Tuesday, August 26, 2014

World Cup Roundup: Divinity Showcase

It's been a little while since the World Cup ended, but we got a belated question about all the shenanigans going on in this post from all the footballing festivities. What are these weird World Cup gods?, you ask, anonymous internetter? Let me tell you!

Essentially, we were just playing a loose forum version of the team-betting games folks play all over the world during major sporting events; a god was assigned to represent each team, and then the forum-goers tried to guess which gods would win through an entertaining mix of the god's capabilities in myth, the soccer team's capabilities this year in their games, and who they thought would end up matched against whom in both categories. Totally coincidentally, we saw a way higher percentage of more obscure (to a lot of us around here, anyway) deities being chosen than usual, because they just so happened to be representing teams who were favorites to win.

At any rate, it was just a fun forum game, one that John enjoys running now and then. (He also does it for March Madness' basketball tournament, and you guys could probably bother him into starting it up for other major tournaments if you put your minds to it.) When we were setting it up, though, for fun, we decided to have each team be represented by a god from the same country they hailed from; it gave it a neat extra layer of connection between team and game, and, thanks to the prevalence of Central and South American teams in the World Cup and the general lack of scholarship on mythology from those areas of the world, got to showcase some deities who otherwise don't get a lot of face time.

There were a lot of them, so I won't go super in-depth, but here are the gods who "competed" this year (in order of what place they finished, for extra sports seriousness!):

32. Hunahpu and Xbalanque (Honduras)

More commonly known as the Hero Twins, these two gods are the star players of the Maya pantheon. We often tend to think of the Maya as a Mexican pantheon, but while they are definitely present in the Yucatan, their worship was also widespread through Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, which is how they came to represent the Hondurans for this game. They're the main characters of the Popol Vuh, the most famous epic of Maya mythology, in which they grow to adulthood, avenge their father's death, descend into the underworld and defeat the lords of death themselves. They're also career tricksters (some of their shenanigans include boonswoggling a dangerous magical bird into voluntarily letting them steal his teeth and eyes, getting various woodland animals to cause distractions so they can cheat at games, and convincing their enemies that it's a great idea to cut their own heads off) and especially noted for being fervid and incredibly skilled players of poktapok, the famous Maya ballgame. Honestly, considering their incredible sports skills, we were distressed that they ended up out of the running on the World Cup so fast. They were clearly robbed.

31. Mwenembago (Cameroon)

Mwenembago, representing for Cameroon, is the Lord of the Forest, a major nature god of the Zaramu people of west central Africa. He was originally a mortal, but his spirit was so strong upon death that it came to live in and possess the forests, after which all humanity was obliged to treat him with appropriate respect to avoid dying or failing to hunt for food in the dangers of the deep wild. Over time, he became associated with a whole host of lesser mwenembago spirits that became his followers after death, which obviously makes him a perfect candidate for team sports.

30. Susanoo (Japan)

Susanoo is the Japanese god of storms and the ocean, and also of causing major ruckus problems that have seen him be banished from the abode of the gods multiple times and generally marked him as an eternal black sheep. In spite of such memorable moments as telling his father that he wanted his mother back and that he should march into the underworld to get her after she died and relieving himself with such force on the roof of his sister's house that he caved the roof in and killed a servant, he was also very popular among mortals, especially warriors and the samurai class, as a rough-and-tumble god who could get things done and would clearly not be afraid to get carded all day long if necessary.

29. Chachongbi (South Korea)

Pardon the romanization of this goddess' name - I've seen several versions and still haven't been able to work out which is the most correct. Regardless of how you spell her name, though, Chachongbi is a badass of the highest order, a Korean goddess who decided that she was going to do whatever she wanted whenever she wanted to and screw everyone else's opinions straight to the wall. In one story, she was challenged to a pissing contest while she was in disguise as a man; rather than panicking or finding a way to distract the other competitors so she didn't have to do it, she ran out back, built a hasty chute out of reeds, and then used it to piss ten feet and then mock all the other competitors for not exceeding her manliness. She then repurposed that technology to invent irrigation, because she's just that nice.

28. Waang (Australia)

Waang, the crow god of the Kulin people of Australia, is like many other crow deities a trickster and a thief but also generally a guy with his heart in the right place. He stole fire from the selfish goddesses who first created it but refused to share it with the rest of the world, and used it to invent cooking; and if he did also cause a massive bushfire that almost destroyed all life on earth, well, he was only trying to help. We decided he was a better choice for this game than his somber brother Bunjil, the eagle - Waang seems like he would have more fun, after all.

