Long long ago, before people were rightly people the gods weren’t quite gods yet either. There were spirits, there were spirits everywhere, and these spirits would grow to become gods; the gods we know today, and those we have forgotten.
These spirits were consciousnesses . Some were tied to a particular place, a concept, a skill, an action, almost anything, they were conscious, non corporeal entities. Other had physical bodies, some were housed in individual plants plants, rocks, bodies of water, and others were bound to animals, both early human and non-human. I’ve heard whisperings, in my time as a spirit worker, that the first humans didn’t have spirits, or souls as I define the spirits that are bound to humans. Or they didn’t have souls they way we do now. They couldn’t communicate with the spirits around them, they knew the spirits were there, but try as they might they couldn’t get through to them. I’ve also heard whisperings, and tales half told in hushed voices, that there was a great sacrifice that gave humanity the spark needed to connect with the spirit world, and the power to work with spirits and mold them into gods. But that is a story that I do not fully know, nor fully understand, and therefore a story for another time.
As our ancestors evolved the spirits evolved alongside them, and bonds began to form between certain spirits or groups of spirits and groups of people. Now humans could reach out into the world of spirits, some were more adept at it, speaking to the spirits, crossing into their world, hosting the spirits in their bodies, any number of practices that we now define as spiritwork. These spirits grew more powerful, as they received the attention of the people, who gave them names, and forms, and together they refined the functions and personalities of the spirits. This was how the spirits became gods. A spirit was given energy, belief, and attention by the human population around it, and if enough humans came to believe in and venerate that it the spirit would gain divinity. This was a mutually beneficial relationship, the spirits turned gods weren’t parasites, leeching off of human belief; and in return for this the spirits taught the people, giving them new skills or crafts, success in different endeavors, healing, caring, and above all something to believe in.
If you’re confused think of it like Pokemon: your Charmander evolves into a Charmeleon at level 16, and a spirit can “evolve” into a god when a certain amount of belief and energy is given to it by people. Maybe it’s more like Digimon, because Pokemon can’t un-evolve, and a god who is no longer worshiped by humans can go back to being a spirit. A fair amount if my spirit work is done with what I call the “forgotten gods.” These are spirits that used to be gods, but they no longer have the belief to sustain them as such. Maybe their people died out, maybe they were assimilated into a different culture and left behind their old gods for new ones. There is something unique about these “forgotten gods” at first they seem no different than other non-divine entities, but upon close inspection it’s almost as if there is a residue of divinity on them, an imprint of what they used to be. In my experience spirits, without the investment of human belief don’t have much of a shape or a form; no god or spirit is corporeal (unless they are being channelled or have an avatar), but gods tend to prefer a specific shape (or two, or more) and that is how they present themselves. Spirits are more fluid in their shapes, but these “forgotten gods,” though they spirits themselves, cling to the shape that was given by their people.
When there are two (or more) equally strong groups who believe in one god, but with divergent personalities, or different functions, that is when we see different aspects appear. For instance: There have been a ton of new Lokeans around, and many of them relate to Loki the Marvel Comics character. There are also a ton of new and preexisting Lokeans who relate to him as he is traditionally portrayed. These two factions are pulling Loki in two different directions, and we are already starting to see a split. There have been reports of Loki doing or saying things that don’t quite match up with the traditional portrayal, nor with many practitioners’ UPGs. I hypothesise that this is the new aspect of Loki, which is more like the Marvel character, because there was enough belief in him with that personality that part of the entity known as Loki split away to take that form; there was enough belief in the traditional Loki that part of the entity remained that way. I’m not sure if I think aspects are individual, separate, entities, or different personalities of one entity that come out at different times. That’s something I’m still thinking about. I know/know of a few Lokeans in each camp, so I may be observing this situation as it unfolds and taking notes. Testing my hypothesis.
The discussion of singular gods dividing into aspects naturally brings me to my belief in composite gods, which are created in a process that is the opposite to the creation of aspects. If divergent aspects are created by different beliefs pulling a god in different directions then composite gods are created by beliefs that pull several gods together into one entity. The Horned God, as I see him, the god I love and am loved by, is such a composite god. The Horned God, as a composite entity is a relatively modern god, comprising of gods and spirits who all fit some basic archetypes. Throughout history there have been many instances of gods and spirits portrayed as horned animals or men with the horns or antlers of an animal. These gods and shared similar roles as representatives of the wild places and animals, as lords of the hunt and kings of the forests, as symbols of male power, virility, and fertility. You probably know some of these gods or spirits. They each existed for a time as individual entities, but they have been pulled together into one entity by humanity. In the case of some they continue to survive and flourish on their own, such as Pan or Cernunnous, and only aspects of them have been drawn into the composite entity that is the Horned God. These were pulled by human belief to become part of the Horned God. Other spirits and gods chose to become part of the composite entity, like joining a corporation or an alliance. They were ensured continued veneration and belief, which they may not have gotten on their own. Somewhere along the line people started to associate the Horned God with the Green Man, so the idea of growth and the cycle of the seasons and crops were drawn into the composite. Long story short, my Man is complicated.
The moral of the story (TL;DR): people make gods out of spirits, and then shape them. The gods exist as their own, individual entities, and they are pretty hard to change, but you get enough belief going, from enough people with strong enough convictions and they can be malleable.