In the olden days, before the scientific method was developed, people sought explanations for why the world exists as it does. Humans being humans, their first explanations revolved around ascribing human-like characteristics to natural phenomena, which in turn became the first gods worshiped by humankind.
From there, stories spread about the nature of the gods. In time, people began telling other stories that sought to explain such thinigs as the origins of the world (cosmogonia), the origins of humankind (antropogonia), what happens after death (eschatology), or the exploits of ancient heroes. Many other mythical creatures are thought to have started the same way - for example, stories of giants being an attempt to explain the existence of massive fossilized bones (which we now know belonged to long-extinct animals such as mammoths). As these stories passed down through generations as either legends or religion, they gave birth to the fantasy genre we all know and love.
In a sense, mythology is a blend of history and fantasy, with elements of what might have really happened wrapped up in cultural beliefs, and then shaped by the worldview of the societies that created the myths in question. Even in the present day more than a few such myths are still prevalent, despite them no longer being openly supernatural, such as the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. Many other such myths are significantly tied to the culture's religion.
Older myths often contained bizarre and fucked up shit like incest and rape, because people in ye olden times
were fucking deranged and kinky as all hell, and as far as they were concerned, nothing was off limits had very different standards of morality than our own.
Put far less bluntly, several cultures saw their gods as models OF human behavior rather than FOR human behavior, and as such are not inherent indicators of how "deviant" a society was (though it also doesn't mean they might not have been fucked up in some ways). Naturally, exceptions to this "rule" do exist, e.g. the schools of Buddhism, where the core tenet is to transcend the impermanent nature of existence and break the cycle of death and rebirth thus achieving nirvana; the central figurehead, Buddha, and his teachings are explicitly to be emulated as opposed to worshipping him directly (although some branches of Mahayana Buddhism do consider him divine, it's complicated).
Shifts in mythological narratives can also occur due to cultural osmosis and/or conflict; some "foreign" gods are integrated into local mythos or considered an aspect of a "native" god within the pantheon, while other gods (usually from conquered peoples) were sometimes demonized, often literally so; alternately, existing gods may shift in nature and reputation due to either technological shifts, or political ones. With different cultures from country to country, mythologies all had their own angels/demons/spirits/energies, with their moralities varying based on how their own cultures and others perceived them. Natural phenomena (the sun, the sea, storms, etc.) and common abstracts (chaos, order, art, etc.) will inevitably feature in nearly any culture's pantheon.
- 1 Connection with Fantasy Genres
- 2 Mythologies
- 2.1 Abrahamic Mythology (Judaism, Christianity, Islam)
- 2.2 Arthurian Mythology
- 2.3 Chinese Mythology
- 2.4 Egyptian Mythology
- 2.5 Greco-Roman Mythology
- 2.6 Hindu Mythology
- 2.7 Japanese Mythology
- 2.8 Norse Mythology
- 3 Miscellaneous Mythical Figures/Artifacts/Stories That Are Directly /tg/ Relevant
- 4 Urban Legend
- 5 Popular mythology elements used in Fantasy
- 6 See Also
Connection with Fantasy Genres
As you can see, many an author took interest in the old legends and decided to include its elements in their own stories. Notably, Tolkien took many elements from the Norse and Germanic Mythologies and popularized the concept of fantasy races like Dwarfs and Elves.
Between these connections and the fact that some mythologies form the basis for many beliefs, both ancient and modern-day (e.g. the Abrahamic religions), while others often incorporate historical and semi-historical figures (with obvious overlap), the following thus bears mentioning: Many other authors have used existing religions (often including their own) as a basis to inform the mythos or cosmology of their settings; J. R. R. Tolkien in particular is well known for this, as is C.S. Lewis. Liberties will be taken with adapting such figures directly or creating analogues for a given fiction, the same as it would be with any other adaptation. As such should not be taken as absolution or commentary on the reality of such beliefs unless explicitly intended; even in that event such liberties can only be indicative of the author's own beliefs or lack thereof, which is still a far cry from true spiritual or theological objectivity, regardless of how much (if at all) the author may actually want it to be.
TL;DR The preceding and following descriptions have no necessary bearing on the matter of whether or not a given being exists or how much of any Scriptures are true or false. That's a matter we'll leave to the reader.
For the purposes of this article, we're focused more on characters (including Deities), species, and artifacts, along with particular individual stories that get repurposed or directly referenced in RPGs. If you're genuinely curious about religious beliefs and/or specifically how it figures into RPGs, we have the religion article for that.
Abrahamic Mythology (Judaism, Christianity, Islam)
The one set of mythology everyone most familiar with in the West and the Middle East, since you learn them in church. Or synagogue, or mosque, you get the idea.
Much of the Abrahamic mythology is drawn from the old Hebrew Bible, though it has been expanded considerably by prose and poetry over the centuries, meaning that there is a wealth of third-party, non-canon material out there for DMs to use in their campaign settings. Christian mythology is one of the many mythologies that were derived from Jewish mythology; the same goes for Islamic mythology and many others from Middle Eastern countries. Hence, they are collectively referred to as "Abrahamic" after the Biblical patriarch.
As Islamic mythology is not commonly depicted for a bunch of reasons (most notably because Islam derives from Jewish and Christian mythology, thus sharing many figures and events, along with Islam having a taboo against depicting religious figures - especially their chief prophet Muhammad - that Muslim extremists have often violently enforced even to this day), this section will primarily cover the Jewish and Christian elements of Abrahamic mythology.
Most notable heroes with lots of media adaptions:
- Jesus Christ: Please tell us you're joking. If for some reason you're actually serious and have a few hours to spare, find the nearest church and ask whoever's in charge to tell you about him. He will be happy to give you the full story. Otherwise you can ask a Christian you know or pick up a copy of the Bible - nearly every bookstore stocks them and then there's online copies - and see for yourself. Trivia: "Christ" is not Jesus last name, but is one of Jesus' titles.
- Abraham: The common tie between the three Abrahamic religions, his covenant with God makes him and his descendants the first of the Jews.
- Samson: Legendary hero whose power of super strength was tied to
never cutting his hairACKCHYUALLY his power was tied to keeping his covenants with God, it just so happened that cutting his hair was the last one to break and he knew it.
- David: Once killed a mighty warrior with a Sling. Undertook the worst fetch quest in history when the king demanded he collect 100 Philistine foreskins to marry the princess, then decided to go above and beyond and collect 200. Said father in law was King Saul, who later tried to have David killed numerous times (strong contender for worst parent-in-law ever right here). He became the king of Israel some time later after King Saul's death. Also credited with writing the Biblical Psalms.
- Solomon: David's most famous son, also King of Israel. Better at his job then just about anybody who came after him, and (more relevant to media appearances outside of direct-Biblical-adaption) frequently reputed to be a (usually holy) sorcerer of some kind. Islam further credits him with authority over the djinn.
- Moses: See the Exodus for details. Hollywood is a big fan of this guy, even moreso than Jesus (regardless of how you take the implications), so you have a plethora of big-budget film options with A-list actors to choose from (Charlton Heston, Christian Bale, cartoon with Val Kilmer, etc)
- Noah: See below for his boating adventure.
- A few angels; notably, only two are given names: Michael and Gabriel, as well as Raphael in the Book of Tobit though its canonicity is disputed(there's also an Abbadon (no, not the armless retard one) in the Book of Revelation, but he's usually considered a Fallen Angel like Lucifer). Also notable and mentioned in the Bible: the Angel of Death, aka The Destroying Angel (no name given Biblically, but the Catholic and most Eastern Orthodox Apocryphas (as well as Jewish tradition, especially the later Kabbalic one), identify him as Azrael).
- God is rarely depicted as a particularly active hero, but may work in mysterious ways.
- Satan and the demons of Hell (see below) are sometimes depicted as an unpleasant but necessary part of the divine plan (compare to Hades, above), as the ones who punish sinners who escape mortal justice. In the early parts of the Old Testament, Satan is seen as a prosecutor of souls who puts people through spiritual trials to test their faith, rather than tempting people into evil for evil's sake, and to this day we speak of the "Devil's Advocate" who points out flaws in popular people or ideas (the term originates from the Catholic Church, of all places; when someone is considered for sainthood, the Devil's Advocate is specifically appointed to argue against them to hopefully ensure all sides of the story are considered).
- Alternatively, Satan is sometimes portrayed as a hero rebelling against an oppressive divine order. Obviously this is extra heresy (see also: Gnosticism).
Most notable villains with lots of media adaptions:
- Satan/Lucifer/The Devil (may or may not be the same character): With the many different interpretations, it's hard to tell which is which, but the general gist is that one angel disagreed with how God was doing business and staged a great rebellion. God cast him and his kin out of heaven and forced them to live in a realm where they are never able to feel his presence, and now he takes his hatred of God out on humanity by leading them into damnation.
- Relevant note: One approach used in various media is to have multiple Hellish factions, each of whom have some claim to the title of Supreme Evil. Usually, they're opposed to one another, and usually represent different kinds or aspects of Evil (e.g., one wants to destroy the world, and is directly opposed by another who wants to tempt and corrupt). Note that the Bible is completely silent about most things about demons, so both "they're all working for one master" and "it's every demon for himself" are plausible readings. The Ars Goetia is often a handy source from which to pull such factions.
- Baal, Moloch, and others: False idols (i.e. pagan gods) worshipped by the Caananites, which the Israelites would repeatedly turn to worshipping despite God punishing them every single time they did so.