Ogun (Cote d'Ivoire)

Ogun is the Yoruba god of warfare and technological progress (especially if that technological process comes in the form of new and more efficient weapons), standing in for his Ivory Coast fellows. Ogun is kind of the opposite of a team player; he's prone to fits of blackout rage and once murdered everyone on the battlefield including his own soldiers and then terrified the entire countryside by wandering around covered in their blood, but you can't say he wouldn't be an athletic asset.

Perun (Russia)

The Slavic god of thunder, lightning and impulsive bad choices, Perun is kicking for Russia, the land where his worship was most widespread and important before the introduction of Christianity, to the point where he even superseded the divine king Svarozhich in some places. Perun is the kind of dude who breaks rules when his comrades need him to (once, he disobeyed his king's direct orders to personally electrocute the leader of an opposing army to death), so while he would personally probably end up sitting most matches out after repeated defensive fouls, he would be an awesome morale booster for everyone else.

Anansi (Ghana)

Anansi, the Asante spider god of mischief and poor planning, is one of the most popular of all west African deities, at home or abroad. Anansi is all about the quick fix, get-rich-fast scam or clever way to sidestep the rules; he loves to steal from others, hide things from his wife, or try to create elaborate schemes, most of which tend to go hilariously wrong for him. In addition to getting stuck in his own traps or accidentally injured by his own family members, however, Anansi is also beloved for being happy and easy-going, and for both bringing joy into the world by creating, acting out and telling the stories that create the universe, and teaching the importance of hard work and good morals to others by being the ultimate bad example.

Lugh (England)

England's being represented by good old Lugh of the Long Arm, the Irish and British god of being awesome at literally everything. Along with athletic exploits such as impressive powers of rock-throwing and foe-shooting, Lugh is famed for being skilled at literally everything - which, we would assume, includes football. Plus, he is intensely vindictive and willing to eventually end up dead himself as long as he takes several other people down with him, so he fits right in when it comes to the insane fouling practices we see at the World Cup.

Mars (Italy)

We all know Mars, Roman god of war (and farming, but we're mostly focusing on the war in this context). Mars invented the famous military tactics of the Roman infantry that made them unstoppable on the ancient battlefields of Europe and Africa and aided in the spread of one of the largest ancient empires ever, so dominating on the field is right up his alley.

Verethragna (Iran)

Verethragna (also known in later Middle Persian as Vahram or Bahram) is the Persian god of victory, who personally embodies martial might and who can grant that victory to others who prove themselves worthy. Doing so can be difficult - Zarathustra himself had to travel the world for years trying to find Verethragna, and only managed to once glimpse him running by so swiftly and with such constant changes of shape that there was no hope of catching up to him - but hey, victory is victory!

Jarilo (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

Back in the Slavic lands, this time in the Bosnian area, we have Jarilo, god of springtime and the moon, who is not nearly as docile as his description would lead you to believe. Jarilo is exceptionally young and beautiful and is married to the goddess Morena; she was once also young and beautiful, but every month, the waxing of the moon makes Jarilo's libido likewise wax out of control until he's unfaithful to her, resulting in every autumn Morena murdering him, moving to the underworld, and becoming a goddess of winter and death while she lives in a house made of his dismembered body parts. He always resurrects in the spring, however, along with his wife, to begin the cycle anew... so at least you know he's a pretty resilient dude.

Pachacamac (Ecuador)

Pachacamac is the massively temperamental coastal god of the Peruvian, Chilean and Ecuadorian edge of South America; while he later became a major figure in Inca religion, he probably was originally part of a different native tradition and was absorbed into their myths, which might explain why he's so fractious. Pachacamac is renowned for causing natural disasters when irritated and for his massive feud with his brother Vichama, who attempts to reign him in, so he seemed like a natural choice for a game involving hot blood and even hotter tempers.

Endovelicus (Portugal)

Endovelicus is the Lusitanian god of safety, which is something we could definitely use more of during some of these games. The Lusitanian region of Portugal was home to many indigenous gods before it was invaded by Rome and then Christianized shortly thereafter, and Endovelicus is one of the most prominent; he's associated with the sun and its life-giving powers, and is a healer who visits the underworld in order to retrieve healing power to bring back and bestow upon the people.

