As polytheistic systems evolve, there is a tendency for one deity, usually male, to achieve preeminence as king of the gods. This tendency can parallel the growth of hierarchical systems of political power in which a monarch eventually comes to assume ultimate authority for human affairs. Other gods come to serve in a Divine Council or pantheon - such subsidiary courtier-deities are usually linked by family ties from the union of a single husband or wife, or else from an androgynous divinity who is responsible for the creation.
Historically, subsequent social events, such as invasions or shifts in power structures, can cause the previous king of the gods to be displaced by a new divinity, who assumes the displaced god's attributes and functions. Frequently the king of the gods has at least one wife who is the queen of the gods.
Examples of this displacement of kings of the gods include:
- In the Mesopotamia Anunnaki, Enlil displaces Anu and is in turn replaced by Marduk.
- The Ancient Egypt Ennead and Ogdoad, where the deity Osiris assumes pre-eminence, to be displaced by Seth or Sutekh, who is in turn replaced by Horus, son to Osiris and Isis
- In the Canaanite pantheon, Baʿal (Hadad) displaces El
- In the Hurrian/Hittite pantheon, Teshub or Tarhunt or Arinna displaces Kumarbi.
- In the Armenian Ar, later – Aramazd.
- In the Historical Vedic religion, the King of the Gods was originally Dyaus, later subsumed by Indra. Though Indra still retains the title of the King of the Gods and the Ruler of Heaven, the trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu assume his protective functions as the Vedic religion evolved into Brahmanical Hinduism. Hindus often regard Indra as inferior to the Trinity.
- In the Ancient Greek system of Olympian Gods, Cronus displaces Uranus, and Zeus in turn displaces Cronus
There is also a tendency for kings of the gods to assume more and more importance, syncretistically assuming the attributes and functions of lesser divinities, who come to be seen as aspects of the single supreme deity. Examples of this include:
- Ancient Iranian Ahura Mazda of the Zoroastrians
- Hinduism where Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu are seen as comprising the essence of all other divinities, and are considered aspects of the same monist reality, an impersonal force called Brahman.
- Dravidian religions had supreme gods based on lands including Seyyon, Mayyon, Vendhan and Kottravi
List of rulers of pantheons
The leaders of the various pantheons include:
- Australian Aboriginal pantheon: Baiame
- Algonquin pantheon: Gitche Manitou
- Ashanti pantheon: Nyame
- Aztec pantheon: Huitzilopochtli or Ometeotl or Quetzalcoatl
- Batak pantheon: Debata Ompung Mulajadi na Bolon
- Canaanite pantheon: Baʿal (now usually identified with Hadad)
- Carthaginian pantheon: Baʿal Hammon
- Celtic pantheon: Dagda
- Berber pantheon: old: Amun; new: Poseidon
- Chinese pantheon: Yuanshi Tianzun, Jade Emperor, Shangdi, Tian
- Circassian pantheon: Theshxwe
- Dahomey pantheon: Nana Buluku
- Dravidian pantheon: Seyyon, Mayyon, Vendhan, Kotravai
- Egyptian pantheon: Old Kingdom: Ra. New Kingdom: Amun
- Finnic pantheon: Ukko
- Germanic pantheon: Wōden
- Georgian pantheon: Armazi, Ghmerti
- Greek pantheon: Zeus
- Guarani pantheon: Tupã
- Haida pantheon: Raven
- Hawaiian mythology: Kāne
- Hindu pantheon: Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, Indra or Brahman
- Hittite pantheon: Arinna or Teshub
- Hopi pantheon: Angwusnasomtaka
- Inca pantheon: Viracocha
- Inuit pantheon: Anguta or Anigut but only among the Greenlandic Inuit
- Japanese pantheon: Amenominakanushi, Izanagi-no-Mikoto, then Amaterasu-Ōmikami
- Korean pantheon: Dangun
- Lakota pantheon: Wakan Tanka or Inyan
- Lusitanian pantheon: Endovelicus
- Mari pantheon: Kugu Jumo
- Māori pantheon: Tāne
- Mayan pantheon: Hunab Ku or Itzamna
- Mbuti pantheon: Khonvoum
- Mesopotamian pantheon: Sumerian: An, later Enlil; Babylonian: Marduk
- Miwok pantheon: Coyote
- Muisca pantheon: Chiminigagua
- Nabatean pantheon: Dushara
- Norse pantheon: Óðinn
- Ossetian pantheon: Xucau
- Philippine pantheon: Bathala (Tagalog), Kan-Laon (Visayan)
- Roman pantheon: Jupiter
- Sami pantheon: Beaivi
- Slavic pantheon: Perun
- Turco-Mongol pantheon: Tengri and Kayra
- Vietnamese pantheon: Lạc Long Quân
- Vodou pantheon: Bondye
- Yoruba pantheon: Olorun
- Zulu pantheon: Unkulunkulu, Umvelinqangi
The following are the characteristics shared by virtually all Kings of the gods:
- Creation: Most of these gods derive their power from the fact that they created the world, formulated its laws and/or created life forms notably humans. Ex: Ra, Óðinn.
- Dominion over the sky: Many such deities hold control over all aspects of the sky, such as weather, rain, thunderstorms, air, winds and celestial objects like stars. They also control some aspects of earth like harvest, fertility, plants or mountains. Ex: Zeus, Indra, Perun.
- Lightning bolts as personal weapons: Commonly seen with sky gods.
- Divine Wisdom: Some Kings of Gods possess superior wisdom and clairvoyance, compared to most beings. Ex: Ra, Óðinn.
- God of the Sun, Daylight or Celestial Fire: Some kings of gods are associated with the Sun, as it is life giving and is a powerful symbol of order. They are said to be in charge of celestial fire which are purifying by nature. Daylight is also an important phenomenon as most events take place under its presence. Ex: Ra, Dyeus Pitr.
- Conquest, Law, Justice, Order, Time and Fate: Most kings of gods have the ability to control the events of battle and grant victory to those who deserve it. They are seen as paragons of law and promote order. They are seen as powerful manifestations of their respective civilizations. Some gods either possess great skill in war or tremendous physical strength. Some of them have some control over time and regulate it with seasons. Others have limited control over the fate of a human. Ex: Zeus, Óðinn, Ra, Indra.
- Divine authority over other gods: This may be because the concerned head of the pantheon is the father or creator of many gods and goddesses who swear allegiance to him. As a result, the king of the gods makes sure that all deities function properly, punish them for misdeeds, grant or take away immortality from lesser gods etc. Ex: Zeus, Óðinn.
- Divine rival: In some cases, there may be another god, who is equal in supernatural power and thinks he can do a better job than the current king. This often results in conflict, and in extreme cases, war. Ex: Ra and Apophis; Osiris, Set and Horus; Perun and Veles; Indra and the Asuras; Zeus and Poseidon; Cronos and Uranus; Typhon and Zeus etc.