Ah, the forgotten god. I would say that a majority of the e-mail I get from this site is to propose theories or ask questions about the forgotten god. So finally I decided to stick all these theories up in one place. If you have one you'd like to share, or if you've noticed a clue that I missed, please send it to me at renata at frowl dot org. For my own part, I tend to favor the Hades theory, but there are definitely other interesting interpretations. Here are the facts about this mysterious god/being (from pages 222-5 in the American hardback edition):
- He is in Las Vegas when Wednesday meets with him
- He is wearing a charcoal suit
- "In his mind the movement of money forms a fine latticework, a three dimensional cat's cradle of light and motion."
- He drinks Laphroaig (an expensive Scottish whisky) and water, and he appreciates its "marshy" taste
- He is looking for a "she" who, according to Wednesday, has "not been seen for two hundred years. If she isn't dead she's taken herself out of the picture."
- His deal with Wednesday is sealed with a bottle of Soma, which is a divine drink of Hindu mythology. (However, Wednesday describes soma to Shadow in more general terms, as "concentrated belief and prayer" which perhaps implies that it, currently at least, crosses mythologies.)
- And, of course, no one seems to be able to remember talking to him, or even hearing about him, moments after it happens. (Except for Wednesday, who has the charm of knowing the names of all the gods)
- He takes pity on the waitress (whom Wednesday didn't pay) and tells her about the oncologist who will win $40,000
- The first appearance of the god is at the House on the Rock, in the car with Allvis and Kali. Shadow finds himself unable to remember anything but an impression of wealth. (I forgot to post this before, thanks Jo for pointing it out to me! Pages 110-11.)
If you're wondering what Neil has to say on the topic, this is from his FAQ:
kay, so this isn't so much a question as a request for you to not answer a question that other people are probably going to ask.
Please don't reveal the identity of the god/folkloric entity that people always forget, without gigantic neon flashing spoiler signs.
I think I'm really close to identifying him; so I'm living with the daily terror, as I read the journal, of the cat being let out of the bag...
You're a nice author, so I'm sure you understand. Maybe a spoiler section could be set up separately if you do intend to answer this kind of thing? Thank-you!
Which I think, as heartfelt pleas go, is pretty heartfelt. And effective.
(PS: a couple people have emailed me thinking that this was Neil's reply to ME, so just for clarification-- no, it's not from me, it's from an unknown writer to Neil via his hournal's FAQ.)
Here are some theories from various readers! (Think you have it figured out? Let me know and I'll happily share your brilliance with the tiny percentage of the Internet population who reads this!) These are just in the order I've gotten them (newest entries will be added to the top). Again, just to clarify on these: I post these verbatim as I get them. I'm not endorsing or disagreeing with any of these, I think they're all interesting. Of course, I think some of them are better theories than others, but you can all form your opinions ;)
From Sarah: Manannan Mac Lir?
1) He's Irish. Bogs would have homey memories for him.
2) His areas of control include merchants and commerce - see various sites, for example http://members.tripod.com/~Moonpfyr/celticdeity.html Note that the god everyone forgets doesn't seem much interested in money per se - he's not gloating over piles of it. He's interested in the exchange of money, in its flow - i.e., in commerce. I suspect that when he's not in Las Vegas, he hangs out at the New York Stock Exchange.
3) "Manannan left his wife, Fand, and she fell in love with Cuchulainn. Since a mortal and fairy (Fand was Queen of the fairies) could not stay together without destroying the fairy, Manannan erased their memories of each other."
So Manannan has power over memory. He's also obviously quite attached to his wife, but seems to have trouble hanging on to her.
From Randy: Most sources agree on one thing. Almost nothing is known about this "forgotten god". Just a thought.
"The Horned One" is a Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. He was worshipped all over Gaul, and his cult spread into Britain as well. Cernunnos is depicted with the antlers of a stag, sometimes carries a purse filled with coin. The Horned God is born at the winter solstice, marries the goddess at Beltane, and dies at the summer solstice. He alternates with the goddess of the moon in ruling over life and death, continuing the cycle of death, rebirth and reincarnation.