Mari (Spain)

Mari is the mother goddess of the ancient Basque civilization of Spain, the goddess of caves and mountains, ovens and any other structure that represents her cosmic womb from which all life originally came to live on earth. She's no gentle pushover, however; she wields a flaming sickle and rides in a chariot that travels through sky as easily as on earth, and she alone makes all decisions about who will be given bounty from the earth and who will starve to death instead. Entering any cave in the Basque territories of Spain is entering her domain, and those who fail to show the proper respect are likely never to come out again.

Svantovit (Croatia)

Another of the rowdy Slavic war gods, Svantovit is the lord of horses and predicter of the harvest, granting prophetic signs in order to inform the people of whether or not they will have a good year or should prepare for drought or famine. He's one of the four divine kings of the Slavic world, associated with the sun and its daylight hours, and like Perun he often has difficulty not riding down into the thick of battle even when he's been told not to. Svantovit's most famous cults were farther north than Croatia, but his worship was known here, and we figured they could use one of the most physically adept among the Slavic gods to represent them!

Sinaa (Uruguay)

The Juruna people of Uruguay send their love with Sinaa, the jaguar god who created the world and can damn well uncreate it again if you punks don't stop bothering him. He's a jaguar god (often represented as a black jaguar) who literally has eyes in the back of his head, and who rejuvenates himself by tearing his own skin off periodically so that he never ages or dies. He taught humanity healing, crafts and divination through sacred dreams, but he is in control of the forked spear that holds up the sky, and has informed everyone that on the day the last of his people dies, he will yank that spear out, the sky will crash down, and the entire world will end.
Edit: Holy cow, we totally swung and missed on this one! We accidentally misidentified the Juruna and their jaguar god Sinaa as Uruguayan, when in fact they hail from northern Brazil. We apologize for the error, and solemnly swear to make sure we copy-edit our posts better in the future.

Apollo (Greece)

Apollo, Greek god of the sun and about fifty other things, is famous for being associated with athleticism and bodily perfection; he founded the Pythian games at Delphi, where men competed in strenuous athletic competitions for the mark of his favor, and appears performing sports several times in his own myths. Of course, usually that ends in tragedy, such as the time that he threw a discus that ended up killing his lover Hyakinthos, but we can't say he isn't great at what he does.

Mercury (Switzerland)

Switzerland stands on the border between the southern Roman lands and the northern Germanic ones, and has been something of a European melting pot for centuries; but Mercury, god of the crossroads and travel, was considered widespread across everywhere that Rome went and was worshiped in Switzerland with accompanying features of local and Germanic versions of the god, so he seems like an apt representative. Famous for running like the wind to deliver the messages of the gods as well as causing surprise malfunctions for his enemies, he's a good god to have behind your team.

Shango (Nigeria)

Nigeria is the heartland of the Yoruba myths, and the king of those myths is Shango, god of thunder, undisputed master of warfare, and sorcerer extraordinaire. Shango is famous for his incredible prowess in battlefield, sports, dancing and the bedroom, and also for his awful temper, which has in the past goaded him to do everything from burning down his own house with all his family members inside to committing suicide just so he could resurrect himself and terrify the snot out of everyone mourning him. He will come to this game and he will come to win.

Gurzil (Algeria)
Gurzil is a little-known solar bull god of the Imazighen people of northern Africa, including Algeria, who was a powerful patron of warfare and whose icon was often taken into battle by various rulers to ensure their victory. He had foreknowledge of events that allowed him to spoil enemy battle tactics and pass on crucial information to his followers, and because he was believed to symbolically reside inside his cult statue, he was "stolen" and "reclaimed" multiple times over the course of various wars and skirmishes. A god who can spoil your opponents' strategy and guarantee your victory - not bad for your football prospects, right?


Nanabozho (United States)

The U.S. is huge and full of myths, so it was very difficult to choose a single god to represent it, but we ended up going with Nanabozho, also known as the Great Hare, the Ojibwa god of shenanigans. In addition to helping create the world, Nanabozho invented important practices such as fishing and tanning, but also often plays ridiculous tricks on humans and other gods alike. He's also sometimes the butt of his own jokes - once, he accidentally fell into a trap he himself had set for others and ended up eating his own intestines, which tells you how weird his humor can be - but he never stays down for long and always has a creative strategy to employ.

Huitzilopochtli (Mexico)

The Mexica god of the sun and ultimate warrior is nobody to mess around with; he leaped out of his mother's womb on the day he was born and promptly massacred hundreds of his full-grown divine siblings within the first few minutes of his existence, so he is clearly a dude who knows how to get through an opposing team's defense. He granted victory to warriors who fought in his name and allowed them entrance to his paradise after their deaths, and found time to be terrifyingly awesome in spite of carrying the literal weight of the world (which depends on him successfully powering the sun to prevent the universe from ending).

