Polytheism

Polytheism (from Greek πολυθεϊσμός, polytheismos) is the worship of or belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals. In most religions which accept polytheism, the different gods and goddesses are representations of forces of nature or ancestral principles, and can be viewed either as autonomous or as aspects or emanations of a creator deity or transcendental absolute principle (monistic theologies), which manifests immanently in nature (panentheistic and pantheistic theologies).[1] Most of the polytheistic deities of ancient religions, with the notable exceptions of the Ancient Egyptian[2] and Hindu deities, were conceived as having physical bodies.

Polytheism is a type of theism. Within theism, it contrasts with monotheism, the belief in a singular God, in most cases transcendent. Polytheists do not always worship all the gods equally, but they can be henotheists, specializing in the worship of one particular deity. Other polytheists can be kathenotheists, worshiping different deities at different times.

Polytheism was the typical form of religion during the Bronze Age and Iron Age up to the Axial Age and the development of Abrahamic religions, the latter of which enforced strict monotheism. It is well documented in historical religions of Classical antiquity, especially ancient Greek religion and ancient Roman religion, and after the decline of Greco-Roman polytheism in tribal religions such as Germanic, Slavic and Baltic paganism.

Important polytheistic religions practiced today include Chinese traditional religion, Hinduism, Japanese Shinto, Santeria, and various neopagan faiths.

Terminology

The term comes from the Greek πολύ poly ("many") and θεός theos ("god") and was first invented by the Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria to argue with the Greeks. When Christianity spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, non-Christians were just called Gentiles (a term originally used by Jews to refer to non-Jews) or pagans (locals) or by the clearly pejorative term idolaters (worshiping "false" gods). The modern usage of the term is first revived in French through Jean Bodin in 1580, followed by Samuel Purchas's usage in English in 1614.[3]

Soft polytheism versus hard polytheism

A central, main division in polytheism is between soft polytheism and hard polytheism.[4][5]

"Hard" polytheism is the belief that gods are distinct, separate, real divine beings, rather than psychological archetypes or personifications of natural forces. Hard polytheists reject the idea that "all gods are one god." "Hard" polytheists do not necessarily consider the gods of all cultures as being equally real, a theological position formally known as integrational polytheism or omnism.

This is contrasted with "soft" polytheism, which holds that gods may be aspects of only one god, that the pantheons of other cultures are representative of one single pantheon, psychological archetypes or personifications of natural forces.

Gods and divinity

The deities of polytheism are often portrayed as complex personages of greater or lesser status, with individual skills, needs, desires and histories; in many ways 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.

Types of deities

Types of deities often found in polytheism may include

Mythology and religion

In the Classical era, Sallustius (4th century AD) categorised mythology into five types:

  1. Theological
  2. Physical
  3. Psychological
  4. Material
  5. Mixed

The theological are those myths which use no bodily form but contemplate the very essence of the gods: e.g., Cronus 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.

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.

Historical polytheism

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 referred to as "mythology",[6] 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. Scholars such as Jaan Puhvel, J. P. Mallory, and Douglas Q. Adams have reconstructed aspects of the ancient 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 seen with the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans, and also to the cultural transmission of elements of an extraneous religion into a local cult, as with worship of the ancient Egyptian deity Osiris, which was later followed in 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 from Hellenistic traditions in Late Antiquity in the form of Neoplatonism and Christian theology.

Neolithic Era
Bronze Age to Classical Antiquity
Late Antiquity to High Middle Ages

Ancient Greece

The classical scheme in Ancient Greece of the Twelve Olympians (the Canonical Twelve of art and poetry) were:[8][9] Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Ares, Demeter, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Hermes, and Hestia. Though it is suggested that Hestia stepped down when Dionysus was invited to Mount Olympus, this is a matter of controversy. Robert Graves' The Greek Myths cites two sources[10][11] that obviously do not suggest Hestia surrendered her seat, though he suggests she did. Hades[12] was often excluded because he dwelt in the underworld. All of the gods had a power. There was, however, a great deal of fluidity as to whom was counted among their number in antiquity.[13] Different cities often worshipped the same deities, sometimes with epithets that distinguished them and 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.

