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Are Gods and Demons "Real" in the Hyborian Age?


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#1 Axerules

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 03:10 AM

A member of the Mongoose forum, wrote this in a topic about Don Herron's essay Conan vs Conantics:

I find de Camp a very mixed author. I've read Herron's article, and I'm not entirely convinced by his arguments. Or to be more exact, I think he takes them too far. (...) he takes the anti-deity thing a little far. while certainly the good aligned glowy things in hand of Nergal and Conan of the Isles are very un-Howard, it is very difficult to explain the oracle to Yasmela in Black Colossus as anything other than genuine. The alternative explanation is a coincidence so wild as to be absurd.

I do agree, 100%.

The oracle, even with the short sentence Herron quoted saying that it could be "the trick of a priest" can hardly be spurious: Yasmela found afterward the only man able to protect her and to win the battle against Natohk, Conan.


In Queen of the Black Coast, when B?lit asked to Conan if he feared the gods, his answer was: "I would not tread on their shadow". He seems to firmly believe in their existence. Later: "I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them to deeply" and B?lit :"But the gods are real".


Don't misunderstand my post, the first time I've read Herron's essay, a few years ago, I thought : this man is SO right ! How could I have not seen all those things in L. Sprague DC's writings ? And he explained very well how the character and setting were altered by Sprague or L. Carter.


But something did bother me: Sprague's bigotry and manicheism are IMO "un-howardian", but Herron's "anti-deism" ? When Sprague (with B. Nyberg) showed two bull sacrifices to Crom and his direct help to Conan in "the Avenger", it's totally inadequate with the setting. Crom should be "grim and loveless" and would probably doom the Cimmerian weakling who dared to do that : Conan in Queen believes that Crom COULD do it (and only a REAL god can send a curse), he told so to B?lit.

Are the gods of civilized people, like Mitra, not different from Crom ? Patrice Louinet in his Hyborian Genesis talked about the Grail-type quest in Hour of the Dragon : was it not Zelata (whose lips are "opened and closed by the gods") who sent Conan on this quest ? Outer-void and Cthuloid things worshipped as gods do exist in REH's cosmology, it's certain. And other gods ? Even if Howard kept most of their interferences mysterious, in his first published Conan yarn, the one that would present his hyborian Age to the public, The Phoenix on the Sword, Epemitreus, a Mitran priest dead for centuries came to save Conan from certain death: is it not clear that REH meant gods of the Hyborian Age (not only "monsters-whorshipped-as-gods") to be able to act, at least indirectly through oracles or saints ? And be real in his Hyborian age ?

Edited by Axerules, 14 November 2007 - 01:37 AM.

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#2 Kortoso

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 05:15 PM

Maybe you have a link to Don Herron's article?

...and smaller paragraphs would help, if you want your writing to be read. ;)

#3 Axerules

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 02:13 AM

Edited. You're right, Kortoso, it was really hard to read. The link I had to Conan vs Conantics seems dead, but here is an article from Thulsa, another user of the Mongoose forum. He quotes five relevant paragraphs from D. Herron's essay in his RPG website : http://hyboria.xoth....s/good_gods.htm

Edited by Axerules, 14 November 2007 - 01:39 AM.

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#4 deuce

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 03:30 AM

Hey Axe! I bought The Dark Barbarian awhile back. It is the landmark book in Howard literary criticism. I met Don down at Howard Days. A very smart, funny guy. However, I have to agree with you that Don goes a little overboard in denying all divine benevolence of any kind in the Hyborian Age. Ol' Spraguey and Lin went way too far the other way, but the examples you cite are quite cogent. I plan on addressing the "Mitra's shrine incident" on the Black Colossus thread. The "maybe a priest" quote does not negate everything else REH built around the scene. If Mitra didn't exist, why didn't Epemitreus say so? He certainly thought Set existed. Anyway, gotta run. Check back later.

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#5 Almuric

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 07:47 PM

Not to mention the fact that Epemitreus exists centuries after his death and wields power proves that there is some supernatural power at play. But we don't know what it is. There's never much doubt that evil gods exist in the REH-verse, it's the good ones that are ambiguous.
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#6 Kortoso

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 09:23 PM

I'd say the answer is similar to the answer to whether there are any small animals in the stories. Big animals are more frightening thus more interesting to read about, and evil gods are more fun as well.

So for me, perhaps the gods of good were real in Hyboria, but in the stories they generally didn't lend a hand.