- Judas Iscariot: One of Jesus' apostles who sold him out to the Romans, leading to the crucifixion. He hung himself shortly afterwards in a fit of despair. His name became a byword for betraying someone close to you, and is also known for the price he sold Jesus out for (30 pieces of silver).
- Cain: Adam and Eve's son after being cast out of paradise. Murdered his brother Abel for petty reasons.
- The Pharaoh of the Exodus, known simply as Pharaoh.
- Sometimes God and/or various angels are depicted negatively, as either being passive in the face of evil or complicit (or being giant monsters out to destroy the world). Naturally, those kinds of interpretations are highly frowned upon for the obvious reason that people still worship God, this can involve in-universe retcons of Scripture, consider God good and do not like it when other people call His actions evil, so naturally this is Extra Heresy (and blasphemy).
- It should be added that Fallen Angels are a Canonical (as in, actually appear in the New Testiment) option to have Evil Angels without making God Himself Evil, although it still runs into the problem of why God made his own angels susceptible to becoming evil in the first place. Note that this is more an early Jewish and Christian motif than a later Jewish or Islamic one, due to changes and differences, respectively, in theology.
Non-Biblical figures who show up in media adaptions
- Lilith, the fanon first wife of Adam, the first man. It must be emphasized that she does not exist in any biblical source (other then the first woman being created twice -- but then again, a lot of things happen twice, slightly differently described each time, in Genesis), but that being said, she was reputed to be one of Satan's many wives and a mother of demons.
- The Wandering Jew and Longinus: Because Jesus implied that certain people listening to him speak would be around for the Second Coming (although two obvious alternate readings are that Jesus was talking about his shortly impending Resurrection, or referring to the then-future, but politically easy to foresee, Great Revolt of 66 AD, whose results could easily be seen as something that would be talked about in the same tone as the end of the world at the time), two non-biblical figures show up, starting in medieval works: The Wandering Jew, an Jew of the era, cursed to immortality, and Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus' side with a spear during the Crucifixion, similarly cursed to immortality. Can show up as villains, heroes, or mere cameos. (Both are more likely to show up in literature and RPGs then visual media; Longinus in particular is the identity claimed by an important historical vampire in Vampire: The Requiem.)
- Various non-Biblically mentioned Angels.
- Djinn: Originally an element of pre-Islamic Arabian mythology, they are mentioned in the Quran as spirits born of "smokeless fire". Unlike Islamic angels, they are capable of sin and can go to either Heaven or Hell. The Islamic version of Satan (called Iblis or Shaitan) is said to have originally been a djinn. Over time and several (mis)interpretations, they came to be portrayed as the figures we now know as genies.
Artifacts that tend to show up in media adaptions:
- The Holy Grail: The cup that Christ drank from at the Last Supper and/or a cup used for various purposes during the Crucifixion.
- The True Cross: So named because of the dozens of other crosses falsely passed off as the one Jesus was crucified on--not helped by the fact that the Roman Empire crucified a lot of people, as Crucifixion was the standard Roman method of execution of non-Romans. Whether it actually is the cross Jesus was crucified in is another story.
- The Spear of Destiny and various other objects associated with the Crucifixion: In certain media, the Spear of Destiny (which pierced his side during crucifixion), as well as the nails which pinned him to the cross, are considered gifted with magical powers because they have the blood of God on them.
- Other objects from the Crucifixion that can show up in media and are sometimes (but more rarely then the above) assigned supernatural powers include the Crown of Thorns, the 30 pieces of silver payed to Judas, the whip used for the 39 lashes, and a sponge.
- The Veil of Veronica and/or the Shroud of Turin: These are two relics that purported to be pieces of cloth that were miraculously imprinted with an image of Christ's face after being in contact with him sometime during the crucial four days. The former is lost; the latter is of rather dubious authenticity and is now considered by most scholars to be a forgery made in the Middle Ages.
- The Ark of the Covenant: Where Moses supposedly put the shards of the original Ten Commandments (and possibly Aaron's rod and a pot of manna). Famously disappeared during one of the various times Jerusalem was sacked, and has never been seen since.
- The Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil
- The Fruit of Life.
So in Abrahamic mythology there is only one god, or at least only one true god: YHVH, which most people would just refer to him as GOD since his name is too sacred to speak of and because he is the only god that exists, with all others being false idols and products of human imagination or demonic ruse. In fact, we don't even know how its pronounced (in part because ancient Hebrew is an abjad- a language that only uses consonants in their writing system) the two most common anglicizations being Yahweh and Jehovah. Other names and titles that may be used instead of YHVH include Elohim (meaning God or gods), Adonai (meaning Lord), HaShem, "I AM", and Father. In Islam (and also by Arabic speaking Christians), he is instead called Allah. And other languages have their own unique words used to refer to him.
Before the world was born, according to Milton, there was the "war in heaven" (not this one) where Lucifer, the most perfect of God's creations and the best of the archangels, rebelled against God with a third of the angels in Heaven, but was defeated and cast down to Hell, in which he was imprisoned.
After that, God creates the world. It is said that he created the world in 7 days, hence the seven-day work week we all know and love: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (although those names themselves are drawn from various pagan, Roman, and Norse traditions -- Sun, Moon, Tyr, Woden/Odin, Thor, Frigga/Freya, and Saturn -- because flexibility is important when it comes to winning converts). He then created many animals, plants and the first two humans: Adam and Eve. He observed them in the Garden of Eden (aka his research facility) watching them having fun and telling them that they could do anything they wanted, except from eat the fruit of one particular tree in the garden. But that promise was broken when the woman, Eve was tempted by a winged serpent - who according to Milton, was actually Lucifer in disguise seeking to avenge himself by corrupting humanity - to eat the fruit, which held within it the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve, having eaten the fruit, gained knowledge and dignity which made them embarrassed by their lack of clothing. God found out and exiled from the garden them to the mortal world. The serpent is also punished, with his wings taken from him, turning him into the snek we all knew and feared. According to Christianity, this also introduced original sin, fundamentally changing the nature of humankind from natural innocence to inherent wickedness.
In the mortal world, Adam and Eve worked hard to survive and later conceived two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer while Abel was a shepherd. When they both offered their produce to God, God only favored Abel's. (According to some, it was because Cain hid his best offering from God, and others because he gave God leftovers while Abel gave the best; others still say (frequently either looking to blame-shift or suggest that even small evils can lead to larger ones in other people), Abel's overweening pride at being favored provoked what followed. By this point if you are a true Vampire: The Masquerade fan, you would know what's coming next, but without the vampire shit.) Cain killed Abel, and his punishment for murder was to never farm ever again; wherever he spilled his brother's blood, the earth became cursed so that it can never grow anything, putting an end to Cain's favorite job and career. However, punishments differ in other mythologies and it's a clusterfuck, though the 'Mark of Cain' deal is a common point of reference - Cain fears the cold, cruel world will be out to get his marauding criminal ass, so God set a mark on him that made it clear anyone trying to inflict their justice over His own would get it seven times worse.
Adam and Eve later had the third son Seth, who is the true ancestor of mankind, and Cain is then exiled to the land of the Nod where he built the City of Enoch (because he can't farm) and conceived many other descendants. There's also the claim that Eve was not the first wife, but Lilith, a woman who was created from the same dirt as Adam. Felt too hot shit for Adam, so she ran away with an archangel called Samael (the Fallen name for Lucifer in some stories), though in other stories she ran away a demon prince called Asmodeus (the one this guy was named after) and begat a whole race of demons called the Lilim or Lilitu. In Vampire: The Masquerade however, she taught Cain cool dark magic and shit.
As for the rest, it's easier to find the nearest Bible and/or Koran and read it for yourself. Just don't call it mythology or worse where anyone can hear you, unless you enjoy offending people, want to provoke an argument and don't particularly care about being ostracized or worse, depending on where you do it.
Humankind had become incredibly corrupt and sinful (we’re talking birth the Eye of Terror levels of debauchery(!) here), so God decided to have the sea level to suddenly rise to the kind you see in disaster movie like The Day After Tomorrow after a 120 year countdown. He instructed the only righteous people on Earth, starting with the family patriarch named Noah to build an ark big enough to contain the non-aquatic animals of the world as well as his family, or just each animal species with their own female and male pairing so that they could reproduce. God even instructed Noah to build the ark with the size he demands: 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width and 30 cubits in height (450 × 75 × 45 ft or 137 × 22.9 × 13.7 m), it's almost as if God intended this. The ark is also made out of some probably extinct wood called "Gopher" (that's just how the Hebrew word is pronounced, gofer -- it's not related to the furry critter), probably the best kind since the ark has to withstand waves after waves of tsunami for a long time and a tragically, all of them were either used up building the Ark or the flood wrecked the rest.
Then the rain lasted 40 days and the resulting flood killed everyone except those on the ark. They basically float and live on their stockpiles for nearly a year until the water goes down. They disembark, and Noah makes a burnt sacrifice to thank God for sparing them and God makes a covenant to never again use a flood to destroy the world (either creating rainbows to serve as a reminder of this, or making the rainbow represent this).
