There are too many gods.
That's the basic gist of it, but to elaborate, there are too many redundant gods. I understand the reason for this - you can pick and choose from a kitchen sink of tools to fit the narrative of the story you wish to tell - but for the DM who prefers a more structured cosmic narrative, it can be a massive headache. In essence, the lesser deities that are poorly fleshed out such as the Osirion pantheon, that have very little influence out of their immediate region such as the Tien pantheon, or that completely share a portfolio and alignment with other gods creates a great deal of confusion as to how the world operates on a meta-narrative level.
But I am not here to complain, merely to lay the groundwork for my proposed solution and perhaps discuss it further with others. The answer I came up with is...
Divine magic need not come from a god as has been proven by the Green Faith and other such atheistic philosophies that nevertheless allow tapping into some primal force of reality not through study or innate arcana but merely through a connection with a higher aspect of reality through faith. So it occurred to me that many of these lesser gods are not, in fact, actually real. They are stories, traditions, and folklore that have been given pseudo-presence in the Dimension of Dreams, the Astral Plane, a pocket dimension, or even the Prime Material. They don't have stats. You cannot fight them or destroy them and they cannot interact with the world in any capacity whatsoever save through worshipers, and the only way to rid the world of them is to completely eradicate them from memory along with any record of their existence. Unkillable, capable of granting divine power based on the narrative they were given, yet ultimately impotent to affect reality.
This would also mean that each pantheon could have their own origin story of the universe as how they did it, or would have done it. While this doesn't fool scholars who know the 'true' way things went down, the fact that these beings can do everything a god can short of having a domain with servants and the like would muddy the waters of what is truth, certainly enough to root a devoted following. What's more, the real gods wouldn't have to worry about the occasional shrine here and there. These folklore figures might pluck the occasional worshiper here and there but they can also be very useful gateways to granting the actual gods a convert where there would not have been one before.
And we could go even further. Perhaps the worshipers of regional gods only have divine powers within that region. Once they leave, they are no better than a commoner of their level until they return. This would dissuade the regional gods from being overly expansionist. What's the point? Their narrative is set in stone and they can't provide the magical power to make the conquest viable anyway, and if they overstretch they could invoke the ire of another, larger faith that could be incensed to wipe their memory out of existence. Thus they remain 'lesser' deities, only ever garnering a dedicated following, never proving true competition and underneath it all being content to simply exist thanks to the power of faith.
This, at least, is how I'd be willing to make it work.
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Question could it not also be that some lesser gods are effectively deligated?
Effectively, those gods are commanded/aided by the core deities such that they can have a freer reign over more active areas. Much like sending a subordinate to handle small clientele while the boss works with the big spenders and the other management.
This is specially true with things like pharasma potentially delegating parts of her death domain for specific case giving her more power to control the general case and still rule over her land. It also allows for certain gods who are know to fully exists but are none the less minor to still have a role. Much like the lesser Greek gods.
This is the case with a god like Anubis, who is denoted as being assistant to Pharasma. However, such a role is still somewhat redundant, as beings such as the psychopomp ushers and empyreal lords fulfill these needs for higher powers, being divine 'middle management' of a sort. Lesser gods translating to demigods, however, is another way we can definitely do this, and I'd encourage it because demigods are permitted to have stat blocks and thus can serve as final bosses/major ally NPCs in a campaign without feeling untouchable or ridiculously overwhelming. It could even work that the reason they are a 'pantheon' has less to do with them being of a region and more that these particular demigods have a closer relationship to each other than they do any other and thus just so happened to influence the same concentrated areas, thus why they share a similar visual aesthetic.
I personally favor a Shinto-inspired approach where the cosmic hierarchy includes different levels of Godhood, including both regional gods and overgods, as well as Gods devoted to aiding in specific functions, such as processing souls for reincarnation.
I also prefer godhood as an 'office' which is to say, spirits are appointed to the role of Gods by the Over-Gods (which are more abstract, with whom they serve as intermediaries for mortals.