Inti (Chile)

Inti's another sun god, this time the preeminent solar deity of the Inca religion, which celebrated him as the king among the gods and the patron of all kings on earth, and dedicated all the shining gold they could find in his name as earthly representations of his divine solar splendor. Inti is traditionally beloved by all and impossible to dislike, with ironclad authority over what is and is not okay that makes him unlikely to let anyone get away with any misbehavior on the field.

Gontia (Belgium)

Gontia is the native Belgian goddess of the river, one of the many Celtic deities who were overrun by the Roman invasion and now survive in our histories as difficult-to-identify icons or under other names given to them by the conquerors. As the goddess of the river, she was most likely the tutelary deity of Ghent, one of Belgium's largest and oldest cities, and associated with healing and the powers of the earth. Belgium's indigenous myths are not super well preserved so it was hard to choose them a representative, but we figured we couldn't go wrong with the patron of the city.

Yurupari (Brazil)

Literally "Crooked Mouth", Yurupari is the masculine and frankly terrifying god of the Guarani people of the Amazon rainforest, one who shapeshifts in order to lure unsuspecting humans to their demise in the jungle and who has such massive and terrible jaws that people have occasionally died by attempting to hide in his mouth, thinking it was a safe cave. While he is not particularly friendly toward anyone, his worship helps keep important traditions alive and ensures that law and order thrive among his people, and his strong association with men and powers over ensuring that boys undergo the transformation to adulthood makes it not so surprising that he might turn up in an all-male football competition.

La Cigua (Costa Rica)

La Cigua most likely a much older Central American goddess who has in the modern time been demoted to the level of folkloric monster. She appears as a beautiful woman, only to tempt men into leading them astray so that they become permanently lost, driving them mad with the revelation of her horrifying true form or just devouring them and leaving their bones as a warning to others. The fact that she can reveal that she actually has a terrible half-horse face probably suggests the native response to Spanish conquistadors arriving with horses, which were animals they had never seen before and whose military advantage was pretty distinct.

Epona (France)

Epona is the mainland Celtic goddess of horses; she was most likely originally more of a deity of the wilderness and of wild herds of horses that humanity occasionally attempted to tame, and later also became the patron goddess of the Roman cavalry when they invaded Gaulish territories and discovered how awesome she was. If anyone can pull together an unwieldy team of headstrong members, it's Epona, and she'll spur any team she represents onward toward victory.

Bochica (Colombia)

Bochica is the most important god of the Muisca people of Colombia; in the mists of the ancient past, he founded the Muisca civilization and encouraged it to grow until it became one of the most influential empires of ancient South America. In addition to beginning the empire, he also invented most forms of craftsmanship, designed and implemented a system of laws and codes, and when his people caused a devastating flood through their improper actions, he traveled to earth on a rainbow and created a massive waterfall to save them from their own tomfoolery.

Tyr (Netherlands)

It's not a coincidence that there are so many gods of victory on this list - here's another one, Tyr, the Norse and Germanic god of glory in battle whose worship was well known in the mainland Germanic territories (including the Netherlands, once upon a time!). His exploits include being badass enough to put his hand in the mouth of Fenrir, the nightmarish giant wolf that will one day help end the world, in order to help his friends bind it and seal it away, and his one remaining arm is a permanent testament to his courage.

Ngenechen (Argentina)

Ngenechen is the governor of all the gods in Mapuche mythology; all Mapuche gods are in charge of a single kind of being or natural feature, such as the forest, the water, the wind, and so on, but Ngenechen is considered above them all because he is the god specifically in charge of humanity itself. He not only creates and upholds law and tradition, ensuring that humanity remains above the level of animals, but guards them from catastrophes the other gods might accidentally (or intentionally) inflict on them and ensures that they continue to prosper and grow. He would probably find human pastimes like sports competitions very entertaining, like an old grandfather who comes to all the kids' games even when he's not sure what the rules are or what they're doing.

Thor (Germany)

And then there's Thor. You guys know Thor.

As you can see, even with super quick un-detailed versions, this still got ridiculously long really quickly (what is it with me and long posts lately?). We actually really enjoyed getting to assign some gods that might not be as common knowledge for the forum game; since countries that don't often get the anthropological spotlight were at the forefront in the World Cup, it was the perfect opportunity to show them off!