Moses and the Exodus of the Hebrews
Another myth took place in Egypt. There once lived the Israelite (later the Jewish) people, the chosen people of God. They had come to reside in Egypt after a renowned ancestor Joseph helped Egypt survive a major famine, and were living in peaceful harmony until one day some asshole Pharaoh came and starts to oppress the shit out of them. The Pharaoh hated how the Hebrews bred like rats and got paranoid that they might ally with Egypt's enemies, so he ordered every one of their male babies thrown in the river of Nile to either drown or get eaten by wildlife. Moses, our hero of the story survived as an infant and was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter (oh the irony). Moses eventually grow up and learn of God Yahweh and is commanded to free his people and guide them on an exodus to the promised land. Pharaoh and his army tried to stop them but God basically said fuck you and send twelve powerful plagues to fucked them over; it could've ended sooner if he just let them go, but the Pharaoh was stupidly stubborn and always tried to tweak the deal to his advantage. The plagues were so effective that Egypt became a frigging wasteland, and even then Scripture states God was pulling His punches - but no undead unfortunately. The Pharaoh was pretty quick to let the Israelites go after the last one. Later, Moses guided his people to close to the red sea where he do the iconic sea splitting to make a crossing passage. The Pharaoh and his goons tried to take chase but was once again pwned by the sudden sea crushing them from both sides when they were on the sea.
After traveling with his fellow Hebrews, Moses was called to Mount Sinai by God, who gave him the Ten Commandments: ten rules willed by God as the foundation of Jewish law and the worship of God. Later on other rules were given, and then sometimes God gave direct orders (e.g. commands to commit genocide on the entire cities of man, woman, children and animals for failing to worship God, though those nations were also at war with the Hebrews some sources cite that it was also punishment for the practices of those religions, which were said to include human sacrifice and ritual prostitution where they weren't picky about the participants age, gender, species...).
While he was up there, the Israelites believed he would never come back and had built an idol of a golden calf that they claimed as their new god. When Moses returned, he was enraged and had the calf ground to powder, which was scattered into water and force-fed to the Israelites, which were then struck with a plague as a punishment for their idolatry. Moses and his followers arrived to their promised land after a delay of 40 years due to the Israelites' incessant disbelief in God despite all he'd done, which is, unsurprisingly, Israel! The Israelites then spend a long chunk of their history trying to kill off the native Caananites who weren't big on peaceful co-existence, all while being repeatedly punished for continually abandoning God's worship in favor of false idols in what can only be called a stunning inability to learn from experience.
Things drawn from Abrahamic Myth / Demonology
The "bibles" (Jewish, Christian and Islamic holy books) and associated apocrypha are undoubtedly HUGE sources of inspiration for game developers, particularly Dungeons and Dragons where monsters are ported over, virtually unchanged and names of significant figures are also often used.
- The idea that Hell has Nine layers - Baator - though where Dante's layers have distinct punishments, Baator's layers are the realms of powerful lords.
- Names of significant demon/devil characters: Asmodeus - demon of Lust, Baalzebul (or other variants like Baalzebul, Beelzebub) - demon of gluttony, or Mammon - demon of avarice
- Different orders of Angels, or angel analogues such as Genies (or djinn, as they were originally called in Islamic tradition)
A wide family of heretical beliefs mixing Abrahamic theology with Greek philosophy, Gnosticism believes in the existence of two gods; the true omnipotent God of the spiritual world and the Demiurge, the false god who created the Earth. Seeing as the world was created by a flawed creator, it is inherently flawed itself, so your goal ought to be to transcend the physical plane and escape to the perfect world of the spirit. Typically the Demiurge was identified with the god of the Old Testament, while the true god was seen as the one preached by Jesus, in an attempt to explain the apparent dissonance between their depictions. Where Satan fits into the picture depends on the exact sect, some portraying him as a force of liberty that seeks to free mankind from the tyranny of the Demiurge while others see him as seeking to further mankind's imprisonment by distracting them from spiritual matters with his temptations. Often associated with the western occult tradition of Hermeticism, also a mixture of Abrahamic and Greek traditions, though not all Hermetics are necessary Gnostics. There were countless different sects of Gnosticism, and describing the differences between them would likely require its own article.
While Gnosticism is hardly the most well-known religion due to the early Christian Church's ultimately successful efforts in wiping it out and the lack of surviving information on how it was practiced, it has influenced several fantasy settings, like Kult, The Elder Scrolls and both of the World of Darkness Mage games.
The story of a boy who becomes king of England and his knights. Arthurian lore is unusual among mythology in that historians actually know the names and history of the authors who created most of it. This doesn't make it any more consistent, in-fact even authors directly continuing existing stories couldn't be assed to keep basic things consistent. The issue has to do with Arthur's story being used by every ambitious bard to introduce their own OC Knight of the Round Table and why theirs is the best of the bunch, as well as many of Britain's monarchs adjusting his story for their own political gain.
Of some minor note, the story of King Arthur may have some sorta kinda basis in reality. If he existed, he was apparently a general, not king, who successfully fought in at least one battle to contain the invading Anglo-Saxons during the era after the collapse of the western Roman Empire. Given many, many washings through the story retelling and expanding machine after being combined with the mythos associated with the Holy Grail, we wind up with the King Arthur mythology.
For the closest thing to an official "canon" for Arthurian literature, it officially begins with Geoffrey Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain, with some of the more prominent stories including Le Morte D'Arthur, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Perceval, the Story of the Grail, etc.
(Side note: If you intentionally quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the gaming table, you deserve to be punched in the face.)
(no shit are you fucking stupid oh my god jesus christ come on its IN THE FUCKIN--)
- The Knights of the Round Table
- Lancelot: The closest of Arthur's companions and the greatest knight of the age, but also infamous for his long affair with Guinevere. Some scholars believe he was not part the original group of knights and actually just a completely separate fictional knight that met Arthur in a crossover and never left.
- Gawain: One of the earliest knights in Arthurian mythos, representing Wales. He typically gets shit on by the newer, fancier knights, but really comes into his own during his duel with the Green Knight.
- Galahad: Lancelot's son. Absolutely pure of heart, and the only one able to sit in the lethal chair at the Round Table known as "The Siege Perilous." For this he is able to complete the quest for the Holy Grail. After finding it, he ascends into Heaven along with the Grail.
- Percival: The Knight who was supposed to find the grail before Galahad appeared. In his version of the story, he finds the grail is kept by the Fisher King, ruler of a wasteland that can only be healed by Percival becoming the new king. In later versions, Percival is unsuccessful in healing the land, allowing Galahad to take over.
- Kay: Arthur's Gish step-brother. One of the earliest written knights, but nobody remembers him. Kay was a guy's name once upon a time.
- Tristan: Similar to Lancelot, it's assumed he was integrated into Arthurian mythos, but unlike him Tristan had an existing legend attached to him. In it, he was sent by his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, to bring back the maiden Isolde for him to marry. A love potion mishap caused Tristan and Isolde to fall in love with each other instead, and the tragic love affair that followed cost them their lives.
- Bedivere: The Knight who returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake after Arthur's death.
- Mordred: Most commonly depicted as Arthur's bastard son with his half-sister (who may or may not be Morgan le Fay depending on the story) or possibly his aunt, but like a lot of things in Arthur Mythos his background is inconsistent as hell. The most consistent part is that he starts a rebellion against Arthur, and in their final battle he mortally wounds Arthur but is killed himself.
- Merlin: Arthur's wizard and mentor, as well as the template for almost every other wizard in fantasy fiction since the genre was a thing. Works vary wildly on how benevolent he is and how he got his powers. Originally named Myrddin, but that sounded too close to "shit" for audiences that knew French, which was a lot of people at the time, so it was changed. Since having a super OP wizard as a buddy would make things too easy for Arthur, some stories have him trapped by Morgan's apprentice Vivian or the Lady of the Lake so that Merlin can't warn Arthur of his impending doom.
- Morgan le Fay: Merlin's opposite number. Sometimes Arthur's half-sister because fuck consistency. Depending on the story, she is either an ally or an enemy of Arthur.
- Guinevere: Arthur's wife. Falls for Lancelot shortly after they meet, and somehow their affair goes unnoticed until exposed by Morgan le Fay and Mordred.
- Lady of the Lake: A fey chick who gives Arthur Excalibur after the sword in the stone breaks. Since most adaptations make the sword in the stone and Excalibur one in the same her role varies wildly. Sometimes said to be Lancelot's adoptive mother.
- The Green Knight: Shows up to the castle one day and challenges each knight to chop his head off with an axe, on the condition he gets to do the same thing to them next year. Nobody is willing to accept the challenge... except Gawain. Gawain beheads the Green Knight only for him to pick the head right back up and walk away, reminding Gawain of their deal. Gawain survives thanks to the the Green Girdle and learns the whole thing really was a test of the knights' courage by Morgan. If this sounds uncharacteristically consistent to you, it's because he only appeared in one story, albeit a well regarded one.
- The Black Knight: There's a few different ones, or it could just be another case of zero consistency. (It should be noted that knights with black armor were actual semi-historical figures; blackening up your armor made it vastly easier to maintain for a solo knight without a squire, so a Knight without a liege sometimes did so while either seeking new employment, or just plain wandering; alternately, the knight painted up his armor and shield to conceal his identity. Either way, you have a knight without a master, a worrying prospect to the feudal mind.)
- The Fisher King: Usually only shows up in Holy Grail-related stories; in some versions, as he suffers, so does the land, and vice versa, and in others, he's just a protector of the Grail who was wounded by it for some sin (usually, adultery or getting married in the first place), and the wound also in some way renders the land barren (and thus, needing to fish in order to get food, thus, "Fisher King"). In the latter case, he's associated with a "Healing Question", a question that when asked of him will heal his wounds, which varies from version to version (the two most famous are "Who serves the Grail?", and "Why are you so wounded?").
