The premise of Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods, which comes to Starz on April 30 is a simple but haunting one. All the old gods are still here, immortal and overlooked in the modern world. There are figures from various human mythologies, stretching back thousands of years, who appear in far humbler guises than their original worshippers had in mind.
But for every Eostre (Easter) or Odin (Mr. Wednesday) that survived long enough to turn up in the series, there’s a pantheon of lost gods and goddesses that never made it as far as the modern age. These are the lost Norse icons that don’t appear in the Thor movies, the Egyptian animal divinities that you only ever see on pyramid walls and the Greek gods who got lost on the way down from Mount Olympus.
Should she turn out to still be with us, Sigyn will take the part of the ex-wife with an ax to grind. The wife of trickster Loki, she performed an act of extreme loyalty in the face of almost constant betrayal. After killing the god Baldur, Loki was imprisoned under three boulders and tied up with the entrails of his own son. A snake was placed above his head, with venom that would drip down onto his face. Sigyn sat next to Loki, and those horrific bonds that held him, holding a bowl above his face to prevent the venom reaching her husband. Sadly the bowl eventually became full, and Sigyn took it away to empty it, leaving Loki at the mercy of the snake’s dripping fangs. His agonized writhing was said to be so forceful it caused earthquakes.
The Greeks had gods for the four winds, and they were portrayed as brothers. Boreas was the god of the cold north wind, delivering winter, and he’s bad news. A strong old man with wings and a beard, he had a rotten temper and a particular affection for horses. So much so that, according to Pliny the Elder, a mare could stand with her rear to the north wind and bear foals. He was no less forceful in his romantic liaisons with humans, having forced himself upon Orithyia — mother of his children Zethes, Calais, Chione and Cleopatra — by wrapping her up in a cloud and abducting her.
A beautiful, youthful woman who dressed in white, Ohoyochisba was the corn goddess of the Choctaw people. Daughter of the sun god and the moon goddess, there’s a story of her appearing before two brothers, disguised as a starving old woman and having had her pleas for help rejected by everyone else she had come across. They kindly took her in so she could shelter, and shared their meal of hawk meat with her. The next day she dropped her disguise, thanked the brothers and told them to go back to the place where she had first met them. There they would find some seeds, which when planted, turn out to be the first corn crop. Of course, by now the old woman act would be even more convincing.
Aeacus, Minos and Rhadamanthus
These three were all originally men, but related to Zeus (who liked to put it about a bit), who gave them responsibility for law and order while alive. When they died, he made them demigods and set them to guard Hades, judging the souls arriving in the underworld, handing out punishments where necessary. Operating on a caste system that would be frowned upon today (insert your own satirical wisecrack here) European souls were judged by Aeacus, and Rhadamanthus judged the ones from Asia, with Minos giving the stamp of approval before judgements were handed out. If they’re still with us, chances are their opinions are going to make even the most reactionary old grampa look enlightened.
A goddess devoted to all forms of sexual thought and sensuality (as well as witchcraft, midwives and redemption), Tlazolteotl was part of a seduction plot instigated by sorcery god Tezcatlipoca that distracted his rival, the wind god Quetzalcoatl and led him away from a path of righteousness. Which sounds like business as usual except Tlazolteotl managed to seduce Quetzalcoatl with lips that were permanently blackened from eating human feces, which is no mean feat. The Aztecs likened licentiousness with being literally filthy, so their goddess of sex (and sexually transmitted diseases) had some horrendous personal hygiene issues.
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