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  1. #1
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    What are the gods?

    There's something that's been bugging me about the WHFB universe for awhile now, and despite reading through old tie-in novels and searching search engines and wikis, I haven't been able to figure it out. And this seemed like the best place to pose a lore question.

    What exactly ARE the gods of the WHFB universe? We know for a fact gods such as the elven pantheon, the human pantheon, and the Nehekharan pantheon exist - because Warhammer is full of priests and spellcasters that can channel their power into spells and abilities. We've even SEEN the direct influence of the gods in tie-in novels such as the Malus Darkblade omnibus (where characters physically travel to the realm of Khaine). But there's no good explanation for exactly why or how they exist.

    I've gotten three common theories from asking hobbyist friends about this, but none of them make sense. They are:

    1) The gods are GODS. They are their own unique type of powerful entity (powerful either through divinity or artificial means) intrinsically tied to the warhammer world, separate from others we know.
    -----
    This theory doesn't work in my mind because if this is the case, then wouldn't these gods have a PROBLEM with the Old Ones coming in and totally reshaping the planet? To my knowledge there's no published backstory on the role of the gods in the creation of the world, the aeons that followed, or the reshaping of the world by the old ones. Which seems strange to me.

    2) The gods are occupants of the realm of chaos, less powerful than the almighty FOUR but also less malicious, with their own little niches of the chaos realm carved out for themselves.
    -----This seems to me like the most likely explanation, but it doesn't track with the lore we already have. If my understanding is correct, the daemons were unable to interact with the physical plane until the warpgates exploded. And we know for a fact that the gods (or the very least the elven pantheon) were present and actually quite active in the physical realm before that happened.

    3)
    The gods and the old ones are one and the same.
    ----
    This is the theory that has the least evidence against it, although it strikes me as odd and unlikely for reasons I can't put my finger on. It certainly makes sense that the Old Ones might have portrayed themselves as gods to the races they created (all except the Lizardmen, at any rate) simply because it was easier that way. But then how do we explain the presence of gods even after the warpgates exploded and the Old Ones got the hell out of Dodge? How do we explain the existence of places like the realm of Khaine, when we have no evidence that the Old Ones possessed the ability to create "realms" or "pocket dimensions" adjacent to the warhammer world?

    There are also inconsistencies between pantheons. The Nehekharan concept of the Realm of the Dead can't be written off as philosophical, because it has to be LITERALLY TRUE for *any* of the lore in their most recent book to work. But does everyone in the world go to it, or just Nehekharans? How does Morr fit in? Are Morr and the Nehekharan god of the dead the same deity that shows different faces in different cultures? Etc. etc.

    I'm curious if anyone else has thought about this and come to any conclusions, or whether there are answers to these questions in old rule books or tie-in novels that I've never thought. Thoughts?


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  3. #2
    Benevolent Dictator CaptainSarathai's Avatar
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    My repsonse to this one is going to be kinda of touchy, because I know that RL religion can be a bit of a sensitive subject for people. However, the easiest way to view the "religions" of the Old World, is the same way that you view the religions of the real world: there are a bunch, all, some, or none of them are probably right. There might be elements of each that hold true and create the actual tapestry of the "real" religion, but each individual belief system only has a fragment of it right. Moreover, we know that religion in the real world has evolved over time. The two largest religions - Christianity and Islam - are newcomers on the scene. Ironically, both were spread by absorbing and stomping out other religions that they came into contact with, as well as being based on older, tribal, religions to begin with. At their heart, every religion seeks to do 2 things. First, to provide a set of rules for how to live. Secondly, to provide answers for the driving questions of "where did we come from, where are we going, what happens when we die, and why." Basically, answers that can't be quantified by science.
    Warhammer is still stuck in the more epic, tribal-type religions. Magic is still real, mythical beasts stride the earth.

    "Creator Gods" and the Old Ones
    There are no Creator Gods. Everything came from the Old Ones, or was a fluke. The Elven god and goddess Asur and Isha are either not real, or they are named Old Ones. The Orcs just kinda "showed up" one day, the Skaven were mundane rats made sentient by Warpstone, Beastmen are humans twisted by Warpstone, and a lot of monsters (Dragons, Ogres, Trolls, etc) were here before the Old Ones. Everything else was created "for the plan" by the Old Ones. So any time you see a race talking about how their god created them, you know that they're either talking about the Old Ones, or it is just part of their own belief system. The exceptions though, are Gork and Mork. We have no idea where the Orcs came from, so there is a very real possibility that Gork and Mork actually do exist, in some capacity. At least, we can't disprove it.

