The Importance of Mythology in Neil Gaiman's American Gods

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Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a fantasy story that combines a post-modern and mythical culture to show the power of the human mind. Different desires, questions, and superstitions led to masses creating their old gods. The same human needs are still entrenched in human consciousness, which leads to the creation of modern gods such as technology. Gaiman rebuilds and retells the story of traditional myths that were created to satisfy the human need, to create things deemed bigger than themselves. Through these creations, the author presents the need for mythology and beliefs in the process of creating different personalities and worlds. This essay argues that American Gods novel presents the theory that mythology is not as a result of a simple belief system downgraded to artless cultures but a creation of the human mind.

Shadow's Personal View of Different Cultures

Blomqvist discusses the different cultures and Shadow’s personal view of the cultures as represented in Gaiman. According to the author, Gaiman allows the characters to have a mythical experience represented in uncertain dualistic pairs. However, despite being faced with the different types of mythical cultures, Shadow Moon chooses his own path and fails to conform to any form of the mythical features. Shadow knows the need to exist in the American culture but also finds that he cannot exist within the American culture, and thus chooses his own path. The choice he makes is an interpretation of the formation of a mythical culture, given the main American guide is myths. The author concludes that the different belief systems and myths are a creation of the human mind, as Gaiman shows through Shadow. Changes to what we believe in can happen as long as we continue believing.

Mythology and Fantasy in Gaiman's Novel

Slabbert and Viljoen discuss the mythology and fantasy in Gaiman’s novel. Through identification of different shamanic properties and practices in Gaiman’s book, the authors conclude that mythology is an important aspect in the creation of literature in a world that people no longer have connections with gods or any belief system. The article argues that Gaiman tries to connect post-modernist and meta-mythological elements to come up with a fusion between the old and contemporary worlds. The modern people have lost their beliefs and connection with the gods as presented in the past. The main focus of the article is the shamanic characteristics of Shadow Moon and how it links to an individual’s imagination about gods. The human imagination leads to individual believing that they can solve anything but the reality is usually far from this. However, the human imagination provides an opportunity for persons to make their own decisions regarding different situations just like Shadow decided not to follow any mythical path but a path he made and that he felt suited him best.

Interconnection Between Past Mythological and Modern Gods

Blomqvist, Slabbert, and Viljoen present the same idea on the importance of an interconnection between the past mythological and the modern gods. Authors of both articles agree that the human imagination is an important aspect of the creation process. According to the articles the modern world as we see it is as a result of the needs that individuals have and see the need to fulfill them. Slabbert and Viljoen use shamanic properties to show the connection between Shadow and the different mythical cultures. Blomqvist, on the other hand, concentrates more on the different contemporary perspectives of modern cultures and the limitations that it brings. The two different views combine to show the power of the human beliefs in the creation of myths about their existence.

The Power of Imagination

Gaiman uses different characters to show how mankind uses their imagination to make sense of things. For instance, Essie Tregowan “gave thanks for her escapes from her vicissitudes to all the creatures that she had been told of as a child, to the piskies” (Gaiman 87). Essie depends on all these creatures from stories she was told as a child upon her arrival to America. In their discussion, Slabbert and Viljoen note that “shamanic ‘miracles’… stimulate and feed the imagination, demolish the barriers between dream and present reality.” (139) Shamanic is conceived in the mind by different individuals over the years and form the basis of mythical creatures such as “piskies.” Furthermore, Blomqvist provides the exact description of the gods and mythical creatures that human imagination creates to guide them include the “piskies.” Blomqvist claims that “Dead, abnormal, and odd characters linger in the periphery and remain largely unbiased” (6).

The Power of Belief

The need for people to believe in something is double-edged. Wednesday explains to Shadow that the gods need people to believe to sustain them “we feed on belief, on prayers, on love. It takes a lot of people believing just the tiniest bit to sustain us” (Gaiman 254). This statement is ironical because people feel the need to believe in gods yet the gods cannot survive without the people’s beliefs. Blomqvist writes that “A successful myth corresponds with humanity's search for clear answers and epistemological satisfaction” (1). This is an indication that different cultures have different myths that fulfill their desires and give them answers to their questions. Slabbert and Viljoen suggest that “Shamanic qualities and practices vary in different cultures” (138), which is an indication that every community has their own belief system that helps cope with life.

The Power of Individual Decisions

The different beliefs of individuals guide them towards making the decision regarding their lives. Despite a display of his powers Shadow remains to be “man, not God” (Gaiman 457). This is a choice that he makes, which shows the power that man has over their own imaginations. Even if he has experiences with the gods and experiences death he chooses a “neutral stance and opts for isolation” (Slabbert & Viljoen 152). According to Blomqvist, “People cling to what is held to be self-evident in their society.” (16) Shadow opted to remain as human despite experiencing the god’s nature and traveling between worlds.


Gaiman provides a conclusion that most of the things, especially supernatural materials, that people believe are just made up of their imaginations. People will always look for things that are above their powers to believe in them to make life easier. Gaiman proves the theory by most people that God may not exist but does so in the minds of individuals. There has been continued disbelief in God over the years, and people believing more in science and technology as their alternative gods. Just like Gaiman came up with a new mythological story through the story of Shadow, people have created their world in which they believe things that help them cope with everyday life. These beliefs beg the question if the world makes up gods that help cope with life or indeed there is a God.

Works Cited

Blomqvist, Rut. "The Road of Our Senses: Search For Personal Meaning And The Limitations Of Myth In Neil Gaiman's American God". Mythlore, vol. 30, no. 2, 2012, pp. 1-26.

Gaiman, Neil. American Gods: A Novel. New York: W. Morrow, 2001. Print.

Slabbert, Mathilda, and Leonie Viljoen. "Sustaining The Imaginative Life: Mythology And Fantasy in Neil Gaiman’S American Gods". Literator, vol 27, no. 3, 2006, pp. 135-156.

November 24, 2023




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