American Gods episode 6 introduces Vulcan, a Roman deity who did not appear in the book. So who is he and why did they add him?
This week, in “A Murder of Gods,” American Gods featured a new character who is not in the book. He’s Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, the forge, and volcanoes. Episode 6 finds him comfortably situated in his eponymous town in Virginia. In Vulcan, VA, every citizen is white, armed, and well-employed at the foundry, making bullets.
Vulcan holds a special place in American Gods. He is an old god with great power in America. That’s rare. He explains why himself, in episode 6:
"You are what you worship. God of the volcano. Those who worship hold a volcano in the palm of their hand. It’s filled with prayers in my name. The power of fire is firepower. Not god, but god-like. And they believe. It fills their spirits every time they pull the trigger. They feel my heat on their hip and it keeps them warm at night.I was a story they forgot to tell. And they put a gun in my hand. Let me tell you, it feels good. Every bullet fired in a crowded movie theater is a prayer in my name. And that prayers makes them want to pray even harder. I never needed my religion to be moral."
Vulcan is the perfect choice to represent America’s worship of guns in 2017. So just who was this god in the old country, and why does he fit so well into American Gods, as opposed to the world’s many other fire gods?
First of all, some background.
When in Rome
Vulcan and Hephaestus are the Roman and Greek gods of fire. The two are often described together and somewhat conflated. However, the two are as different as the empires that created them. The website Ancient Mythology describes Vulcan as:
"[…] a very old Roman god, and was worshiped early in Roman religion. He was worshiped in part to keep the destructive forces of fire away from villages and crops, but also to yield the power of fire in battle and industry. Vulcan was often a symbol of male fertility. Later, when Vulcan became identified with the Greek smith god Hephaistos [Hephaestus], Vulcan also became the god of smithing."
Greek Gods and Goddesses explains his Greek predecessor and counterpart, Hephaestus.
"Hephaestus was the god of fire, metalworking, stone masonry, forges and the art of sculpture. He was a smithing god, making all of the weapons for Olympus and acting as a blacksmith for the gods. He had his own palace on Olympus where he made many clever inventions and automatons of metal to work for him."
Notice the main difference is that Vulcan holds power over battle and industry. Because that’s Rome. Its centralized culture was based on trade, colonialism and the mass marketing of their religion. They built roads and aqueducts, and spread their civilization and gods over much of the known world. But two things really held it all together, and separated the Roman gods from the Greek gods, was war and mass production. The Roman Empire was the first America. We’re just doing it faster. From rise to fall in under 200 years. We are so efficient!
American Gods Season 1 2017 Corbin Bernsen (Vulcan) – episode 106 (Official image f350e266-0a37-4d7e-848e-93bb0aa1cd67 via Starz)
A new addition
American Gods, the book, did not contain either Greek or Roman gods. So how did Vulcan end up in the show? Via Entertainment Weekly, showrunner Michael Green explains that Vulcan:
"[…] came from an experience Neil had. He was going through a small town in Alabama where he saw a statue of Vulcan. It was a steel town and, as he told the story, there was a factory that had a series of accidents where people were killed on the job. And they kept happening because an actuarial had done the numbers and realized that it was cheaper to pay out the damages to the families of people who lost people, rather than to shut down the factory long enough to repair. And that occurred to him as modern a definition of sacrifice as there might be."
In the same Entertainment Weekly piece, Bryan Fuller continues:
"Vulcan’s the god of the volcano and the forge, and what is the modern-day extrapolation of what that god could do? We started talking about America’s obsession with guns and gun control. And, really, if you’re holding a gun in your hand, it’s a mini volcano. And perhaps, through this character, there’s a conversation to be had."
America worships the gun
Vulcan is the perfect place to start a conversation about America’s worship of guns. Since the book’s publication in 2001, we’ve seen mass shooting after mass shooting. One guy with an automatic weapon goes into a school or a movie theater and commits a massacre.
It happens so often the media has become somewhat inured to it. It’s rarely front page news anymore. Maybe part of the reason is that every incident comes with public commentary. There’s a discussion, and both sides are more polarized than ever. Many Americans believe the second amendment gives everyone the right to a personal arsenal, never mind the “well-regulated” part.
Americans believe their guns keep them safe, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Because America worships personal power. And we’re apparently willing to sacrifice everything to keep it. I’m glad Michael, Bryan and Neil are keeping this issue front and center in American Gods. We have to admit we have a problem. Is this really who we are?