Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Only People Who Run Toward Bees

Question: I'd like you to make a post about the times the Hittite gods threw a tantrum and almost destroyed humanity!

Oh, the Hittite gods. My favorite group of ancient and agitation-filled deities.

The Hittites were a people who lived in what is now Turkey, and they (along with the Hurrians, who lived a little bit southeast of modern-day Turkey and shared very similar deities and religious customs with them) had a pantheon of gods primarily associated with the natural world and its many cosmically powerful forces. Like most Mediterranean and Middle Eastern religions, there are a lot of familiar important associations - giant serpent monsters associated with the water, thunder gods throwing tantrums of epic proportions, tired mother goddesses who would like everyone to get their shit together, inscrutable and terrifying underworld gods who don't care about your feelings, and so on. But, also like every other religion, they have unique features to their stories and concepts in their cultural worship, and one of those things is a strong cult associating with appeasing their angry deities.

The vast majority of our surviving religious literature from the Hittites is about temple maintenance and rituals: what the temples were expected to do and when, how people supported this system, and what consequences there would be if they didn't succeed. This is because the empire was pretty thoroughly sacked, and most of the surviving documents are actually administrative and government ones rather than religious scriptures, so we know a lot more about the way the empire's temple system worked and what state-sanctioned religion was about than we do about personal worship practices. A good chunk of temple rituals had to do with calming down the Hittite deities so that they stopped being so angry, sometimes by symbolically draining their anger away with tempting offerings and then storing it in great vats or sinking it into the underworld, where it couldn't bother anyone among the living. If the temples didn't successfully calm the gods down, they might fly into a great rage, storming away into the wilderness and leaving humanity to fend for themselves, leaving them suffering from poor crops, diseases, natural disasters, and all the other misfortunes of having lost their divine patron.


So what are they so mad about, these gods? Well, it's not always clear. Obviously, there's a strong theme in Hittite mythology about the gods stomping off in a fit of pique, but while this myth is attached to multiple different deities at different times, they usually have different reasons for it, depending on who they are and what they're doing. Telipinu, the god of fertility and growth, is in one version said to just have become enraged by the general immorality of humanity and the spoiling of the landscape, leading him to disappear and let everybody start dying of famine; Tarhun/Teshub, the god of storms, similarly disappears in a huge rage and actively prevents everyone on earth from enjoying the benefits of sustenance and rain, but his version of the myth doesn't really say if anything specific happened to set him off (in fact, several of the gods blame and threaten each other, looking for a scapegoat, but they never figure it out). When Arinna/Arinniti, the sun goddess, disappears, inflicting frost and darkness on the world, the myth doesn't detail why she vanished, only that she has to be bribed with animal sacrifices to come back, and when the mother goddess Hannahannah storms out to fade into the wilderness, causing mothers to neglect or kill their offspring and the world to become incapable of reproducing, she is repeatedly said to be angry, wrathful, sullen, and even sinful, but there's no explanation of exactly why. Inara, the goddess of love and also hunting, seems to disappear because a dude behaves inappropriately toward her, but the myth is so fragmentary it's hard to get any good concept of what exactly happened.

Most of the time, scholars assume that all the different deities are pissed off about the same thing Telipinu is: general bad behavior in the world on the part of humans, which explains why so much Hittite formal worship is based around appeasing them by behaving respectfully and providing gifts and sacrifices to keep them happy. If humanity's general sinfulness and misbehavior is constantly aggravating the gods and putting all of creation in danger of falling apart when they flounce off in a snit, it just makes sense to have the entire empire have a pretty consistent system of calming them down and promising to do better all the time, just to keep everything from ending in a cataclysm of deity annoyance. You can't stop people from sinning, so you just have to apologize a whole lot.

So, when you're an ancient Hittite person, you live in a world where the gods are just sort of pissed off and easily offended by the constant bullshit humankind is getting up to, so going to temple isn't just a matter of being devout or making your family happy; it's literally part of making sure the gods don't finally get fed up with your nonsense and nuke the planet via negligence. And if that fails, there are also plenty of rituals designed to help assuage an offended god and encourage them to come back home; usually, the other deities have to look for the missing one and often dispatch Hannahannah's magical bees to scour the countryside and look for them, so offering sacrifices to encourage the other gods to succeed is a backup option for when preventing the world from falling apart has already failed!

It's tempting to make fun of the Hittite gods for what looks a lot like a habit of throwing a tantrum and running away from home when they get upset, but the disappearance and return of the various gods is part of a larger cosmic scheme of the relationship between the gods and humanity, one in which humanity has to do their part to be virtuous and appropriate, and in which the anger of the gods represents the delicate balance between humanity and the world in which they live. Also, there are a lot of bees.

2 comments:

  1. So, here's a question... Gods of X in myth leaving or withdrawing themselves from the World (or being removed), all the Hittite Gods up there, Amaterasu going into her cave, Agni hiding in the reeds, Demeter withdrawing the fertility of the world or Yama getting murdered by Shiva causes the Domain they administer goes into decline... on the other hand, RPG Powers by necessity of being parts of an interactive medium, are usually things characters DO, not things that happen because they exist, or cease to as the case may be. So, in HJ, would these things be passive 'God of X withdraws, that Sphere weakens' type effects, or are they, mechanically at least, Gods actively using Blessings?

    Or, put another way, are there Passive Blessings, or are Blessings always active abilities?

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    1. Blessings are always active abilities, although how active they are depends. Some might involve spending a Saga Labor to get an effect that lasts for the rest of the Saga - technically that's active and you decide when you use it, but in practice it's pretty "set it and forget it" and feels passive for the majority of a Saga, especially if used right at the beginning. But none are going to just be an effect that happens permanently when the Blessing is bought (though obviously Augments can be!).

      In the case of god-withdrawal myths, I don't know if that'll be a thing that's directly mechanized, or that involves more specific plot-writing for a given Saga. We've discussed it and it would be hard to write a story where a player refusing to participate at all would be much fun for them!

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