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Shall I say "protector Gods" or "protective Gods" when talking about those small figures that protect the house?

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Either phrase is immediately understandable to a lay audience, and a quick survey of Google Books reveals that both are used in academic works to refer to the best-known of such deities in the Western tradition, the Roman lares and penates.

If you are writing in an academic context you would do well to survey whatever literature in your discipline deals with the particular deities you will be writing about. If this shows that one or the other term (or some entirely different term) is the established "term of art", you should use that one. But aside from established local use there is no reason to prefer one over the other.

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  • I wasn't actually familiar with penates, so I was a bit surprised to find it's apparently as common as lares. But I assume that like the latter, it's almost exclusively used of ancient Roman representations/deities. If there are any such things "actively on duty" today anywhere in the world, I think it would only be appropriate to use those terms if they're part of a clear unbroken tradition traceable back to those antecedents. Commented May 23, 2013 at 22:07
  • @Fumblefingers They're all over the place, and of course in speaking of any particular deity you employ its own name; but I think OP is looking for a generic term. ... And the Roman deities are usually spoken of together, almost hypehenated, which is why they're pretty equally common. Commented May 23, 2013 at 22:34
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Anglophones in general don't tend to believe in/speak of such things - but if we have to, we'd probably call them house[hold] gods.

If it's important in OP's context to include some variation of protect, I suggest that protector is probably the better choice. It can easily be understood to mean something/someone intended to protect (without necessarily implying that any actual protection is taking place).

On the other hand, protective strongly implies something that really does protect. In principle, a writer could use that form with the sense that people who have such talismans believe in their significance, but I think most readers would assume the writer also believed in them. If OP wants to give that impression then of course he can call the figurines protective gods - there's nothing ungrammatical in such usage.

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  • Hmmm... Interesting. The first part makes more sense to me. A "protector god" suggests to me that being a protector is their primary purpose. But saying "protective god" is a bit less definite; meaning this god is simply being described as "protective" as a trait. I'm not seeing how belief plays as much as a significance in this context. Commented May 23, 2013 at 23:09
  • @Robert: I'd agree with that completely opposite interpretation if we were just ascribing the quality of being solicitous, nurturing watchful, etc. to some particular god (some gods are protective, some are wrathful, jealous, whatever). But as I understand it, in OP's context, we're talking about gods whose defining attribute is that they guard/protect the house. Since we already know that, it can make a difference which form you use. To me, saying protective more strongly implies the god exists, and is actively protecting right now, but maybe that's a personal thing. Commented May 24, 2013 at 1:33

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