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Small Gods Three Times a Week - Ridiculous to Sublime - Lee Moyer (icons) & Seanan McGuire (stories)

Mattie Trumbull – the Small God of Practical Effects

[image description: A ghostly woman floats above the stage amid a swirl of dry ice. She holds a big vase of tulips in her right hand. Because the background consists of tall vertical windows, the wires are more difficult to see. Text reads, “214, Mattie Trumbull, the Small God of Practical Effects.”]

• • • • •

CGI isn’t easy.  Telling a computer to paint a picture, designing every aspect and angle of that image, and spinning it in a three-dimensional space until it becomes as close to indistinguishable from reality as the technology currently allows, that’s hard.  That’s a task fit for a god.

That’s not the god we’re talking about today.

From the beginning, humans have been telling stories.  That’s how we got gods in the first place.  And from that beginning the storytellers have been looking for ways to transport their audiences more completely into the tales they tell.  A stick, brandished in the right light, becomes a sword; a handful of ground quartz, blown into the air, a gust of magical wind.  The special effect followed the story by only a matter of sentences, human ingenuity finding more and better methods of holding an audience.

From this innovation, Mattie arose, models and puppets and Pepper’s ghosts held in her open hands, intricate costumes and distorting makeup in her dressing room.  She was everything and nothing, and ready to make the storytellers the same.

As time passed, her portfolio thrived.  She welcomed new technologies, mechanical monsters, animatronics and perfect replicas of things that never were.  Jim Henson was one of hers from the cradle to the grave, as was Millicent Patrick, as have been so many puppeteers and circus workers, carnies without number, LARPers and theatrical productions.  She thrived, and so did the stories in her care, uplifted to new and greater heights by her art and the art of her adherents.

Then came the rise of CGI.  Cheaper, faster, easier to pivot on a dime.  (All of these statements are lies, when you speak to the people behind the computers, many of whom still worship at Mattie’s altar when the lights are low: there are always costs.)  Even franchises which had always belonged to her began to shift their allegiance, turning from the puppet to the pixel.

But Mattie, whose effortlessly practical makeup has always left her age open to interpretation, is a patient god.  Patience is not often the province of the divine, and yet in her case, it serves her well indeed.  For as CGI ages quickly, becoming obsolete, an animatronic dinosaur sculpted thirty years ago looks as alive today as it did the moment it first opened its great mechanical jaws and roared.

When the age of CGI is ended, when storytellers once more sit around the fire and tell their audiences tales of movies their grandparents saw, they won’t reach for supercomputers and technologies they don’t understand.  They’ll reach for sticks and handfuls of quartz.

And Mattie, patient Mattie, will be there.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:

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Aly Thesaurus – small god of Heavy Reading

[image description: The room is lit with violet light, but by the fire, where Aly sits – in a comfy chair, feet up on a soft footstool – orange light spills out. To Aly’s side, a small table with curved legs supports a shallow bowl of nuts. and its tabletop, the remains of broken shells. The room is cozy and well-appointed, its mantle supports glassware and photos. More photos line the walls, and the tall bookcase behind Aly is inscribed with the words ‘ARS LONGA, VITA BREVIS’ across its top. Text reads, “213, Aly Thesaurus, small god of Heavy Reading.”]

• • • • •

Some stories are sweet and easily swallowed, candy for the mind.  There is nothing wrong with candy, consumed in moderation; all things are fuel for the eager brain, for the lofty thoughts of dreamers.  We need our chocolate-coated happy endings, our spun-sugar fables, to give us the energy to work through an often dismal and dismaying world.  We need the light to get us through the times when we can’t quite lift the heavy.

But when that hunger has been properly satiated, there is Aly, waiting patiently as ever, a book dense as flourless chocolate cake in his hands, offering it over to you like the gift that it is.

Aly’s treasures do not always need to be long: a fantasy doorstop, heavy enough to serve as a murder weapon, can still be light reading if written in the correct voice, penned by the correct hand.  A novella, slim as a sigh, can be pressed lead, words tumbling over words, so thick with poetic imagery and complicated vocabulary that it takes a week to puzzle through.  He doesn’t care.  As long as the work is challenging—as long as it’s heavy—he’s at home.

