10 Supernatural Powers from the Deities of World Mythology
There is nothing as colorful as all the various mythologies of our world. From Europe to Asia, Africa and the Americas, both ancient and modern cultures and civilizations envisioned and sculpted fabled mythical realms, with gods and creatures with supernatural powers.
The deities of ancient religions were typically beyond all-powerful, with abilities that enabled them to achieve victory in most situations. Studying these diverse capabilities can deepen our understanding of the rich tapestry of ancient mythologies. So, who enjoyed the most incredible powers? Time to find out.
One of the most common supernatural powers that ancient deities boast is shape-shifting. After all, it is a neat trick to have up your sleeve, right? Shape-shifting gods could get out of any troublesome situation, eliminating the need for the more rational amongst us to craft complex situations to explain the myth.
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This astounding ability is present in many ancient mythological worlds. Shape-shifting was most famously used by Zeus, who would transform himself into various creatures in order to achieve his goals within ancient Greek mythology. Most often than not, he’d do it in order to seduce and sleep with women, thus fathering many legendary demigods that inspired Greek legends.
Another famed shape-shifter is the Norse trickster God, Loki. A generally mischievous deity, Loki would utilize this power in order to trick, deceive and manipulate other gods. For example, he turned himself into a flea in order to enter the locked bedroom of Goddess Frigg.
Being able to fly wherever and whenever is certainly a great power to have, and in ancient times when the flight of birds was admired and still very much enigmatic, deities and beings that could fly were seen as very powerful indeed.
In the Hindu pantheon, the demigod Garuda serves as the mount of the great god Vishnu. Known as the King of all Birds, he possessed wings that swiftly carried him to wherever he desired. In ancient Europe, however, it was the animals that were usually winged. As such, the Pegasus was a majestic winged horse of the ancient Greek myths.
A similar being is Hófvarpnir, the fabulous horse of the Old Norse goddess Gná. The animal can swiftly glide through the air and upon the water’s surface, as the goddess runs her errands in the astral worlds.
Flight was the supernatural power enjoyed by Pegasus. ( Graphinate / Adobe Stock)
Who wouldn’t want to be invisible? Think of the possibilities! Ancient peoples dreamt of this too, and thus many gods and creatures possess this supernatural power. For example, the Cap of Invisibility is an important artifact within ancient Greek myths. Also known as the Helm of Hades, it could turn every wearer invisible to other supernatural beings. The item found its way into many great myths, and was worn by the likes of Athena and Hermes.
Another such item has its roots in the Old Norse myths. It is the tarnkappe, the cloak of concealment that is worn by the hero Siegfried in the epic story Nibelungenlied. It is a magical cape acquired from the dwarf Alberich ( Alfrikr), which turns the hero invisible to the naked eye, helping him achieve his goals.
#4. Elemental Control
Most gods of ancient cultures evolved as personifications of the natural elements. As such, they naturally had the ability to control the weather however they wanted. This superpower is thus one of the most commonly seen supernatural powers in ancient mythology.
One all-powerful element-controlling deity was Agni, the fiery god of Hinduism. The master of lightning, sun and flame, Agni dominated the basic elements and thus dictated the fates of men. Worship of Agni was thus quite widespread.
A similar deity belonged to the ancient Egyptian religion. It was Ra, the god of the Sun whose warmth can decide between life and death for the common folk. Deities that controlled the elements were often most important and widely worshiped. They would ensure rain for the crops, sun for the growth, and could also destroy everything with hail and harsh winters.
Amaterasu, the Japanese deity and goddess of the Sun, whose supernatural powers included immortality. ( Public domain )
A god isn’t really a god if they’re mortal, right? That is why immortality always needs to be high on the list of supernatural powers for a deity. That is why many of the ancient deities are in some way connected with immortality, perpetual resurrection, or the guiding of souls into the afterlife.
A notable example is the Egyptian goddess Isis, revered for many long centuries and chiefly connected with her immortality and the ability to resurrect the dead. In the far east, there was also a similar goddess - Amaterasu - the goddess of the Sun, for whom death was an unknown thing.
Dionysus, the ancient Greek and Roman god of wine, fertility, ritual frenzy, and grapes, was also said to be immortal, always resurrecting no matter what. The list is long - almost all ancient gods could not die: they lived on and on in the myths and the beliefs of their worshippers.
The power of healing is reserved only for the most powerful of gods. In the ancient world, when medicine was poorly understood, one had to rely on the gods for the healing of both the body and the soul. In ancient Greece, healing was associated with the major god Apollo, and his son Asclepius. Both were the patron gods of medicine, and ancient Greek doctors placed much of their faith in their supernatural powers - as much as in their own surgical hands.
