16

I am using the word 'avatar' in my work in the sense that an avatar is the physical representation of some higher entity. We could say that a particular person, animal or object is the avatar of a deity, or that a symbol or picture is the avatar of a person, or that a player-character in a computer game is the avatar of the player. For example, my Stack Exchange avatar is a red 'W' on a blue and green field.

I am looking for a single word, or failing that, a short descriptor that is a generic term for the person or entity that has one or more avatars.

To use an example from mythology with the correct semantic context for my question, we have the sentence:

Rama says, 'I am an avatar of Vishnu'.

I'm looking for a word (or short phrase) to fit in the paraphrased sentence from the example above:

Rama says 'Vishnu is my _____'.

Where _____ is the relational antonym of avatar.

Edit: 'opposite' changed to 'relational antonym'.

14
  • 4
    You probably want to distinguish the computing/video game sense from the religious sense; user or player would work in the former.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 15, 2023 at 12:36
  • 1
    I suspect that the metaphor used in the gaming sense is simply too strained to make that work. Jul 15, 2023 at 17:54
  • 2
    What makes you think there is an opposite of avatar? Most words don't have opposites -- what's the opposite of green, lily, stand, or fry, for instance? And avatar isn't an English word, but a borrowing from Sanskrit. Jul 16, 2023 at 1:08
  • 8
    @JohnLawler, it is fairly obvious that the OP is looking for what is sometimes called a relational antonym of avatar, not a gradable antonym. An avatar is, by definition, something that stands in a binary, asymmetrical relationship to something else, so it is not unreasonable to think that there might be a term for it.
    – jsw29
    Jul 16, 2023 at 15:20
  • 4
    @DanielR.Collins If I go with Hindi, 'avatar' means 'descent', as in the entity is the descent of the deity. By logical extension, the deity is the ascent of the entity... so the Hindi term would be 'aarohan', which will do as a placeholder... but an English word would be more easily understood.
    – Monty Wild
    Jul 17, 2023 at 0:34

14 Answers 14

15

It might make some sense to use the word principal (as has been independently suggested elsewhere on this page).

This has many related meanings; the one I'm thinking of is the legal/diplomatic usage in which someone sends an agent or representative to act on their behalf. The person for whom the agent acts is their principal. Wiktionary defines this meaning as a:

person that authorizes another (the agent) to act on their behalf

And Apple Dictionary as a:

person for whom another acts as an agent or representative

That's not exactly the meaning you want, of course, but I suspect it's close enough that most people would understand it fairly easily.

(What may make it more appropriate is that some of its other noun meanings include the most important, most senior, or most responsible person: the chief executive of a university or college, the owner of a business, the highest-ranked dancer in a ballet company, the leading player in a section of an orchestra, and so on. And of course its adjective meaning is ‘primary; most important’, which also seems relevant.)

5
  • Eh, this deserves some upvotes for being a good and well formatted answer but it shouldn't be the lead answer. Even when people understand the sense of principal intended, Rama isn't Vishnu's agent as a separate person and that division of self is essential to the meaning of the word principal.
    – lly
    Jul 17, 2023 at 6:19
  • 1
    I also don't think people would understand if fairly easily. What would fairly easily come into their head is Rama as a Japanese or John Hughes high school student and Vishnu as Edward R. Rooney. The next image they would get is of a life insurance setup. Nowhere would it involve avatars unless you just created it out of whole cloth and the rest of the story were good enough to just shrug and go along with it.
    – lly
    Jul 17, 2023 at 6:21
  • 1
    @lly I mean in a vacuum, probably not, but in context, I think this is fine (better than "archetype" at least). Jul 17, 2023 at 14:00
  • 1
    @Ily Nitpick: your first image is likely to be location-dependent; where I live, schools have head teachers (and universities have chancellors; some colleges have principals, but I think they're relatively rare). Also, I only claimed that this word “might make some sense”, not that it was a perfect match :-)
    – gidds
    Jul 17, 2023 at 14:08
  • It doesn't matter nearly as much what a reader's "first instinct" is when hearing a word if you explain in the work what it means in this context. 'Principal' can be clearly and succinctly explained (as this post demonstrates), and it's a clearly English word, making it a good fit for this question.
    – ale10ander
    Jul 17, 2023 at 18:46
7

I would suggest source. I don't think avatars are common enough that we have a specific word for their originators/controllers. I certainly can't think of a word which is so specific that it wouldn't be used of non-avatars. I think the most important things that Vishnu does for Rama are that Vishnu created Rama, and that Vishnu controls all of Rama's actions, and that Vishnu "is" Rama's mind/Rama's soul is Vishnu's soul, etc.. "Source" captures the first meaning and sort-of captures the others.