#7 Axerules

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Posted 01 April 2007 - 12:46 AM

Not to mention the fact that Epemitreus exists centuries after his death and wields power proves that there is some supernatural power at play. But we don't know what it is. There's never much doubt that evil gods exist in the REH-verse, it's the good ones that are ambiguous.

I don't see what's "ambiguous" with Epemitreus: Conan discovered the most guarded Mystery of the Mitrans, his sword is carved with a secret sign that Epemitreus gave to Conan to fight Thoth's "hell-hound pack". I'm not saying that gods in REH's writings are not mysterious and should be describded like in Carter's or De Camp's pastiches, but when Herron wrote about "REH's treatment of Hyborian Age religion on a conceptual basis, with alien beings or beings from earth's prime acting as evil gods", I feel he is wrong. A "concept" does not send a saint or an oracle to help you.
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#8 Axerules

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Posted 01 April 2007 - 01:25 AM

My first post was not only about "good" gods in REH's Hyborian Age (which is the subject of Thulsa's article, I know it can be misleading). IMO, Carter and Sprague are too much manicheist, Crom and Ymir are hardly "good" gods, but I don't think that they are "alien beings". And Ymir, who sent a "cold blue flame" to save his daughter Atali from Conan's lust in "the Frost-Giant Daughter" is, IMO, real. I just want to know if others in this forum believe, like me, that gods ("good", "evil", or somewhere in between) and not only "alien beings or beings from earth's prime acting as evil gods" are REAL and not only concepts like Herron wrote it. Hence "atheism": do you think it's possible in the Hyborian Age ?
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#9 Mister E

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 12:18 PM

... I just want to know if others in this forum believe, like me, that gods ("good", "evil", or somewhere in between) and not only "alien beings or beings from earth's prime acting as evil gods" are REAL and not only concepts like Herron wrote it. Hence "atheism": do you think it's possible in the Hyborian Age ?


"Atheism?" I think the word needs to be defined better.

From the perspective of polytheism/animism, I'd say its too hard to deny all the manifestations of supernatural causes in the world as having some form of sentience behind them.

Beyond that, synchronicity has its own unfathomable causes, and I believe it would be hard to justify Conan's long life without resorting to either improbable heaps of fortune, and/or the orchestrations of inconceiveable being(s) who have long since retired from active duty and are not to be detected.

Whether or not gods are essentially any different from transcosmic reality shaping aliens, and thus truly divine and worthy of worship, is a matter of speculation.
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#10 Kylel Ironclaw

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Posted 26 April 2008 - 02:29 AM

I came about thinking about this from playing God of War 2 and Clash of the Titans a few days ago. In the world of Conan, are the gods and other deities perceived as characters that are, and have been, physically real and interacted with the mortals of that age?

Meaning to say, as in the realm of God of War, Zeus, Athena, Ares and the like actually come down from Olympus and converse with the main character, Kratos.

Now I know that this doesn't happen in the original Howard stories, but they have happened in the animated show, the Marvel comics, and I suppose that they're still out to lunch within the Dark Horse comics.

So has there ever been a conclusion whether or not the gods are "real" in the actual character sense in the Howard stories, or are they more of the vein of the deities that we ourselves believe exist, but actually have no proof of?

#11 deuce

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Posted 26 April 2008 - 09:24 AM

I came about thinking about this from playing God of War 2 and Clash of the Titans a few days ago. In the world of Conan, are the gods and other deities perceived as characters that are, and have been, physically real and interacted with the mortals of that age?
Meaning to say, as in the realm of God of War, Zeus, Athena, Ares and the like actually come down from Olympus and converse with the main character, Kratos.
Now I know that this doesn't happen in the original Howard stories, but they have happened in the animated show, the Marvel comics, and I suppose that they're still out to lunch within the Dark Horse comics.


Hey Kylel! A legitimate question that deserves a legitimate answer. :) You're right, the DH series is pretty coy about depicting any sort of "godhood". In many ways, this doesn't square with what REH showed in his yarns.

So has there ever been a conclusion whether or not the gods are "real" in the actual character sense in the Howard stories, or are they more of the vein of the deities that we ourselves believe exist, but actually have no proof of?