Very little is known about Cernunnos except his name and his image, which appears on numerous stonecarvings and other artifacts throughout Europe.
Everything we know about him can only be guessed at from the iconography: the images of him created by the Celts themselves.
From Jason: Ok, here's my theory.
There are few Greek Gods mentioned in the Bible, but there is included a
pretty silly story about Paul converting the Greeks. Acts 17:23
The Greeks had temples to all the Gods that they knew of, and also a temple
to the God they didn't know, called "The Unknown God." Paul marches into
Athens and says "Well, that one is really MY God, and you've been doing
things MY way all along, so just forget all those others and follow MY way."
Of course, the Greeks disagreed.
From David: "Agni meets all the above cretia above except probably the most
important, why Shadow can't remember his damn name.
1) -He is in Las Vegas when Wednesday meets with him
The first appearance of the god is at the House on the Rock, in the
car with Allvis and Kali. Shadow finds himself unable to remember
anything but an impression of wealth.
Angi is the possessor of all wealth and winner of wealth according to
the Holy Vedas Book 1
Agni we choose as envoy, skilled performer of this holy
rite,Hotar, possessor of all wealth.
2) He is looking for a "she" who, according to Wednesday, has "not
been seen for two hundred years. If she isn't dead she's taken herself
out of the picture."
Angi is married to Svaha
The looking for part could just be storyingtelling on Neil's part,
Svaha was only a minor god and god unworshipped could disappear.
3) His deal with Wednesday is sealed with a bottle of Soma, which is a
divine drink of Hindu mythology.
He is a consumer of Soma a drink that only gods may have.
In American Gods gods need worship and belief to survive. Depending
on the god they also need sacrifies and rituals. Soma is Angi
sacrifice his power.
4)He takes pity on the waitress (whom Wednesday didn't pay) and tells
her about the oncologist who will win $40,000
This matchs 1 and could also include this
Eventually he has come only to be called on by lovers, and by men who
wish to increase their virility.
5) And, of course, no one seems to be able to remember talking to him,
or even hearing about him, moments after it happens.
ARRGGGGGH everything else matchs!!!!!!!!!!!!! why, WHY IN LETHE'S NAME
CAN'T SHADOW REMEMBER HIS NAME!!!!!" (A good question ;))
From Martin: "My 02.:
The likely candidates I've identifed are as follows:
required attributes/aspects of the God:
* not of greek pantheon
* forgettable (memory association?) see invisibility
desired attributes/associations of the God
* has a female deity (e.g., a wife/consort)
* dark suit/dark appearance
Dis Pater -- god of wealth for Gauls, likely derived from Hades/Pluto, but
not the same as Hades/Pluto. To the Romans, marshes/caves/springs were
associated with the underworld, hence the Laphroaig/Scotch association. Also
is reputed to look for the gaul equivalent of persephone (Hade's wife). See
teutates. Was a druidic God and as such was exported to Ireland as Teutates.
Was also mixed up in with Mercury by the Romans.
But no commerce & no invisibility so rules this out.
Kubera -- this God is pictured as a dwarf, and is currently worshipped so
rule this out. Nothing about a wife here. -- ruled out since he's a dwarf.
Veles -- slavic God of wealth, commerce, underworld. Forgotten since he is
a pagan god after Christianity, became St. Blas for the Russian Orthodox
church. No association with marshes. Veles became an underworld God, as
well as guardian of pathways. Speculation that Veles is derived from Varuna
(there is some sort of association between Varuna and Soma). Wife is morena
, the queen of the underworld. Good candidate but no invisibiliy, no
Teutates -- celtic import of Dis Pater (wealth God) from the Druids. God of
the tribe (every tribe had their own teutates). Associated with
scotch/whiskey (if from Ireland, whiskey is a natural attribute), Sacrifices
to him were by drowning. Considered a god of war, derived from Mars. The
day of the week "Tuesday" is named after teutates from the latin word for
Mars. Month of March is named after mars as well. Almost same issues as dis
pater , but at least has wealth. a.k.a., the "king of the world".
mananna mac lir : irish god of, has cloak of invisibility, god of navigation
on the seas. no commerce.
ebisu: japanese god of wealth, but not a forgotten God by any means, still
cochimetl : aztec god of commerce, no other information
mercury : roman god of trade, equated with greek Hermes. Roman Mercuralia
Festival involved water. Invisibility from Hermes. Not forgotten though
("Mercredi/Mars Day" in romance languages is a.k.a. Wednesday (Wodin/Odin's
Day)). no invisbility so ruled out.