- Very few adaptions use the Anglo-Saxons, the people who the earliest chronicles claim he fought against.
Notable Artefacts: Arthurian myth has some of the highest artifact density out there. Among the most famous are:
- The Holy Grail: Has some connections to the life of Jesus, see above. Short version is that it grants immortality.
- The Sword in The Stone and/or Excalibur: The legendary sword which acts as Arthur's badge of office. In some versions of the myth they are the same sword, others not; some versions even name the other sword "Caliburn" (which is just a translation of the French "Excalibur" to Latin) The scabbard in particular protects Arthur from all wounds; for this reason, Morgan steals the Scabbard to weaken him.
- The Green Girdle: Obtained by Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A girdle of green silk, none who wear it can be killed.
- The Round Table itself: Most works just make the round table a mundane table, but a few give it magical powers of some kind. The symbolic importance is that all knights are considered equal to each other as it lacks any ends for a head to claim. One seat, the Siege Perilous, kills all unworthy knight who would sit on it; only the one who will find the Holy Grail may sit in it.
Since China lived right next to various, heavily religious nations countries like India and Tibet, their mythology contains many gods from Buddhism, although the ancient Chinese tended more towards Taoism as a general rule. Chinese mythology is pretty well known and famous in Asia and one of its most famous myths, "The Journey to the West", brought forth near-endless adaptations, including everyone's favorite anime/manga about a certain half-monkey xeno super fighter.
World Creation according to Chinese Mythology
The Chinese mythos displays a heavy Taoist belief influenced by the Zhou Dynasty that passed it down from generation to generation until the Three Kingdoms era, where one Xu Zheng finally committed the story to paper. Basically, there is but formless Chaos in the beginning and it coalesced into a cosmic egg for about 18,000 years. Within it, the perfectly opposed principles of Yin and Yang became balanced, and Pangu emerged (or woke up) from the egg. Pangu was a Tengan Toppa-sized sky titan and a hairy primitive humanoid; he would separate the yin and yang (earth and sky) by lifting up the sky and holding it for the next 18,000 frigging years (because fuck you Atlas, you derivative hack). While doing his lifting, both the sky and earth grew ten feet (3 meters) everyday.
Pangu finally died at the end of this period, with the world forming from several of his remains: His breath became the wind, mist and clouds; his voice, thunder; his left eye, the sun; his right eye, the moon; his head, the mountains and extremes of the world; his blood, rivers; his muscles, fertile land; his facial hair, the stars and Milky Way; his fur, bushes and forests; his bones, valuable minerals; his bone marrow, sacred diamonds; his sweat, rain; and the fleas on his fur carried by the wind became animals. Kinda similar to Ymir the giant, except he wasn't murdered and it wasn't metal enough that the blood became killer tsunamis.
An ancient goddess named Nüwa was the one who created humanity out of clay. Men that were molded by her in yellow clay became the top dog of their society, just because they were molded by her hand - the rest of humankind were made out of mud for mass production and were thus peasants. (Whether it was ancient Chinese propaganda to let everyone know their place is up to the reader's interpretation). As she was busy creating humans, the pillar holding the sky broke, so she had to fix it herself using a giant azure turtle's shell as water container and its legs as a new set of pillars. There's also another version where she is depicted as the Chinese version of Eve, as well as the daughter of the Jade Emperor, the first god. Her husband Fuxi taught humans how to hunt and fish and gave them the first system of writing.
Xiyou Ji (Journey To The West)
Xiyou Ji (or Journey To the West) is an important historical Chinese fantasy adventure novel about a journey undertaken to India by a Chinese Buddhist monk, known as Tang Sanzang/Xuanzang or Tripitaka, to get better copies of the Buddhist sacred texts. In this, he has recruited four protectors throughout the journey who agree to help him in atonement for their various sins; two guys nobody cares about: a disgraced commander from heaven named Zhu Bajie, whom was punished by the gods into a pig like beastmen (who everyone calls an idiot, even the narrator) and Sha Wujing, a random sand bandit whom was also from heaven and was banished (the black sheep of the party); a horse (whom was secretly the dragon king's son, also disgraced); and the real protagonist, Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.
Wukong is quite a Mary Sue at first glance, with a superpower suite to match (Flight, immortality, disguise-piercing super sight, a steel-hard body, transformation mastery, being able to turn strands of hair into anything up to and including perfect clones of himself... DBZ wishes it could be that bullshit.); HOWEVER, he's also very much the Only Sane Man™ on this journey and proves to be an archetypical, cunning-if-occasionally-childish trickster through and through. In contrast, Xuanzang is rather unworldly, Zhu Baije is an idiot, Sha Wujing is what effectively amounts to a non-entity, and the horse is essentially just a horse. (For more detail, see "The Monkey King's Backstory" below.)
They proceed to set off on a journey where they learn the virtues and teachings of Buddhism and encounter a lot of interesting folks and weird episodes (such as monsters who wanted Xuanzang's flesh for immortality and power) along the way, many of which you might recognize if you're a fan of Japanese or Chinese-themed fantasy works.
But did they succeed in the end? After a long and approximately 9 to 14 years of pilgrimage, they finally reaches the borderlands of India. They then traveled to the mythical place known as the Griddharaj Parvat(Vulture Peak) where Sanzang received the scripture from living Buddha. Afterwards, the gang received their own reward from the heaven, where they have ascended to Buddhahood.
The Monkey King's Backstory
Because it gets referenced a lot, but isn't quite that important to discussing the rest of Journey to the West, here's The Monkey King's history:
Sun Wukong was born from a stone egg, which was contained within an ancient rock that had been created by the coupling of Heaven and Earth; the meteor struck a mountain inhabited by wild monkeys. (Yes, this is the basis for Goku's origin, so Superman fanboys claiming originality can eat shit.) Despite his categorically extraterrestrial origin, he emerged from the magical egg looking much like the locals, save for being made of rock. After leading his tribe to the well-hidden source of a stream, Sun Wukong took the title of "Handsome Monkey King". From there he would proceed to travel the world and establish further influence and power, making several alliances after collecting powerful weapons and armor like your average JPRG protag. This included his trademark staff, phoenix-feather cap, gold chian-mail shirt and cloud-walking boots.
At some point, the Chinese equivalent of Hell came calling for his soul; rather than accept death and reincarnation, Wukong decided to wipe the names of him and any monkey he knew from the Book of Life and Death. This pissed off the gods - in particular troubling Yama (also known as Enma), the other Kings of Hell and the Dragon Kings - due to the inherent blasphemy and the sheer clerical hell that would result. When the Jade Emperor got wind of this, he figured the solution was to kick Sun Wukong upstairs to Heaven, thinking that a place amongst the gods would keep him in line. Unfortunately, he tried to pull one over on the Monkey King - Wukong was indeed admitted to heaven, but as protector of the Cloud Horses, I.E. a fucking stable boy. The Monkey King's reaction was measured and reasonable: he sets the horses loose, fucks off back to his mountain and declares himself "The Great Sage, Heaven's Equal (齊天大聖)". Unable to arrest the sneaky bastard, Jade Emps thought to pacify him again, this time appointing him guardian of a heavenly peach garden. While a much higher position than before, it conveniently excludes him from being invited to a royal banquet for all the important gods. Apparently Jade Emps thought the same trick would work twice.
Deciding to step his rebellion game up a notch, he drinks the Jade Emperor's royal wine, along with chowing down on longevity pills and the garden's peaches - which he likely was doing anyway, since each peach on their own would grant immortality. Thoroughly stocked up on extra lives, the Monkey King then proceeded to solo the entire Army of Heaven - 100,000 celestial warriors, all 28 constellations, and the four Heavenly Kings - all without breaking a sweat. He even matched the strength of Erlang Shen, a pretty cool guy who is the Jade Emp's nephew, has a truth-seeing 3rd eye on his forehead and was the best of Heaven's generals; even when Sun Wukong was captured, it was only through the combined efforts of Tao and Buddhist forces, including several of the greatest deities, and finally Guanyin, a Bodhisattva (an incredibly powerful god-like entity that guides others towards enlightenment, and the only one who could actually subdue and control him).
...and then what? They certainly couldn't execute the Monkey King for obvious reasons, and trying to distill him into an elixir for recreating the longevity pills just made him stronger and gave him even more fucking superpowers. Enter Buddha, as in THE Buddha, who appeals to his pride by claiming that he can't escape the Buddha's palm. Sun Wukong accepted, being the smug motherfucker he is, and leaps almost effortlessly to an area with five pillars, where he leaves his mark by writing his title on them (and in some versions by peeing on them as well). Leaping back, he finds himself back in the Buddha's palm, where it turns out he'd never left - the pillars he'd marked were Buddha's fingers. Having one-upped the ultimate trickster, Buddha then turns his hand into a mountain and traps him under it, sealing him with a special talisman before he can lift it off (yeah, he can bench press mountains, get on his fucking level).
Then the monk Xuanzang came along, prompting the Monkey King to bargain for his freedom - as it happens, Guanyin (the Bodhisattva who had helped captured him previously) is searching for disciples to act as his bodyguard, and allows him to join. Buddha ensures his compliance with an unremovable headband that he tricks Sun Wukong into wearing, which tightens painfully when the monk chants a certain sutra. (That's 2-0 for Buddha!) Guanyin decided it wasn't fair for Buddha to COMPLETELY own his shit, and gave Wukong three super-special 'emergency' hairs. He then sets off with the monk, and the rest is history.