I'm not sure that we can say that there has been "a conclusion" about the concrete existence of deities in the universe created by Robert E. Howard. However, IMO, there ARE "god-like beings" described in his yarns.
Ishtar is an immortal of mortal birth (see the Marchers of Valhalla thread). She was given immortality by Poseidon, who threw down Atlantis and Lemuria (and Khemu). HE definitely seems to be "real".
Set seems to have been believed in by the two most powerful sorcerers that we know of: Thoth-Amon and Xaltotun. A manifestation of Set appears in the Howard yarn, Dig Me No Grave. Epemitreus ALSO seems to have thought that Set was the real deal.
Ymir: He seems self-explanatory. There is an on-going discussion about Ymir/Odin on the Grey God Passes thread.
Golgor(oth) was believed in during Thurian Age times, and he/it was still wreaking vengeance up until the 1600's (see the Moon of Skulls thread).
Ibis: How this god relates to Set, Mitra and Valka is slightly unclear. The one thing we know for sure is that his priest (Kalanthes) had bad-a$$ protection. Such powerful protection that Thoth-Amon (high-priest of Set and wielder of the Ring of Set), was reduced to sending "letter-bombs" to Kalanthes. (see the God in the Bowl thread)
Mitra has been discussed in THIS thread: http://www.conan.com...?showtopic=5419

Conan himself was leery of offending the "gods" (see the "QotBC" thread).

For general info on Hyborian Age gods, check out THIS thread:
http://www.conan.com...?showtopic=1419

Hope that helps. :)

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#12 Ironhand

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Posted 26 April 2008 - 10:20 AM

Besides Frost Giant's Daughter, in which Conan confronts a whole family of gods, there is a fragment, whose name I can't remember, in which a friend of Conan's actually kills a god, Ollam-Onga, in a deserted city. Drums of Tombalku? Riders of Tombalku?
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

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#13 Axerules

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Posted 26 April 2008 - 10:03 PM

Great post, Deuce !

Plus: REH describded some "monsters-revered-as-gods". Ironhand already spoke of Ollam-Onga. Khosatral Khel and Thog "the Ancient, the god of Xuthal" are real, concrete entities.

Jhebbal Sag: his two sons, the Devil in Fire and Zogar Sag are opposed to our brawny Cimmerian in Beyond the Black River. He oughta be real to produce offsprings !

Set seems to have been believed in by the two most powerful sorcerers that we know of: Thoth-Amon and Xaltotun. A manifestation of Set appears in the Howard yarn, Dig Me No Grave. Epemitreus ALSO seems to have thought that Set was the real deal.

Tsotha-Lanti too believed him to be real, he even called upon the serpent-god for help (in vain) at the end of the The Scarlet Citadel story.

"Strike home!" he screamed, brandishing his lean arms madly. "We are still the stronger! Charge and crush these dogs! We shall yet feast in the ruins of Shamar tonight! Oh, Set!" he lifted his hands and invoked the serpent-god to even Strabonus' horror, "grant us victory and I swear I will offer up to thee five hundred virgins of Shamar, writhing in their blood!"


Among the sorcerers who revere the "scaled and shining One", there's also Natohk, who was a prophet of Set for the desert-dwelling Shemites in BC.

Edited by Axerules, 26 April 2008 - 10:19 PM.

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#14 deuce

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Posted 01 March 2010 - 04:35 AM

Mr. Herron is a man I've met personally and highly regard and respect. However, that doesn't mean I agree with everything he says. I've yet to encounter such a being.

There are evidences of "benevolent" entities of a higher supernatural state in the Conan yarns. Black Colossus and The Phoenix on the Sword are the most obvious examples. Just because pastiche writers have run wild with the concept does not negate that fact.

Also, there are other tales. The stand-out is The Cairn on the Headland. By a couple of simple steps, that yarn is connected to the "Conan universe". If "Cairn" is unconnected to the Conan yarns, then so are most of the Kull stories, if not all.

I think a lot of people try to fit REH's "forces of light" into a Judaeo-Christian framework and then see that doesn't quite match what one sees in the Conan yarns. Using a Manichaean/Zoroastrian model works better, and using what I call a Lovecraftian/Gnostic model (where the forces of benevolence are actually weaker than the beings arrayed against mankind) works better yet. Using that model, mankind is always on the knife-edge of annihilation and it needs heroes with courage, brains and luck to stave off the final oblivion. Very Darwinian/"survival of the fittest", actually.

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BTW, here's a link to Don Herron's original essay:

http://web.archive.o...onanConant.html

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#15 Ironhand

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Posted 01 March 2010 - 11:29 AM

Mr. Herron is a man I've met personally and highly regard and respect. However, that doesn't mean I agree with everything he says. I've yet to encounter such a being.

