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It seems in almost every Mythology or Fantasy Pantheon known to man, there is mention of entities that came before and/or are above the gods themselves. They're often seen as being older and greater than the gods because Older Is Better, although there can be beings that are older yet weaker than the gods, and, in the least frequent cases, they may even be younger than the gods yet still be above them as they are above mortals.
This type of being can occasionally be an Anthropomorphic Personification or Eldritch Abomination. In fact, they usually are if you check most mythologies. They also have a large overlap with Precursors, for gods at least.
See Death of the Old Gods, for an explanation on why the older types may not be around anymore.
Please note: These characters don't literally have to be old gods, it's merely a common term for them that's used both in and out of this site.
- In Saint Beast, there was another set of gods lead by Kronos before Zeus became the high god by destroying them (the implication being because they were Abusive Precursors).
- "There came a time when the old gods died!"
- There are many gods throughout the Marvel Universe, and they tend to live up to their names. Unfortunately for them, even they can't compare to the upper levels of the countless Cosmic Entities throughout the setting.
- Amusingly, there have been many "mere" mortals that outclass the gods as well. I'm looking at you, Hulk.
- Marvel Cosmology is really loaded with this. Those Who Sit In The Shadows are this to Norse Gods. Elder Gods are this to all Earth Gods, Celestials Are This to Elder Gods and all gods worshipped by any race in the Universe and so-called Cube Beings (godlike beings that evolved from Cosmic Cubes) and their equals, Abstracts are this to everybody and Living Tribunal is this to Abstracts. Then we have beings like Primodial Gods, who are apparently older than Abstracts, Galactus who is older than them, coming from previous Universe and equal to Abstracts, several beings of various powers older than Galactus and Chaos King who is older that them all, being previous Universe. Then we have bunch of beings like Shuma-Gorath, Dormammu, Stranger, Beyonder, Nemesis who are hard to fit into cosmology, so in the end the only thing clear is that One-Above-All is this to everybody.
- The Endless - older than any god, respected by them all, personifications of most fundamental concepts, but not gods per se, as gods require faith and the Endless don't. They also seems to be above all godlike beings of the DC Universe.
- Not completely. In the right situations, other personified entities like the Kindly Ones, Lucifer, and some others have the power to contend their influence.
- The "Old Gods" from American Gods. There's mention of lost pantheons whose names (and followers) have been entirely forgotten. There's also the Land itself, something like the very first divine being humanity ever knew/created, who patiently regards the gods themselves as mayflies in much the same way they look at mortal humans
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Old Gods are nameless beings that you can pray to, but that have no temple or worship. The Seven are the Crystal Dragon Jesus septinity, and the Lord Of Light is... something spooky.
- David Eddings really likes this trope:
- In The Belgariad, UL and the two opposing Destinies are much more powerful than the gods (the Destinies are exactly equal in power; how they stack up to UL isn't elaborated on).
- The Dreamers has the original male and female creative powers embodied as the peasant couple Ara and Omago.
- In The Elenium, The Elder Gods of Styricum are of the Eldritch Abomination variety, before they were overthrown and imprisoned by the Younger Gods in a Titanomachy-esque series of events. Azash was even castrated, Ouranos style.
- In The Silmarillion, Illuvatar, who created the world, is a God of Gods who effectively delegates running the world after creation to the Valar, the main group of gods/goddesses. Thereafter, he steps in only when the Numenoreans attack Valinor, at which point the world needs to be re-shaped to take the Blessed Realm outside the physical realm.
- The Cthulhu Mythos' own unspeakable horrors fit the trope, being ancient nightmares that once roamed the world before they were imprisoned, but are destined to rise again when the stars are right
- The Faerie Queens in The Dresden Files are as good as gods, but the Faerie Mothers (formally, the Queens Who Were) are an order of magnitude stronger, though they seem to be pretty restricted in how they can use their power, and don't do much during their one appearance other than offer some cryptic advice.
- In the Mithgar books, the Fates are said to be above the gods, and the Great Creator is above them. Whether or not any of these exist as discreet entities or just abstractions is left ambiguous.
- The Dead Gods of Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné stories "While the Gods Laugh" and "Dead Gods' Homecoming". The swords Stormbringer and Mournblade were originally created to destroy them. They chose to discorporate themselves long ago because they were afraid of being completely destroyed by the swords.