1
  • This is better than all the answered currently above you. It gets the relationship right without stressing that they are different beings. The whole idea of avatars are that, in some meaningful sense, they are the incarnation of the deity for that era and not a fully separate being. Source handles that well enough although of course it's pretty impersonal.
    – lly
    Jul 17, 2023 at 6:31
3

Some good answers already, but here's some creative alternatives:

  • Excarnate - literally means "stripped of flesh", contextually is the antonym of Incarnate (embodied in human form).
Rama: I am Vishnu incarnate!
Vishnu: I am Rama excarnate!
  • Supracarnate - Not an actual word, but takes the fleshy bit (-carnate) and adds a prefix meaning "beyond the limits of, outside of"
Rama: I am Vishnu incarnate!
Vishnu: I am Rama supracarnate!

Alternately:

Or to be a bit boring:

  • Ascendant - Avatar is derived from the Sanskrit word avatāra meaning “descent” - this takes the antonym of descent and twists it into noun form.
2
  • Characterising the being in question as 'stripped of flesh may work in a religious context, but is hardly apt as a description of gamers.
    – jsw29
    Jul 18, 2023 at 15:38
  • Yeah... 'stripped of flesh' doesn't work. The gods in my story are 4-dimensional and can't interact directly, not immaterial.
    – Monty Wild
    Jul 18, 2023 at 17:00
2

You could use archetype:

the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies (M-W)

This is a general definition, but the term is used in religion, philosophy and psychology with certain connotations among which the one you are looking for. In a usage note, M-W explains:

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato, for example, believed that all things have ideal forms (aka archetypes) of which real things are merely shadows or copies. And in the psychology of C. G. Jung, archetype refers to an inherited idea or mode of thought that is present in the unconscious of the individual. In everyday prose, however, archetype is most commonly used to mean "a perfect example of something."

In his book, Reformed Dogmatics Abridged in One Volume, Herman Bavinck uses the word as follows:

God himself, the entire deity, is the archetype of man.

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  • 2
    Archetype is close to what the OP is looking for, but not quite. It would sound odd for a gamer to refer to herself as the archetype of her avatar. Also, it would be misleading to use avatar in the context of explaining either Platonism or Jungianism. (Incidentally, Plato would cringe at the use of 'real things' in the quotation from M-W; he argued that material things are not really real.)
    – jsw29
    Jul 15, 2023 at 21:12
  • Pace JSW, Jung was all about the avatars but they''re still right that this is a fun word to know about but not remotely the right idea unless OP wanted Vishnu and other gods to only exist as Platonic forms, Existential patterns, or Neil Gaimen-style Endless. If you actually wanted them to be anything like what they are, you'd need a different concept.
    – lly
    Jul 17, 2023 at 6:23
1

Rama says 'Vishnu is my _____'.

... Avataric principle

I think this expression would provide clarity to the reader. Although "principle" would in my mind convey the idea, as would these:

  • father
  • source
  • life
  • prototype

The word prototype, is surprisingly apt etymologically speaking.

from prōtos "first" (see proto-) + typos "impression, mold, pattern" ref

Here is an example of it's use in contemporary spiritual philosophy.

His "consciousness is one and yet has produced the varied forms of the many" within his little cosmos, and what is true of him is true of his great prototype, the Heavenly Man, the planetary Logos, and true again of the prototype of his prototype, the Grand Man of the Heavens, the solar Logos, God in manifestation through the solar system.

The light of the Soul, commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, p. 387, Alice Bailey

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    Hello, Flo. Do you mean principal? Jul 15, 2023 at 13:59
  • 1
    Principal would in fact be a very good term to use for the OP's purpose, albeit only if the audience is familiar with its sense in the law of agency (as avatars are agents of sorts).
    – jsw29
    Jul 15, 2023 at 21:19
  • Hi Edwin; Ha! I did not mean principal but you may be onto something there.
    – Flo H
    Jul 16, 2023 at 0:46
  • Welcome and thanks for answering! Still, I don't think 'avataric' would be at all clear. They could easily mix it up with autistic, avaricious, atavistic, &c. At best it would be self-referential and unnecessary. Life is too general, source too impersonal, and father too gendered and dualistic. Protoype is the best answer here, I think, even though it first brings to mind worse initial trial versions, rather than ultimate selves.
    – lly
    Jul 17, 2023 at 6:27
  • 1
    Respectfully all words can be misused or confused with others. But failing to use avataric as an adjective of the noun avatar because it could be confused with autistic for instance... doesn't convince. What I find interesting is that the question brings us in the field of spiritual philosophy, where ideas are symbolic. In the notion of avatar I hear the notion of descent (descent is part of etymology) of consciousness rather than relatedness through form, so if we talk about the life-consciousness aspect rather than form-manifestation, we can (should?) use gendered/dualistic symbolic terms.
    – Flo H
    Jul 18, 2023 at 8:36
1

Since everyone else currently upvoted seems to adding in some fairly inappropriate duality except 7868, I guess I should at least offer some alternatives.