Folk religion

The animistic nature of folk beliefs is an anthropological cultural universal. The belief in ghosts and spirits animating the natural world and the practice of ancestor worship is universally present in the world's cultures and re-emerges in monotheistic or materialistic societies as "superstition", belief in demons, tutelary saints, fairies or extraterrestrials.

The presence of a full polytheistic religion, complete with a ritual cult conducted by a priestly caste, requires a higher level of organization and is not present in every culture. In Eurasia, the Kalash are one of very few instances of surviving polytheism. Also, a large number of polytheistic 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 minor current in Hinduism, known as Shrauta. More widespread is folk Hinduism, with rituals dedicated to various local or regional deities.

Contemporary world religions

Buddhism and Shinto

In Buddhism, there are higher beings commonly designed (or designated) as gods, Devas; however, Buddhism, at its core (the original Pali canon), does not teach the notion of praying nor worship to the Devas or any god(s).

However, in Buddhism, the core leader 'Buddha', who pioneered the path to enlightenment is not worshiped in meditation, but simply reflected upon. Statues or images of the Buddha (Buddharupas) are worshiped in front of to reflect and contemplate on qualities that the particular position of that rupa represents. In Buddhism, there is no creator and the Buddha rejected the idea that a permanent, personal, fixed, omniscient deity can exist, linking into the core concept of impermanence (anicca).

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 enough positive karma; however, it is not recommended.

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 (such as Vajrayana) as well as non-theistic variants. For example, in Japan, Buddhism, mixed with Shinto, which worships deities called kami, created a tradition which prays to the deities of Shinto as forms of Buddhas. Thus, there may be elements of worship of gods in some forms of later Buddhism.

The concepts of Adi-Buddha and Dharmakaya are the closest to monotheism any form of Buddhism comes, all famous sages and Bodhisattvas being regarded as reflections of it. Adi-Buddha is not said to be the creator, but the originator of all things, being a deity in an Emanationist sense.

Christianity

It is sometimes claimed that Christianity is not truly monotheistic because of its teaching about the Trinity.[14] This is the position of some Jews and Muslims who contend that because of the adoption of a Triune conception of deity, Christianity is actually a form of Tritheism or Polytheism,[15][16] for example see Shituf or Tawhid. However, the central doctrine of Christianity is that "one God exists in Three Persons and One Substance".[17] Strictly speaking, the doctrine is a revealed mystery which while above reason is not contrary to it.[17] The word 'person' is an imperfect translation of the original term "hypostasis". In everyday speech "person" denotes a separate rational and moral individual, possessed of self-consciousness, and aware of individual identity despite changes. A human person is a distinct individual essence in whom human nature is individualized. But in God there are no three individuals alongside of, and separate from, one another, but only personal self distinctions within the divine essence, which is not only generically, but also numerically, one.[18] Although the doctrine of the Trinity was not definitely formulated before the First Council of Constantinople in 381, the doctrine of one God, inherited from Judaism was always the indubitable premise of the Church's faith.[19]

Jordan Paper, a Western scholar and self-described polytheist, considers polytheism to be the normal state in human culture. He argues that "Even the Catholic Church shows polytheistic aspects with the 'worshipping' of the saints." On the other hand, he complains, monotheistic missionaries and scholars were eager to see a proto-monotheism or at least henotheism in polytheistic religions, for example, when taking from the Chinese pair of Sky and Earth only one part and calling it the King of Heaven, as Matteo Ricci did.[20]

Mormonism

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, believed in "the plurality of Gods", saying "I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods".[21] Mormonism also affirms the existence of a Heavenly Mother,[22] as well as exaltation, the idea that people can become like god in the afterlife,[23] and the prevailing view among Mormons is that God the Father was once a man who lived on a planet with his own higher God, and who became perfect after following this higher God.[24][25] Some critics of Mormonism argue that statements in the Book of Mormon describe a trinitarian conception of God (e.g. 2 Nephi 31:21; Alma 11:44), but were superseded by later revelations.[26]

