Pantheons of the Multiverse: The American Indian Pantheon

“Pantheons of the Multiverse” is an open-ended series of posts I’ll be doing where I talk about the various D&D pantheons. This isn’t meant to provide any particular sort of holistic overview of a given pantheon’s material, nor present any new materials to use in-game (though I may do either of these on a whim). Rather, this is just me looking at each collection of deities and expressing some thoughts on them.

While I’m not limiting this to any particular edition of D&D, there’s likely going to be a noticeable presentation of AD&D Second Edition resources here. That’s due to that edition having the most material where deities are concerned, as well as personal preference on my part.

What I find most striking about the American Indian pantheon is how completely they were forgotten. They currently have the dubious distinction of being one of the least-utilized pantheons in the whole of D&D lore. While it isn’t the most ignored collection of gods in the game’s history, you can count on one hand the number of game books in which gods from this pantheon appear, even in the latter days of AD&D 2E, when the holistic multiverse was given the greatest focus.

AD&D First Edition

Initially presented in the AD&D First Edition book Deities & Demigods (later renamed Legends & Lore), the American Indian pantheon has nine deities: Raven, Coyote, Hastseltsi, Hastsezini, Heng, Hotoru, Shakak, Snake-Man, and Tobadzistsini. Several heroes (Hiawatha, Qagwaaz, Stoneribs, and Yanauluha), and a single monster (Thunder Bird) and magic item (sacred bundle) rounded things out.

But after this, the pantheon disappears from the pages of 1E. The sole exception is an appearance by Raven in a single adventure in OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes, where he butts into a love triangle between Enki (Sumerian pantheon), Lliira (Faerunian pantheon), and Hecate (Greek pantheon). His appearance there is fairly ironic, considering that OP1 is the unofficial adventure supplement to the 1E Manual of the Planes, which didn’t feature any American Indian deities. (To be fair, that can be partially explained by most of the American Indian deities living, according to their entries, on the Prime Material Plane, which the Manual of the Planes ignored. This is an imperfect explanation, however, because the book also overlooked those deities that did live on other planes, such as Raven being on the Elemental Plane of Air.)

(EDITED TO ADD: One of the most interesting aspects to the pantheons found in Deities & Demigods is how they’ll introduce particular alterations to the priests who worship them. For instance, the opening paragraphs of the American Indian pantheon tell how symbolism is so important to Indian priests that they must have part of something to control it, such as sprinkling water to summon rain, or needing a fire in rituals involving demons or devils. Conversely, anyone wanting to cast any kind of charm spell on an Indian priest must know the priest’s name in order to affect them.

These flavorful alterations are largely absent in AD&D Second Edition, presumably because the introduction of specialty priests made this level of distinction unnecessary. Still, there’s something to be said for having particular quirks that are representative of a pantheon as a whole.)

AD&D Second Edition

When AD&D Second Edition released its own Legends & Lore book, the American Indian pantheon was presented again…but with several changes. A number of gods had been deleted, while a few others had been added, and several more had been renamed. The new pantheon looked like so (gods who had a different name in 1E have that name listed in parenthesis): Great Spirit, Sun, Moon, Earth, Morning Star, Wind (Hotoru), Fire (Hastsezini), Thunder (Heng), Raven, Coyote, Snake (Snake-Man), and Spirits. The same four heroes were also listed, while the Thunder Bird monster was gone (though there was a brief note in Thunder’s listing saying that it was an aspect of him), replaced by three new monsters: big head, gahonga, and ohdowa. Finally, the sacred bundle magic item was still there, along with two new spells: spirit animal form and bad medicine.

(EDITED TO ADD: Like all of the deities from Legends & Lore, the information for priests of the American Indian pantheon does not include listings for spheres from the Tome of Magic, as that book wouldn’t be published until almost a year after L&L came out. Skip Williams would later start writing unofficial updates for these spheres in his “Sage Advice” column in Dragon magazine. The update for the American Indian pantheon appears in Dragon #197.)

This is the single largest shakeup that I can recall for a pantheon, with the new presentation has a much more pantheistic/shamanistic feel to it. While this is presented in the 2E Legends & Lore as a complete retcon, I can’t help but wonder what an in-game explanation for why the pantheon is so different now would look like.