Not everyone loves Aly.  Some people call him pretentious, claim he discriminates against slow readers, say he’s the reason they fell out of love with literature.  He sighs at the first, mourns the second, disagrees with the third.  If someone chooses the work they read according to their mind’s needs in the moment, nothing can steal their love of literature away.  He doesn’t discriminate against the slow readers; some of his dearest advocates are people who can take a full year to consume a single story.  If people feel he stole their love of reading, it wasn’t him, it was people who claimed to speak for him, who tried to insist that only “heavy” works were true literature, that stories sketched quickly in gossamer sheeting were not worth their time.

He just wants everyone to read.  He would prefer that everyone read things to challenge and inspire them, but if he can’t have that, he just wants you reading.

All the better if you need a dictionary close to hand.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:

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FORRY – the small god of COLLECTING

[image description: A man in a black suit with an insignia (is that Dracula’s seal?) over his breast pocket stands amid a vasty collection. I’d love to describe it to you, but these platforms all have character limits. That said, maybe you’ll be the first person to name EVERY item pictured here (and there are some tricky ones – including a couple which can probably only be guessed in context)? Text reads, “212, FORRY, the small god of COLLECTING.”]

• • • • •

Forry…ah, Forry.  One of a kind, that guy.  A rare specimen indeed.  So it’s only understandable that when he died, the pantheon collected him, lifted him up and made him part of their catalog.  He’s here now, and unless the nature of humans changes dramatically, he’s going to be here forever.

Collecting is a natural urge.  Everyone does it.  They see a shiny shell or a special rock, they pick it up and take it home.  For some people, it goes from urge to obsession, every little trinket and scrap that touches their hands becoming a part of some osmotic whole that only they can see.  Those people aren’t Forry’s.  They belong to Mebbe, small god of hoarding, or to Sal, small god of thrift and salvage, and Forry cannot reach them.

For others, the drive to collect narrows, focuses on one thing or type of thing, and becomes a passion.  They turn their lives into shrines to baseball cards, ceramic cats, comic books or plastic horses.  They fill bin upon bin with brightly-colored polyhedral shapes, and deny, loudly, that they have a problem, even as they throw money into a hole that can never be completely filled.  Some of them are joyous in their collections.  Others are compulsive, dancing the border between Mebbe and Forry, unable to stop themselves.

But all things can be beautiful in moderation, and what “moderation” means is determined by the individual.  If it makes a person happy to own eight hundred Barbie dolls, and their life is otherwise following the paths a society sees as “thriving”—their bills are paid, their children are fed, their house is in whatever state of cleanliness comforts them all—what are they doing wrong?  Follow your dreams, be happy.  Buy those dice.  Remember what joy feels like.

Forry will be there for you the whole time.  Holding tight.  He doesn’t want you to slip from his collection into someone else’s, after all.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:

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JACK KIRBY (written over JACOB KURTZBERG) – the small god of SUPERHEROES

[image description: An intense square-jawed fellow with a steely gaze and brushy grey hair wears a checked jacket and a turtleneck. Dots of energy crackle around him – half halo, half golden laurels. The edges of the piece are distressed and torn, but hanging in there. Text reads, “Issue 211, JACK KIRBY (written over JACOB KURTZBERG), the small god of SUPERHEROES”]

• • • • •

Yeah, they existed before he did.  Gilgamesh?  Hercules?  Merlin?  Superheroes, all of ‘em, all the way back to the beginning of storytelling.  It’s just FUN to tell stories about people who can break the laws the rest of us have to follow, the ones who are too strong or swift or smart or just plane super to be bound by ordinary rules.  So yeah, they’ve been around all the way back to the beginning, and they’re gonna be around long after the name “Jack Kirby” has faded into memory and whispered, nonsensical prayer.

But that time’s not now, and for the superheroes who snap into your mind’s eye when I say the word, he’s the man, he’s the god, he’s the guru good guy hand behind the pen, mind behind the motion.  He’s the one we thank and reference and remember, even when we don’t know it.

The superheroes we have today, they stand on a foundation of circus strongmen and masked vigilantes, of acrobats and sideshow performers, and Kirby did that.  He drew the lines, he chose the colors, he set the standard, and without him, we wouldn’t be here.

