This is where things get complicated. Whether monotheistic or polytheistic, spirits are placed in a complex hierarchical structure. Polytheistic cultures have entire families of gods, demigods, semi-gods and minions all working within the structure for both the benefit and/or detriment of mankind, but usually that is a side effect of their own infighting.
Polytheistic cultures from Ireland to India and beyond have a commonality: they have two factions which vie for dominance and the winning faction is the culture’s pantheon of deities. The other faction continues to dwell in places where mankind is not or should not go. Consider: Zeus, called the Father of the Gods by the Greeks, battled his father, a Titan (actual father of all the gods) to free his brothers and sisters and take power from the Titans – who were actually a diverse race of “monsters” who were representations of the challenges to humanity; Odin, the Norse All Father, and his wife (from a different family line) battled the Frost Giants, but didn’t vanquish them and so mankind was caught in the middle of an almost continual war.
Pantheons are made up of deities reflecting both the good and worse traits of humanity, forces of nature, or things beyond human understanding and, therefore, magical. Vulcan, for example, was the God of smiths and ran the forge used to make the weapons of the gods; today, we could extend his influence to all technology. Heimdhal guards the bridge between Asgard and Midgard (where humanity lives) and can be called on to guard your doors as well. However, there are armies of lesser forms – spirits – available for this purpose.
The key here is that nothing is all good or all evil. Much like people we know, polytheistic deities are a little of both with all the quirkiness of human extremes in each. The higher up the hierarchy, the more erratic they seem. Motive is everything: Loki did not release Fenris to bring about the end of the world, he was just curious to know if anything really could defeat Odin. Figure out why one of these could be involved with you and you’re likely to not be bothered anymore.
However, there is a randomness that can only be explained by saying you just got in the way. Remember that many polytheistic pantheons are involved in their own little dramas and wars. For the most part the only reason they bother us is because we are needed by one side, faction, or spouse, to further the goals against the other side, faction or spouse. All of Hercules’ trials, some of which killed any number of mortals, were the result of a spat between Hera and her husband, Zeus.
On the ground, these cultures all have spectacular groves, temples, forests and mountains where the deistic forms – the gods, themselves – visit and can be visited, in person, by us mortals. There, and in lesser places, the lower orders of nature spirits who live here, but exist there, (in the other worlds, pick one) can be communicated with. While many would think this a really good thing, there is a danger: all the lower orders are committed to one side or another on the grand scale, as well as conflicts inside the pantheon so they have an agenda to further that cause – what ever it is. Get their attention and they may follow you out of curiosity, or worse, they may decide you are – useful.
The good news is that you can usually take them back where you got them. Basically take them home and leave them there. How depends of the type, and you can find that in a variety of books.
Check back soon for Part 6 of this blog.