Polytheism is the belief in or worship of multiple deities, called gods and goddesses. These are usually assembled into a pantheon, along with their own mythologies and rituals. Many religions, both historical and contemporary, have a belief in polytheism, such as Hinduism, Shinto, Ancient Greek Polytheism, Roman Polytheism, Germanic Polytheism, Slavic polytheism, Chinese folk religion, Neopagan faiths and Anglo-Saxon paganism.
Polytheists do not always worship all the gods equally, but can be monolatrists, specialising in the worship of one particular deity. Other polytheists can be kathenotheists, worshiping different deities at different times.
Polytheism is a type of theism (belief in one or more gods), but contrasts with monotheism (belief in a singular god), which is the dominant belief in the world today. In certain religions, such as Hinduism and Wicca, the various deities are seen as emanations of a greater Godhead.
The English language word "polytheism" is attested from the 17th century, loaned from French polythéisme, which had been in use since 1580. In post-classical Latin, the term is polytheismus. The word is attested later than atheism but earlier than theism.
It ultimately derives from the Greek adjective Template:Lang (from Template:Lang "many" and Template:Lang "god"), in the meaning "of or belonging to many gods" found in Aeschylus (Suppliant Women 424), or "believing in many gods" in Procopius (Historia Arcana 13).
==Gods and divinity==
- Main article: Deity
The deities of polytheistic religions are agents in mythology, where they are portrayed as complex personages of greater or lesser status, with individual skills, needs, desires and histories. These gods are often seen as similar to humans (anthropomorphic) in their personality traits, but with additional individual powers, abilities, knowledge or perceptions.
Polytheism cannot be cleanly separated from the animist beliefs prevalent in most folk religions. The gods of polytheism are in many cases the highest order of a continuum of supernatural beings or spirits, which may include ancestors, demons, wights and others. In some cases these spirits are divided into celestial or chthonic classes, and belief in the existence of all these beings does not imply that all are worshipped.
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Hard Polytheists believe that gods are distinct, separate real divine beings not psychological archetypes or personifications of natural forces. Hard polytheists reject the idea that "all gods are one God"
This is contrasted with Soft Polytheism, which holds that Gods may be aspects of only one God, psychological archetypes or personifications of natural forces.
It is a misconception that Hard Polytheists consider the gods of all cultures as being equally real; that is a theological position more correctly called integrational polytheism.
Soft Polytheism is prevalent in New Age and syncretic currents of Neopaganism, as are psychological interpretations of deities as archetypes of the human psyche. English occultist Dion Fortune was a major populiser of soft polytheism. In her novel, The Sea Priestess, she wrote, "All gods are one God, and all goddesses are one Goddess, and there is one Initiator." This phrase is very popular among some Neopagans (notably, Wiccans) and incorrectly often believed to be just a recent work of fiction. However, Fortune indeed quoted from an ancient source, the Latin novel The Golden Ass of Apuleius. Fortune's soft polytheist compromise between monotheism and polytheism has been described as "pantheism" (Greek: πάν pan 'all' and θεός theos 'god').Template:Who However, "Pantheism" has a longer history of usage to refer to a view of an all-encompassing immanent divine.
===Types of deities===
Types of deities often found in polytheismTemplate:Fact
*Sky god (celestial)
*Death deity (chthonic)
==In comparative religion==
Monotheism may be contrasted with polytheism in that the former is a belief in the existence of only one god. Polytheism and monotheism, being <nowiki></nowiki>-theisms, may not be contrasted with -isms. The latter incorporate principles that do not necessarily reflect any relationship to theos "(of) god(s)." For example, monism is the term for any system with exactly one primal/primordial unity from which all other entities derive. Template:Fact
==Mythology and religion==
- Main article: Mythology and religion
In the Classical era, Sallustius (4th century CE) categorised mythology into five types:
The theological are those myths which use no bodily form but contemplate the very essence of the gods: e.g., Kronos swallowing his children. Since divinity is intellectual, and all intellect returns into itself, this myth expresses in allegory the essence of divinity.
Myths may be regarded physically when they express the activities of gods in the world: e.g., people before now have regarded Kronos as time, and calling the divisions of time his sons say that the sons are swallowed by the father.
The psychological way is to regard (myths as allegories of) the activities of the soul itself and or the soul's acts of thought.
The material is to regard material objects to actually be gods, for example: to call the earth Gaia, ocean Okeanos, or heat Typhon.
The mixed kind of myth may be seen in many instances: for example they say that in a banquet of the gods, Eris threw down a golden apple; the goddesses contended for it, and were sent by Zeus to Paris to be judged. (See also the Judgement of Paris.) Paris saw Aphrodite to be beautiful and gave her the apple. Here the banquet signifies the hypercosmic powers of the gods; that is why they are all together. The golden apple is the world, which being formed out of opposites, is naturally said to be 'thrown by Eris '(or Discord). The different gods bestow different gifts upon the world, and are thus said to 'contend for the apple'. And the soul which lives according to sense - for that is what Paris is - not seeing the other powers in the world but only beauty, declares that the apple belongs to Aphrodite.