The Twelve Zodiac
In the ancient China, there is this "Twelve Earthly Branches" that the ancient chinese used to identify dates and time. However, it's origin wasn't clear but it was explained in a humorous manner and replaced with the twelve animal instead. You see a long ago, the Jade Emperor decided to host a race to see which animal would be worthy for the calendar years. The race is special because the animals will have to cross a river to prove their resolves.
The first three animals mentioned in the story are the Rat, Ox and Cat. Since both the Rat and the Cat are bad at swimming, they decided to ride on the Ox's back. The Ox was easy going and just let them have the free trip. Just before they reach the finish line, the Rat backstabbed the Cat by pushing it into the river and went for the 1st place itself. Because of that, Rat became the 1st in the race with Ox being the 2nd. The Tiger got the 3rd place, the reason being it was pushed back by the downstream currents despite being strong and powerful. The Rabbit got the 4th place after it crossed the river by jumping on the exposed rocks in the water. It almost drowned if it weren't for a drifting log that washed it to shore. The frigging dragon (the slender Chinese type) takes the 5th place after that. Despite it being celestial and all powerful, it explained to Jade Emps that it had to stop by a village to save the people there from a housefire. Then on the way, it found the Rabbit helplessly clinging onto the drifting log that the Dragon gives a boost with just one breath. The Horse steadily appeared with galloping sound from a far, but was frightened by the sudden appearance of The Snake, which ended up giving Snake the 6th place with the Horse being the 7th. The Goat, the Monkey and the Rooster gets the 8th, 9th and 10th place in order after they please the Jade Emps with some good teamwork crossing the river. The Rooster found the raft with The Monkey and The Goat pulling the raft. The Dog ended up being the 11th place despite being the best swimmer and runner, simply because it was playing in the water the whole time. The lazy Pig ended up being the 12th and final place despite it eating and sleeping in the middle of the race. The Cat that was drowned did not make into the race and it is the reason why it hates rats so much, as well as suffering aquaphobia because of that.
Most well known for its collection of gods with the heads of animals. Unlike Greek or Norse mythology, has very little emphasis on mortal or demimortal heroes.
Egyptian mythology is wildly inconsistent due to spanning numerous cultures over thousands of years: for instance, the world is alternately said to have been created by Ra, Atem, Ptah, Thoth, or a collection of eight gods known as the Ogdoad. Whoever was the supreme god mainly depended on what city you were in and what time period it was, but the most well-known one was the sun god Ra. A common theme was the maintaining of a divine order known as Ma'at. Maintaining Ma'at on Earth was seen as the prime responsibility of the Pharoah, a priest-king who was seen as the bridge between mortals and gods. Another major theme is the concept of the death and rebirth of mortals and gods alike, leading to the famous Egyptian practices of mummification and the construction of elaborate tombs. In total the Eyptian pantheon had thousands of gods (and that's not counting the dvine aspects attributed to Pharaohs), some of the most notable of them are discussed below.
- Ra: Falcon-headed (although he was also often depicted as a ram or a scarab) god of the sun. During the night, he voyaged through the underworld where he would battle the monstrous serpent Apophis. Also known as Khephri or Atum (among other names), depending on the time of day- it is said he was Khephri in the morning, Ra at noon, and Atum at night.
- Osiris: Formerly the god-king of Egypt, he was murdered and cut to pieces by his brother Set and became the god of the afterlife. Was resurrected by his sister Isis and they conceived Horus... then Set killed him again. Due to the Egyptian obsession with funerary rites, this made him a very important god.
- Isis: Sister/wife of Osiris and goddess of magic and wisdom. Her sorcery was what allowed Osiris to rise from the dead to become god of the afterlife. Her influence was particularly strong during the Roman Empire, and some scholars believe that elements of her worship may have influenced Christianity by way of the veneration of the Virgin Mary.
- Horus (no, not that Horus): Falcon-headed sky god and son of Osiris and Isis. Waged war against Set to avenge his father, which included humiliating him by ejaculating in his salad. Ended up taking his father's job, and so became the patron of the pharoahs. He is heavily associated with the symbol known as the Eye of Horus, which was believed to protect against evil.
- Anubis: Psychopomp deity that oversaw the Weighing of the Heart. Although in actual Egyptian mythology he was only Osiris' servant, his striking jackal-headed appearance has made him more well-known.
- Set: God of deserts, who due to being associated with foreign invaders was demonized into an evil god who murdered Osiris. Wasn't the ultimate villain of Egyptian Mythology, that would be Apophis (who was so evil Set was portrayed as fighting him even after being demonized), but Apophis is nowhere near as infamous.
- Apophis: Essentially, the God of Evil and Darkness. Enemy of all living things, and the sort of guy who picks a fight with Ra each and every night, even though he loses every time. While others gods are depicted as humanoid, Apophis, also called Apep, was depicted as a snake or sometimes a crocodile. Trivia; the Ancient Egyptians believed that depicting Apophis gave him power, so to counteract this whenever they drew him, they'd draw him being beaten in a fight by another god.
The stuff introduced in Greek myth is pretty widespread. Some of it is so widely used people forget it came from the Greeks in the first place.
- Mt. Olympus: The home of the gods, notably Zeus. This place is where the gods look down on mortals while discussing how their mortal champions are going to shank their rival gods' champions.
- Tartarus: Named after one of the primordial gods, it is the deepest abyss, deeper than Hade's underworld. It imprisons the most wicked of criminals along with the titans.
- Atlantis: Legendary sea kingdom. Pissed off the gods with their expansionist behaviors and got dunked into the ocean. Technically not part of the mythology, but since Plato was the first one to write it down we're putting it here anyway.
Most notable heroes with lots of media adaptions:
- Zeus/Jupiter (in his more positive depictions): King of the gods and big good of the pantheon, being a fair judge and ruler of gods and men. If there's any work of fiction with a pantheon of deities, expect one of them to be patterned after Zeus. This guy fucks.
- Hercules/Heracles: The most famous of Zeus' misbegotten sons, Hercules is a demigod who undergoes twelve great labors to atone for killing his family in a berserk rage, slaying many monsters and ultimately saving the gods from an attack by the giants.
- Theseus: Reputed to be the son of Poseidon and the slayer of the Minotaur, he was also credited with the rise of Athens.
- Perseus: Another of Zeus's bastards, and the ancestor of Hercules no less. Famous for slaying Medusa.
- Daedalus: A masterful inventor whose name became synonymous with master craftsmen. Most famously responsible for creating the Labyrinth for King Minos' beast before being locked up himself.
- The leaders of both sides of the Trojan War (Achilles, Hector, Paris etc.).
Most notable villains in media adaptions:
- Zeus (in his more negative depictions): Zeus is also known as a serial philanderer/rapist, having slept with plenty of mortal women, nymphs, and goddesses just because he could (and sometimes doing so while shapeshifted into another form: among others, he's been a goose, a bull, and a shower of gold, don't ask how the last one works) and has created as many problems as he has solutions. One could also cast Zeus as being dickish and a control freak as the ultimate authority of Olympus, like when he had Prometheus bound and tortured for giving fire to humanity.
- Hades: A rather glaring case of typecasting, despite being the god of the dead Hades isn't actually as much of a villain as popular media casts him. In truth he's a rather decent fellow, if a bit on the gloomy side. Perhaps the most glaring of crimes he's done is the matter of kidnapping Demeter's daughter Persephone to make her his wife (causing Demeter to plunge the world into famine until it was arranged for Persephone to come out of the Underworld for half the year, creating the seasons in the process), but compared to Zeus he's still a shining beacon of virtue in that respect. He gets even better if you consider that in some tellings she willingly came with him.
- Hera: Only in works involving Zeus' bastards, since she tended to be just a little bit annoyed at her husband's constant infidelity and was prone to taking her jealous rage out on whoever was unlucky enough to catch his eye at the time as well as his illegitimate progeny.
- The Titans: See below as to why they hate the gods. They tend to be quite cross about it, and eager for revenge.
- Ares: God of War, who constantly feeds upon it. Thus, any matter of peace is bound to be disrupted.
- The various offspring of Echidna: Echidna is a monstrous lamia goddess who is known to have birthed many monsters, chief among them Cerberus (guardian to the gates of Hades), the Lernian Hydra, and the Nemean Lion (which Hercules slays)
Artifacts that tend to show up in media adaptions:
- Pandora's box
- Daedalus's inventions (especially the wings of Icarus): Probably the first man-powered flying machine, though it was entirely made of wax. Daedalus made it so that his son Icarus could escape their prison, but Icarus flew too close to the sun in his hubris, causing the wings to melt and him to fall to his death.
- The sun chariot of Helios
- Pelt of the Nemean Lion: The first of Heracles' labors was to kill the Nemean Lion, a beast with an impenetrable hide. After finding this out, Heracles manages to do it in by strangling the beast. Heracles then tries to skin it, only to fail until Athena informs him to use the lion's own claws. The hide retains its invulnerability to most weapons.
- Ambrosia: The food of the gods, capable of preserving their powers like Iduna's golden apples.
- Talos: a ROBOT. That's right, a frigging bronze robot made by Hephaestus to protect Crete where it circles three times a day and crush invader ships with boulders. Was defeated by Jason's gang when Medea distract him while having its nail removed by her teammates, which pour out the ichors inside and killed it.