Mormons teach that scriptural statements on the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost represent a oneness of purpose, not of substance.[27] They believe that the early Christian church did not characterize divinity in terms of an immaterial, formless shared substance until post-apostolic theologians began to incorporate Greek metaphysical philosophies (such as Neoplatonism) into Christian doctrine.[28][29] Mormons believe that the truth about God's nature was restored through modern day revelation, which reinstated the original Judeo-Christian concept of a natural, corporeal, immortal God,[30] who is the literal Father of the spirits of humans.[31] It is to this personage alone that Mormons pray, as He is and always will be their Heavenly Father, the supreme "God of gods" (Deuteronomy 10:17). In the sense that Mormons worship only God the Father, they consider themselves monotheists. Nevertheless, Mormons adhere to Christ's teaching that those who receive God's word can obtain the title of "gods" (John 10:33-36), because as literal children of God they can take upon themselves His divine attributes.[32] Mormons teach that "The glory of God is intelligence" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36), and that it is by sharing the Father's perfect comprehension of all things that both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are also divine.[33]

Hinduism

Hinduism is not a monolithic religion: many extremely varied religious traditions and practices are grouped together under this umbrella term and some modern scholars have questioned the legitimacy of unifying them artificially and suggest that one should speak of "Hinduisms" in the plural.[34] Theistic Hinduism encompasses both monotheistic and polytheistic tendencies and variations on or mixes of both structures.

Hindus venerate deities in the form of the murti, or idol. The Puja (worship) of the murti is like a way to communicate with the formless, abstract divinity (Brahman in Hinduism) which creates, sustains and dissolves creation. However, there are sects who have advocated that there is no need of giving a shape to God and it is omnipresent and beyond the things which human can see or feel tangibly. Specially the Arya Samaj founded by Swami Dayananda Saraswati and Brahmo Samaj founder by Ram Mohan Roy (there are others also) do not worship deities. Arya Samaj favours Vedic chants and Havan, Brahmo Samaj go for simple prayers.

Some Hindu philosophers and theologians argue for a transcendent metaphysical structure with a single divine essence. This divine essence is usually referred to as Brahman or Atman, but the understanding of the nature of this absolute divine essence is the line which defines many Hindu philosophical traditions such as Vedanta.

Among lay Hindus, some believe in different deities emanating from Brahman, while others practice more traditional polytheism and henotheism, focusing their worship on one or more personal deities, while granting the existence of others.

Academically speaking, the ancient Vedic scriptures, upon which Hinduism is derived, describe four authorized disciplic lines of teaching coming down over thousands of years. (Padma Purana). Four of them propound that the Absolute Truth is Fully Personal, as in Judeo-Christian theology. That the Primal Original God is Personal, both transcendent and immanent throughout creation. He can be, and is often approached through worship of Murtis, called "Archa-Vigraha", which are described in the Vedas as likenesses of His various dynamic, spiritual Forms. This is the Vaisnava theology.

The fifth disciplic line of Vedic spirituality, founded by Adi Shankaracharya, promotes the concept that the Absolute is Brahman, without clear differentiations, without will, without thought, without intelligence.

In the Smarta 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. Therefore, according to various schools of Vedanta including Shankara, which is the most influential and important Hindu theological tradition, there are a great number of deities in Hinduism, such as Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Hanuman, Lakshmi, and Kali, but they are essentially different forms of the same "Being". However, many Vedantic philosophers also argue that all individuals were united by the same impersonal, divine power in the form of the Atman.

Many other Hindus, however, view polytheism as far preferable to monotheism. Ram Swarup, for example, points to the Vedas as being specifically polytheistic,[35] and states that, "only some form of polytheism alone can do justice to this variety and richness."[36] Sita Ram Goel, another 20th-century Hindu historian, wrote:

"I had an occasion to read the typescript of a book [Ram Swarup] had finished writing in 1973. It was a profound study of Monotheism, the central dogma of both Islam and Christianity, as well as a powerful presentation of what the monotheists denounce as Hindu Polytheism. I had never read anything like it. It was a revelation to me that Monotheism was not a religious concept but an imperialist idea. I must confess that I myself had been inclined towards Monotheism till this time. I had never thought that a multiplicity of Gods was the natural and spontaneous expression of an evolved consciousness."[37]

Some Hindus construe this notion of polytheism in the sense of polymorphism—one God with many forms or names. The Rig Veda, the primary Hindu scripture, elucidates this as follows:

They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, and he is heavenly nobly-winged Garutman. To what is One, sages give many a title they call it Agni, Yama, Matarisvan. Book I, Hymn 164, Verse 46 Rigveda[38]