    Natural and Artificial Gods
    Some of the races don't have Creator Gods at all, and just have a patron deity. The Empire is one of them. Sigmar was in all respects just a guy. He was probably a pretty smart one at that, having created the groundwork for the Empire, led it's armies, written it's laws, etc. So there's a good chance that he was smart enough to realize that when he died, if he were found to be "just a man" it could undo everything he had strived to create, because he had no heirs. So he wandered off into the wilderness and found a good place to die alone and unseen. Personally, I like that idea a lot more than taking the Warhammer version at face value - that he is immortal and wandered off with promises to return one day, or became a god and walks among the stars. It's one is more tragic and depressing, that his own legacy dictated the choice that he must die alone and unmourned, but it makes Sigmar seem like a more noble king. Even the Empire is pretty sure that he died. They saw him age, then he left. Did he just stop aging? Nope, he probably died - Valten is a reincarnation of Sigmar, they think. The Emperor and Electors are just ruling in his stead - when he comes back, he's the man in charge.

    Bretonian religion isn't much different, and actually isn't talked about very much at all. They worship the Grail, but only because it is the footsteps of Giles. Chances are good that the Grail and Lady of the Lake have something to do with the Elves, or, if not, that it's some kind of powerful nature spirit that predates the Old Ones (like Treemen, Dryads, Treekin, and Sprites of the Wood Elves). They also believe that someday Giles will return, just like the Emperor. Interestingly, both Giles and Sigmar have very similar histories - both drove the Orcs from their lands, and united the scattered tribes of man. Giles did so much later along the technological timeline - Sigmar wore furs and fought with bronze and iron weapons, whereas Giles is always depicted in more technologically advanced armor. However, the medieval cultures that Bretonia is based on often depicted Angels and even Jesus as wearing clothes and sometimes armor more suited to the present rather than the historical reality of it. Therefore, there's a chance that Giles is just a romanticized version of Sigmar, but it's unlikely unless somehow Bretonia and the Empire were separated and grew to become different cultures. Also, the Brets have no strong ties with the Dwarfs, and actually side more heavily with the Wood Elves - who hate the Dwarfs.

    The Great Maw of the Ogres is more of a 'Natural God'. When the warpstone meteor hit the planet, it landed right on top of the Ogres, and it nearly wiped them out. They were at ground-zero of a blast strong enough to create a moon, and spread a cloud of warpstone-tainted ash around the entire world. When they traveled to see what had made that enormous crater, they found a huge living pit in the ground. All accounts say that another pit exists in the ocean on the other side of the world (technically not possible - it would have to be in the New World or just outside of Ulthuan, but chalk this up to a writer's mistake). Warpstone mutates everything, rock and natural formation included, so it's very likely that what really happened was the burning, nasty hunk of warpstone burrowed straight through the planet. The Ogres have come to worship this as a god, much like the primitive Romans and Greeks saw a volcano and deified it as the forge of a god.

    The Skaven also don't talk too much about their religion, other than mentioning the Horned Rat. Since we can see the Horned Rat on the battlefield, there's a good chance that he's not a God, but probably just the first and largest of the mutated Skaven. Sort of like how Sigmar came to raise the Empire and then became a God, the Horned Rat could have done the same. The Skaven also fall under the sway of Chaos in quite a few ways, as do all of the creatures touched by Warpstone, so it's possible that the Horned Rat is a Skaven elevated to the status of Daemon Prince by the Chaos Gods in order to bend the Skaven to their will when required.

