Small Gods
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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Small Gods

Copyright © 1992 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett


Koomi’s theory was largely based on the good old Gnostic heresy, which tends to turn up all over the multiverse whenever men get up off their knees and start thinking for two minutes together, although the shock of the sudden altitude tends to mean the thinking is a little whacked.



Words are the litmus paper of the mind. If you find yourself in the power of someone who will use the word “commence” in cold blood, go somewhere else very quickly. But if they say “Enter,” don’t stop to pack.



The shepherd had a hundred sheep, and it might have been surprising that he was prepared to spend days searching for one sheep; in fact, it was because he was the kind of man prepared to spend days looking for a lost sheep that he had a hundred sheep.

Only a mile away from the shepherd and his flock was a goatherd and his herd. The merest accident of microgeography had meant that the first man to hear the voice of Om, and who gave Om his view of humans, was a shepherd and not a goatherd. They have quite different ways of looking at the world, and the whole of history might have been different.

For sheep are stupid, and have to be driven. But goats are intelligent, and need to be led.

Vorbis could humble himself in prayer in a way that made the posturings of power-mad emperors look subservient.



“Where there is punishment, there is always a crime,” said Vorbis. “Sometimes the crime follows the punishment, which only serves to prove the foresight of the Great God.”



“Winners never talk about glorious victories. That’s because they’re the ones who see what the battlefield looks like afterward. It’s only the losers who have glorious victories.”



One of the goddesses had been having some very serious trouble with her dress, Brutha noticed [...]

“Petulia, Goddess of Negotiable Affection,” said Om. “Worshipped by the ladies of the night, and every other time as well, if you catch my meaning.”

Brutha’s mouth dropped open.

“They’ve got a goddess for painted jezebels?

“Why not? Very religious people I understand. They’re used to being on their—they spend so much time looking at the—look, belief is where you find it. Specialization.”



“What’s a philosopher?” said Brutha.

“Someone who’s bright enough to find a job with no heavy lifting,” said a voice in his head.

“If you spend your whole time thinking about the universe, you tend to forget the less important bits of it. Like your pants.”
People think that professional soldiers think a lot about fighting, but serious professional soldiers think a lot more about food and a warm place to sleep, because these are two things that are generally hard to get, whereas fighting tends to turn up all the time.




“Gods?” said Xeno. “We don’t bother with gods. Huh. Relics of an outmoded belief system, gods.”

There was a rumble of thunder from the clear evening sky.

“Except for Blind Io the Thunder God,” Xeno went on, his tone hardly changing.



Humans! They lived in a world where the grass continued to be green and the sun rose every day and flowers regularly turned into fruit, and what impressed them? Weeping statues. And wine made out of water! A mere quantum-mechanistic tunnel effect, that’d happen anyway if you were prepared to wait zillions of years. As if the turning of sunlight into wine, by means of vines and grapes and time and enzymes, wasn’t a thousand times more impressive and happened all the time . . .

The Ephebians believed that every man should have the vote.* Every five years someone was elected to be Tyrant, provided he could prove that he was honest, intelligent, sensible, and trustworthy. Immediately after he was elected, of course, it was obvious to everyone that he was a criminal madman and totally out of touch with the view of the ordinary philosopher in the street looking for a towel. And then five years later they elected another one just like him, and really it was amazing how intelligent people kept on making the same mistakes.

* Provided that he wasn’t poor, foreign, nor disqualified by reason of being mad, frivolous, or a woman.




“What is it you fear?” he said. “Here in your desert, with your . . . gods? Is it not that, deep in your souls, you know that your gods are as shifting as your sand?”

“Oh, yes,” said the Tyrant. “We know that. That’s always been a point in their favor. We know about sand. And your God is a rock—and we know about rock.”

His philosophy was a mixture of three famous schools—the Cynics, the Stoics, and the Epicureans—and summed up all three of them in his famous phrase, “You can’t trust any bugger further than you can throw him, and there’s nothing you can do about it, so let’s have a drink. Mine’s a double, if you’re buying.”



“Slave is an Ephebian word. In Om we have no word for slave,” said Vorbis.

“So I understand,” said the Tyrant. “I imagine that fish have no word for water.”



Books shouldn’t be kept too close together, otherwise they interact in strange and unforeseeable ways.


Books (general)

“There’s the Xenoists,” said Urn promptly. ”They say the world is basically complex and random. And there’s the Ibidians. They say the world is basically simple and follows certain fundamental rules.”

“And there’s me,” said Didactylos, pulling a scroll out of its rack.

“Master says basically it’s a funny old world,” said Urn.

“And doesn’t contain enough to drink,” said Didactylos.

“We are here and it is now. The way I see it is, after that, everything tends towards guesswork.”

“You mean you don’t know it’s true?” said Brutha.

“I think it might be,” said Didactylos. “I could be wrong. Not being certain is what being a philosopher is all about.”

