In the novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman, what is the symbolism of cigarettes, the number three, and nature imagery such as stars, water, trees, moon, sun, desert, snow, and rain?

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Cigarettes are often used as a symbol to show how the mystical is corrupted by America. Many of the gods, lesser spirits, and even Laura (when she is reanimated as a corpse) have a preoccupation with cigarettes. Czernobog, a Slavic deity associated with darkness and evil, frequently blows smoke in Shadow's face. While all of the deities in the narrative are fighting against obscurity, Czernobog is one that is very close to being completely forgotten and has been corrupted by diminished remembrance and futurism. Smoke rings and smoke tricks, in contrast, are a symbol of mysticism and legacy still surviving within the modern world.

The number three occurs very frequently within Norse mythology. Most importantly within the narrative and in legend, Odin endured three tortures as he hung upon the world tree: the original hanging, hunger and thirst, and a wound with a spear. This trial is repeated by Shadow, both metaphorically in occurrences of three and then quite literally at the end of the book.

Finally, the significance of these natural symbols are as varied as they are within the contexts of the many faiths in which they hold meaning. The moon, for example, can be a symbol of darkness and madness (literally lunacy) in some contexts. To Shadow, however, it is a symbol of the almost maternal guidance he receives through the silver dollar that he is given by Zorya. Trees are often described in terms of Norse mythology, with special emphasis on Yggdrasil, the world tree. Stars are used as a symbol for guidance and destination. Water is a symbol of life and time, most clearly emphasized when Laura returns from hideous decay upon drinking the renewing water. The sun and desert are indicative of madness and obscurity, indicated by the Egyptian god Horus who, all but completely insane, spends the majority of his time as a hawk eating roadkill. Rain and snow are shown to be extensions of the power of the gods, who can use it for dishonest means, such as when Mr. Wednesday and Shadow rob the ATM by causing it to snow.

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