Oh, yeah, there were other hands at work, writers and idea-men, but at the end of the day, it’s the images that catch like a hook in our mind, colors that catch and keep the eye, symbolism that makes it all work.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and Kirby drew so many pictures that he outwrote Shakespeare by a solid country mile.  All those superheroes?  All those men of steel and women of shining glory?  He drew those for you, as a gift, and he set them into the world as a promise, and they watch over it still, for him, as a pledge.

He’s doing his best.  He can’t do everything, but when he ascended to the pantheon, he just picked up his pen and kept on going, and he’s doing his best.

He always will be.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:

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Sasithorn Chao Fa – the small god of Wistfulness

[image description: A cute little Asian girl in a red shirt, white sandals, and blue jeans sits in the white crescent of a (paper?) moon. Flying about her on string – a perfect 5-pointed star: behind her – countless real stars and nebulae lie lightyears away. Text reads, “188, Sasithorn Chao Fa, the small god of Wistfulness”]

• • • • •

To be wistful is to be filled with vague longing and melancholy, to want for something that may or may not be measurable and may or may not even be real.  It is the feeling of a small child sitting in a dandelion meadow, staring upward at a sky full of unattainable stars.  It is the feeling of wondering why Peter Pan never came for you, why the wardrobe was always only ever a wardrobe and never a portal to a wintery woodland full of wonders, why the unicorn never appeared.  It is a feeling of loss when nothing has been lost, and it can color days and nights, sweet as sugar, bitter as a candied lime.

And where the feeling of wistfulness is there, the small god of wistfulness is never far away.

They have yet to be seen with perfect clarity, being more a corner-of-the-eye god, a I-think-I-saw-them god.  We try to address the divine as they wish to be addressed within this chronicle, not wishing to invoke the wrath of even the most minor of deities, but we don’t know how the small god of wistfulness wishes to be known, whether they are male or female or both or neither or something ineffable and grand which they have never made known to any.  Even River, who is normally the expert on proper pronouns, could only shrug when asked.  So if we give offense here, we apologize.  Please believe we meant no harm.

It is entirely possible the small god of wistfulness will never once be more clearly seen than by the artist who painted their official iconography, for clarity would transform wistfulness into something else.  Longing, perhaps, or aversion, or something even harder to define.  But this we know for sure.  We wish we could see them.  We long, in a vague and indefinable way, for their presence.  And thus do we know they walk among us, and always will, wistful and wanting.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:

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St. Hippocrates of Vegas – small god of Megachurches

[image description:  It’s Elvis Presley, his perfect black hair in a wave over the left side of his face as he smiles that one-sided smile. Well… ok, probably not. Probably it’s just an impersonator, a really good one. So believable! He’s wearing his Vegas suit (you know, the big white one with the too-large and too-numerous gold studs and the ridiculous too-high collar?) But over the suit, he’s rocking a brilliant blue robe. He bears a huge blooming flower in his upraised right hand, and a gilded grail in his left. behind him a scrim with a gold radial sunburst halo and golden filigree. Text reads, “209, St. Hippocrates of Vegas, small god of Megachurches”]

• • • • •

For many people, there is comfort in religion.  In knowing—or at least believing—that there is something larger than themselves, something guiding their nights and days, ushering them toward a destined reward if only they follow the rules, if only they are obedient, if only they are well-behaved.  The faithful of the small gods generally understand that those rewards will be only what their gods promise in the moment, the peace of Paws, the comfort and safety of River, the rest of Lulah.  They don’t dangle paradise like a token on a string, as if salvation were a bauble to be granted or denied on a heaven’s whim.

But those who put their stock in the large gods forgo the personal touch of a deity with so little to do that they know their believers by name for the comforts of a promised eternity, and who can say they’ve made the wrong decision?  If their faith is true and their belief sincere, if they listen to the teachings of their sages and follow them as given, rather than twisting them to suit their own ends, if they use religion as a comfort and not a cudgel, who’s to say they’re in the wrong?

But there will always be those who twist those edicts, who view every proverb as a blade to slide between the ribs of the disbelieving, and for them, Sir Hippocratus has risen.