There aren't any perfectly good ones of course. The closest English gets to Rama/Krishna/Buddha the Avatar and Vishnu the ____ [?] ____ is Christ the Incarnation and God the Father, the duality of which only gets solved by teaching everyone there's this special one-time-only relationship called a Trinity and it's one of those. If you were starting a new religion or trying to reframe Hinduism from scratch in English, you could try pushing 'Binary' as a parallel until enough people gave up and started using it your way. Harping on the difference between the avatar and the god is kinda the opposite of the actual Hindu focus though.

Including computer icons and video game characters muddies the waters too much. Discussion of accounts on MMORPGs and services like Twitter and Reddit see something similar called alts and mains. The main account gets used for high profile and IRL stuff and then the alt accounts push other specific projects or less socially acceptable ideas. People never use this for religious avatars but it really does fit. Turning into avatars is just the Hindu gods leveling down because it makes their gameplay more exciting again and makes for better stories. The idea of the main providing buffs and gear to their alts is even already baked in.

What you usually see is the character is your avatar and you are ... y'know ... you. That pretty much parallels how Hindus talk about avatars: Rama and Krishna and the Buddha were avatars of Vishnu and Vishnu was... Vishnu. Y'know. Vishnu. That's really the default way to handle this.

Still, some things you could say without making people think of life insurance or family relationships:

  • God, Goddess, Deity, &c. Again, the default way of expressing this relationship. Chandraghanta is the avatar and Durga is... the goddess. Pretty plain and not specific enough for you to be happy with, I know. It's still what these guys are actually normally called.

  • Incarnated, Incarnated One, or the Incarnate. The OED doesn't list a separate substantive sense but it's a pretty straightforward thing in English (depending on how your sentence is set up) to say that the Rama is the incarnation ("the meatening") and Vishnu is the incarnated ("the meatened"), the incarnated one, or the incarnate. Still, a lot more common to express that as the adjectival "the incarnate Vishnu" instead.

  • Transcendent, Transcendent One, &c. Same idea, with less focus on the deity's meatification. This has the benefit of calling to mind—for people who are already into this topic—the best scene in the Bhagavad Gita and the best scene in the Cartoon History of the Universe: Krishna blowing Arjuna's freakin' mind with his true form as Vishnu.

  • True Self. Not terribly specific but right on the money. The whole idea of avatars is that they're an embodiment of divinity, a deity, or of an aspect of a deity. The god is then the true self, final form, ultimate reality, &c. of the avatar. Historically, a major heresy to insist on this in Christianity but part of the point of philosophical Hinduism is precisely to break down individuality, which is what the answers above have been missing.

  • Source, True Nature, Essence, &c. These keep the two-in-one idea around but in English make the god end up sounding like an impersonal force rather than a god who gets up to adventures and needs hymns and sacrifices in order to respond to prayers.

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    I think essence, from your last paragraph, might be the best answer yet. Jul 17, 2023 at 16:55
  • If you view Vishnu as an impersonal force, it would be, yeah.
    – lly
    Jul 17, 2023 at 20:44
1

A simple generic single-word approach which is suitable for all contexts is using the word creator. An avatar is a representation of someone/something who creates it.

I believe Rama would use the word "creator" in your example also:

Rama says 'Vishnu is my creator'.

As a generic example:

I'm the creator of this avatar.

There is a book called Alter Ego: Avatars and their Creators by Robbie Cooper also and Wikipedia's Avatar_(computing) article uses the word creator multiple times as a relational counterpart of an avatar. (Note: A pedantic approach would be using the phrase avatar creator but without a context, it usually suggests a program/app that generates avatars.)

A semantic approach would be describing that someone/something is behind an avatar. Because, an avatar is like the front-face of the creator who creates it. Example sentences:

I'm the person behind this avatar.

Vishnu is the deity/creator behind the avatars (Dashavatara).

A more specific single-word for your example could be progenitor (or possibly originator but it is not that specific) including its figurative senses. It aligns with the etymological meaning of avatar which means descent, descendant and comes from Sanskrit. (Note: There is also ascendant as a direct opposite but it appears to be mainly used in astrology and its genealogical sense is rare.)

Here are the relevant senses of progenitor listed in OED:

1. A person from whom another is descended; an ancestor, a forefather; a parent.

2. figurative.

a. A spiritual, political, or intellectual predecessor; a person who is taken as a model or inspiration by another.

b. The original of which something is a copy, or from which it is derived.

1

I don't think English has a single word for this concept. If I wanted the reader to unambiguously understand immediately the relationship between Rama and Vishnu I would use "True Self", or "First Self". Anything more sophisticated is at risk of being misunderstood.