There are evidences of "benevolent" entities of a higher supernatural state in the Conan yarns. Black Colossus and The Phoenix on the Sword are the most obvious examples. Just because pastiche writers have run wild with the concept does not negate that fact.

Also, there are other tales. The stand-out is The Cairn on the Headland. By a couple of simple steps, that yarn is connected to the "Conan universe". If "Cairn" is unconnected to the Conan yarns, then so are most of the Kull stories, if not all.

I think a lot of people try to fit REH's "forces of light" into a Judaeo-Christian framework and then see that doesn't quite match what one sees in the Conan yarns. Using a Manichaean/Zoroastrian model works better, and using what I call a Lovecraftian/Gnostic model (where the forces of benevolence are actually weaker than the beings arrayed against mankind) works better yet. Using that model, mankind is always on the knife-edge of annihilation and it needs heroes with courage, brains and luck to stave off the final oblivion. Very Darwinian/"survival of the fittest", actually.

My two lunas. Posted Image

BTW, here's a link to Don Herron's origianl essay:

http://web.archive.o...onanConant.html

Good analysis. :)
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

Read my Conan screenplays at The Scrolls of Ironhand (in particular my transcription of THE FROST GIANT'S DAUGHTER in Act II of "The Snow Devil") at
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#16 Kortoso

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Posted 01 March 2010 - 07:21 PM

A word that's being slung about deserves some attention and definition:
Manichaeism
http://en.wikipedia....iki/Manichaeism

Manichaeism is distinguished by its elaborate cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness. Through an ongoing process which takes place in human history, light is gradually removed from the world of matter and returned to the world of light from which it came.




#17 Boot

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 08:25 AM

My observation is that, in Howard's Hyborian Age, that there was little proof of the gods but lots of proof of demons. The gods, themselves seem to exist in name only, not unlike the Roman or Greek gods--people believe in them and exclaim their names, but there is little proof that the gods actually exist (unlike other fantasy worlds where gods involve themselves directly in the story).

Demons, on the other hand, seem to be another case. Demons definitely exist in Howard's Hyborian Age, because Conan fights them, and sorcerery is sometimes wrought through them.

So, if my observation is true, the general rule for the Hyborian Age is that if a god exists only because characters pray to him and exult their existence, then the god is a god. Crom. Derketa. Ishtar. Tarim. Bel. Mitra. These are all gods because we've never seen the god actually do anything as if it were a real entity in any Howard story (pastiches, I think, don't always get it "right").

If the god-like-being does have an overt part in a story and effects the environment, then the god is not a god. It is a demon. It may be worshipped as a god, but the being is a demon. Ollam-Onga is a good example of what I'm talking about.

Set? I'm not so sure about. Set could be a god, and episodes like Howard's The God in the Bowl is a case of a Set worshipping zealot using a demon, sorcerous creature, or something other in the name of Set.

What do you think?

#18 deuce

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 02:52 PM

My observation is that, in Howard's Hyborian Age, that there was little proof of the gods but lots of proof of demons. The gods, themselves seem to exist in name only, not unlike the Roman or Greek gods--people believe in them and exclaim their names, but there is little proof that the gods actually exist (unlike other fantasy worlds where gods involve themselves directly in the story).


Hey Boot! :D Interesting question. Are you sure you've read much "Classical" Greek mythology/history? The Illiad and The Odyssey (both composed during the classical period) are replete with deities manifesting themselves DIRECTLY. In addition (IIRC), there is a (sober) report of a ("Classical") Greek army encountering the Great God Pan while marching through the Pelloponese. The Greek oracles (channels for the Greek gods) operated right down to the subjugation of Greek sovereignty and culture by the Roman Empire.

Make no mistake, most Greeks and Romans of the Classical period were no more rational (or less superstitious) than their "medieval" counterparts. Socrates was executed for "blasphemy". There were similar instances throughout "Classical" times.


Demons, on the other hand, seem to be another case. Demons definitely exist in Howard's Hyborian Age, because Conan fights them, and sorcerery is sometimes wrought through them.
So, if my observation is true, the general rule for the Hyborian Age is that if a god exists only because characters pray to him and exult their existence, then the god is a god. Crom. Derketa. Ishtar. Tarim. Bel. Mitra. These are all gods because we've never seen the god actually do anything as if it were a real entity in any Howard story (pastiches, I think, don't always get it "right").