Reconstructionism

Reconstructionist polytheists apply scholarly disciplines such as history, archaeology and language study to revive ancient, traditional religions that have been fragmented, damaged or even destroyed, such as Norse Paganism, Greek Paganism, Celtic polytheism and others. A reconstructionist endeavours to revive and reconstruct an authentic practice, based on the ways of the ancestors but workable in contemporary life. These polytheists sharply differ from neopagans in that they consider their religion not only inspired by the religions of antiquity but often as an actual continuation or revival of those religions.[39]

Serer religion

In Africa, polytheism in Serer religion dates as far back to the Neolithic Era (possibly earlier) when the ancient ancestors of the Serer people represented their Pangool on the Tassili n'Ajjer.[7] The supreme creator deity in Serer religion is Roog. However, there are many deities[40] and Pangool (singular : Fangool, the interceders with the divine) in Serer religion.[7] Each one has its own purpose and serves as Roog's agent on Earth.[40] Amongst the Cangin speakers, a sub-group of the Serers, Roog is known as Koox.[41]

Neopaganism

Neopaganism, also known as modern paganism and contemporary paganism,[42] is a group of contemporary religious movements influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various historical pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe.[43][44] Although they do share commonalities, contemporary Pagan religious movements are diverse and no single set of beliefs, practices, or texts are shared by them all.[45]

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."[46]

Wicca

Wicca is a duotheistic faith created by Gerald Gardner that allows for polytheism.[47][48][49] Wiccans specifically worship the Lord and Lady of the Isles (their names are oathbound).[48][49][50][51] It is an orthopraxic mystery religion that requires initiation to the priesthood in order to consider oneself Wiccan.[48][49][52] Wicca emphasizes duality and the cycle of nature.[48][49][53]

Use as a term of abuse

The term 'polytheist' is sometimes used by Sunni Muslim groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as a derogatory reference to Shiite Muslims, whom they view as having "strayed from Islam’s monotheistic creed because of the reverence they show for historical figures, like Imam Ali".[54]

Polydeism

Polydeism (from Greek πολλοί ( 'poloi' ), meaning 'many', and Latin deus meaning god) is a portmanteau referencing a polytheistic form of deism, encompassing the belief that the universe was the collective creation of multiple gods, each of whom created a piece of the universe or multiverse and then ceased to intervene in its evolution. This concept addresses an apparent contradiction in deism, that a monotheistic God created the universe, but now expresses no apparent interest in it, by supposing that if the universe is the construct of many gods, none of them would have an interest in the universe as a whole.

Creighton University Philosophy professor William O. Stephens,[55] who has taught this concept, suggests that C. D. Broad projected this concept[56] in Broad's 1925 article, "The Validity of Belief in a Personal God".[57] Broad noted that the arguments for the existence of God only tend to prove that "a designing mind had existed in the past, not that it does exist now. It is quite compatible with this argument that God should have died long ago, or that he should have turned his attention to other parts of the Universe", and notes in the same breath that "there is nothing in the facts to suggest that there is only one such being".[58] Stephens contends that Broad, in turn, derived the concept from David Hume. Stephens states:

David Hume's criticisms of the argument from design include the argument that, for all we know, a committee of very powerful, but not omnipotent, divine beings could have collaborated in creating the world, but then afterwards left it alone or even ceased to exist. This would be polydeism.

This use of the term appears to originate at least as early as Robert M. Bowman Jr.'s 1997 essay, Apologetics from Genesis to Revelation.[59] Bowman wrote:

Materialism (illustrated by the Epicureans), represented today by atheism, skepticism, and deism. The materialist may acknowledge superior beings, but they do not believe in a Supreme Being. Epicureanism was founded about 300 BC by Epicurus. Their world view might be called "polydeism:" there are many gods, but they are merely superhuman beings; they are remote, uninvolved in the world, posing no threat and offering no hope to human beings. Epicureans regarded traditional religion and idolatry as harmless enough as long as the gods were not feared or expected to do or say anything.

