Igigi

Ancient Mesopotamia is considered to be one of the world’s first civilisations, and as such has a wealth of myths that have survived millennia. Included among these myths are the tales of gods and heroes, and how the race of men came into existence: they were a consequence of an Igigi rebellion.

In Old Babylonian times, the term “Igigi” – or “Anunnaki” – referred to the ten “Great Gods” who were directly descended from the creation of the universe. These words were interchangeable to describe divine beings until the rise of the Sumerian myth cycle, which introduced the Igigi as lesser deities and labourers of the seven Anunnaki. The Igigi were associated with fertility – the “gi” element infers sexual deflowering – and the legend relates to them irrigating the world for forty years under excessive conditions. Their eventual revolt led to the Anunnaki deciding to replace them with man to undertake agricultural work, while the Igigi returned to heaven.

Olympians

In the Ancient Greek religions, the pantheon of principal gods was the Twelve Olympians, also called the Dodekatheon. They were named so as their celestial abode was at the pinnacle of Mount Olympus, where the sky became the heavens. Of the twelve, five – Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter and Hestia – were the children of Cronus and Rhea, and had overthrown their tyrannical Titan predecessors to claim power long before modern humans were created.

The concept of this heavenly council is at least 2,500 years old. As deities of law, natural phenomena, war, love, wisdom, agriculture, smithing and much more, they were seen to influence every aspect of life in Ancient Greece. Stories of their rule often accounted for how man came to acquire important abilities such as farming, metalwork and raising fire, while others told of how the gods’ internal politics caused the challenges faced by heroes. Treachery, lust, warmongering and other evils were commonplace for the Olympians, regularly interfering in human affairs for their own personal gain. It was believed these gods would remain for eternity under Zeus’ command, moving through the cyclical ages of human existence.

As well as the five mentioned above, the other Olympians are generally counted as Hephaestus, Apollo, Ares, Hermes, Artemis, Athena, and Aphrodite, though there were several variations across distinct religious sects. In addition, despite being the sixth child of Cronus and Rhea, Hades was not considered an Olympian because he dwelled in the Underworld.

Tuath Dé

In Ancient Celtic lore of Ireland, the Tuath Dé (literally “Tribe of Gods”) were the deities who represented various elements of life and nature. They were believed to dwell in the Otherworld, a collection of islands far to the West called Tír na nÓg (Land of the Eternal Young), but had means of communicating with the mortal world. They controlled everything from the flight of the sun and the flow of particular rivers, to healing spells and language, often depicted as beautiful and red-haired. In later mythologies, their name evolved into Tuatha Dé Danann (Peoples of the Goddess Danu), and were said to be the old kings and queens of Ireland who had once travelled from Tír na nÓg with the blessing of Danu (the primordial “Mother”), bringing their culture and knowledge. When the Celtic religions were replaced by Christianity, the transition was explained as the Tuath Dé retreating back into the earth, eventually called the Aos Sídhe (a fairy- or elf-like race).

Vanir

In Norse mythology, the gods are divided into two groups: the Aesir and the Vanir. The Aesir were the overlords of battle, courage and glorious death, while the Vanir were associated with agriculture, prosperity, fertility and magic. Said to hail from the verdant realm of Vanaheim – one of the Nine Worlds in Norse cosmology – they count among them Njord (god of seafaring and abundance) and his children, the divine twins Frey (god of fair weather and fertility) and Freyja (goddess of love, beauty and prophecy). The Vanir were considered to be extremely wise, and their respect for nature was the source of veneration for those seeking to have their harvest blessed. They were not, however, without their vices; Frey’s obsession with the giantess Gerd or Freyja’s lust for gold and jewellery are such examples.

According to the myth cycles, the two races of gods went to war in the early days of the universe. The robust Vanir were said to trample over the defences of Asgard – the realm of the Aesir – and, though neither side emerged victorious, prominent members of the former traded their home in Vanaheim for a seat on Odin’s council as part of a political hostage exchange. It has been suggested that the tale parallels the integration of two historic tribes or cultures, and how their respective deities were worshipped simultaneously. In addition, arguments have been made that the Wena (Wanes) – the gods worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons – are derived from the same source as the Vanir. Nevertheless, their origins are mysterious and vague when compared to the wealth of Aesir lore, so we may never know exactly what they represented to the Norsemen.