While Gaiman sees plurality and change as the central characteristics of America, he does suggest that one part of America is constant and unimpeachably sacred: the land itself. The land, for Gaiman, is the literal and spiritual foundation of all that America is, as its resources anchor the country and make all of its advancement and achievement possible. While the gods are flamboyant presences in American life and human individuals are also worshipped like gods, the land often goes unnoticed. Shadow sees the spirit of the land—the force that makes all else possible—only in dreams or “Backstage” (the magical place where gods gather away from mortal eyes). The true power of America, Gaiman seems to suggest, is not easily seen amid all the flash and production of modern American life, and the land is perhaps even more powerful because of its invisibility; the land can work secretly while the gods distract the fickle attention of the American people.
Despite most characters’ lack of recognition of the land’s power, American Gods gives several forceful hints about the sanctity and importance of the land. Whiskey Jack tells Shadow that the land is older than people and wiser than people, and he further points out that Native American peoples felt no need to build churches because the land is their church. In addition, the Native American peoples knew, as Whiskey Jack tells Shadow, that America “is no land for gods.” Instead, Native Americans chose to give thanks to a creator without creating new gods for themselves. The refusal to create new gods seems wise, considering that the land actually provides tangible resources for people, while the gods tend to take power from people without giving anything in return. This underscores the divine legitimacy of the land, and undercuts the gods’ claims to sacredness.
Furthermore, the huge array of gods present in America does not take power away from the land, as the land is what allows the gods to stay in America in the first place. The Buffalo Man, the manifestation of the land itself that speaks through Shadow’s dreams, says “[The Gods] never understood that they were here—and the people who worshiped them were here—because it suits us [the land] that they are here. But we can change our minds.” The Buffalo Man claims responsibility, along with the other spirits of the land included in the deliberately mysterious “us,” for the many divine pantheons welcomed onto American soil. Gaiman thus puts the power of America squarely in the hands of the land itself, underscoring that both the physical requirements for human life and the spiritual needs of mankind (the gods themselves) are granted to the American people by the land. In return, the land asks for nothing; it hides behind the showy machinations of the gods and continues to quietly assert its power to keep America moving forward.
The Sacredness of American Land ThemeTracker
The Sacredness of American Land Quotes in American Gods
"Believe," said the rumbling voice. "If you are to survive, you must believe."
"Believe what?" asked Shadow. "What should I believe?"
He stared at Shadow, the buffalo man, and he drew himself up huge, and his eyes filled with fire. He opened his spit-flecked buffalo mouth and it was red inside with the flames that burned inside him, under the earth.
"Everything," roared the buffalo man.
"…although it was you that brought me here, you and a few like you, into this land with no time for magic and no place for piskies and such folk."
"You've done me many a good turn," she said.
"Good and ill," said the squinting stranger. "We're like the wind. We blows both ways."
"In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power… And so they would build temples, or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or… well, you get the idea."
"There are churches all across the States, though," said Shadow.
"In every town… And about as significant, in this context, as dentists' offices. No, in the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they've never visited... Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that."
"The land is vast. Soon enough, our people abandoned us, remembered us only as creatures of the old land, as things that had not come with them to the new. Our true believers passed on, or stopped believing, and we were left, lost and scared and dispossessed, to get by on what little smidgens of worship or belief we could find…
"We have, let us face it and admit it, little influence. We prey on them, and we take from them, and we get by; we strip and we whore and we drink too much; we pump gas and we steal and we cheat and we exist in the cracks at the edges of society. Old gods, here in this new land without gods."
"I did it like he said. I did it all like he said, but I gave you the wrong coin. It wasn't meant to be that coin. That's for royalty. You see? I shouldn't even have been able to take it. That's the coin you'd give to the King of America himself…
"You did it like who said, Sweeney?"
"Grimnir. The dude you call Wednesday. You know who he is? Who he really is?"
"I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe… I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone's ass…”
"Would you believe that all the gods that people have ever imagined are still with us today?"
“And that there are new gods out there, gods of computers and telephones and whatever, and that they all seem to think there isn't room for them both in the world. And that some kind of war is kind of likely.”
“You made peace,” said the buffalo man. “You took our words and made them your own. They never understood that they were here – and the people who worshiped them were here – because it suits us that they are here. But we can change our minds. And perhaps we will.”
“Are you a god?” asked Shadow.
The buffalo-headed man shook his head. Shadow thought, for a moment, that the creature was amused. “I am the land,” he said.