Sociologist Susan Starr Sered used the term in her 1994 book, Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women, which includes a chapter titled, "No Father in Heaven: Androgyny and Polydeism". Sered states therein that she has "chosen to gloss on 'polydeism' a range of beliefs in more than one supernatural entity."[60] Sered used this term in a way that would encompass polytheism, rather than exclude much of it, as she intended to capture both polytheistic systems and nontheistic systems that assert the influence of "spirits or ancestors".[60] This use of the term, however, does not accord with the historical misuse of deism as a concept to describe an absent creator god.

See also

References

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  2. ^ Allen, James P. (2000). Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs, p. 44.
  3. ^ Schmidt, Francis (1987). The Inconceivable Polytheism: Studies in Religious Historiography. New York: Gordon & Breach Science Publishers. p. 10. ISBN 978-3718603671.
  4. ^ Galtsin, Dmitry (2018-06-21). "Modern Pagan religious conversion revisited". digilib.phil.muni.cz. Retrieved 2019-02-05.
  5. ^ Hoff., Kraemer, Christine (2012). Seeking the mystery : an introduction to Pagan theologies. Englewood, CO: Patheos Press. ISBN 9781939221186. OCLC 855412257.
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  12. ^ George Edward Rines, ed. (1919). Encyclopedia Americana Vol. 13. 13. Americana Corp. pp. 408–411.
  13. ^ Stoll, Heinrich Wilhelm (R.B. Paul trans.) (1852). Handbook of the religion and mythology of the Greeks. Francis and John Rivington. p. 8. The limitation [of the number of Olympians] to twelve seems to have been a comparatively modern idea
  14. ^ Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974) art. "Monotheism"
  15. ^ "Typical Jewish Misunderstandings of Christianity". Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations. Retrieved June 8, 2018.
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  17. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974) art. "Trinity, Doctrine of the"
  18. ^ Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (1949) page 87
  19. ^ Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines A&C Black (1965) pp. 87,88
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  23. ^ Pope, Margaret McConkie, "Exaltation", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 479
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  28. ^ Bickmore, Barry R. (2001), Does God Have a Body In Human Form? (PDF), Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research
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  31. ^ "God Is Truly Our Father", Liahona, January 2010
  32. ^ Lindsay, Jeff, "Relationships Between Man, Christ, and God", LDS FAQ: Mormon Answers, archived from the original on 2014-11-12 |contribution= ignored (help)
  33. ^ "'The Glory of God is Intelligence' - Lesson 37: Section 93", Doctrine and Covenants Instructor's Guide: Religion 324-325 (PDF), Institutes of Religion, Church Educational System, 1981, archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-11-12
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  42. ^ Adler 2006, p. xiii.
  43. ^ Lewis 2004, p. 13.
  44. ^ Hanegraaff 1996, p. 84.
  45. ^ Carpenter 1996, p. 40.
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  54. ^ Callimachi, Rukmini; Coker, Margaret (2018). "ISIS Claims Responsibility for Baghdad Bombings". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-01-21. The second refers to the group’s view that Shiites have strayed from Islam’s monotheistic creed because of the reverence they show for historical figures, like Imam Ali.
  55. ^ Article on "Bill" Stephens
  56. ^ article on C. D. Broad's concept projection
  57. ^ C. D. Broad, "The Validity of Belief in a Personal God", reprinted in C. D. Broad, Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research, (1953), 159–174.
  58. ^ Id. at 171.
  59. ^ Atlanta Apologist: Genesis to Relevations PDF
  60. ^ a b Susan Starr Sered, Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women (1994), p. 169.

Further reading

  • Assmann, Jan, 'Monotheism and Polytheism' in: Sarah Iles Johnston (ed.), Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide, Harvard University Press (2004), ISBN 0-674-01517-7, pp. 17–31.
  • Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical, Blackwell (1985), ISBN 0-631-15624-0.
  • Greer, John Michael; A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry Into Polytheism, ADF Publishing (2005), ISBN 0-9765681-0-1
  • Iles Johnston, Sarah; Ancient Religions, Belknap Press (September 15, 2007), ISBN 0-674-02548-2
  • Paper, Jordan; The Deities are Many: A Polytheistic Theology, State University of New York Press (March 3, 2005), ISBN 978-0-7914-6387-1
  • Penchansky, David, Twilight of the Gods: Polytheism in the Hebrew Bible (2005), ISBN 0-664-22885-2.
  • Swarup, Ram, & Frawley, David (2001). The word as revelation: Names of gods. New Delhi: Voice of India. ISBN 978-8185990682

External links

Ancient Canaanite religion

Canaanite religion refers to the group of ancient Semitic religions practiced by the Canaanites living in the ancient Levant from at least the early Bronze Age through the first centuries of the Common Era.