Some well-known historical polytheistic pantheons include the Sumerian gods and the Egyptian gods, and the classical attested pantheon which includes the Ancient Greek religion, and Roman Religion. Post classical polytheistic religions include Norse Æsir and Vanir, the Yoruba Orisha, the Aztec gods, and many others. Today, most historical polytheistic religions are pejoratively referred to as "mythology", though the stories cultures tell about their gods should be distinguished from their worship or religious practice. For instance deities portrayed in conflict in mythology would still be worshipped sometimes in the same temple side by side, illustrating the distinction in the devotees mind between the myth and the reality. It is speculated that there was once a Proto-Indo-European religion, from which the religions of the various Indo-European peoples derive, and that this religion was an essentially naturalist numenistic religion. An example of a religious notion from this shared past is the concept of *dyēus, which is attested in several distinct religious systems.
In many civilizations, pantheons tended to grow over time. Deities first worshipped as the patrons of cities or places came to be collected together as empires extended over larger territories. Conquests could lead to the subordination of the elder culture's pantheon to a newer one, as in the Greek Titanomachia, and possibly also the case of the Æsir and Vanir in the Norse mythos. Cultural exchange could lead to "the same" deity being renowned in two places under different names, as with the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans, and also to the introduction of elements of a "foreign" religion into a local cult, as with Egyptian Osiris worship brought to ancient Greece.
Most ancient belief systems held that gods influenced human lives. However, the Greek philosopher Epicurus held that the gods were living, incorruptible, blissful beings who did not trouble themselves with the affairs of mortals, but who could be perceived by the mind, especially during sleep. Epicurus believed that these gods were material, human-like, and that they inhabited the empty spaces between worlds.
Hellenistic religion may still be regarded as polytheistic, but with strong monistic components, and monotheism finally emerges out of Hellenistic traditions in Late Antiquity in the form of Neoplatonism and Christian theology.
;Bronze Age to Classical Antiquity
*Religions of the Ancient Near East
**Ancient Egyptian religion
**Ancient Semitic religion
*Historical Vedic religion
*Ancient Greek religion
*Ancient Roman religion
;Late Antiquity to High Middle Ages
==Polytheism in world religions==
- Main article: Folk religion
The various folk/indigenous religions of the world are practically all polytheistic.
Explicit polytheism in contemporary folk religion is found in African traditional religion as well as African diasporic religions. In Eurasia, the Kalash are one of very few instances of surviving polytheism. Also, a large number of polytheist folk traditions are subsumed in contemporary Hinduism, although Hinduism is doctrinally dominated by monist or monotheist theology (Bhakti, Advaita). Historical Vedic polytheist ritualism survives as a very minor current in Hinduism, known as Shrauta.
====Ancient Greek polytheism====
- Main article: Religion in ancient Greece
Ancient Greeks recognized the 13 major gods and goddesses: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Ares, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Athena, Hermes, Demeter, and Hestia, though various lesser gods were also worshipped. Different cities worshipped different deities, sometimes with epithets that specified their local nature.
The Hellenic Polytheism extended beyond mainland Greece, to the islands and coasts of Ionia in Asia Minor, to Magna Graecia (Sicily and southern Italy), and to scattered Greek colonies in the Western Mediterranean, such as Massalia (Marseille). Greek religion tempered Etruscan cult and belief to form much of the later Roman religion.
Hinduism can be polytheistic, monotheistic or pantheistic. Whilst there are a great number of polytheistic deities in Hinduism, such as Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Hanuman, Lakshmi, and Kali, they are viewed in different ways.
A historical Hindu view was that all the deities were separate entities. Though many today believe in different deities emanating from a single God, that one entity is never defined and the majority continues to hold one deity important above others, either as a matter of personal belief or tradition.
In the Smartha denomination of Hinduism, the philosophy of Advaita expounded by Shankara allows veneration of numerous deities with the understanding that all of them are but manifestations of one impersonal divine power, Brahman.
In contrast to the Smartha sect, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism follow an established singular concept of a personal god, as panentheistic monistic monotheism, but differ in their conceptions of the Supreme God. A Vaishnavite considers Vishnu or Krishna as the only god worthy of worship, and worship of other deities as subordinate, or recommends worship of other forms of God as aspects or expansions of the Supreme. Many Vaishnavas regard Shiva as the topmost devotee of Vishnu, not to be confused with Sadashiv, who is regarded as an expansion of Vishnu. Shaivite worshiper's position is usually similar to Vaishnavism, however, they worship Shiva alone as the Supreme.
====East Asian religions====
=====Buddhism and Shinto=====
In Buddhism, there are higher beings commonly designed (or designated) as gods, Devas; however, Buddhism, at its core, does not teach the notion of praying nor worship to the Devas or any god(s).