Well pathfinder does have some "overgods": The Maelstrom (a plane/deity that is pure chaos), The Monad (which is a weird metaphysical entity that appears to want the planes to be in balance but appears to have a lawful bias given aeons), and the Outer Gods (the true deities of the Dark Tapestry). The all have in common is that they are said to be older than the universe.
So I would put those gods as the "inactive/semiactive" overgods.
Than of the core gods, I would say gods like: Pharasma, Asmodeus, Desna, etc. (aka gods who run entire planes and are said to have helped with creation) are the "active" overgods.
Finally of the remaining core gods fit somewhere between overgods and demigods. Much like how the Great Old ones are effectively demigods in the eyes of the Outer Gods, but full gods in the eyes of mortals.
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Another solution is to syncretism similar deities - different cultures deities are actually the same deities worshipped by everyone else, just under different names.
So, you take Pharasma for example - you say that Anubis and Magrim (both deities in different cultures who share the same general themes) are actually Pharasma as she is seen by Osirion and Magrim. They all worship the same deity, but she wears a different face for each culture, because she appears however her worshippers in a given area think she should appear.
You can do this even with deities that have differences in apparent gender or species - deities have no need for gender, and aren't actually humans/dwarves/elves/etc, their followers just represent them that way because they like to anthropomorphise their gods, and even ideological contradictions can be chalked up to cultural differences (as heresies are a common enough thing in golarion that there are fiends and demigods specifically dedicated to heresy).
The ideological contradictions were always something fascinating for me, especially in a setting where the gods are clear and present in society as a force. It would be necessary for their voices to be muddied and difficult to hear even by devoted clerics, thus causing them to be distorted. This would explain more so than anything why wisdom is the absolute most important stat for divine spellcasters. It's not just about the strength of a connection to a god, being able to make out a god's message would be incredibly important too, and with how vast the cosmos is coupled with gods having to provide to multitudes of followers all at once, the wires are bound to get crossed.
This makes the idea of bumping into a god in a campaign immensely more exciting and tense, as I imagine the "Cultural god X is actually core god Y" might be a secret... in fact, it's possible that what you said is absolutely true, except that the obfuscation is not so much consequential to the worshiper's views but rather a direct result of the gods obfuscating their 'true' nature in order to appeal to a larger group of worshipers. This, of course, gets into the dirtier waters of divinity as it would also mean that alignment makes less and less sense and the individual portfolios of a god would need to expand more and more. It's even possible all gods can, as creators of the universe, use ALL domains, it's just that they refuse to do so outside of a few constrained ones in order to maintain an easily manageable 'canon' for their mortal worshipers to follow. After all, a god should be unlimited, powerful, inconceivably vast, yet time and time again mortals have shown themselves to be easily divided if the barest hint of a differing opinion is shown. This is somewhat hypocritical of the gods, too, given that although they could all empower whatever domains, they still have their own 'individual agenda' (IE Pharasma wants a smooth-running afterlife, Asmodeus wants to enslave and rule, Sarenrae wants to heal and redeem, etc).
It might go even further. Lesser and cultural deities might represent deific alliances wherein two or more gods decide to split the pot on a culture, creating something like a divine shell corporation they puppet. They take bits and pieces of their personal portfolios, splatter some nice (perhaps even contradictory) lore on it, and throw out a few visions to get the ball rolling.
And secrecy of all of this would be enforced by whatever binding contract forbids gods from just jumping in and reworking reality: if any god reveals the truth about what's going on, reality eats itself or another god undoes it or something of the like occurs.
Only thing I maybe don't like about that theory is that it makes all of the gods, no matter what their beliefs, into these sleazy politician archetypes that lie... or perhaps don't lie, since the nature of deities is so out-and-out impossible to truly grasp for the limited mortal mind. It's a real mind****.
I might, for fun, compile a big ol' list of 'parallel' or 'shell' deities. I'll take suggestions.
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I think you're over thinking this based on assumptions which aren't really substantiated or accurate to Golarion cosmology.
There are too many gods.