- The Old Gods in the Arcia Chronicles, whose death at the hands of the invading Lightbringers ironically became their world's Start of Darkness.
- There's the Titans in Greek Mythology.
- Before even them, there were the Protogenoi.
- Arguably, Izanami and Izanagi in Shintoist beliefs. They were the first humans, created by one god, who had them make more gods.
- Norse Mythology has Ymir, a gigantic being who slept in Ginnungagap, the emptiness of the cosmos. Odin, Ville and Ve were his children, who murdered him and used his body to create the Earth - from his bones, the mountains - from his blood, the seas - from his flesh, the land - from his skull, the heavens - from his teeth, the stars - from his eyeballs, the sun and the moon. Also, while Odin went on to fame as the King and Father of the Gods, Ville and Ve - who helped make the earth, AND who helped create mankind from a piece of driftwood - were ultimately forgotten, arguably making THEM examples as well.
- Celtic Mythology has the Fomorians, a semi-divine race who lived in Ireland long before the Tuatha Dé Danann showed up. Several of the Tuatha Dé Danann were themselves descended from the Fomorians, most notable of which was Lugh the Long Handed.
- Dungeons and Dragons:
- The Forgotten Realms setting of has a large number of pantheons containing various deities of different power levels. Above all of these pantheons, there is Ao, also known as the Overgod. On one occasion when a god stole the Tablet of Fate from him he responded by stripping ALL gods of most of their divine powers, forcing them into their avatar forms on the material plane until the Tablet was returned. And then of course, there's a being of light who even Ao answers to.
- The Highgod and Chaos from Dragonlance.
- The Primordials in the 4th edition aren't necessarily stronger than the gods, but they certainly came before them.
- Basic D&D Immortals rules. The Immortals are the BD&D equivalent of deities. The Old Ones are a group of extremely powerful beings who as to the Immortals as the Immortals are to mortals. If someone becomes an Immortal and reaches the highest level of Immortality twice, they can join the Old Ones.
- And then there are the Elder Evils, Eldritch Abominations that the Aboleth remembers. How is this special? The Aboleths were already ancient when the gods came to be, and Elder Evils are/were older than anything the Aboleths can remember. They are not gods, but they are powerful enough to challenge them and pose a treat of world ending proportions. "Cosmic Horror" doesn't even begin to describe those horrid beings.
- Similarly vestiges also fit this mold;
"Beings that cannot exist inhabit a place that cannot be. Cursed by gods and feared by mortals, these entities fall outside the boundries of life, death, and undeath. They are untouchable by even the most powerful deities, though they can be summoned and used by even the weakest mortal." - Tome of Magic
- Those most powerful god? The'd be the "Uber Deities" even stronger than the mightiest Greater Deity and so far beyond the gods that while the Gods Need Prayer Badly, they can afford not to care about such things anymore.
- Then you have the dead gods floating about the astral plane, which are implied to be able to be restored to life somehow. Such as if people start whorshiping them again, but there may be more to it than that.
- Exalted: The Primordials, who are basically Greek Titans, but more awesome/terrible. The younger gods they created don't like them, and create the eponymous superhumans to do them in.
- The Dragon Age lore has this in spades:
- Possibly the eldest gods of Thedas were the Forgotten Ones, the "evil" gods of the Elven myths, whom Elven Creators fought.
- The Creators, nine "good" Elven gods, seem to have supplanted the Forgotten Ones but have been supposedly betrayed by one of theirs, Fen'Harel, and are currently sealed powerless in their respective otherworldly realms. Ditto the Forgotten Ones.
- Following the disappearance of the Creators and the fall of the great Elven civilization, seven powerful dragon-like beings became worshiped by the human Tevinter Imperium. They were eventually banished and sealed deep underground by the Maker (and occasionally come up to lead a Blight) and became known as the "Old Gods".
- It's been referenced in the Silent Hill series.
"The old gods have not left this place..."
- Skyward Sword introduced more layers to The Legend of Zelda pantheon: the Three Goddesses introduced in A Link to The Past are here called the Gods of Old while other less powerful divinities, like Hylia/Zelda and Demise, who seem to stand somewhere between the Golden Godesses and the embodiements of natural powers (spirits, dragons, deku trees, great fairies, etc...), are introduced.