In this post I look at the origins of the gods and goddesses of the Warhammer background, starting with the main deities of the WFRP1 rulebook.
Manann seems to be a conflation of European sea gods. His name comes from the Celtic sea god Manannán mac Lir. However, his character and appearance more closely resemble that of the Greek god Poseidon, especially with respect to the common symbol of a trident.
Mórr also draws on a number of sources. His symbol of the raven derives from the Celtic goddess the Morrígan and the Valkyries of Norse myth. The connection of dreams and death is classical (the Greek gods Thanatos, Hypnos and Morpheus are related). The connection with doors also echoes classical ideas of gateways to the underworld, and possibly recalls the Roman god Janus. The name is probably derived from the Latin mors (“death”).
Taal is clearly the Celtic god Cernunnos. This is emphasised by the equation of Taal with the elf god Karnos (see Warhammer Companion, p21, reprinted in Apocrypha Now, p67), whose name clearly derives from Cernunnos. I cannot, though, discern the origin of the name Taal.
The inspiration for Ranald seems to have been the Norse god Loki. The name may simply be a corruption of Ronald. (It might even have been intended as a contemporary cultural reference, perhaps to Ronald Reagan or Ronald McDonald.)
There are many war deities in European myth that could have influenced the conception of Myrmidia. However, a number of them can probably be disregarded. The Greek Ares and Norse Odin are masculine. The Morrígan of Celtic myth and Valkyries of Norse are linked more with death on the battlefield than military strategy and discipline. The deity Myrmidia most closely resembles is the Greek goddess Athena in her martial aspect. The resemblance extends to their physical appearance: both are depicted wearing a helmet and carrying a spear and shield.
The name also seems to have a classical origin: the Myrmidons were the warriors who accompanied Achilles in the Trojan War.
The common motif of tears makes the Celtic influence clear in this case. Shallya derives from the goddess Airmed, whose tears had healing power. The origin of the name, however, eludes me. There is a Gallic goddess of healing that the Romans called Sirona. There is a Welsh word gwella, meaning “heal”. But I am clutching at straws. I really have no idea where the name comes from.
This deity seems to be the another modelled directly on the Greek goddess Athena. Both are goddesses of learning and wisdom. Verena is depicted in a pseudo-classical garb and shares the owl symbol that was Athena’s. I strongly suspect the name derives from the combination of Athena and the Latin verus (“true”).
Ulric seems to be an embodiment of the warriors of Norse myth, especially the ulfhedhnar. The name seems to be a modification of the Nordic name Ulrich, possibly under the influence of Moorcock’s Elric.
Kháine bears an interesting resemblance to the Hindu deity Kali: four arms, a leering mouth and a garland of skulls. If so, it is an unusual departure from European sources of inspiration. I am unsure as to the origin of the name; possibly Kali and the Biblical Cain were influences.
There are many mother deities in real-world mythology, but the druidic context makes the Celtic goddess Danu the most likely archetype here. I am unsure of the origin of the name, but it could be the English word rye.
Sigmar was created by Phil Gallagher. The name is a variation of Siegfried from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, as discussed here.
Like the other non-human deities Grungi seems not to be based on a mythological deity, but on a stereotype of the race in general. Mythology may have contributed the name, however: Odin’s spear was Gungnir.
This name would seem to have been derived from Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. The other element in the name is perhaps the English word lyre.
There can be little doubt the name of this deity is the Iberian first name, famously used by Victor Hugo. However, it is likely that it came to be used in this context because of another literary source: Tolkien used it of hobbits (eg Esmaralda Brandybuck).
It is clear that for the most part the deities above are pastiches of historical deities, especially classical and Celtic ones. That is very much in keeping with the pseudo-historical feel of the Warhammer setting, and very probably made the setting more accessible to its audience.
One question I have never seen discussed is who was behind these deities (with the exception of Sigmar). Graeme Davis has commented before that he worked extensively on the religion section of the WFRP1 rulebook, but that does not necessarily mean that he was the originator of the gods and goddesses it contains. They do, though, bear some of the hallmarks of his work: allusions to historical mythology, especially Celtic, and Latin-inspired names. And most of these deities did not appear in print until WFRP1. Yet the god Taal appeared in the Spring 1986 Citadel Journal. That is close to the time Davis joined GW, but it might mean Taal existed before Davis worked on this material.
The second part of this post will cover the deities of Law and Chaos.