- All sorts of stuff used by the gods (Zeus's thunderbolts, Hades's helmet of invisibility, Neptune's trident, Hermes's winged sandals, Athena's shield -- sometimes with Medusa's head on it...).
The Greco-Roman Gods & Creation Myth
There's a god for every aspect of ordinary life, like smithing, governing and war. This makes naming the entire pantheon quite lengthy (though we neckbeards might see it as a good challenge), so we won't bore you with the entire mess. The following is a list of important gods/goddess, especially ones pertinent to /tg/ interests (such as D&D):
- Jupiter/Zeus, the guy with the lightning bolts who is the king of the gods.
- Juno/Hera, wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage, childbirth, and women.
- Minerva/Athena, goddess of wisdom and war born from Jupiter having a massive headache fully grown up and armed.
- Pluto/Hades, Jupiter's eldest brother and the god of most of the Greco-Roman afterlife.
- Neptune/Poseidon, Jupiter's other brother and the god of the seas.
- Apollo, god of the sun, music, and archery.
- Diana/Artemis, goddess of the moon and the hunt.
- Ceres/Demeter, goddess of the harvest.
- Mercury/Hermes, messenger of the gods.
- Venus/Aphrodite, goddess of sex and love.
- Mars/Ares, god of war.
- Vulcan/Hephasteus, god of the forge.
- Vesta/Hestia, goddess of the hearth.
- Bacchus/Dionysus, god of wine and drunken revelry.
According to Greek myth, the first beings to come into existence were Gaia (the Earth) and Uranus (the sky). They had three sets of children: the Cyclopses, the Hecatonchires (giants with a hundred hands), and the Titans. Uranus imprisoned the first two in Tartarus, the deepest part of the underworld. This upset Gaia and she called upon the Titans to castrate their father with a flint scythe she had made. Saturn/Kronos/Cronus, the youngest of their number, agreed and duly carried it out, becoming the new king of the world. However, Uranus warned Cronus that he too would be overthrown by his children.
Cronus sought to avoid this, so he ate each one of them as a new one is born from his wife Rhea, but Rhea hid Zeus and fooled Cronus into eating a rock. Zeus then grows up and tricks his father into drinking wine mixed with mustard which makes him puke, saving all his brothers and sisters inside his father's belly (and who were somehow undigested), thus igniting a war that leads to the overthrow of the Titans. This event is known as The Titanomachy (Battle of the Titans). After all the Titans had been imprisoned in Tartarus and the Cyclopses and Hecatonchires freed, Zeus formed a government with the rest of his gods while living a comfy hedonist life where he raped many mortal girls and had many bastard sons for the lulz.
Roman myth can't agree on anything, because, unlike Grecian legends, it isn't racist and isolationist as fuck and takes from all Indo-European religions it encountered. This also means that it deviates from the "twelve important gods" rule that the Greeks had, and every area and time period had its own important gods. Imagine it as something akin to ancient Hinduism, minus all the mysticism (at least until all the Egyptian-esque mystery cults started popping up at the dawn of the Empire) and with the occasional emperor being declared a god after his death.
India is a big place with millennia of history, so it has a lot of deities; dominant sects frequently absorbed deities from competing sects into their mythos as aspects of their own favored deity, so many of those once distinct deities have coalesced together over the centuries. The Puranic period saw a deliberate effort to harmonize rival sects together, which gave rise to the Trimurti ("Three Forms"); this is the subset of the Hindu pantheon that is most well known in the Western world. It is also the subset of Hinduism which formed the mythological backbone of two popular RPG games: Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Mage: The Ascension. The three cyclical concepts underlying the Trimurti are Creation, Preservation, and Destruction, with a particular deity filling each role as the divine manifestation of that concept, with deities differing by sect. When the roles are filled by goddesses (devi) the triad is known as the Tridevi. In Werewolf: The Apocalypse the Trimurti are known as the Triat, in Vampire: The Masquerade the Trimurti are known as the three Primordia, and Mage: The Ascension uses an atheist version of the concepts called the Metaphysic Trinity. The grimdark spin that White Wolf puts on the Triat is that the three deities are embroiled in a vicious theomachy against each other, and have all fallen from grace and have become corrupted extremist versions of themselves.
Reincarnation also plays a big role in Hinduism- humans accumulate karma based on their actions in life, with good deeds granting good karma and bad deeds granting bad karma. One's karma then determines what your soul will be reborn as (human, animal, even a god or demon) in the process of samsara. Ultimately, Hindus seek to rid themselves of karma entirely, both good and bad, and by doing so escape the cycle of reincarnation.
Deities of Creation
Brahma the Creator is said to be the creator of all things, but apart from that not much is known about him save for his tendency to be a bit too free to grant favors. Unlike Brahma who has no dedicated temples, his feminine counterpart Sarasvati the Creatrix sees active worship not only in India but in surrounding countries in various permutations, such as in Japan in the form of Benzaiten. In the Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes supplement from TSR, Brahama was the ruler of the Hindu pantheon (via conflation with the related Hindu concept of Brahman). In Werewolf: The Apocalypse the analogous androgynous deity of creation is known as the Wyld, and in Mage: The Ascension the corresponding concept is called Dynamicism.
Deities of Preservation
Vishnu the Preserver is one of the two best known Hindu male deities; Vishnu preserves the world from evil and upholds virtue. He is said to have had nine incarnations, or avatars that have manifested when he was needed along with one which has not yet appeared:
- Matsaya the fish- Saved humanity from a great flood.
- Kurma the tortoise- Aided the gods in churning the Ocean of Milk to produce the water of life amrita.
- Varaha the boar- Pulled the earth out of the sea after it fell in due to the weight of the human race.
- Narasimha the man-lion- Slew the Asura (demon) lord Hiranyaksha, who had received the boon that he could not be killed "during the day or night, inside or outside, by any weapon, and by man or animal". So instead Narasimha killed him at twilight with his claws as he was stepping through his doorway, hitting every loophole at once.
- Vamana the dwarf- When the Asura Mahabali conquered the universe, Vamana won it back through cunning.
- Parashurma the axe-bearer- Defeated the Kshatriyas when the warrior caste grew prideful and oppressive.
- Rama- Hero of the Ramayana and prince of the kingdom of Kosala, famed for his war against the Asura king Ravana and his friendship with Hanuman the monkey king.
- Krishna- The most beloved of Vishnu's avatars. Many legends speak of him, but he is best known for his appearance in the Mahabharata as the charioteer for the prince Arjuna. Notably, he's popular enough to have inspired sects that claim Vishnu is one of his avatars and not the other way around. Also the supreme God in the Hare Krishna cult/airport conga line.
- Buddha- Yes, the same one from Buddhism. Needless to say, the Buddhists disagree with that interpretation.
- Kalkin- The "Future Avatar", who will appear upon a white horse and destroy evil forever.
In the goddess-centric denominations of Hinduism in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, the goddess Lakshmi the Preservatrix (a.k.a. Vaishnavi) sees more worship than Vishnu. In Werewolf: The Apocalypse the analogous feminine deity of preservation is known as the Weaver, and in Mage: The Ascension the corresponding concept is called Stasis.
Deities of Destruction
Despite his title, Shiva the Destroyer, the other of the two best known Hindu male deities, was viewed as a benevolent being who clears away the old and corrupt to make way for new creation. He is commonly depicted either as a slayer of demons or as a wise ascetic, and he's also strongly associated with dance (the means by which destruction and creation anew is achieved). In older scripture he was called Rudra, a deification of destructive storms.
In the goddess-centric denominations of Hinduism in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, the goddess Kali the Destructrix (a.k.a. Parvati) sees more worship than Shiva. You might recognize the fiercer depictions of Kali from that one scene in Indiana Jones where the human sacrifice gets his heart ripped out of his chest.
In Werewolf: The Apocalypse the analogous masculine deity of destruction is known as the Wyrm, in Orpheus the nominally feminine deity of destruction is called Grandmother, in Mage: The Ascension the corresponding concept is called Entropy, and in Wraith: The Oblivion it is called, well, Oblivion.
Hindu Creation Myths
Every sect of Hinduism has its own version of the creation myth in which they somehow spin their own favored deity as the primary agent of creation, even if it is just simply claiming that a well-known name of a creator/creatrix deity is really just an aspect of the adherent's favored deity. Within the collective of Hindu myths of creation and related topics there is a running theme of recurring cycles of creation and destruction of consecutive universes; one iteration of universal creation and destruction is called a kalpa.
Furthermore, every deity is but a single aspect of the Brahman, the transcendent Godhead from which all other things derive from. It cannot be understood directly, but by adhering to one's dharma (their duties in life) and working off karma over many lifetimes a human can attain moksha- freedom from samsara and eternal communion with the Brahman.
Japanese laymen don't really bother separating their religions, taking up whatever is convenient or trendy at a particular phase in their life, and thus the major religions (Shinto, Buddhism), some more minor ones, and various folk heroes exist simultaneously. Rarely touched by non-Japanese works that aren't the pantheon for Japan analogues.
Japan is rife with it's own mythology, which often is connected to history. The most notable example is the first emperor - Jimmu. He is said to be a descendant of Amaterasu but is also taken as a real ancestor to the Imperial Family (which is why the Emperor was worshiped until the end of WWII); this is the equivalent of the British royal family theoretically dating their lineage from King Arthur, if King Arthur himself were a direct descendant of Jesus Christ.
