American Gods is a vibrant, intricately shot show throbbing with religious imagery. In this tale of warring deities, everything, no matter how apparently insignificant, means something. And that's especially true of the opening credits. Stuffed full of symbolism, the title sequence contains vital clues about the plot of the show, while weaving a tale of humanity's journey from the spiritually ancient to more modern vices. So what does everything mean? Redditor PeppersGhostSCP recently explained the entire sequence via Imgur, but let's see if we can go a little deeper.
Yggdrasil, The World Tree
At the root of Norse cosmology is Yggdrasil, a star-spanning tree that connects the nine different realms of existence, from Well of Urd through the frozen Jotunheim and holy Asgard to the heavens above. Yggdrasil isn't just the center of the universe, it is also connected to the destiny of all living things. Water from the well streams up through the branches, dripping back down over leaves back to the well below. This conjures up the notion that time and life are circular, creation and destruction existing at the poles of an unending cycle.
It's very easy to see how this relates to American Gods. Mr Wednesday is Odin, who rides up and down the World Tree each day in Norse mythology — though in the show, he seems to have exchanged his horse Sleipnir for a sweet vintage Cadillac. Yggdrasil doesn't just appear in the opening sequence, but is a frequent recurring image in Shadow's dreams.
We all know the Greek myth of the gorgon Medusa, a fair maiden cursed by Athena after she was raped by Poseidon on Athena's consecrated ground. With a head full of snakes and a piercing stony stare, Medusa was banished to her own personal island, until the champion Perseus decapitated her.
In the American Gods opening sequence, the snakes that adorn Medusa's head weave between fiber-optic cables, an example of how the show fuses the old with the new.
Following on in this Greek myth trend, these three women appear right after Medusa. They could be the Fates (a.k.a. the Moirai) who govern reality, or the Graeae — three sisters who share one eye between them. In earlier versions of the Perseus myth, Medusa wasn't actually transformed into a monster but was born a Gorgon. She and her Gorgon sisters were related to the Graeae, so it makes sense for these these women to appear right after Medusa.
In Greek mythology, the Graeae were oracles, able to see the future through their one eye. The American Gods opening sequence gives the women one eye each in the form of a camera lens at the center of their foreheads, giving a new spin on the Graeae being able to see the future.
The menorah is an easily recognizable symbol from Judaism, used for celebrating the festival of Hannukah. But in this version, at the center of the candle-holders are electrical plugs similar to a DIN connector. This image is more sinister, implying that even the religions that still thrive in the modern world are being overtaken by technology and are falling victim to a shift in human focus.
The wallpaper behind the menorah is peppered with religious symbols: the Christian cross, the star and crescent moon, the Yin and Yang symbol, and the Star of David, again framing this section of the sequence as showing some of the most recognizable current world religions.
The Veiled Madonna
Continuing this, we see the Christian Madonna in front of a halo-like sun. She is positioned in much the same way she is depicted in classic paintings, but when we get closer we can see that circuit boards are woven into her shroud. This could be a reference to the trend of wearable tech, and how computers are becoming woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.
The Star & Crescent Moon
In a brief flash, we see a floating pill with a star on it intersect with a gleaming silver orb, forming the symbol of the star and crescent moon. This symbol has long been associated with Islam, though it is not an official icon of the religion and many Muslim scholars have rejected its influence. However, because of its recognizable connection to Islam, it would seem that this is what the symbol represents in the American Gods opening sequence.
The Laughing Buddha
The pills continue to swirl and dance around Budai Luohan, popularly known as the Laughing Buddha. Based on an ancient Chinese monk, Budai has become an important icon in Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto culture. Because he is associated with happiness, plenty and luck, it's fitting that he's surrounded by pills that seem to be recreational, or "happy pills." This seems to be a subtle jab at drug culture, and the difference between true happiness and a fleeting high.
Ganesh & The Lotus Flower
An aircraft engine, a rotating wheel of syringes and test-tubes, and a lotus blossom form a pedestal for the Hindu god Ganesh — who is holding a smartphone in each hand. Much loved in Hinduism, Ganesh is one of the most worshipped gods throughout India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Nepal. Almost always depicted as sitting on a lotus flower, Ganesh is a deity of learning and education, which might explain the use of the syringes and test-tubes in this part of the opening sequence, as these items are used in medical experiments to expand our knowledge of biology.
Pyramid & Sphinx
The pyramid's gleaming top seems to be a reference to the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas, while when we get up close to the sphinx we can see that it looks distinctly more modern, with a black helmeted head reminiscent of Daft Punk — or maybe like Sony's robotic AIBO dog.
Sex Doll Centaur
Rearing up in front of a neon cowboy is a centaur, whose body is based on the four-legged robots built by Boston Dynamics. The centaur's upper body is female and scantily clad, with a satellite dish around her neck and a head that looks like that of a sex doll. The centaur is a figure from Greek mythology, and because of its position in front of the neon cowboy an interesting link is drawn between the role of horses in mythology and history. The cowboy is interesting too, as the popular image of a cowboy is starkly different to the gritty reality of life on the frontier. Even though the cowboy is a more modern image, it has become an icon of legend much like that of the centaur.
We next see the image of an angel holding rifles, which, as they fire, throw the angel's wings into sharp relief. When we get close to the angel's head we can see it has two pairs of binoculars as eyes. Many descriptions of angels in the Bible describe them as having many terrifying eyes, and right from Genesis angels have been depicted as wielding weapons like blazing swords. This modernization is very close to the Bible's ancient description of angels.
The classic figure of Lady Justice is blindfolded, holding a sword in one hand and a set of scales in the other. Here, we see American Gods' interpretation of Lady Justice, with a VR helmet standing in for the blindfold and a crossbow loaded with a missile for the sword. The scales are bound by chains and upon them rest two vintage cars similar (but not identical) to the one Shadow drives for Mr Wednesday.
In the Reddit thread, others pointed out that this could also be Ares, Greek god of war, as the figure seems to be riding in a chariot drawn by muscle cars.
After a stone engraving of a rocket blasts off, we see an astronaut crucified on the cross like Jesus in Christian iconography. This could be a nod to modern cults and religions like Scientology who believe that Jesus was an alien sent by a more evolved species to try and teach humans the best way to progress.
Eagle-Topped Totem Pole
Finally, we zoom out to see that all these icons line up to form a totem pole, with an eagle sat atop it. The eagle is a popular symbol in history (the USA, Roman Empire, and Third Reich all used it as a symbol of their empires), but it also has significance in many Native American mythologies, as a powerful creature that, in some cultures, was believed to move between the living world and beyond.
Because all the symbols thus far combine to create a totem pole, a point is being made here about America itself — how all these gods and modern technologies are immigrants to a land that already had a thriving belief system.
So What Does The Sequence Mean?
It's unclear as to whether this sequence is intended as a criticism of modern culture in comparison to the traditions of old. Considering that ancient peoples also engaged in recreational drugs (especially as part of holy rituals), it seems that the opening sequence is as much a demonstration of how, for all that we've changed, humanity stays the same — we're still reaching upwards, trying to advance, but our Earthly urges ground us.
In American Gods, the conflict between the old gods and the new is less ideological, and more about survival. Ultimately that's what the opening sequence is about too. It's teeming with all the vices and contradictions in human life, vibrant and fatal and constantly evolving — even if that means the old ways get left behind.
Tell us in the comments: Which deity is your favorite in American Gods?
(Source: PeppersGhostSCP via Reddit)