0

My proposal is Rama says "Vishnu is my spiritual begetter", i.e. his immaterial father.

Examples :

  • The human race is born from the sun ; and therefore the sun is not simply the physical orb that we see , but the spiritual begetter of mankind.

  • When I first saw Mauriac , I realized that there was a subtle family likeness between the characters in his novels and their spiritual begetter .

  • In the much-discussed dedication of Shakespeare's sonnets, Mr. W. H. (William Herbert or Henry Wriothesley) is called “the only begetter of these ensuing sonnets,” but here “begetter" does not mean the poet but the spiritual begetter (inspirer) of the sonnets.

1
  • From a Western perspective, 100% God the Father would be the go-to for an idea like this followed by some silliness about Rama and Vishnu still sharing some homoousite or homoousinaity. From an Eastern perspective, though, familial relationships still stress that these are different entities, which English wouldn't tend to use the word avatar for.
    – lly
    Jul 17, 2023 at 6:29
0

While it is not a perfect fit, an agent could be used in some contexts to describe the will that controls an avatar. It has other definitions that might confuse your intentions a bit, but this is the first definition from merriam-webster:

one that acts or exerts power

The key here is that you are looking for the thing that has agency, or the ability to inflict its will upon the avatar.

The popular work of fiction that describes a similar idea to this agency behind an avatar is Ghost in the Shell. The ghost is the unique person or agent, and the shell is the exchangeable avatar.

1
  • 1
    The trouble with agent is that is has the connotation of 'one who works for a higher power', i.e. an agency.
    – Monty Wild
    Jul 18, 2023 at 0:20
0

Since avatar is used as a symbol or representation that stands for the actual person/deity/etc., I was surprised not to see actuality so the phrase becomes:

If Rama is the avatar of Vishnu on earth, then Vishnu is the actuality of Rama among the gods.

-2

The word "apotheosis" might apply to your mythological example. It doesn't work for your StackExchange "avatar" except perhaps humorously. You StackExchange avatar is a representation of you and you are its "original" which could also be an answer. The word has several definitions, including (from wiktionary):

  1. The fact or action of becoming or making into a god.
  2. A glorified example or ideal.

This also suggests that "ideal" might be a good word.

If Rama is the avatar of Vishnu on earth, then Vishnu is the apotheosis of Rama among the gods.

Other possible answers: original, ideal, and I agree with @fev that "archetype" is another possibility.

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  • 6
    Apotheosis has the meaning of becoming a god. I need a word for what something is, not one for becoming that thing.
    – Monty Wild
    Jul 17, 2023 at 0:28
  • Maybe try godhood, then.
    – Wastrel
    Jul 17, 2023 at 14:24
-2

OP defines "avatar" as follows for their purposes:

an avatar is the physical representation of some higher entity

and is looking for a word for this "higher entity".

Later in the comments OP writes:

In the story I'm writing, one avatar says to another, "Get your _____ to tell mine where to find <a thing>". Hence why I need a word..

I would propose: metaphysical.

Get your metaphysical to tell mine where to find {X}.

That strikes me as a use of language that's in keeping with the sort of coinages frequently encountered in SciFi.

Presumably some channel of communication between the two tiers of existence can be opened by the entity existing on the lower tier, and the lower entities have the ability to coax or perhaps even the power to coerce the higher entities into doing things at their behest. Maybe the higher entity is able to enjoy physical pleasures only vicariously via the avatar, and the avatars use that to their advantage?

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  • 2
    Using metaphysical as a noun is possible (in so far as any adjective can be nominalised), but highly unusual, so this seems to be more of a proposal for new usage, than an answer based on established usage. Also, while deities can be characterised as metaphysical entities, that is not true of gamers.
    – jsw29
    Jul 17, 2023 at 20:47
  • @jsw29: I question your judgment. Why should a coinage from a well-understood word be less viable than the use of a recondite term that 999 out of 1000 people won't recognize, if it even exists. Also, to say that "any adjective can be nominalised" is B.S. This is not just "any" adjective.
    – TimR
    Jul 17, 2023 at 22:02
  • I question my own judgment. Why do I even care what word the OP uses in his story where avatars conspire to get their "higher entities" to do their bidding?
    – TimR
    Jul 17, 2023 at 22:04
-2

Rama says 'Vishnu is my incarnate form.'

Incarnate (Adj)

1.Clothed or invested with flesh; embodied in flesh; in a human (or animal) bodily form.

1.b. Of a quality or other abstraction: Embodied in human form; impersonated.

1880 In his eyes Vere was purity incarnate. ‘Ouida’, Moths vol. III. 269

1
  • This phase is better suited to being an alternative term for an avatar.
    – jsw29
    Jul 21, 2023 at 21:39

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