In present day, all three religions plus a number of new religious movements exist in Japan. There is a common misconception that most Japanese today are non-religious, largely stemming from cultural differences and the somewhat looser nature of Shinto and Buddhism as compared to Abrahamic faiths when it comes to mass-rituals and worship. Suffice it to say that anywhere from 50-80% of Japanese (depending if one counts Shinto and Buddhism individually or combined) pray and partake in religious rituals.
Japanese have a plethora of their native gods, in fact, plethora is a bit of an understatement. Shintoism posits that every thing, be it rock, flower or a makeup set has its own kami or god/spirit, and depending on what one counts, there are up to 1 MILLION Japanese gods/kami.
- Izanami and Izanagi: See the creation myth.
- Amaterasu: Goddess of the sun. The Japanese imperial family once claimed descent from her, but stopped doing so after World War II. How the majority to entirety of Japan's people as a whole weren't as well, since far younger people are ancestors of the majority of far larger and less isolationist populations, was never explained.
- Susano-o: Amaterasu's brother and god of storms. Kicked out of heaven for being an absolute dick. While walking the earth he proceeds to kill the Orochi, among other (anti-)heroics, and bribes his way back into heaven with the fat loot he finds.
- Fujin - God of wind and one of the oldest gods, said to have been there when the world was created, often paired with Raijin.
- Raijin - God of thunder and lightning, often paired with Fujin.
- Hachiman - God of war, formerly god of agriculture until he got bored of it or something. His traditional animal and messenger is, ironically, a dove.
- Inari Okami - Gods of foxes and fertility.
- Okuninushi - God of nation-building, business, farming and medicine.
- Omoikane - God of wisdom and frequent adviser to the gods.
- Tsukuyomi - God of the moon. He killed the goddess of food after witnessing how she created it by basically vomiting it from her mouth. After killing her, his sister Amaterasu vowed she would never again face him and thus the sun and the moon never do either.
- The Orochi: Giant nine-headed snake monster that likes to eat (?) female sacrifices. Susano-O gets it drunk and kills it, then he finds the Kusanagi on its corpse.
- The Buddhas: While normal Buddhists don't "worship" the Buddha, more Shinto leaning Japanese often do. See Buddhism whenever someone is assed to add it for how it's supposed to go. Siddartha Gautama is the one people talk about when they say "The Buddha", but the completely separate Budai/Laughing Buddha is the main one ignorant Westerners know the visual of.
- Various Buddhist demons: Mostly assholes that tried to stop people from achieving enlightenment. Some are actually former assholes who were redeemed by enlightened people and now act as protectors.
- The Four Heavenly Kings: Bishamonten, Jikokuten, Zouchouten and Koumokuten, the guardians of the North, East, South and West respectively. Their title is co-opted by everything (no seriously, everything: examples include Hollywood stars, Japanese comedy acts, Chefs, (female) Idol Singers, even foodstuffs like meats and canned goods) with four members in Japanese culture, though westerners may not notice it because the title gets translated a shit ton of ways depending on the context.
- Yokai: Various mythical monsters. The most famous are the Kitsune, Kamaitachi, Tengu and (though not always counted as one) Oni.
Historical People Shrouded in Myth
- Emperor Jimmu: THE GOD EMPEROR OF JAPAN as well as the first Emperor and the descendants of Goddess Amaterasu. Most of his records were old and depict him as a warrior hero god character accompanied by Yatagarasu, a three legged crow and wielding a long bow. He died at the age of 126 and has little to no worshipers in modern day other than having at least a shrine and grave.
- Abe no Seimei: A court magician who lived between 921 and 1005. Fiction tends to make him an actual wizard.
- Himiko: Queen of Japan around 200 AD. Chinese records make it clear she existed but very little is known about her.
- Masakado: Samurai who led a brief rebellion in 940. He's considered the god of Tokyo. His shrine/grave occupies some of the most expensive real-estate in the world, as it is thought that neglecting his shrine will cause his angry spirit to bring disaster upon Tokyo.
- Takiyasha Hime: His daughter. Fiction makes her a sorcerer with a toad Familiar. Possibly entirely fictional.
- Tomoe Gozen: A female Samurai that actually fought in battle in 1184.
- Oda Nobunaga: Self proclaimed "Demon King of the Sixth Heaven" (That's historical fact recorded by a Jesuit missionary who knew him personally). Defacto unifier of Japan, while the dominos he set up were falling, he was murdered by his retainer Akechi Mitsuhide for unknown reasons. His successors conquered the country after he did the hard parts, forming what would become the Tokugawa Shogunate. Since he was ruthless and called himself a demon, it's no mystery why fiction depicts him as a literal one.
- Hattori Hanzo: A general during the late Sengoku era. He's better known for allegedly being a ninja.
- Ishikawa Goemon: Bandit during the late Sengoku era, executed along with his infant son by being boiled alive after a failed assassination attempt on Nobunaga's successor. Reputed to be a Robin Hood-like figure and also allegedly a ninja.
Artifacts that tend to show up in media adaptions:
- The Imperial regalia (Kusanagi, Magatama and the Yata no Kagami): A sword, mirror, and rosary that are considered the badges of office for the Emperor.
- Katana created by famous swordsmiths
- Muramasa: Swords created by the famous (and real) swordsmith Sengo Muramasa. Allegedly his swords have a taste for blood and are demonic in nature and can't be sheathed if they haven't tasted blood yet.
- Masamune: Even though Masamune lived hundreds of years before Muramasa, their swords are often counterparts in fantasy. In contrast to Muramasa, Masamune's blades are supposedly holy.
- Kotetsu: Nagasone Kotetsu was a quality swordsmith from the Edo period with a really fitting name (虎鉄 or "Tiger Iron"). His works are notable but if they show up in fiction expect them to be inferior to the above two.
According to the Kojiki, the world (or just Japan because every culture at that time are so close minded that they believe their kingdom is THE entire world) was created by 2 gods: Izanami (the wife) and Izanagi (the husband). There were 5 other gods with difficult to pronounced name like Kotoamatsukami (別天津神, "Separate Heavenly Deities") before them, but they entrust these two with the world's creation because they are genderless and thus unable to procreate the next generation. Izanami and Izanagi belongs to the Kamiyonanayo ("Seven Generations of the Age of the Gods") and they shape the earth with this totally awesome spear called Ame-no-nuboko (天沼矛, "heavenly jeweled spear") and create the islands and land using salt.
They then settled down onto the land they've created and mated. Unfortunately, the first two children they conceived, Hiruko and Awashima, were mutants, so badly deformed that the parents decided to send them on a lone boat trip before their third birthday; Hiruko survived, worked hard and became a god known as Ebisu. Turns out, after confronting their elders about the misfortune, it was Izanami's fault for not acting properly during the mating ritual, causing birth defects and such. After some proper mating, their descendants were born, who would eventually become the modern day Japanese islands (or else the islands were named after them). Izanami then died giving birth to Kagutsuchi, a serpent Human Torch-wannabe that burned his mother upon his birth. Izanagi was angered and eight-pieced him, turning his body into 8 volcanoes; his blood on Izanagi's sword became the sea god Watatsumi and rain god Kuraokami. This also marks the end of the creation.
Izanagi was overwhelmed by grief that he traveled to Yomi ("land of the dead") to see his dead wife. Unfortunaly, Izanami already belonged to Yomi after eating its food. Izanagi refused to leave Izanami in this dark land, and waited there because Izanami agreed to go back if she had some rest, but the worried Izanagi decided to see what's going on with his dead wife by lighting a torch using his magical head comb - unfortunately, he found Izanami was already a maggot-ridden, ghoul-like monster. (Some retellings turn this into an 'Orpheus and Eurydice'-style affair where he looks back just as they reach the end, cursing Izanami to be trapped.) Izanagi was scared so shitless that he ran away, while Izanami called the Shikome (ugly underworld woman) to chase him. After a long Looney Tunes chase that involves Izanagi's use of his magical hair dress and his urine to stop his pursuers, he eventually returns to the living realm. Izanami curses her husband and claims that she will kill 1,000 people everyday, with Izanagi responding that he will give birth to 1,500.
See the Norse Mythology page.
Miscellaneous Mythical Figures/Artifacts/Stories That Are Directly /tg/ Relevant
Although the above are the big hitters of Mythology Adaption in /tg/ stuff, there are a few miscellaneous ones who show up that may be worth mentioning. Here's a couple:
- Ariadne: Per preeminent mythologist Karl Kerényi et al., Ariadne was a Minoan mother goddess of weaving and labyrinths who, upon absorption into Greco-Roman mythology, retained her deific name Ariadne meaning "Most Holy". In the Midgard D20 setting the goddess Ariadne also goes by the name Rava, the Spinner of Fate and the Clockwork Oracle.
- Baba Yaga: Probably the sole character from Russian folklore that most people would recognize. Talking about her in any detail would be overly long, even for this overly long article, so just read about her on her own article here.
- St. Cuthbert: Famous English monk and later bishop. Somehow wound up in Greyhawk, for much the same reason that Clint Eastwood did.