In essence, the lesser deities that are poorly fleshed out such as the Osirion pantheon, that have very little influence out of their immediate region such as the Tien pantheon, or that completely share a portfolio and alignment with other gods creates a great deal of confusion as to how the world operates on a meta-narrative level.
All these details miss that ALL gods tend to not to have too active involvement in affairs outside their personal issues. In fact I would say the most powerful Deities are LESS likely to get involved minor ones (AKA Demigods).
Never mind tha Osirion pantheon have (or had) influence on far-flung planets which AFAIK isn't attested for "Core" Deities like Cayden Caylean (whose status is really artifact of game's meta-presentation and Avistan/Aroden mystery fixation, rather than broader in-universe thing). Inversely, we know from Starfinder there are major powerful Deities from other planets which have no notable impact on Golarion planet, despite being more powerful than many Deities who are worshipped on Golarion (in Pathfinder timeline).
Tien pantheon (which includes extra-Tien deities) is heavily worshipped in "immediate region" comprising entire contininent larger than Avistan. OK. BTW, worship popularity has no relation to Deity power in Golarion universe. Nothing says that a Deity or Demigod that isn't presented as within Tien pantheon, can't right now be the most actively involved deity in realm of Tian Xia. There is also aspect of distinguishing Deity personality (which is pretty far removed concern given they rarely interact with mortal world) and details of their worship i.e. "church" which is a social concern of mortals DISTINCT from Deity themselves. That can and is distinct between different cultures while nominally worshipping same Deity, this is clear from differences in Tien/Inner Sea worship of shared common Deities, for example.
Not so much in Tian Xia, but there is also specific phenomenon of Shimye-Magalla which fuses essences of two "standard" (metagame) deities of Desna and Gozreh to serve as one "Deity" at least from perspective of it's worshippers among Bonuwat people. Since this already is specific phenomenon, trying to change meanings of other Deities (or Demigods etc) to this model would be disrupting overall coherence of Golarion universe into something totally different.
You seem concerned about sharing portfolio (~Domains) and Alignment, but I don't see this as problem at all, Dieties are no more defined by these than a Fighter is by their weaponry and alignment. Deities are not "self conscious" about exemplifying these traits, they just are measurements (Alignment) or abilities they have affiliation to like Wizards have Arcane Schools... yet can behave as arch-enemy of other Wizard with same school. To understand each god, you need to learn their story as character, not derive some understanding of personality from these stats. Setting context of Oracles involves this intersecting quality of Deity's Domain/Portfolio concerns, making clear these aren't UNIQUE to each Deity any more than Arcane Schools are to invidual Wizards. It's reasonable to say Domain Portfolio's are inherent aspect to universe which happen to manifest adjacent to Deific power (and those worshipping such), but this in no way makes their non-uniqueness re: specific Deities a problem... To the contrary, this is fundamental part of setting cosmology which is lost if you try to change it.
Divine magic need not come from a god as has been proven by the Green Faith and other such atheistic philosophies
FYI, Green Faith is not atheistic, in either conventional/modern sense or in Golarion-specific sense that (to be concise) pertains to soul reincarnation on Outer Planes, and not worship of Deities or not.
So it occurred to me that many of these lesser gods are not, in fact, actually real... They don't have stats. You cannot fight them or destroy them and they cannot interact with the world in any capacity whatsoever save through worshipers, and the only way to rid the world of them is to completely eradicate them from memory along with any record of their existence.
And this directly contradicts the specific cosmology of Golarion universe. In fact, it is the most powerful Deities which don't have stats because you can't defeat them by normal stat mechanics. Lesser deities or demigods are more able to be thusly killed (mundanely). Lesser deities are more likely to directly interact with the world. You claim you want a "more structured cosmic narrative", but you are ignoring all the ways Golarion universe IS specifically structured, which just doesn't happen to align with Deity-centric narrative... because Deities aren't so centrally cosmically important in Golarion cosmology.
This would also mean that each pantheon could have their own origin story of the universe as how they did it, or would have done it. While this doesn't fool scholars who know the 'true' way things went down, the fact that these beings can do everything a god can short of having a domain with servants and the like would muddy the waters of what is truth, certainly enough to root a devoted following.