Devas, in general, are beings who have had more positive karma in their past lives than humans. Their lifespan eventually ends. When their lives end, they will be reborn as devas or as other beings. When they accumulate negative karma, they are reborn as either human or any of the other lower beings. Humans and other beings could also be reborn as a deva in their next rebirth, if they accumulate many positive karma; however, it is not recommended.<!--By whom? POV?-->
Buddhism flourished in different countries, and some of those countries have polytheistic folk religions. Buddhism syncretizes easily with other religions. Thus, Buddhism has mixed with the folk religions and emerged in polytheistic variants as well as nontheistic variants. For example, in Japan, Buddhism, mixed with Shinto, which worships deities called kami or kamigami (kami's plural form), created a tradition which prays to the deities of Shinto as a form of Buddha. Thus, there may be elements of worship of gods in some forms of later Buddhism.
Neopaganism often blends polytheism with pantheism or panentheism.
Germanic Neopaganism is a polytheistic faith, worshipping the same deities as historical Germanic paganism.
Wicca is a pantheistic, duotheistic, and a polytheistic faith. It sees the universe as being comprised by a divine Godhead (known by various names), but whom is subdivided into the opposing polarities of The God and The Goddess. Each of these deities can be further divided into many different polytheistic deities, which are aspects of The God and The Goddess. Wicca is tolerant in the understanding of divinity, but emphasises a balance and equality between male and female deities, whereas other polytheistic faiths have often placed male deities at the top of the hierarchy.
Romuva is a polytheistic faith. It follows the old religious practices of the Lithuanian people.
- Main article: Idolatry in Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion believing solely in one God and inherited from Judaism a belief that other gods do not exist and are false idols. Saint Paul, Christianity's greatest evangelist, wrote that such idolatry must be avoided, and that pagan gods are nothing other than demons. (1 Corinthians 10). The vast majority of Christians believe in the Trinity, that God exists as one essence and three persons. This is not considered a form of polytheism in Christian theology since the Trinity consists of three different aspects of the same single God.
The veneration of saints in folk Christianity, in particular the concept of patron saints responsible for a certain aspect of life or society, may in some cases appear indistinguishable from polytheism, and indeed in many cases seamlessly continues pre-Christian traditions.<ref>Michael C. Rea, "Polytheism and Christian Belief," The Journal of Theological Studies, (2006) 57(1):133-148.</ref>. Such traditions, however, tend to develop outside the sanctioned teachings of Christian establishments. Some denominations, such as Roman Catholicism, hold to a doctrine of intercession, in which a believer offers prayers to one or more saints in the hope that they will petition God on the believer's behalf. This doctrine does not attribute divine power to the saint; however intercession is sometimes criticised by other denominations on the grounds that they treat the saints as lesser gods and are therefore polytheisticTemplate:Fact.
Islam is monotheistic, believing solely in Allah, who is essentially God of the other Abrahamic faiths. According to the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, shirk, or polytheism, is the worst of sins.
Judaism is monotheistic, believing solely in Yahweh, and therefore rejects polytheism. Judaism specifically prohibits polytheism as idolatry, or avodah zarah. It is disputed whether shittuf, or associating a lesser power to a deity lesser than Yahweh, is allowed for gentiles, but it is forbidden for Jews.
The punishment for polytheism in the Old Testament was death. There is also a theoretical death penalty for polytheistic worship in the seven Noahide Laws.
There is, however, a population of Jewish Pagans (Jewitch).
Rastafari is monotheistic, believing solely in Jah. Rastas believe that Jah has incarnated onto Earth in human form twice, as Jesus Christ and as Haile Selassie, and worship them both. Rastas deny that this constitutes polytheism.
Sikhism is monotheistic, believing solely in Waheguru, and therefore rejects polytheism. It does not declare that there should be any punishment for polytheists.
However, many Hindu and Buddist thought and principles are the same in Sikhism, the practice of dharma; it states that Vishnu or Krishna must be respected and people should be allowed to follow any path that leads them to peace. The ultimate supreme being as in Hinduism is known also as Brahman.
; Types of Theism
*Myth and ritual
*Blain, Jenny (2004) An Understanding of Polytheism. Quotation used here with the author's permission.
*Assmann, Jan, 'Monotheism and Polytheism' in: Sarah Iles Johnston (ed.), Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide, Harvard University Press (2004), ISBN 0674015177, pp. 17–31.
*Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical, Blackwell (1985), ISBN 0631156240. <!-- esp. ch. V, pp. 216–275-->
* Greer, John Michael; A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry Into Polytheism, ADF Publishing (2005), ISBN 0-976-56810-1
* Iles Johnston, Sarah; Ancient Religions, Belknap Press (September 15, 2007), ISBN 0-674-02548-2
* Marbaniang, Domenic Epistemics of Divine Reality Google Books (See Chapter 3 Empirical Epistemics of Divine Reality for philosophical analysis of polytheism)
* Paper, Jordan; The Deities are Many: A Polytheistic Theology, State University of New York Press (March 3, 2005), ISBN 978-0791463871
*Penchansky, David, Twilight of the Gods: Polytheism in the Hebrew Bible (2005), ISBN 0664228852.
* The Association of Polytheist Traditions - APT, a UK-based community of Polytheists.
* International Year Of Polytheism Philosophical project promoting polytheism by group monochrom
* Integrational Polytheism
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