If the god-like-being does have an overt part in a story and effects the environment, then the god is not a god. It is a demon. It may be worshipped as a god, but the being is a demon. Ollam-Onga is a good example of what I'm talking about.


Mitra manifested himself/itself in The Phoenix on the Sword and Black Colossus. In the first case, Mitra gave protection to Conan that NO Stygian sorcerer (even those of the Black Ring) had. In the second case, the odds that someone impersonated MItra and Conan ended up being the savior of Khoraja are about a billion to one. You ARE trying to be rational (and true to Robert E. Howard) about this, right?

You might want to check out these threads:

http://www.conan.com...ds&fromsearch=1

http://www.conan.com...ra&fromsearch=1

Set? I'm not so sure about. Set could be a god, and episodes like Howard's The God in the Bowl is a case of a Set worshipping zealot using a demon, sorcerous creature, or something other in the name of Set.


Thoth-Amon, Thugra Khotan and Tsotha-Lanti all implicitly believed in Set, god of Chaos and the Night. If their sorcerous powers did NOT come from Set (T-A's obviously did) WHERE did they come from? WHAT was Epemitreus fighting 1500yrs before Conan? :blink:

Feel free to check out this thread:

http://www.conan.com...os&fromsearch=1



What do you think?


I think I've merged your redundant thread with a venerable topic you should (perhaps) read.

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#19 Boot

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 05:50 PM

Are you sure you've read much "Classical" Greek mythology/history? The Illiad and The Odyssey (both composed during the classical period) are replete with deities manifesting themselves DIRECTLY.


I wasn't referring to Greek and Roman gods in the stories and mythology. I was referring to, in real history, how men believed in those gods yet they were not real. I chose the Roman/Greek gods because I didn't want to ignite a religious flamewar by citing the real God (Christian God), Ala, Buddah, or any of the other real-world religions today.





Mitra manifested himself/itself in The Phoenix on the Sword and Black Colossus. In the first case, Mitra gave protection to Conan that NO Stygian sorcerer (even those of the Black Ring) had. In the second case, the odds that someone impersonated MItra and Conan ended up being the savior of Khoraja are about a billion to one. You ARE trying to be rational (and true to Robert E. Howard) about this, right?


I haven't read Phoenix yet, but I've read BC a couple of times. I forgot about Mitra speaking to Yasmela. That's an interesting contradiction to my point.

Thoth-Amon, Thugra Khotan and Tsotha-Lanti all implicitly believed in Set, god of Chaos and the Night. If their sorcerous powers did NOT come from Set (T-A's obviously did) WHERE did they come from? WHAT was Epemitreus fighting 1500yrs before Conan? :blink:


Devils Advocate would say that Set isn't a god, but a demon worshipped as a god. Their power comes from the demon.

I'm not positing that as correct--just giving you a possible answer.

#20 deuce

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 06:14 PM

I wasn't referring to Greek and Roman gods in the stories and mythology. I was referring to, in real history, how men believed in those gods yet they were not real. I chose the Roman/Greek gods because I didn't want to ignite a religious flamewar by citing the real God (Christian God), Ala, Buddah, or any of the other real-world religions today.


Probably a good call.



Mitra manifested himself/itself in The Phoenix on the Sword and Black Colossus. In the first case, Mitra gave protection to Conan that NO Stygian sorcerer (even those of the Black Ring) had. In the second case, the odds that someone impersonated MItra and Conan ended up being the savior of Khoraja are about a billion to one. You ARE trying to be rational (and true to Robert E. Howard) about this, right?


haven't read Phoenix yet, but I've read BC a couple of times. I forgot about Mitra speaking to Yasmela. That's an interesting contradiction to my point. --- Boot



Yeah, and there's a god with demonstrated powers in "Iron Shadows". You haven't read all of the Conan yarns (let alone all of the "James Allison" yarns) and you're making sweeping "observations" about Conan and the HA and Robert E. Howard's universe? :blink: Was posting on another thread (or finding this one) not a possibility?

Thoth-Amon, Thugra Khotan and Tsotha-Lanti all implicitly believed in Set, god of Chaos and the Night. If their sorcerous powers did NOT come from Set (T-A's obviously did) WHERE did they come from? WHAT was Epemitreus fighting 1500yrs before Conan? :blink:


Devils Advocate would say that Set isn't a god, but a demon worshipped as a god. Their power comes from the demon.

I'm not positing that as correct--just giving you a possible answer. --- Boot


You might want to check out this thread:

http://www.conan.com...?showtopic=8438

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