Canaanite religion was polytheistic, and in some cases monolatristic.

Ancient Celtic religion

Ancient Celtic religion, commonly known as Celtic paganism, comprises the religious beliefs and practices adhered to by the Iron Age people of Western Europe now known as the Celts, roughly between 500 BC and 500 AD, spanning the La Tène period and the Roman era, and in the case of the Insular Celts the British and Irish Iron Age. Very little is known with any certainty about the subject, and apart from documented names that are thought to be of deities, the only detailed contemporary accounts are by hostile and probably not-well-informed Roman writers.

Celtic paganism was one of a larger group of Iron Age polytheistic religions of the Indo-European family. It comprised a large degree of variation both geographically and chronologically, although "behind this variety, broad structural similarities can be detected" allowing there to be "a basic religious homogeneity" among the Celtic peoples.The Celtic pantheon consists of numerous recorded theonyms, both from Greco-Roman ethnography and from epigraphy. Among the most prominent ones are Teutatis, Taranis and Lugus. Figures from medieval Irish mythology have also been interpreted as iterations of earlier pre-Christian Insular deities in the study of comparative mythology.

According to Greek and Roman accounts, in Gaul, Britain and Ireland, there was a priestly caste of "magico-religious specialists" known as the druids, although very little is definitely known about them. Following the Roman Empire's conquest of Gaul (58–51 BC) and southern Britannia (43 AD), Celtic religious practices began to display elements of Romanisation, resulting in a syncretic Gallo-Roman culture with its own religious traditions with its own large set of deities, such as Cernunnos, Artio, Telesphorus, etc.

In Roman Britain this lost at least some ground to Christianity by the time the Romans left in 410, and in the next century began to be replaced by the pagan Anglo-Saxon religion over much of the country. Christianity had resumed missionary activity by the later 5th and the 6th centuries, also in Ireland, and the Celtic population was gradually Christianized supplanting the earlier religious traditions. However, polytheistic traditions left a legacy in many of the Celtic nations, influenced later mythology, and served as the basis for a new religious movement, Celtic Neopaganism, in the 20th century.

Ancient Greek religion

Ancient Greek religion encompasses the collection of beliefs, rituals, and mythology originating in ancient Greece in the form of both popular public religion and cult practices. These groups varied enough for it to be possible to speak of Greek religions or "cults" in the plural, though most of them shared similarities.

Most ancient Greeks recognized the twelve major Olympian gods and goddesses: (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaestus, Hermes, and either Hestia or Dionysus), although philosophies such as Stoicism and some forms of Platonism used language that seems to assume a single transcendent deity. The worship of these deities, and several others, was found across the Greek world, though they often have different epithets that distinguished aspects of the deity, and often reflect the absorption of other local deities into the pan-Hellenic scheme.

The religious practices of the Greeks 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). Early Italian religions such as the Etruscan were influenced by Greek religion in forming much of the ancient Roman religion.

Ancient Mesopotamian religion

Mesopotamian religion refers to the religious beliefs and practices of the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia, particularly Sumer, Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia between circa 3500 BC and 400 AD, after which they largely gave way to Syriac Christianity. The religious development of Mesopotamia and Mesopotamian culture in general was not particularly influenced by the movements of the various peoples into and throughout the area, particularly the south. Rather, Mesopotamian religion was a consistent and coherent tradition which adapted to the internal needs of its adherents over millennia of development.The earliest undercurrents of Mesopotamian religious thought date to the mid 4th millennium BC, and involved the worship of forces of nature as providers of sustenance. In the 3rd millennium BC objects of worship were personified and became an expansive cast of divinities with particular functions. The last stages of Mesopotamian polytheism, which developed in the 2nd and 1st millenniums, introduced greater emphasis on personal religion and structured the gods into a monarchical hierarchy with the national god being the head of the pantheon. Mesopotamian religion finally declined with the spread of Iranian religions during the Achaemenid Empire and with the Christianization of Mesopotamia.