If there was no truth, what was there left? And these bumbling old men spent their time kicking away the pillars of the world, and they’d nothing to replace them with but uncertainty. And they were proud of this?



“Oh, I’m not talking about the poor bugger in the pit,” said the philosopher. “I’m talking about the people throwing the stones. They were sure all right. They were sure it wasn’t them in the pit. You could see it in their faces. So glad it wasn’t them that they were throwing just as hard as they could.”

“Brave man. He says gods like to see an atheist around. Gives them something to aim at.”



“Belief shifts. People start out believing in the god and end up believing in the structure.”

Compare to:

Peter Brown



Why should we trust him?”

“Anyone stupid enough to expect us to trust him in these circumstances must be trustworthy,” said Didactylos. “He’d be too stupid to be deceitful.”

He thought: the worst thing about Vorbis isn’t that he’s evil, but that that he makes good people do evil. He turns people into things like himself. You can’t help it. You catch it off him.



“Life in this world,” he said, “is, as it were, a sojourn in a cave. What can we know of reality? For all we see of the true nature of existence is, shall we say, no more than bewildering and amusing shadows cast upon the inner wall of the cave by the unseen blinding light of absolute truth, from which we may or may not deduce some glimmer of veracity, and we as troglodyte seekers of wisdom can only lift our voices to the unseen and say, humbly, ‘Go on, do Deformed Rabbit . . . it’s my favorite.’ ”

Gods are not very introspective. It has never been a survival trait. The ability to cajole, threaten, and terrify has always worked well enough. When you can flatten entire cities at a whim, a tendency toward quiet reflection and seeing-things-from-the-other-fellow’s-point-of-view is seldom necessary.

Which had led, across the multiverse, to men and women of tremendous brilliance and empathy devoting their entire lives to the service of deities who couldn’t beat them at a quiet game of dominoes.

The captain frowned. “It’s a funny thing,” he said, “but why is it that the heathens and the barbarians seem to have the best places to go when they die?”

“A bit of a poser, that,” agreed the mate. “I s’pose it makes up for ’em . . . enjoying themselves all the time when they’re alive, too?” He looked puzzled. Now that he was dead, the whole thing sounded suspicious.


The Afterlife


Gods didn’t mind atheists, if they were deep, hot, fiery atheists like Simony, who spend their whole life not believing, spend their whole life hating gods for not existing. That sort of atheism was a rock. It was nearly belief . . .



“Just because you can explain it doesn’t mean it’s not still a miracle.”



“There’s no point in believing in things that exist.”

“Someone’s put up their hand,” said Urn.


“Sir, surely only things that exist are worth believing in?” said the enquirer [...]

“If they exist, you don’t have to believe in them,” said Didactylos. “They just are.”



“It is real. I don’t know about truth. Truth is a lot more complicated than that.”



“You can’t inspire people with facts. They need a cause. They need a symbol.”

“The desert becomes really interesting after the mushroom season.”

“Full of giant purple singing slugs? Talking pillars of flame? Exploding giraffes? That sort of thing?” said Brutha carefully.

“Good heavens, yes,” said the saint. “I don’t know why. I think they’re attracted by the mushrooms.”



Hurting people because you enjoyed it . . . that was understandable. Vorbis just hurt people because he’d decided that they should be hurt, without passion, even with a kind of hard love.
“Never been bishop or high panjandrum. Dangerous life. Always be man who cleans pews or sweeps up behind altar. No one bother useful man. No one bother small man. No one remember name.”



Cuius testiculos habes, habeas cardia et cerebellum.

When you have their full attention in your grip, their hearts and minds will follow.



“We died for lies, for centuries we died for lies.” He waved a hand towards the god. “Now we’ve got a truth to die for!”

“No. Men should die for lies. But the truth is too precious to die for. [...] You can die for your country or your people or your family, but for a god you should live fully and busily, every day of a long life.”


“Yes. Yes, of course.”

Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.

Compare to:

T. S. Eliot

This is Religion, Boy. Not Comparison Bloody Shopping! You Shall Not Subject Your God to Market Forces!



“But there’s no reason to fight!”

“Yes there is. Honor and revenge and duty and things like that.”

“Do you really think so? I thought philosophers were supposed to be logical?”

Didactylos shrugged.

“Well, the way I see it, logic is only a way of being ignorant by the numbers.”



There the gods of the Discworld live.

At the least, any god who is anybody. And it is strange that, although it takes years of effort and work and scheming for a god to get there, once there they never seem to do a lot apart from drink too much and indulge in a little mild corruption. Many systems of government follow the same broad lines.



“Will you go to hell if you have a drop of spirit?” he said.

“So it seems,” said Simony, absently. Then he noticed the flask. “Oh, you mean alcohol?”



There were one thousand, two hundred and eighty-three religious books in there now, each one—according to itself—the only book any man need ever read. It was sort of nice to see them all together.



text checked (see note T) Feb 2005; May 2011

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Graphics copyright © 2003, 2005 by Hal Keen