I love creating pantheons. I’ve made enough of them over time, and when worldbuilding, it is near the top of my list of worldbuilding essentials. Right after magic systems. But I’ve sat there scratching my head more than once, questioning what different types of gods are absolutely essential for a pantheon.
There are certain types of gods that are near universal in real mythology. I won’t claim every pantheon in the real world has every one of these types of god, or that you have to include them all. But they represent major elements of the world humans tend to try and explain. So they’re overwhelmingly common.
Without further ado, lets jump into the 11 different types of gods you probably have in your pantheon. Or should have, anyway.
The different types of gods
1. Triple Goddesses
The Triple Goddess is an ancient archetype. Many religions have a triple deity of some sort, but the triple goddesses are generally rulers or foretellers of fate in some manner. They may include the three stages of Life – the Mother, Maiden and Crone who stand in for youth, adulthood and seniority. Norse mythology brings us the Norns, Greek mythology has the Moirai (Fates in Latin), and Irish mythology the Morrigan. A triple goddess is a metaphor that is ageless and resonates with any culture.
Psychopomps, from Greek to mean “Guide of Souls”, are deities who guide the dead to the afterlife. Famously, Anubis leads the dead to the afterlife in Egyptian mythology and Charon is ferryman of the dead in Greek myths. Psychopomps may also help the dead accomplish their last deeds, or judge the dead for entry to the afterlife.
3. Primordial Gods
Almost every mythology has at least one primordial god. Some have numerous. Primordial gods exist as the unknowable power that created the world, and came before the more human-like deities that now form the pantheon.
They include Ymir from Norse mythology, Pangu in Chinese mythology, or Chaos in the Greek creation myth. These gods created the universe in some type of creation myth or another. Primordial gods may have some anthropomorphic form, such as the Greek Nyx who dwelt in a physical place, but others may not at all (Gaia is literally the Earth, and Ymir forms the components of universe). Primordial gods may be the literal aspect of concepts such as day and night, darkness and light, chaos and order, time, death, or even the universe itself. Their motives are generally unknowable to mortals.
4. Celestial Gods
Celestial gods personify or control are the cosmological bodies of the universe. These include the sun (such as Apollo), the moon (Selene), stars (Asteria), the planets, the heavens or underworld. Celestial gods may overlap with primordial gods in some way. But the important distinctions are that these deities probably walk in human form at least sometimes, possess human-like emotions, and control but do not physically make up the thing they personify.
5. The Culture Heroes
Cultural heroes are found in practically every religion. They are often one and the same with trickster deities. But they’re cultural heroes because they gave humanity something important, usually against the wishes of the other gods. For example, Loki invented nets and gave humans the ability to fish. Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and taught how to make it to humans. Anansi won all the stories in the world from Nyame, and shared them. Cultural heroes are often punished by the other gods for these acts, but through their trickery or defiance, allowed humans to prosper.
6. Death Gods
Death gods are found in essentially every pantheon. Death is a universal human experience, after all. Death gods may cause death, or may only be there to release the soul from the human body when it passes on. But ultimately, they are responsible for cutting that tie in some manner. Contrary to popular belief, Thanatos was the Greek god of death, not Hades (a celestial deity of the underworld). Quite a few belief systems also include a warning of the consequences for fighting against death, or stopping the death god from performing his duties.
7. Cyclical & Liminal deities
Liminal and cyclical deities often overlap with other types of god. They are the gods of boundaries, change, and cycles. Triple goddesses and death gods are often cyclical in nature. A liminal deity personifies crossing over, while a cyclical deity embodies the passing of some eternal cycle. For obvious reasons, these are more often than not the same concept. For example the passing of the seasons (Persephone‘s movement back and forth from the underworld causing spring), the stages of life (the Mother, Maiden and Crone), and Ra, as he dies and is reborn with the sun every day.
8. Personifications (or Daimons)
Personifications are often numerous, more minor deities, who are literally aspects of human existence and emotion given an anthropomorphic form. Greek mythology calls some of these types of gods Daimons, though the general category of personifications is wider. They generally are the gods or spirits of emotions (like fear, lust, hate, revenge), humans conditions (old age, war), or sins (hubris, greed, or gluttony).
9. Rustic or Nature Gods
Greek mythology calls these gods “Rustic” deities. Nature gods are more than simply the gods of natural features (those are tutelary gods, so keep reading). They are most often elder deities, who predate human civilization, and represent animalistic desires and instincts. For example, Pan is the Greek god of revelry, the wilds and lust. Representing things the Greeks deemed as inappropriate for civilized society. Dionysus was probably a Rustic god originally for similar reasons, but became a craft god for political reasons.
10. Craft (or Civilized) Gods
Directly in contrast to rustic deities are craft deities. Quite literally the gods of crafts, but more broadly, the gods who represent civilisation, the achievements of man, and the order it brings. Hephaestus is the obvious Greek example. Athena represented useful crafts such as weaving. Hestia was goddess of the hearth. Sometimes, these gods are also primordial deities – in Egyptian myth, Ptah is god of crafting and also creator of the universe, and in Babylonian mythology, Mummu fills the same role.
11. Tutelary gods
Tutelary gods are guardians. This broad category generally includes two forms of god, the first being what the Romans called Genius, the personal guardian deities every person possesses. The second type of tutelary deity are the guardians of the world around us, such as river deities, mountain gods, forest gods (In Slavic mythology Leshy is tutelary god of the woods), and even minor tutelary spirits such as the nymphs of specific springs or woods in Greek mythology.
Tutelary gods also include the patrons gods of cities, which just as commonly grew into larger figures when cities prospered. It was not uncommon for what was originally the tutelary god of a city to become an important part of the pantheon, such as Athena and Athens, or Marduk and Babylon.
What types of gods will you include?
Sometimes the lines between these categories get a little blurry (looking at you Athena). But they provide a great baseline to decide on the different types of gods you might want to include in your pantheon. Building on real world myths will help you create a great fictional mythology.
If you think I might’ve missed something, let me know in the comments.