Such an explanation would require a history and presence in the game world, however, and without that there’s little that can be done based on the minimal presentation given here. Probably the best that can be done with that is to present a fantasy analogue of the European colonization of the Americas; that would probably have the American Indian pantheon being the original pantheon of humanity (or at least a large part of humanity) before other human gods came in and took over, marginalizing them. That could certainly explain why, in 2E’s Legends & Lore, the American Indian gods are now said to live in a demiplane that connects to the Happy Hunting Grounds (e.g. the Beastlands), rather than on the Prime Material Plane.

Of course, that’s just an off-the-cuff idea (and probably not a very good one, since I suspect that quite a few people would find offense in that). More likely, the easy way out would be taken: that both the First Edition and Second Edition presentations are said to be incomplete, and that the “full” American Indian pantheon consists of the aggregate list of gods from both.

Interestingly, there’s one more product in AD&D 2E that mentions at least some of the American Indian gods. Surprisingly, it’s not a product from the campaign-crossing settings like Planescape or Spelljammer. Rather, it’s found in the Forgotten Realms: FOR5 Elves of Evermeet. In chapter 4, it mentions that the green elves (e.g. the wild elves) of Evermeet worship Thunder (though they call it Eagle), Raven, and Spirits from the American Indian pantheon. More notably, they also have two other deities who – while not expressly said to be part of that pantheon – seem like a perfect fit for it: Bear and Wolf. Neither have priestly information given, unfortunately, instead having a brief description and abbreviated avatar stats.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

I recall being quite intrigued when I first read the listing for Spirits in the 2E Legends & Lore book, as that entry was a catch-all for pantheistic demigods that were all around. As such, that seemed like a great “canon” way to have divine spellcasters based around local deities, rather than better-known gods. Unfortunately, the Spirits entry said that they didn’t have normal clerics, instead granting temporary powers to those who made a genuine plea with a sufficient sacrifice.

While disappointing, there turned out to be other entries that were closer to what I was looking for. But those are for another post.

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3 Responses to “Pantheons of the Multiverse: The American Indian Pantheon”

  1. AuldDragon Says:

    Of course, Demihuman Deities made all of the FOR5 spirits aspects of other deities (mostly Rillifane).

    Also, Red Fox from Dungeon #32 was a re-skinned Coyote created for the Rovers of Greyhawk; I can’t remember how much the adventure actually discussed him (I would make Red Fox an alias of Coyote).

    I think the lack of traditional cleric-type clergy for the American Indian pantheon, and their disassociation from the standard planar organization were one of the reasons they’ve been so ignored.

    • alzrius Says:

      Ah, good catch with regards to the deities from FOR5 being retconned into aliases of other deities. Of course, this creates some interesting questions; for example, while Rillifane’s entry in Demihuman Deities has those spirits listed as aliases, the text says that they’re “great spirits” that serve him…right before it says that they’re aspects of him.

      My guess would be that these deities (or at least the ones directly mentioned in Legends & Lore) have an independent existence, but that Rillifane and similar gods have taken (or are in the process of taking) over their aspects in Realmspace.

      Of course, the Realms – for all its material – is a place where the status of deities can change quite rapidly. Tchazzar is dead in Lost Empires of Faerun, for example, only to be alive again (and requiring a different feat to worship) in Dragons of Faerun due to recent events. This latter book also made Marduk an alias of Bahamut (in the Realms, at least)!

      I flipped through Dungeon #32, and at a quick glance Red Fox doesn’t seem to play a very large role in the adventure there; I agree that he’d probably be a local aspect of Coyote.

      Beyond that, I definitely agree that their exclusion from later depictions of the planes played a major role in the American Indian pantheon being near-totally ignored. Of course, that’s because most opportunities to use American Indian-style campaigns were similarly overlooked – I really wish the Historical Reference series had gone further afield than they did.

      • AuldDragon Says:

        The spirits are essentially conduits of power for the deity, so when an elf calls on Wolf, they are calling on RIllifane through Wolf, even if they don’t realize it. The difference between a standard alias and these spirits is that the spirits are independent servants (much like Lashrael for Corellon, although they’re not Solars). I would treat them as entirely independent from the American Indian deities, despite the similarities. I’m not sure they’d be interchangeable as power sources for plane/sphere-hopping green elvish or American Indian priests, since Rillifane’s spirits aren’t actually deities.

        I definitely would have liked more Historical References, although I don’t think they sold well, sadly.

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