. Astra first encounters it when the Yakuza have been using a hidden section of its extrareality pocket for their own purposes. The yakuza have been fighting Astra's team on an even level, and then Astra destroys the artifact that was hiding them from the godfish. Kubuki-cho appears and the yakuza instantly stop fighting. It mentions that it will have to "teach them manners," and their sorcerer promptly wets himself.


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