Babylonian religion

Babylonian religion is the religious practice of Babylonia. Babylonian mythology was greatly influenced by their Sumerian counterparts, and was written on clay tablets inscribed with the cuneiform script derived from Sumerian cuneiform. The myths were usually either written in Sumerian or Akkadian. Some Babylonian texts were translations into Akkadian from the Sumerian language of earlier texts, although the names of some deities were changed.

Some of the stories of the Tanakh are believed to have been based on, influenced by, or inspired by the legendary mythological past of the Near East.

Baltic mythology

Baltic mythology is the body of mythology of the Baltic people stemming from Baltic paganism and continuing after Christianization and into Baltic folklore. Baltic mythology ultimately stems from Proto-Indo-European mythology. The Baltic region was one of the last regions of Europe to be Christianized, a process that occurred from the 15th century and into at least a century after. While no native texts survive detailing the mythology of the Baltic peoples during the pagan period, knowledge of the mythology may be gained from Russian and German chronicles, later folklore, by way of etymology, and comparative mythology.While the early chronicles (14th and 15th century) were largely the product of missionaries who sought to eradicate the native paganism of the Baltic peoples, rich material survives into Baltic folklore. This material has been of particular value in Indo-European studies as, like the Baltic languages, it is considered by scholars to be notably conservative, reflecting elements of Proto-Indo-European religion. The Indo-European Divine Twins are particularly well represented as the Dieva dēli (Latvian 'sons of god') and Dievo sūneliai (Lithuanian 'sons of god'). According to folklore, they are the children of Dievas (Lithuanian and Latvia; see Proto-Indo-European *Dyeus). Associated with the brothers and their father are two goddesses; the personified Sun, Saule (Latvian 'sun') and Saules meita (Latvian 'Sun's daughter').

Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism

Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism (also Celtic Reconstructionism or CR) is a polytheistic reconstructionist approach to Celtic neopaganism, emphasising historical accuracy over eclecticism such as is found in many forms of Neo-druidism. It is an effort to reconstruct and revive, in a modern Celtic cultural context, pre-Christian Celtic religions.

Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism originated in discussions among amateur scholars and Neopagans in the mid-1980s, and evolved into an independent tradition by the early 1990s.

Currently, "Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism" (CR) is an umbrella term, with a number of recognized sub-traditions or denominations.

Continental Germanic mythology

Continental Germanic mythology is a subtype of Germanic paganism as practiced in parts of Central Europe during the 6th to 8th centuries, a period of Christianization. It continued in the legends, and Middle High German epics of the Middle Ages. Traces of these stories, with the sacred elements largely removed, may be found throughout European folklore and fairy tales.

Decline of Greco-Roman polytheism

Religion in the Greco-Roman world at the time of the Constantinian shift mostly comprised three main currents:

the traditional religions of ancient Greece and Rome;

the official Roman imperial cult;

various mystery religions, such as the Dionysian and Eleusinian Mysteries and the mystery cults of Cybele, Mithras, and the syncretized Isis.Early Christianity grew gradually in Rome and the Roman Empire from the 1st to 4th centuries. In 313 it was legally tolerated and in 380 it became the state church of the Roman Empire with the Edict of Thessalonica. Nevertheless, Hellenistic polytheistic traditions survived in pockets of Greece throughout Late Antiquity until they gradually diminished after the triumph of Christianity.

Etruscan religion

Etruscan religion comprises a set of stories, beliefs, and religious practices of the Etruscan civilization, originating in the 7th century BC from the preceding Iron Age Villanovan culture, heavily influenced by the mythology of ancient Greece and Phoenicia, and sharing similarities with concurrent Roman mythology and religion. As the Etruscan civilization was assimilated into the Roman Republic in the 4th century BC, the Etruscan religion and mythology were partially incorporated into classical Roman culture, following the Roman tendency to absorb some of the local gods and customs of conquered lands.

Finnic mythologies

Finnic mythologies are the various mythologies of the Finnic peoples.

