I don’t really care for American Gods, but I do like the central conceit of ‘new gods for a new age’ or ‘old gods in modern context’. I would just do it differently than Neil Gaiman does.
How so? Glad you asked!
TWIN GODS OF ENERGY
I would start with the god of Speed. Not quickness, like the Greek god Hermes, or motion, like Indian god Savitar (who you may know from Flash, natch)… This Speed is the god of a rush, a god you pray to—inadvertently—during the frozen quickness of time when you’re in a car crash, or in the rapid flow of uncontrollable ideas when you’re angry at your partner. He’s the god who taunts you from the foot of your bed when you’re trying to sleep, endlessly yammering about all the ways the day could have gone differently and all the things you need to do tomorrow. He’s a tall, gaunt figure, constantly twitching around the edges, a junkie who’s always nearly at burnout. He’s why you grind your teeth at night; the patron god of amphetamines and anxiety. Speed is the god whose favor you curry only by ignoring him, because he is otherwise an insatiable beast that will consume you from within, growing stronger with any attention you afford him.
The god of Speed is locked in eternal combat with his brother, Choice, patron god of lost time, the god of impatient waiting. Choice is a flabby god with cloudy blue eyes, gassy and dyspeptic, dicking around on your neighbor’s couch, drinking boring beer and playing old movie theme songs on a midi keyboard, an apathetic avatar of unrealized potential. Choice is a god of fate, but unlike the other deos fati—the disinterested Norns of North-Western Europe or the cheerful Seven Lucky Gods of Japan—Choice, like his brother, is driven by a malicious apathy. Two twin gods who are too caught up in their own thing to even really notice you. The battle between Choice and Speed isn’t one of good-vs-evil, where the winner determines whether your soul will reside in a heaven or a hell. They are battling for your soul, yes, but they battle like bickering school boys, deciding who gets to pull the wings off a butterfly— you, being the butterfly in this case.
Speed and Choice are the twin gods of Energy— kinetic and potential— but they represent an energy wasted, lost and spent, exhausting in its nothingness.
THE FOUR SISTERS
Then there are the Four Sisters of the Mind: Echo, Memory, Sound, and Shame— tiny goddesses who live deep inside your head, between the ear and the brain, who listen to your failures and beat the words you never should have said, over and over and over again, into the inside of your skull, endlessly repeating a deafening chorus of how you embarrassed yourself, embarrassed someone else, hurt the ones you love, spoke out of turn.
Memory and Shame both lay claim to being the Best Sister— the Reverend Mother of their Order. But Memory is fickle, and often kidnapped and replaced by the changeling called Imagination, while Shame is far too busy cavorting with other gods to claim control of the system for long. Sound believes herself to be the most powerful sister, because all music, all speech, all thunder, and all silence are under her control. She can co-opt Touch when her nails scrape along a chalkboard and she can enslave Sight to do her bidding any time someone reads a word.
And then there’s Echo, who everyone thinks is just a poor copy of her sisters, the homely spinster wretch the family keeps in the attic, in the secluded room with yellow wallpaper. In truth, Echo is the most powerful of all the sisters—and their brothers Speed and Choice—for when she fucked her brothers (riding Choice for one endless orgasm, caught on his hidden camera, under the heavy weight of day; then sneaking off in the crisp, cool night to cum a thousand thousand times with Speed filling every hole and fumbling through every possible position), she gave birth both to the changelings Rumor and Imagination, and also to her own sisters, Memory and Shame, though no one can—or will—recall it. Yes, Echo is the one to fear.
These six (Speed, Choice, Memory, Shame, Sound, and Echo) are among the later-born of the New Gods, formed when the cold sweat from Panic‘s shriveled cock dripped down the ass-crack of Regret and impregnated the Cosmic Twinge. The two had met on LonelyGods.com and arranged a hook-up at a truck stop along the Great White Road in the sky. The New Gods don’t often travel the Great White Road anymore; most prefer to use Interstates— that monumental network of ley-lines that humans built to torture themselves, enshrining Hope forever in another town, easily within reach if only they would hit the road.
ALICE & CLEAVE
Alice is the god who controls the Interstate system, with her father-husband Cleave controlling the older backcountry roads and two-lane highways that no longer connect. The worship of Alice and Cleave used to be unquestionable—they were the head regents of a new pantheon who birthed or nurtured every North American folk-god of the last two centuries—but their sycophants and dedicants have stopped their daily offerings, allowing their temples to crumble and fade, and now the people who once praised their virtues will curse them and deride them. The blessings of Alice are no longer a way out, but a traffic-jam and an endless limbo of construction as you’re forced to slog back home every year for the Holidays. And Cleave, poor Cleave, no longer the strapping older man with a beautiful young wife— no. Now Cleave is a leftover, a sick old creep who no one wants to care for, whose worship leads you nowhere. Only teenagers bow to Cleave, and only then in the service of the competing godheads, Sex and Drugs, whose promise to take you away from wherever you are is both more compelling and more obtainable, at least in the moment.
FOUR SIBLINGS BORN AND REBORN
It’s hard to say what the relationship is between the four sibling gods of Sex, Drugs, Shopping, and Porn. You would assume that Porn must be younger than Sex— perhaps he’s her malformed child?— but these four gods are born and reborn so often that the entities they are today bear little resemblance to who they may have been in generations past. Although in your grandma’s time, Porn may have been the cursed bastard of Sex and Shopping, in the current generation, he may be the source of them both.
You see, Porn may be the father who first introduces you to his daughter-sister Sex, enticing you with her dowry, giving her to you too soon, in a darkened car, pulled off along the side of an overgrown dirt road only Cleave knew still existed.
And although the tripartite goddess Shopping-Buying-Spending is still an autonomous being— whose forms are worshiped in more ways than are known, whose ethereal shared bosom still suckles Regret, and Shame, and Speed, and Glamour, many— especially men— are only formally introduced to her after Porn snatches their credit cards.
We won’t even bother to talk about Drugs. He’s a god who is perhaps older than even Death, and though we’ve taken his bounty and made it synthetic and tailored, and ripped him from the arms of Community and given him over—allowing him to be chained under the heel of Control— he has always been here, and likely always will be.
DEATH & GLAMOUR
But, aww, poor Death. He used to be such a revered god, feared and respected. And although Dickinson didn’t sound Death‘s own knell, the fact that she could not stop for him gives a clue to his new place in this new world.
It’s hard to say when, but Death‘s throne, overthrown, now belongs to the genderless waif godlet, Glamour. Glamour, ruling over Their three mindless minions— Youth, Beauty, and Money— strides across the globe like a cat, keeping uneven time for every citizen of the Western World, counting down the days until your own personal last call, when They turn Their back on you, flicking on the lights of the celestial dive bar, revealing to everyone how cracked your skin has become, how sagging, how grey. It’s no longer Death, but Glamour‘s absence we first think we’re immune to, that we fear after our first taste, and that we then, ultimately, accept and respect. Death may still come for us all, but so does the garbage truck, a god more perfunctory than perfect.
The Internet is not a god, it is a temple where we worship. Media is not a goddess, but the stela you bow to when petitioning a kindness. No, the modern gods aren’t even all that modern, they’re simply old pains reborn into a changing world. Anyway… these are mine. These are the gods—the demons—of my house.
“Modern Gods” text and header image (“When Panic Dripped”); (c) dsbigham 2017, BY-NC-SA.