Defining God

What constitutes a god? Demon’s Souls presents a cornucopia of perspectives, all of which somehow tie back to the soul and magic. However, the most prominent God is heavily rooted in the Judeo-Christian conception. Not so with Dark Souls. There, divinity draws inspiration mainly from polytheistic mythologies. The “gods” — almost exclusively shorthand for the Anor Londo pantheon — were one of many races born as a result of the world’s evolution, looking and acting much like the humans who revere them. But unlike the Nordic Aesir or Greek Olympians, these gods are no more divine than their worshipers. They are bound by the same laws of the universe as mortal kind, and their dominion over elements of nature or society reflect their mundane careers or personal behavior rather than innate roles in the cosmos. They are feared and respected as deities solely for their immense magical power and willingness to share it when appeased. They aren’t the great Creator of the universe as we know it, and that “divine” magical power they wield is borrowed from the actual creator.

So, what constitutes a god in the average society? Status. Rather than a state of being, godhood in Dark Souls is a state of prestige. In Anor Londo, one can marry into godhood and lose it just as easily. “God” is essentially a title conceived to elevate this one race and society above others, similar to how peerage separates upper and lower castes in aristocracies. But even if god society expels some of their own, certain humans may continue to worship them as gods. And when completely outside of Anor Londo’s influence, humans end up creating imagined gods, sometimes even deifying their own. Simply put, something is only a god if humans consider it to be a god, and “gods” is what Anor Londo ingrained in the human psyche for how they should be perceived. This is perfectly in line with Japanese culture.

Japan is known as the land of 8 million gods for a reason. There is a god for the river and each of the trees in the forest, a god for each emotion and occupation, a god for every act and event. Indeed, with how minor yet pervasive they can be, it isn’t uncommon to see kami (神) translated as “spirit” instead. Godliness has even been impressed upon animals and mortal men, in some cases just to appease the deceased’s wrathful spirit. Japanese religion has a long tradition of loosely labeling the divine, and that view bleeds into the world of Dark Souls. But there are no actual gods or divine mysteries in its world — at least none made apparent in the realms of observation or revelation. There are only beings, real or imaginary, fortunate enough to be considered divine.

With so many variations on who or what is or isn’t a god to who and where or when, it is much easier to identify gods by their underlying species, assuming they aren’t pure fiction. Likewise, using “the gods” in even specific contexts is hardly all-encompassing. In the case of Anor Londo, for example, there are multiple characters who are evidently not human but never expressly stated to be gods either. Some may be part of the same race as the gods, perhaps even descend from divine lineage, but that doesn’t necessarily make them gods themselves — a dilemma complicated further in the case of mixed bloods. Such ambiguity precludes “gods” from referring to the race as a whole, and this doesn’t even consider different religions worshiping different members of that same race. A more universal term is required.

For that reason, I have come to call this apex bipedal race the “medials”. Its members whom we meet vary in size seemingly arbitrarily, perhaps as an artistic choice. However, most are player-sized or slightly larger, putting them somewhere between the size of humans and giants on average. This makes sense, since the original humans are called “pygmies” while the giants are called, well, “giants” — in a world dominated by the gods, the other races are labeled relative to them. And so, I refer to their species as “medials” and the specific subset which controls their societies and governments as “gods” to differentiate the two. Most gods are medials, but not all medials are gods.