The Unnamed Gods
The relationship between the human and the divine, at least what we have come to define as such, has always been more complex than believed - more symbiosis than service.
While the existence of an original progenitor or creator deity - whether from a recognised religion or pantheon or something as yet unknown and undefined - remains the subject of endless and fruitless debate, beings that act as lesser gods have been observed wherever there are people willing to believe in them. Although their power is proportional to the worship and fealty of their supplicants, whatever kernel of a creature this belief accretes around and empowers remains limited in the scope of their influence. They appear able to radically alter probabilities, working within the bounds of what is theoretically possible, but are bound by the laws of conservation of mass and are neither able to create nor destroy matter and energy.
It is believed that these creatures originate as potential, motes of cosmic flotsam that unknowingly spark random happenstances: Oddities and improbable coincidences that go unnamed and unattributed until they catch the attention of a sympathetically attuned human psyche. When such a confluence occurs, a connection is made and the mote becomes a lesser god, unconsciously named - and thus defined - by a first believer who will experience a simultaneous moment of revelation and come to know and know of their lesser god. With their name comes a conscious will and an understanding of their covenant; they will offer up their miracles in exchange for worship and for their believer proselytising on their behalf.
Most do not grow their flock beyond the worship of a single family, becoming minor household gods whose works consist of protecting their believers from accidents and misfortunes - a hand resting lightly on the scales of their fates. Without a larger number of followers, a lesser god cannot perform more impressive miracles - their names might live on for a few generations, a family tradition that becomes a particularly peculiar footnote in their genealogical history - and they will eventually be forgotten. Even some of those whose worship spreads a little further might not gain additional influence; belief can shape and limit the form of some lesser gods counter to the potential power that its followers could provide.
A few will slip the bonds of such paralysing parochialism, being asked for and able to provide more and more as their fame and notoriety finds favour in prayers and offerings, in supplications and sacrifices. Many of the gods behind and belonging to historical faiths and religions are believed to have come from such beginnings; whole pantheons being born when belief in one god increases the receptivity to belief in another (tempered by the instinct to impose familiar familial and hierarchical social structures upon things that might otherwise have no such things in common with those who worship them). Lesser gods who achieve this type of status are bound by the same limits as their weaker brethren, but can act on a grander scale.
In addition to being able to bring things that are almost literally miraculous to pass - having the strength to change odds more markedly and reliably than those who stall at the stage of the household gods - they are able to envisage and carry out sequences of multiple interventions that build to more dramatic effect. The manipulation of weather (the cliché of the divine bolt of lightning comes to mind) seems a common use of this expanded scope, a bold statement to the faithful and sceptical alike. In only a handful of proven instances throughout all of our species’ shared history, lesser gods have sometimes even been able to project their will to extend their influence into people’s minds: Direct revelations, albeit in the form of visions that can cause significant physical trauma.
Probability, as a measure of likelihood, is also a metric against which we can measure the stability of a system. When occurrences which are unlikely and improbable - or almost impossible - become increasingly commonplace as the result of divine intervention (lesser gods acting at the behest of or on behalf of their worshippers) the predictability of cause and effect can become unbalanced. Chaos, admittedly a necessary component in ensuring a non-determinative future, increases at a pace that outstrips its natural acceleration and threatens to lessen the longevity of the cosmological firmament. Unchecked belief in these lesser gods creates the conditions for increasingly spectacular miracles, each of which hastens an already inexorable march towards the end of everything.
Even before the ultimate and extreme consequences of unfettered miracles were known and understood, the unpredictability that lesser gods introduce was already seen to be an escalating concern. Every miracle might create new believers who, in turn, both empowered the originating lesser god and became more susceptible to enabling another to incarnate. The potential for either of these outcomes to cascade into a chain reaction was also seen as an existential threat - the competing interests of lesser gods and their followers coming into and creating conflict - which might ultimately enthral or destroy all of humanity. In order to prevent this, the influence and the spread of lesser gods would have to be curbed.
Obviously, any attempt to control the beliefs or the numbers of a lesser god’s worshippers - particularly once the lesser god in question had reached the level of prominence and power where their existence became overtly dangerous - would be prohibitively bloody and certain to fail. A more subtle method would be needed, ideally one that left the faithful unaware (or only unconsciously aware) that the object of their worship had been, for want of a better turn of phrase, made safe. Many varied and increasingly dangerous attempts to find such a solution were tried, including efforts to create a bond with a new lesser god who could be pressed into filicidal service. All were failures, until an approach based on first-principles was suggested.
The power in names, a power at the root of their significance in various occult practices, is not truly inherent; it is a sympathetic connection that requires a mutual belief in their significance in order to be effective. Lesser gods are named (again I stress that this is an unconscious act) by the first person to recognise their existence, and it is through the channel created by this name that worship reaches and empowers them. An act of devotion is rendered meaningless, in a practical theological sense, if there is no lesser god there to receive it. The obvious imbalance - no matter how many worshippers there are, each devotion only reaches a single lesser god - means that only one change must be made in order to break the connection.
If a lesser god could be made to forget their own name (a name that not only anchors the source of their power to them but contains the truth and total of their experiences) they would be cut off not only from their ability to influence events but also the requests and entreaties made to them. Unnamed they would, in essence, be unmade; the temples and totems built in their honour now addressing themselves, none the wiser, to nothingness. The morality of this pseudo-deicide aside, the deed itself was apparently shockingly simple to accomplish. The details and the responsibility for enacting it, as and when needed, were shared between six families to be passed down through the generations; keepers of humanity’s independence from tangible divinities.
Unlike those lesser gods who fade and are forgotten, the unnamed gods do not disappear entirely. Though whatever power and sense of identity they previously had will eventually dwindle, embers that don’t remember the flames, they are never entirely extinguished. Their remaining light continues to move, drifting aimlessly and largely harmlessly through and across various aethereal and non-physical planes. These planes and, as a result, the unnamed gods are sometimes visible to people with natural or induced sensitivities to the non-mundane. Sometimes they press against or pass through the unconscious minds of sleepers, bringing with them an intense melancholy - a vague sense of immense and profound loss - that can persist into wakefulness for days thereafter.
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