    The Chaos Gods, and the 'Other' Gods
    Okay. The Chaos Gods are probably the closest thing to 'real' gods that you'll get. And when I say "real", I don't mean real like 'real world', I mean real like "psychologists believe that this is the best way to look at any god from any belief system, and what makes them 'exist' and influence the world". Basically, Chaos Gods are fueled by emotion and raw force of "if we believe, it will be so." The 'Big 4' are the most powerful and 'base' emotions that we've got. They're not necessarily evil in their own way, but if these emotions are taken to extremes, it tears down the natural order of things: Chaos. You have:

    Slaanesh: Lust, and the desire to be aesthetically pleased
    - taken overboard this turns into depravity and perversion. One man's smut is another man's missionary though, or as Oscar Wilde said, 'Chastity is the greatest form of perversion'. So it's all in the eye of the beholder. Walk too far down that extreme though (or go to a KISS concert) and you'll probably attract the direct attention of Slaanesh. But at the same time, every loyal, upright Imperial citizen who gets a bit of a 'stirring' looking at the girl he's going to marry: that fuels Slaanesh just a little bit more.

    Nurgle: Hope, and also the sense of 'natural progression'
    It's strange to think that Nurgle embodies hope, but he does - and that's GW official. Whenever a person calls out a prayer to be cured of some malady, Nurgle hears that. Nurgle is the idea that everything must decay, everything must die, and everything must rot, personified. Mess that up, and people feel that something is suddenly horribly wrong. The man who doesn't age is unnatural. That's Tzeentch, or Slaanesh. This is why Nurgle is a jovial and happy god - he's actually just nature. He's the oldest of the Chaos Gods, because he has always existed, hand-in-hand with life. Nurgle worshippers are basically what happens when you stop trying to prevent the inevitable. They're the naturalists. We invented toothpaste to keep our teeth from decaying before we're 40. Everyone knows that your teeth will decay anyways, even if it's not during your lifetime, but a Nurgle worshipper says "then why bother brushing your teeth?"

    Tzeentch: Destiny
    Tzeentch is not the God of Knowledge or Magic. He's the god of Destiny. Magic is secondary, because you often need to overcome nature in order to overcome fate. If you are born crippled, fated to die or doomed to poverty - Tzeentch can fix that. If he doesn't just mutate your body outright, he might give you access to magic so that you don't have to rely on physical prowess anymore. Tzeentch is basically the god of every possible way to become powerful without resorting to mindless violence. Deception, treachery, magic, coercion, bargaining - all Tzeentch. Whenever a little kid looks at a toy and says "I'd do anything to have the Warhammer Boxed Set" -that's a prayer to Tzeentch. While actually resorting to anything would get his attention, he might also show up and offer the kid a deal, "Do this for me, and I'll give you that shiny new 8th edition." The kid does it, and realizes that he's found the easy way to go against the natural order and get what he wants. So he keeps coming back whenever he wants something. Eighteen years later, the kid is saying "I want to be President of the United States" and Tzeentch says, "Okay, but you have to do this for me" (Yep, Barack Obama is nothing but a Chaos Spawn of Tzeentch- just saying)

    Khorne: Rage. Pure and simple, Anger
    Everyone gets mad. Stub your toe and then kick the table leg just to get even? Even if it hurts you more, you got even right? Yeah... Khorne. Khorne goes beyond the concept of "might makes right" - that's why not every soldier and general who goes to war comes home a raving lunatic with a penchant for axe-murders. Not every. Khorne is beyond that - Khorne is the most sociopathic of all Chaos gods, because he is blind rage. Not the kind of anger where you walk you into a room and punch one person in the face because they deserved it, but the kind of anger where you punch anyone who so much as looks at you in the face, because you just don't like people looking at you right now. Armies of Khorne shouldn't even exist. They're more like 'avalanches of Khorne', because if you're a true devotee, you should be killing everything, including your comrades. These 'avalanches' only keep going as long as they have something to move forward into. If they came to the coastline and couldn't build ships to get across and find more stuff to kill, they'd simply kill each other.

    There are other Chaos Gods though. There's Malal (Malace now, in 40k) and other minor unnamed gods who exist beneath the other 4. There are other Daemons as well, they just don't fall under the categories that we see most often on the battlefield. I wish that they'd put "Unmarked" Demons in the armybook, but that won't ever happen.
    So it could be imagined that other gods within the pantheon are just different way to look at one of the Big Four, or they exist simply because their race believes in them. Khaine is a good one for this - some think that Khaine is Khorne, makes sense right? One is the god of Murder and War, and the other is the god of Murder and War. Even their names are 50% similarity.
    My guess is that the Tomb King god of death is just a minor Chaos god. My guess is that he hungers for human souls (as all the other races have a good idea of what happens to you when you die). Priests of Morr might worship a different aspect of this, or they might simply be "wrong" and worshipping nothing at all. Morr might just be something that they've made up - their rituals put the dead in a place where the TK god can't affect them, and therefore the priests think that they have placated something and decide to name it Morr.