Lugh: irish version of mercury (so trade). Sun God of light (hence the
gold). God of every skill. As a "tuattha de danann" (children of goddess
Danu) is invisible as needed (i.e., a fairie or "shee"). As an irish God is
going to have whiskey a.k.a., "uisge beatha". Wife: Rosmerta ( a nature
goddess of the harvest). Feast day is the last full moon of July
(association with Soma /moon), had a 30 day festival in ireland. Might
overlaps with Teutates from the association of Mercury-Teutates.
Teutates doesn't have the invisibility attribute, but is literally a
mysterious God of wealth (derived from Dis Pater) that nobody really knows
much about -- so is forgotten in the literal sense that there are few
written records of Him. Perhaps he has some invisibility attribute as well,
seems to be an jupiter-like supreme god that spanned Europe (celts, gauls,
druids) as well as the british Isles (celts & druids) but is now literally
So my conclusion: the forgotten god is Lugh -- Lugh can cause people to
forget him, being a fairy, as the commerce (from Mercur), the uisge, the
associated female. The only thing that doesn't fit is the dark suit -- Lugh
is supposed to be a shining god. Teutates though, has the dark suit
attribute (as an underworld God derived from Dis Pater) . Maybe the dark
suit is a las vegas thing.
Final vote is for Lugh --
I wish Neil would just let us know.
Sources: www.pantheon.org , Larusse Encyclopedia of Mythology, google,
From Raze: "I believe the 'forgotten god' is a *forgotten* god, and I beleive this is the point of his character. The book established that belief and knowledge fuels the gods' existences. All the gods mentioned in the book are still known by some people (humans) somewhere, so they still exist, even in weakened/aged forms. The forgotten god, however, has been forgotten by every human, which is why he can't be remembered. At one time, he probably was a god of wealth, but we'll never be able to figure out his identity because he's been forgotten. I don't think 'forgetfulness' is his domain or power, its just the effect he has on people because no one knows or cares about him any longer.
That's my theory, anyhow."
From Mark: "I'm betting it's Chandra.
Coming at this with new eyes, three years after I first read the book, and reading over your site for the first time since Gaiman mentioned it on his 'blog, I realized something.
Odin meets up with three gods in the limo at The House on the Rock: the fogotten god, Allvis, and Kali. Allvis is a god (well, dwarf, but he's a Norse Myth dwarf, which is close to god status) of wisdom; his name means 'all knowing.' Kali is a goddess of wisdom, in her role as protector. And of course, Odin is a wisdom god, as well. So, the meeting at the limo is two Norse gods, and - if I'm right - two Indian gods, all gods of wisdom.
Chandra is a moon god: When I first read "a three dimensional cat's cradle of light and motion," I couldn't help but think of the lyric, "The cat's in the cradle and the silver moon." I might've accidentally been on to something.
The "impression of wealth"? Maybe that's "a wealth of knowledge." Telling the waitress about the jackpot winner? That's not about money, it's about knowledge; he knows what's going to happen.
I think the whole money / wealth angle is a red herring. I think it's wisdom god, and I'm betting it's Chandra.
Of course, I could be wrong. :-)
From Michael: " I wanted to throw in my
(badly devalued) two cents on the forgotten god debate:
1) I don't believe that he is Hades, searching for Persephone. The
story takes place in the winter. There are indicators throughout that
the gods are in a long and barren "winter," most notably the
predominance of Czernobog over Bielobog, which remits at the same time
as his sisters are doing "spring cleaning." If it's winter, Persephone
should be with him!