Whenever so many gather in the name of a single faith that the message of their god becomes rewritten and distorted in the image of a charismatic pastor, he is there.  When the poor give their last dimes to pay for the earthly mansions of those who promise them mansions in heaven, he is there.  When those same bright-eyed, compellingly voiced pastors strut upon their stages condemning all that is not like them, calling for the execution of political rivals, claiming prosecution when they are asked to allow other faiths to exist, not even to dominate, but to exist at all, he is there.

He is there to claim that “happy holidays” is an attack on Christmas, rather than an obligate “merry Christmas” being treated as an attack on all the other winter observances.  He is there to say that prayer in schools should be a personal choice, that there will be no social consequences for those who choose not to pray, and to rally more dollars from those who can least afford it when the law says otherwise.

He is a very nice god.  He enjoys cross-stitch and kittens, and spends Wednesdays reading to underprivileged children at the library.  But he enjoys his job, and you should never forget that, for he can smile and smile and condemn you to burn eternally in the name of the faiths he serves, and never see the contradiction.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:

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CONTRAXION – Small God of ‘Work for Hire’

[image description:  A bight-red figure with curved horns, long satyr-like legs and hooved feet, and a long pointed tail sits on a wide carved wooden set wearing trousers and a thin waistcoat. They bear a sword in their right hand that sits horizontally across their lap, they wear a large necklace of faience scarabs over a largely bare chest, a glowing cigarette whose smoke is green in the bright garish sidelight. A briefcase sits to their right. Text reads, “208, CONTRAXION, Small God of ‘Work for Hire’”]

• • • • •

There is nothing wrong with spending time in their service, providing you first read the fine print and understand how much of yourself you’re signing away.  Your time, your work, your talents…everything is on the table.  And in a world where we have to work if we want to eat, there’s nothing empirically WRONG with that.  We do what we have to do.  We keep body and soul together as long as we can, and we try and we try and they are always there.  They are always ready to take what we have, whether or not it’s what we can afford to give.

They know.

They carry a double-edged sword.  You can create great things in their service, lines of timeless beauty, works of deathless art, and they will give you the safety net to make those things possible, but those things will never truly belong to you.  What happens in their service remains in their service.  If you know that, if you go in with open eyes and a willing heart, they may still eat you alive, but at least you’ll feel you got the better of the deal all the way down into the dark.

And it is very dark.  The depths are filled with those who didn’t read the fine print, who died hungry while people thronged to attend the premieres of movies based on their creations, who fought bitter battles for credit they would never receive.  Be careful in the presence of Contraxion.  Watch your step; read before you sign.  Know, all the while, what you are doing, and while they may not treat you kindly, they will still have the potential to treat you well.

There is nothing stopping them from treating you well.

Just make sure you get paid.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:

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Princess Chia – the small god of ‘76

[image description:  A portrait of a space princess with growing green plants for hair and radiant – almost hallucinatory – lines and swirls behind her. And that’s not even mentioning the small moon, the stars or the trippy lettering, all rendered in an outlined style reminiscent of Yellow Submarine or Peter Max. Text reads, “207, Princess Chia, ‘the small god’ (is taped over the words ’The Spirit’ of ‘76”]

• • • • •

Hey, man.  Far out, right?  Outta this world.  Most people met her later than ’76, but ’76 was when she was first believed into being, by hair and makeup and central casting, all bringing her to incarnation on the bright-eyed face of a twenty-year-old girl who had no idea that she was flirting with the divine (in more ways than one, as Carrie herself has since ascended to serve as the small god of Rebellion).  So many decisions were made in ’76, decisions that would come to shake the world, but that seemed, in the moment, as things of little consequence, as little consequence as the filming of a two-bit science fiction film, destined to fail and be forgotten.

But they didn’t fail.  They weren’t forgotten.  They flew.  And when they flew, she flew with them, bright and young and innocent and flawed and perfect.  She inspired generations to reach farther, stand taller, rebel, blossom, and grow.  And she did it all with 1976 brushed across her cheeks and shining in her eyes.  A moment can extend beyond its place on the calendar, but it can never truly leave that place behind: it will always know where it came from.  She will always know where she came from.