    So what's it all mean?
    Basically, the way I look at it, some of the gods are Old Ones. Some of the gods are just people/things, some of the gods aren't real, some of the gods are misidentified Chaos 'Big 4' Gods, and some of the gods exist beneath the Chaos Gods because they are only worshipped by one race rather than all of them or can only be worshipped actively rather than through raw feeling.
    Pts Values for AoS here!

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  4. #3
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    1) The gods are GODS. They are their own unique type of powerful entity (powerful either through divinity or artificial means) intrinsically tied to the warhammer world, separate from others we know.
    -----This theory doesn't work in my mind because if this is the case, then wouldn't these gods have a PROBLEM with the Old Ones coming in and totally reshaping the planet? To my knowledge there's no published backstory on the role of the gods in the creation of the world, the aeons that followed, or the reshaping of the world by the old ones. Which seems strange to me.
    The Lizardman book is clear that when the Old Ones arrived, there were races and civilizations already here, races that the Old Ones deemed incompatible with their own plans, and the Saurus were spawned primarily to wipe these races out of existence. Maybe these gods are some sort of remnant of this civilizations that still have a spark of life on the planet. I think there is a lot of WH that is not meant to be explored, it is just there as backstory to get us into a particular faction of WH.

    2) The gods are occupants of the realm of chaos, less powerful than the almighty FOUR but also less malicious, with their own little niches of the chaos realm carved out for themselves.
    -----This seems to me like the most likely explanation, but it doesn't track with the lore we already have. If my understanding is correct, the daemons were unable to interact with the physical plane until the warpgates exploded. And we know for a fact that the gods (or the very least the elven pantheon) were present and actually quite active in the physical realm before that happened.
    I have to disagree with this one, maybe if you believe that as the Old Ones had the Lizardmen wipe out the civilizations that existed prior they had some remnant of their consciousness remain on the world and thus took that guiding hand. You would think though that the Old Ones would not want this and deny the aid that Asuryan granted the High elves, for example.

    3)
    The gods and the old ones are one and the same.
    ----This is the theory that has the least evidence against it, although it strikes me as odd and unlikely for reasons I can't put my finger on. It certainly makes sense that the Old Ones might have portrayed themselves as gods to the races they created (all except the Lizardmen, at any rate) simply because it was easier that way. But then how do we explain the presence of gods even after the warpgates exploded and the Old Ones got the hell out of Dodge? How do we explain the existence of places like the realm of Khaine, when we have no evidence that the Old Ones possessed the ability to create "realms" or "pocket dimensions" adjacent to the warhammer world?
    This one, however, while it DOES have some measures, if the Old Ones, in the same measure that they were worshipped by the Slann during their time on the planet, could set up things knowing that it would draw the creatures they were creating to worship them. However, this does not explain the existence of the Dwarve's Ancestor gods, nor of Sigmar, all of whom ascended in some manner after their mortal lives.

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  6. #4
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    I believe I remember reading quite clearly in the 7th ed Lizardmen army book that their gods literally are Old Ones and that there were some kind of tablets describing Old Ones that the Lizardmen could read. Is this incorrect?
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    It is mentioned that they worshipped the Old Ones and certain ones in particular like gods, although it was worded in a way where it was like 'yeah they could but they are not actually gods' or something to that point.

    However, Sotek initially was not a deity in the Lizardman mythos, and only a single city had a sequence of plaques that predicted the coming of the Skaven and the arrival of Sotek to deliver them from the Skaven. Granted, it is possible the Slanns of the Southlands MAY have had their own sequence that included Sotek (and did in the 5th edition sourcebook). Still, Sotek was clearly not an OLD ONE yet he is now venerated as one. But when there is a tangible deity that grants their prayers and Sotek clearly did that, what else can you do?

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