2) The description of money as a latticework suffusing the city brings
to mind Indra's
net, a holographic latticework of golden beads that underlies all
reality. Indra also has a reputation as a heavy soma drinker, and he's
from the correct cosmology for it. No idea why it would make him
From Craig: "He is the embodiment of Fortune, of ultimate Chance. The woman that he has been searching for is Luck. No one can ever remember the last time the odds were actually in their favour, but when the odds truly are in our favour, it goes by without notice. Probablities can be observed and calculated on a matrix, the complex visions of the way that money flows. While the Scotch is interesting by itself, I don't feel that it adds anything to the definition of the character, although knowing when and where the waitress can find a rich and willing man is surely a function of knowing the odds."
From Jennifer: "A friend of mine mentioned he thought the Forgotten God might be Fate. I happen to think he is Chance - Fate is a bit too solid for this character, but the same argument goes for both.
He seems at home in Vegas. Where else but Vegas for Chance to have his domain? He puts the bug in the woman's ear to veer from her normal routine and go to Treasure Island to by chance meet the love of her life,etc.
I don't think he would be a god from any sort of pantheon, because those would be memorable encounters. Attaching a name to a face. No one really knows when Chance is around so he souldn't be noticed. "
From Katie: "I have an idea of who the Forgotten God may be. Set, the ancient Egyptian God, Himself.
Why? Three reasons:
Wealth - Set was the local deity for Nubet, which meant "The Gold Town." One of His earliest names was "Nubty" or "He of the Gold Town." Being a God of gold, meant that He was also a God who was in charge of wealth. Not only was gold under Set's domain, but so was iron, and copper. These three were very important metals to the Ancient Egyptians. Silver was rare, so it was considered even more precious than gold in Egypt, but I have never found reference saying Set was associated in any way to silver...though metal ore and Set are both said to be the "Bones of Geb." Also, Nubet controlled, as it was on the edge of, the trails and roadways to the desert which lead to other countries, the trade routes. Merchants and traders equal wealth and money, I would say is a very good guess.
Forgotten - Set's earliest roots and His original forms and names are pretty much forgotten. In fact, Set as a God, instead of a "demon" or God of "evil," and most of what He was a God of, is pretty much forgotten and lost due to reasons no one is sure of in Egyptology, but it is heavily debated and speculated about. He's a God that has gained much interest, and yet, He's a God that people quickly forget and push aside as simply "evil," "chaotic" and "rageful." I will disagree with the first, but I can see and agree - at times - with the last two. Plus, the animal, the "Set Animal" is forgotten. No where seen, it is not even known if it was a mythological or a real animal.
Alcohol - Now, I realize in the ancient world, alcohol was pretty much universal, and it was considered very sacred. Set was known for His love of it! He had a festival with HatHaru (HetHert/Hathor), the Goddess of love, sexuality, children, protection, and foreign lands (something else she shared with Set, along with copper and sexuality.)
Set was a sexual God, which along with wealth, and being a God who loves action, Las Vegas sounds like His kind of town. Of course, there I am only going with the "stereotypical" Las Vegas vision. He was the ancient Egyptian God, from what we known, of the desert, storms, change, death, war...many things else.
I do not profess at all to know everything of Set. I don't know half of it all! I wish I did though. I am very interested in this God though. I am reading up the scholarly books and articles on Him (and all the Religion and Gods of Ancient Egypt) though, as I can find them.
Another clue, from the book, is that Set hasn't been heard from in 200 years, and this "she" he is looking for was last seen 200 years ago. Depending on what importance "she" and He have together, it could make sense that He disappears when "she" does. It also seems like "she" needs to be hidden or likes to remain hidden, for some reason.
I don't know. I thought I would put this forward though. Forgive that my communication of my point is probably not in the best English possible, but I tried. "
From Eric: "In reading American Gods, though my knowledge of mythology proved woefully inadequate, I recognised almost all of the names Gaiman dropped. I must admit that I have no idea what the identity of the Forgotten God may be...but I wonder...might he be a truly forgotten God? We see Gods suffer but not die through lack of worship (though as I mentioned, we know OF them)...perhaps he is a God, who passing from the collective memory is now forgotten...even when we hear his name it passes from a memory with no shape to hold it...?"