The Urban Legend is another type of myth, specifically one of a modern-day taste and often significantly connected to that country's pop culture. In Japan, many classic myths of Yokai continue to "exist" (see: Touhou), and some have been modernized to fit with new technology (for example, a cursed cart may become a cursed car). Creepypastas are a common sub-variant. Here are some examples:
- Bermuda Triangle - A triangular region in the gulf of Mexico with Bermuda island, Pureto Rico and Miami, Florida as its angle point. Reputed to be a place of paranormal activity where ships and aircraft suddenly loses their signal and disappeared, both on air or water. In reality, the Triangle is just one of the most heavily trafficked areas in the world, in a region known for storms and general bad weather; if there weren't several mysterious disappearances (and nautical and aeronautical life had, and occasionally still has, plenty of those), it would be surprising.
- Mary Celeste - A ship that was found abandoned in 1872 undamaged, with ample provisions, undisturbed cargo and a log dated to ten days prior to it being found. Was actually found well outside of the Bermuda Triangle, but often associated with it. Proposed solutions for what happened range from attempted insurance fraud to equipment malfunction, a waterspout strike and a butane explosion. The "wreck" was acquired by a new owner, who promptly sunk it in a poor attempt at insurance fraud.
- The Flying Dutchman: Associated with the Cape of Good Hope, rather then the Bermuda Triangle, but frequently mentioned in connection with the Triangle as well. The most famous "Ghost ship" other then the Mary Celeste; unlike the Celeste, the Dutchman was only reported to have been seen, but never boarded. The Dutchman was supposedly an omen of doom, but given that in order to see a ship that isn't there you'd probably have to be in very poor visibility conditions, this reputation has an obvious explanation.
- Bloody Mary - It is said to be a malevolent spirit who if you call its name "Bloody Mary" in front of a mirror three times, she will come and do something horrible to you. A pretty stupid game often participate by very small children and idiots.
- Cryptids - Various creatures of folklore that, other then being fucked up looking, are actually plausible animals of one sort or another. Some have been substantiated, but most are just fake or distorted stories of other, known animals (as is speculated having happened with the Unicorn and Rhinoceros). Such creatures include:
- Bigfoot - Also known as Sasquatch. It is a creature of ape and man named after its big foot print on the ground. Its sighting are mostly around the Pacific Northwest.
- Chupacabra - A small bear size monster who likes to suck a goat's blood dry. First spotted in Puerto Rico, where it killed 8 sheep, it is said that its influcence has spread across Latin America. Allegedly, the idea of the chupacabra was just stolen from the movie Species.
- Drop Bear - Australian joke: Take a Koala, and pretend it's an ambush predator who kills by jumping on its prey, with a taste for human flesh. While clearly originating as a joke, unlike most "real" cryptids, the concept has been used straight in several contexts in fantasy works. As if Australia's actual dangerous animals weren't enough.
- Jackalope - A rabbit with antelope horns. Possibly based on sightings of rabbits with Shope papilloma virus, which causes infected hosts to grow horn-like tumors. The most popular version seems to have originated as a 12-year-old taxidermist's idea of a joke.
- Jersey Devil - Weird monster supposedly lurking in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, thus making it the most interesting thing in the state.
- Loch Ness Monster - A long necked sea creature that allegedly lives in Loch Ness in the Scottish highlands. Presumably to be Mauisaurus, a pre-historical sea dinosaur who shares the similar long neck appearance.
- Mokele-mbembe - A weird African swimming beast with reptilian traits. Widely believed to be either a rhinoceros or a hippopotamus (the latter of which are responsible for killing more people per year than any other animal in Africa) though some have claimed it's a rediscovered dinosaur - a sauropod specifically, as numerous descriptions ascribe it a long neck alongside reptilian features.
- Mothman - There were a bunch of West Virginia sightings of a "Man with Wings". Later got overhyped as having supernatural powers, and associated in some way with a local bridge collapse when writers looking to cash in got involved. Side note: Most descriptions from the early, pre-overhype encounter match a unusually large crane.
- Rods/Sky Fish - Extraterrestrial lifeforms that move at an unseen speed that can only be caught by camera. It may or may not be real, since it might be just elongated visual artifacts appearing in photographic images and video recordings. Other insects like moths are mistakenly caught on camera and assumed to be them. It helps that there were no actual dissections of the creatures, and most of the videos about catching it are fake and exist for pure entertainment. In some fiction, e.g. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, they are portrayed as vaguely creatures with actual limbs and organs that feed on temperature and have the power to KILL or disable a person by absorbing the body heat from their vitalorgans.
- Tsuchinoko - Also known as "child of hammer", "child of dirt" or "bachi hebi" in Northeastern Japan, it is a snake that is 30 and 80 cm long, has a thin head and tail, and a wide girth in between. It was referenced in Kojiki (古事記) "Records of Ancient Matters" meaning it might have existed at some point in ancient Japan. Others would argue that it could be a type of slug who's features became exaggerated over thousands of years, an exinct snake species or an undiscovered snake species. Whatever the cases, the damn thing is popular in Japan and has been featured in many video games, manga and TV show.
- Yeti - Like Bigfoot above, but found in the Himalayan mountains.
- Grays - A stock alien appearance of short, large-headed, large-eyed, generally naked, grey men. Allegedly probe humans, steal cows and make patterns in vegetation while riding around in a saucer shaped spacecraft. Supposedly crashed in Rosswell, New Mexico in 1947, which was covered up by the US Government as a "weather balloon"; more recent declassification suggest it was a balloon, just an experimental and classified one meant for Cold War era spying and hushed up for fear that the Soviets would learn about it.
- Area 51 - An actual military base in Nevada that the crashed spacecraft was allegedly taken to. Allegedly home to all sorts of government experiments on the supernatural and/or extraterrestrial. Though the existance of the factual military base existing was always known, the US government didn't officially acknowledge it till 2013. Officially it's used for testing experimental and captured aircraft and thus highly classified. Supposedly, the US government thought that the UFO hysteria was good cover for the then-secret U-2 program, as any spotted aircraft could be explained away by kooks as an alien spacecraft. In 2019, Area 51 mythos took a really weird turn; a million weeaboos signed on to Storm Area 51 to "clap some alien cheeks" and "escape with all the alien and catgirl waifus that the government's keeping to themselves." Battle plans included Naruto Runners, Chads hyped on Monster Energy Drink, and Anti-Vax Karens. What actually ended up happening was only 200 people showed up to party, though there was a confirmed sighting of at least one Naruto Runner.
- Men in Black / Majestic-12 - Another component that's common to UFO conspiracies is a secret branch of the government dedicated to keeping the public in the dark about the existence of aliens. Some stories of the Men in Black instead suggest they're aliens impersonating human government agents to keep the stories quiet. The urban legend version is significantly scarier and more malevolent than their movie counterparts, but a bit less malevolent than those in the comics the movies were adapted from. The only known evidence of their existence was long since proven to be a forgery.
- Jack the Ripper - Also known by the London old media as the "Leather Apron", ol' Jack was a real life serial killer in London during 1888. Since he was never caught and the number of victims can't be verified - five are specifically attributed to him - his identity remains a mystery and he is therefore held as the greatest serial killer. Known for mutilating his victim in the most precise manner and the mocking letters he wrote to the police (which are still held in Scotland Yard). He was even suspected to be a woman, with new nicknames such as "Jill the Ripper" added to the long list of nicknames. Since nothing physical is known about the killer, fiction is free to attribute supernatural origin (such as a possessed human or being a monster outright) or that the killer's vileness resulted in transformation into some kind of monster. Making the killer supernatural allows it to be divorced from its time period.
- Various other uncaught serial killers can get this sort of treatment, but to a much lower degree, with the notable exception of the Zodiac Killer, who shared Jack's media savvy.
- John Henry - A black manual laborer who raced against his industrialized replacement and won, but died from exhaustion at the end. Even if it was loosely based on a real story, any accounts of a real John Henry existing have been lost to history.
- Casey Jones - Unlike Henry, Jones was definitely a real life train conductor who died saving the lives of his passengers. One of his assistants wrote a song defending Jones' reputation that got very popular shortly thereafter, and soon turned into a popular figure around which a mythology developed.
- Kiyotaki tunnel - A haunted tunnel in Japan said to be built by slaves in 1927. It is said to have an unfortunately length of 444 meter long (4 is a unlucky number in Japan--the word for "4" is a homophone for "death") and it is a famous suicide spot. There were witness who saw the spirit of suicide victim walking towards the tunnel. There are reports where the traffic light outside the tunnel to suddenly change color and cause car accidents. The tunnel made frequent references from horror manga and anime where it was portrayed a tunnel full of tormented spirits, dragging other passing traveler to suffer with them.
- Slender Man - a fictional character that originated as an Internet meme created by Something Awful forums user Victor Surge in 2009. It is depicted as resembling a thin, unnaturally tall man with a blank and usually featureless face and wearing a black suit. The Slender Man is commonly said to stalk, abduct, or traumatize people, particularly children. The Slender Man is not tied to any particular story, but appears in many disparate works of fiction, mostly composed online, with the most famous being a series known as Marble Hornets.
Popular mythology elements used in Fantasy
- More than one Superhero and Supervillain are based directly on Mythical figures. The most prominent at Marvel are Hercules and Thor, who are both exactly the characters named above, and the Black Knight, who descends from the Arthurian one. On the DC side there's Wonder Woman, an Amazon who frequently comes into conflict with the Greek gods and other elements of Greek myth.
- Yog-Sothothery - Mythology created by H.P. Lovecraft that took elements from other mythologies. Its "deities" are a bunch of alien like tentacle monster that defy laws of physic and drives people insane.