And if we’re good, if we’re very, very good, if we’re bright-eyed and earnest and willing to fly, she may be there to gather us close, to tell us to protect our shining starlight hearts, to keep the spark of ’76 burning deep within our breasts, to help us take off so fast and so fiercely that we’re halfway into orbit before anyone knows we’re gone.

She’s a nebulous god.  Her faithful love her all the same, and given time, she will lead every one of them home.

Believe her.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:

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Jack Torrents – small god of Writer’s Block

[image description:  A wine-colored monochrome portrait of an increasingly frustrated and deranged white man lies over a page of text. Though each line is different (and all seemingly misspelled) they are to the effect that ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. There are unsettling blood stains at the bottom of the page. Text (in Courier font) reads, “206, Jack Torrents, small god of Writer’s Block”]

• • • • •

Never has there been a more perfect more infallible more glorious god, worthy only of praise, no censure, no critique.*

(*Anne O’Tate is a god of research and form, not composition, and I have to hope she can protect me, if I cast my text into her domain.  So: Jack.  Jack is the small god of writer’s block.  He offers suggestions, offers comforts and concern, and his company can seem like a blessing, when it comes at the beginning of such an affliction.  Here is someone who KNOWS.  Here is someone who UNDERSTANDS.

But if we give him our worship and our attention, here is someone who LINGERS.  Someone who feeds every excuse, every bit of precious fragility.  “Oh, I can’t write, I saw a bad thing on social media.”  “Oh, I can’t write, Starbucks was out of Pumpkin Spice muffins.”  “Oh, I can’t write, I don’t feel it in my heart.”

All of that is Jack.  He will feed the worst parts of you, will enable and encourage, will refuse to leave unless made to do so.)

And because he is such a perfect god, there is no need for someone as small and insignificant as I to attract his attention for even a moment.  He has far more important things to do with his time, far more essential worshippers to care for and defend.**

(**I am going to kill you for attracting his attention to me, even for a moment.  I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I know I’m going to do it, because how dare you.  It’s my job to write these things down, and now here I am with Jack Torrents looking in my direction, and no ability to shift his gaze away, save for hiding myself in footnotes and praising his name.  How DARE you.)

All praise to Jack Torrents, small god of writer’s block, so essential, so desired, so glorious in his munificence and his generosity, so perfect in divinity.  We are fortunate to be found worthy in his sight.***

(***I think he’s gone.  I need a drink.)

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:

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SQUIRT – the small god of THRIFT

[image description:  The last bit of toothpaste (which has a happy little face) emerges from a now-completely-empty tube against a black, grey, and green marble background. Both the tube and the toothpaste are pink, white, and mint green striped. Text reads, “205, SQUIRT, the small god of THRIFT”]

• • • • •

They have followers and they have believers, and those are not the same thing.

Squirt was born of necessity, of stone soup and chewed paper patching cracks in the window.  They came into being the first time someone boiled grass and called it tea, the first time a child, denied a doll, dressed a stick in a cobweb gown and sent her dancing at an imaginary ball.  Some grow up with them, knowing their worship from the beginnings of their lives, and some come to them later; some come willingly, and some less so.  Some speak of them with scorn and others with reverence, but it’s all the same to Squirt.  Squirt welcomes them all, and they don’t care if you believe in them, because they believe in themself, and that’s enough.

They know how to make do.

They are the last drop in the shampoo bottle, the last squeeze in the toothpaste tube, the last bite of the bread; they are discount meat and making do.  They are mending and darning and repairing what’s broken but not quite past salvation.  They are a saver of everything, and that includes the lost and the broken.  No one is too battered from past experiences to be beyond the point of saving.

So come: let them take you to the thrift shops and the discount grocery stores, the stands where they sell the imperfect produce and the flea markets where lightly used goods are available for those willing to take the time.  Let them freecycle your faith, and when you leave them for more generous pastures, they will gladly wave you on, knowing you have been enriched by your time in their company, knowing they will never be truly forgotten.

They are the salt at your table forever after, and the reminder to be kind to those who have less, to lift up instead of pushing down.  They are a moment and a memory, or a lifetime, and they are always a lesson.  They will teach you how to work with what you have, and when they are no longer right for you, they will let you go.

Every time, always.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world:

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