In the Old Norse religion, the goddess of healing and medicine was Eir. She resided on Lyfjaberg (Healing Hill), and any man or woman who climbed to the hill’s top and left an offering were thought to get cured of sickness. In the pre-Christian Norse world, placing one’s trust in the gods was imperative: the knowledge of medicine and healing was rudimentary at best - it was much better to provide an offering to the gods and pray for salvation.
Quickly traveling from one place to another seems to have been the power reserved only to the foremost of gods. In ancient Greece, such an ability belonged to Hermes, the messenger of the gods. Thanks to his magical winged sandals, Hermes is able to quickly travel anywhere he wished, between the world of the Gods and mortal men. Many other deities had similar powers of teleportation as well: Odin the chief Norse God was able to shape shift into any animal and quickly move to other places. In Hinduism, the major god Ganesha, the creator and remover of obstacles, was likewise able to travel anywhere with astounding ease.
Ceiling painting depicting Hermes, the winged messanger of the gods. ( Public domain )
#8. Mind Control
The gods have historically had powers that were often beyond all realms of the possible. Mind control was most definitely a power reserved only for the most potent of deities. In Hinduism it was Kali, the goddess of ultimate power, destruction, time and change. In ancient Greece it was Hypnos, the god of sleep, the mind, mental state, psychic abilities and hypnosis. As you see, the current word for hypnosis comes from this potent ancient god.
There are also many instances where gods simply take away the sanity of mere mortals. Dionysus the Greek God struck Lykourgos mad, and the man then went on to kill his family and as well as mutilating himself. Similarly, the goddess Hera made Heracles go mad in one of the myths, taking away his logic and sanity. And, of course, there were some strikingly beautiful goddesses who did not hesitate to use their charms to completely mind-control mortal heroes!
The cycle of death and rebirth, resurrection from death and the ascendance to the afterlife are some of the most common beliefs adhered to by ancient civilizations. People needed consolation in times when mortality rates were very high, thus they believed that gods could provide them with resurrection and eternal life.
In ancient Egypt, this power was reserved for Osiris. As the god of the afterlife, resurrection, fertility and the dead, he was brought back to life by the goddess Isis, and was ever since the god of resurrection. The myth of resurrection is extremely old, and one that persevered through time more than any other. In fact, it stuck around for so long that it was attributed to Jesus Christ, in whose myth resurrection plays the crucial role.
#10. Superhuman Strength
Despite their supernatural powers, not all gods and goddesses are physically strong. This power was reserved only for the select few who would utilize it to their own benefit. In Old Norse mythology, strength is the particular ability enjoyed by Thor, the god of thunder.
In all of his exploits, Thor’s superhuman strength played a particularly important role. Thor famously wore Megingjörð, the Power Belt, a magical item that gave him his incredible strength and enabled him to wield Mjölnir, his gigantic war hammer that only he was able to lift from the ground. Together with the magical gloves Járngreipr, his strength could not be matched by anyone.
Thor’s fight with the Giants, by Mårten Eskil Winge. ( Public domain )
The Absence of Science Drove the Myths of Supernatural Powers
The ancient mythologies and pantheons - across the world - were filled with some truly colorful beings and deities, with some truly ludicrous stories and supernatural powers. In some cultures, there was a separate deity associated with almost anything, making the pantheons incredibly overcrowded. The ancient Egyptian deities number around 1,400 - both large and small!
The driving force behind these myths was the simple human necessity to find a semi-logical explanation for things they did not understand. Both kings and peasants, pharaohs and slaves - they all looked to the skies and to their shrines and temples, seeking the assistance of the deities.
- The Outstanding Story of Osiris: His Myth, Symbols, and Significance in Ancient Egypt
- Kratos: The ‘Cruel’ Greek God of Strength and Power
With no trace of sciences, medicine or modern technologies, most of the things in life were a complete mystery to ancient peoples. Thus, it was logical that thunder was explained as the work of an angered god, that death was to be followed by eternal life, and that the sun was thought to travel across the sky in a god’s boat.
Such beliefs are not inherently bad or primitive. At a time when life was far simpler, people existed in close connection with the nature around them. The supernatural powers of their gods and goddesses often existed at some point between life and death.
If one wanted the crops to thrive and the yield be plentiful, one had to provide a suitable sacrifice to the god of the sun, fertility and agriculture. On the other hand, if one wanted to win a battle, a sacrifice was given to the god of war. Such was the state of the world for thousands of years, before the rise of monotheistic religions such as Islam and Christianity, or even before the arrival of science and the logical explanations for the world we live in. Does that make our world less colorful? Or more sophisticated? You’ll need to judge for yourself.
Top image: Thor, the god of thunder, whose supernatural powers included his incredible strength. Source: The_AI_Revolution / Adobe Stock
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Davidson, J. and Crisologo, J. 2015. Egyptian Mythology - Ancient Gods and Goddesses of the World . Mendon Cottage Books.
James, E. O. 1999. The Ancient Gods: The History and Diffusion of Religion in the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Phoenix Giant.