From Joanna: "One thing to keep in mind is that Neil seems to use more than one god from a pantheon. So I would think that the forgotten god would have to come from an already existing pantheon from the book…Egyptian, Norse, African, American, Irish, etc. And it seems to me that in the pure forms of the gods that he uses, he stays away from commonly known pantheons, such as Greek and Roman. So while I think that the forgotten god COULD be Hades, it seems to contradict his pattern. Of course, he may have done that to throw us off."
From Emma: "I think the reason that Odin can remember the Forgotten God where nobody else can is that one of the boons he got from his nine days on Ygdrisil was the knowledge of the name of every god, and I believe, how to talk to them, or something along those lines."
From Ashley, Salisbury, PA: "After reading the postings on your wed page, I would have to disagree with everyone. Satan or Hades is not a god that would be forgotten with ease. I have talked about this book with everyone I know that has read it and after my research we all agree on who this god is.
I came to this conclusion by researching the word soma. It is a drink that was originally used by the Indo-Irainan culture thousands of years ago. There god that is inclined to drink soma on a constant basis is the god Agni. Wenesday used this drink to bargin with this god into coming to his side.
Also, Agni is a messanger god, but, not just any messanger. He is the god that recieves sacrifices that are made to the gods other than himself and brings them to those gods. As we all remember, at the final battle, Loki dedicates it to Odin. This was done so that Odin will be able to gain "power" once again. He will need someone to retrieve the sacrifices on the battlefield and bring them to him.
Agni is also a god that is with all but is not easily remembered. He is the fire god, and according to my research, since he is always there, in the form of fire, he is easily forgotten. This would explain why Shadow has such a hard time remembering anything about him. He knows he knows this god but he does not know why. Also, since he is a god from a culture that Shadow in not familar with which could be another reason why he could not remember his name.
This is my opinion that the opinion of about 7 other people. I hope that this may help clear up some things and if you want to research it for yourself look up god of the Indo-Iranian culture."
(A note from me: others besides Shadow don't remember this god's name, and Shadow [and others] do seem to be able to remember the names of other cross-pantheon gods with ease, so I'm not sure that point, at least, has much validity. Still, though, anyone's guess is as good as mine.)
From Taiga: "I don't know who the forgotten god is, but I can offer two thoughts on the subject:
1) None of the gods from the Greek pantheon are mentioned, so it seems unlikely that he is Hades.
2) When I read the book I assumed that the woman he was asking about was Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba. After finishing it I still think this is the most plausible answer. Wednesday's reply that he didn't know where she was would explain why he didn't enlist her as he did all of the other gods. There is no other connection between her character and the story. If she isn't the woman that the forgotten god sought, then her inclusion in the novel doesn't make much sense to me.
If the forgotten god was asking about Bilquis, then perhaps he is Soloman. He was certainly very rich, and maybe he is forgotten because his kingdom was taken away from his house as punishment for worshipping foreign gods. I don't know if Soloman was worshipped as a god, but then I hadn't known that the Queen of Sheba was either. It does seem like a stretch."
From Amanda: "How's this for obscure, the god everyone forgets could be Plutus the greek god of wealth.
Plutus is NOT Pluto the god of the underworld. Plutus is the son of Demeter and Iasius, a mortal son of Zeus. He is a generous god; one of his attributes is the cornucopia. He was blinded by Zeus so that he would distribute wealth equally between the deserving and undeserving, although he later regained his sight in a comedy by Aristophanes. The lady he is searching for could be Eirene the greek personification of peace (and to a lesser degree wealth). There is a statue of Eirene holding the child Plutus.
This doesn't explain the Laphroaig or how no one remembers him. Although if I were him I wouldn't want people to remember me too well in case they tried use me to make them rich.
Nothing definitve, just my two cents. I really wish Neil would just tell us already."