Again FYI, Paizo's planar and divine content has already established that there ARE multiple theories of cosmological history that conflict, and whatever ultimate truth lies behind them isn't ever made 100% clear... All with a cosmology that conflicts with your proposals, so those changes aren't at all necesary to "enable" this sort of dynamic.
What's more, the real gods wouldn't have to worry about the occasional shrine here and there. These folklore figures might pluck the occasional worshiper here and there but they can also be very useful gateways to granting the actual gods a convert where there would not have been one before.
As I stated, worship of gods is irrelevant to their power or existence, gods don't generally give a s%&$ about who has what church where... and minor deities are the most likely ones to be engaged as that "minor" level in the cosmic scheme of things.
And we could go even further. Perhaps the worshipers of regional gods only have divine powers within that region. Once they leave, they are no better than a commoner of their level until they return. This would dissuade the regional gods from being overly expansionist. What's the point?
Indeed what is the point, if worship isn't centrally relevant to deities, but is an incidental mechanic of their divine nature? Your proposal here kills intra-planar and intra-planetary travel for divine casters (unless allied to "major" deity, I suppose), and Paizo APs even feature intraplanar shenanigans of lesser deities (AKA demigods) in direct conflict.
Look, sorry if this comes off as dismissive... There's nothing wrong with a cosmology like you suggest, which you could make great homebrew setting from... And maybe that model of cosmic centrality of Deities mediated by "false" lesser Deities resonates with you more than Golarion's cosmology, more power to you. But I don't see value in claiming this as "solution" to Golarion, when these problems only come from you not grokking the conceptual basis of Golarion cosmology, and forcing your personal assumptions onto it and being confused by result.
Golarion universe is semi-infinite, and the game is under control of GM and players, so the only deities and demigods that are relevant to your story is the ones you want to be relevant, whether local ascended demigods, whether universal deities like Pharasma, or anything in between. This is congruent with Paizo's approach to setting, namely "patchwork" world where not every single details is really designed around intensive interaction with every other detail, they just exist in patchwork, even if broader metaplots and dynamics do exist... Now that is very generalist approach that isn't inherently ideal for any given person or group. If you aren't inspired by Golarion cosmology, you aren't obliged to use it... And there's nothing wrong with "grabbing" useful elements from Paizo's Golarion and using them within different cosmological assumption... It just seems like you should consciously own your own world when you do that, rather than view it as solving "problem" of Golarion.
OK, both "moving pieces" within premise of given cosmology and creating new cosmological universe are compatible with "Homebrew" ...I think I assumed the context was still more within former than the latter because of the way you cast it as a problem (with a "solution") and as something "confusing" about Golarion setting... along with the statements not phrased as proposals or creations, but as claims or assumptions of Golarion cosmology that weren't true. I think you have pretty consistent vision of what you want, and writing that much content in casual forum post can be hard to phrase everything ideally, so sorry for the misunderstanding. Hopefully I might have elucidated more specific differences in the direction you want your universe/cosmology to go, compared to Golarion.
|Pope Uncommon the Dainty|
You should look into some of the modern polytheistic theologians writing on the subject of syncretization ~ the question, for example, of how Re-Horakhty relates to Re and Heru/Horus, or how Hermanubis relates to Hermes and Anubis or how both Maria Padilha and Pomba-Gira of the Seven Crossroads can be Pomba-Gira, et cetera, et cetera. You're treading on some of the same ground as those theologians right now....
I don't know if e's resposted it, but PSVL (Phillupus Sufenas Virius Lupus), a (possibly former) friend of mine and founder of one of my religions, used to have some really amazing writings on this subject up on eir blog...
So, who would be the overgods in Pathfinder? The core gods? Pharasma seems to fit the role.
I bumped them down to demigod tier as that's the strongest thing intended to have stats, the over gods are mono alignment- one deity per that embodies good, evil, law, chaos, and both kinds of neutrality. The demigods are their 'children' in a manner if speaking, and they need one another for creation.