! The Small And Stupid Gods

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The Small And Stupid Gods

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a tribe of beasts which was ruled by small and stupid gods. These gods were neither kind nor malicious; they were simply a multitude, very small, very stupid, each individually and in their entirety. Although the gods lacked wit and wisdom they had a certain sort of primitive greed, contending among themselves and striving, in their own way, to increase their numbers and influence.

As is the way with gods, their numbers and powers depended upon the well being and numbers of the subjects. Some gods draw their power from the faith and awe of their devotees. Not so with these gods; they were altogether too small and too stupid to demand, accept, or even understand adoration. Nor, it must be said, did the small and stupid gods understand from whence their well being was derived.

Notwithstanding their ignorance, long before there were even beasts, the small and stupid gods had arrived (quite by chance, one supposes) upon a scheme to promote their welfare. They gave gifts to their subjects.

Being small and stupid, their gifts were usually no gift at all but rather banes, poisonous rather than beneficent. This was of no moment to them. They cared not that one beast lived and another died; all beasts die in the fullness of time. Nor did they care whether the tribe prospered or failed for, being rather small and stupid, they had not the wit to perceive their advantages and disadvantages.

For all their stupidity, the gods did well. If some beasts were struck down, still others prospered. In due course the numbers of the fortunately endowed swelled to encompass the entire tribe. As the numbers of the fortunate ones increased so profited also those gods who had given the best gifts.

Thus affairs went for ever so long, beasts and gods sharing the fortunes of the world in an endless, mindless time. Chance happens. It came to pass that the gods, quite unthinking, gave their beasts a strange gift, one never seen before under the sun, one that diverted the stream of life into quite a different course.

Long ago, even before the time of which we speak, the gods had given their beasts a sense of right and wrong. To be sure, the small and stupid gods did not and do not care about right and wrong. But it is in the nature of beasts to need a knowledge of how a beast should behave, both for itself and amidst its fellow beasts. A beast must have a law - not one that comes from reason but one that is engrained into its being. So it is with beasts.

Beasts, even the most clever of beasts, know not that other beasts have selves like themselves. It is not a thing that beasts need to know. It chanced, though, that the small and stupid gods gave this gift to their tribe of beasts and that, just this once, it was a boon rather than a worthless gift. These beasts knew each other and by that token knew other beasts as well. They thought the thoughts of rabbits when they hunted the rabbit and thought the thoughts of lions when they feared the lion.

To be sure, the rabbit did not think the thoughts that the beasts conceived them of thinking. Rabbits, after all, are not very clever even though they are fleet of foot. That did not matter; the rabbit behaved as though it were thinking the thoughts that the beast thought it thought and that sufficed.

A strange confusion entered the heads of the beasts. They knew themselves. Knowing only themselves they thought all manner of other beings were as they were. The hare was a beast like unto themselves. The lion was a beast like unto themselves. The wind was a beast like unto themselves. The rain and the sea, even the good earth, all were beasts like unto them.

This would have mattered little save that the small and stupid gods were not done with their gifts. They gifted the beasts with greater wit. This profited the beasts greatly. Their tribe spread throughout the lands and became many tribes; great was their multitude. Then the small and stupid gods gave the beasts the greatest and strangest gift of all; they gave them the gift of speech. The beasts could now name the hare and the lion, the wind and the sea, and even the good earth. To each thing under the sun the beasts gave a name, even themselves.

And they called themselves people.

For many a year and many a year more, people dwelt in the world, being divided into tribes. Being people, the law of the beasts no longer sufficed them, so each tribe made unto themselves a separate way of life. Each tribe had its own rules about what may be eaten and what may not, who may wed whom, what rituals to observe, what language to speak, which practices were proper and which were not. Though people made their own law as to what was right and what was wrong, they were not free to make their law wholly as they willed, for they were bound by the law of the beasts that the small and stupid gods had given their ancestors ever so long ago.

The people, being wise and yet not so wise, saw the world according to their own nature and accounted it filled with spirit, alive like themselves, and endowed with a will both like and unlike their own. So it was for many a year and many a year more. And yet it was not so forever.

Time passes; change happens. It came to pass that in a certain place and a certain time and yet again in another place and another time a people made a new way of living and a new law. No longer did they dwell in the world but rather they dwelt on the world, saying to themselves that all of the world was made for them to use as they so pleased. The new way was well and they prospered.

As the new ways prospered and the old ways failed, so did the spirit fade away and the earth became dead. The people of the new way made nations and kings and great public works, reshaping the earth to their will. Where once the land was wild it became tame. And yet all was not well.

The people of old way had found ways to dwell in the world and yet observe the law of the beasts. Their ways did not suffice for the people of the new way. The people of the new way had made laws in great prescripts but it was not enough. They needed new ways of accounting for what was right and what was wrong and an accounting for the world.

So they made Gods.

The God Makers knew nothing of the small and stupid gods who ruled them, all unbeknownst. If they had they would have cared naught for those gods were not what they sought. In the fullness of time the God Makers made many Gods, great and terrible. Each, however, was like unto its maker, save only in part, and yet painted large. To these Gods of their own making they offered sweetness and sacrifice, many prayers, and they constructed for them great temples.

It was the time of the God Makers. It came to pass that in a certain place and a certain time the greatest of all God Makers made the greatest of all Gods. They made One and not Many and that One was to be the only God whereby all other Gods should be as nothing. They made of Him a great Father, stern and cruel, yet kind and loving, a giver of Life and a giver of Death. Such was needful for the people knew life and death, times of bounty and times of famine, and the One God must account for all.

Being people they needed to account for Right and Wrong and the moral law by which they were bound and all manner of other laws that the people had constructed. And the God Makers gave to the One God this bane, that the One God be the source of all Right and Wrong and the Ultimate Law.

The followers of the One God made war on other peoples who had many Gods and vanquished them. Thus it was that the One God become strong in many lands but not in all; some peoples still kept many Gods as of old. They made, however, no more new Gods. So ended the age of God Makers.

Time wore on swiftly. The peoples of the One God prospered mightily. Unlike the beasts that their ancestors had been and yet again unlike the people of the tribes that still other ancestors had been they kept changing their ways and remaking their laws. It came to pass that much that had once been attributed to the will of the One God no longer was so. The planets turned by a great law and disease was not the wage of sin. So it was that certain people, confident in their own ways and their own minds, said that the One God was no God at all, that it was a phantasm which the peoples had made to deceive themselves.

It was the time of the God Slayers.

And God died.

And it was not well. The multitude cried, "How shall we know right from wrong without a sign from God?" And some said, "All is permitted for there is no right or wrong." And much evil was done under this word. Yet the peoples still held to right and wrong for they carried unknowing in their hearts the law of beasts that the small and stupid gods had laid down ever so long ago.

Now it came to pass that in the time of the God Slayers certain wise men discovered the small and stupid gods. They marvelled at these gods and yet again they marvelled when they saw what gifts that the small and stupid gods had bestowed. They knew themselves to be the slaves of the small and stupid gods. The gifts of the gods are in nowise simple; they are of a subtlety immense. It is not an intelligent subtlety for the gods are indeed small and stupid; yet it is subtle for the small and stupid gods have had aeons in which to practice their craft. The wise, however, are not stupid and they proceed with great vigor in their appointed task of unwrapping these ancient gifts.

The time may come, or it may not, in which the God Slayers shall have the power to remake the law of beasts, to end the slavery of the peoples to the small and stupid gods. What they can do, what they will do, what they should do, nobody knows.

That tale has yet to be told.

Notes and commentary

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This page was last updated March 26, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 by Richard Harter