From Scott: "All of this talk about Hades certainly has me rethinking my theory, but I'll go ahead and throw mine in the pot.
In economics, there is a force known as "the invisible hand" that guides the open market. It keeps the opposing forces of supply and demand in balance; and while it can most certainly be studied, it seems to be a difficult thing to get a grasp of, given the success of overstock.com and the like.
It made sense to me that the forgotten god was the invisible hand because of the whole impression of wealth thing, and the exchange with the waitress in Las Vegas, but I think I may just be trying to hard to apply what I'm learning in various economics classes to a book that's far more interesting."
From Jeff: "The forgotten god. I'm sure I'm not the first to posit this hypothesis, but I think it's Hades. His name means "unseen" in Greek, and historically he was the god of wealth and riches (which, at the time, all originated from underground; i.e., the underworld). To the Greeks, he was not the embodiment of death - that function fell to Thanatos. He was, however, the keeper of the underworld (which shared his name) and ruler of the shades of the dead. His characterization as "unseen" stems mostly from his helm of invisibility but also from the practice common among the Greeks of not saying his name explicitly, so as to not attract his attention. So in a way, he was invisible AND unspeakable, much like the forgotten god in "American Gods".
In Hades (the realm, not the deity) the rivers Styx and Acheron met in the center of the realm and formed a boggy marsh. Is this why the forgotten god appreciates the marshy taste of Laphroaig? While on the topic of rivers, of the underworld, one of them - Lethe - was the river of forgetfulness, whose waters could induce complete amnesia of past events.
If all of the above holds true, then the "she" the forgotten god seeks is, by extension, Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, whom Hades abducted and kept (after some trickery and haggling among the other Greek gods) as his wife."
From Eli: "I would suggest Kubera as the unknown god in the book American Gods. I'm sure you have already thought of this, for reasons listed on your website, but I have an additional reason that is maybe extremely tangential, and probably doesn't mean anything. I'm reachin here, but Roger Zelazny was listed on the dedication page of American Gods. He wrote a book called Lord of Light where a group of people have taken on the mantles of the Hindu gods. Kubera is a character in this. I realize as I write this that this is so far-fetched as to sound stupid, but it was just a thought."
From Michael: "Taken from:
(as the first decent description of this god I found from a
websearch just now)
Chandra/Soma (India): Moon God whose name came from the
intoxicating hallucinogenic drink made for the gods. God of
pleasant forgetfulness. The Moon is called Sasin or Sasanka
(hare mark or spot) because Chandra carries a hare. One
folktale says that the Moon is a crystal ball filled with
silver water. Chandra rides in a chariot pulled by antelope
and protects the world from ignorance and chaos.
Associations: Psychic visions and dreams.
I can't say for sure that this is the forgotten god, but the
From Robert: "The God whom everyone forgets is Hades, Greek god of the underworld. 'Hades' means 'Invisible One' - he possessed a magic helmet that made him invisible. Hades was also very unlucky, and the Greeks considered it unlucky to invoke his name, instead calling him 'Pluto' ('wealthy'), since he controlled all the mineral wealth under the earth.
The Romans called him Pluto and also, in his role as god of wealth, 'Dis Pater', which means 'Rich Father' or 'Generous Father'.
The female he has been searching for is Persephone / Proserpina, his bride."
From Leszu: "The unforgotten god is... Satan. He is searching for either Lilith or Eve, one is whom he desired in Genesis, the other is who had his children, Everyone forgets he is around, and follows what they feel is right, he also has been associated with making lots of money and with the dead, which explains why he drinks Laphroig (expensive, and has that 'body-in-the-bog' flavor...."
From Tim: "In relation to the forgotten god, I would have no idea how you would research this, but in greek legend, the waters of the lethe, the river that the dead must cross to reach the underworld, causes forgetfulness if drunk or touched. Perhaps the forgotten god is the ferryman? Or perhaps the lord of the underworld, Hades, searching for Persephone. Since his domain can cause forgetfulness, maybe he has that effect on others?"
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