Finnish mythology

Estonian mythology

Germanic paganism

Germanic paganism refers to the indigenous religion of the Germanic people from the Iron Age until Christianisation during the Middle Ages. Rooted in Proto-Indo-European religion, Proto-Germanic religion expanded during the Migration Period, yielding extensions such as Old Norse religion among the North Germanic peoples, Continental Germanic paganism among the continental Germanic peoples, and Anglo-Saxon paganism among the West Germanic people. Among the East Germanic peoples, traces of Gothic paganism may be discerned from scant artifacts and attestations. According to John Thor Ewing, as a religion it consisted of "individual worshippers, family traditions and regional cults within a broadly consistent framework".

Hellenism (religion)

Hellenism (Greek: Ἑλληνισμός, Ἑllēnismós), the Hellenic ethnic religion (Ἑλληνικὴ ἐθνική θρησκεία), also commonly known as Hellenismos, Hellenic Polytheism, Dodekatheism (Δωδεκαθεϊσμός), or Olympianism (Ὀλυμπιανισμός), refers to various religious movements that revive or reconstruct ancient Greek religious practices, which have publicly emerged since the 1990s.

The Hellenic religion is a traditional religion and way of life, revolving around the Greek Gods, primarily focused on the Twelve Olympians, and embracing ancient Hellenic values and virtues.

In 2017, Hellenism was legally recognized as a "known religion" in Greece, granting it certain religious freedoms in that country, including the freedom to open houses of worship and for clergy to officiate weddings.

Hellenistic religion

Hellenistic religion is the late form of Ancient Greek religion, covering any of the various systems of beliefs and practices of the people who lived under the influence of ancient Greek culture during the Hellenistic period and the Roman Empire (c. 300 BCE to 300 CE). There was much continuity in Hellenistic religion: the Greek gods continued to be worshipped, and the same rites were practiced as before.

Change came from the addition of new religions from other countries, including the Egyptian deities Isis and Serapis, and the Syrian gods Atargatis and Hadad, which provided a new outlet for people seeking fulfillment in both the present life and the afterlife. The worship of Hellenistic rulers was also a feature of this period, most notably in Egypt, where the Ptolemies adapted earlier Egyptian practice and Greek hero cults and established themselves as Pharaohs within the new syncretic Ptolemaic cult of Alexander the Great. Elsewhere, rulers might receive divine status without the full status of a god.

Magic was practiced widely, and this too, was a continuation from earlier times. Throughout the Hellenistic world, people would consult oracles, and use charms and figurines to deter misfortune or to cast spells. Also developed in this era was the complex system of astrology, which sought to determine a person's character and future in the movements of the sun, moon, and planets. The systems of Hellenistic philosophy, such as Stoicism and Epicureanism, offered an alternative to traditional religion, even if their impact was largely limited to the educated elite.

Henotheism

Henotheism (from Greek ἑνός θεός (henos theos), meaning 'one god') is the worship of a single god while not denying the existence or possible existence of other deities. Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854) coined the word, and Friedrich Welcker (1784–1868) used it to depict primitive monotheism among ancient Greeks.Max Müller (1823–1900), a German philologist and orientalist, brought the term into wider usage in his scholarship on the Indian religions, particularly Hinduism whose scriptures mention and praise numerous deities as if they are one ultimate unitary divine essence. Müller made the term central to his criticism of Western theological and religious exceptionalism (relative to Eastern religions), focusing on a cultural dogma which held "monotheism" to be both fundamentally well-defined and inherently superior to differing conceptions of God.

Paganism

Paganism (from classical Latin pāgānus "rural, rustic", later "civilian"), is a term first used in the fourth century by early Christians for people in the Roman Empire who practiced polytheism. This was either because they were increasingly rural and provincial relative to the Christian population, or because they were not milites Christi (soldiers of Christ). Alternate terms in Christian texts for the same group were hellene, gentile, and heathen. Ritual sacrifice was an integral part of ancient Graeco-Roman religion and was regarded as an indication of whether a person was pagan or Christian.Paganism was originally a pejorative and derogatory term for polytheism, implying its inferiority. Paganism has broadly connoted the "religion of the peasantry", During and after the Middle Ages, the term paganism was applied to any non-Abrahamic or unfamiliar religion, and the term presumed a belief in false god(s). Most modern pagan religions existing today - Modern Paganism, or Neopaganism -

express a world view that is pantheistic, polytheistic or animistic; but some are monotheistic.The origin of the application of the term pagan to polytheism is debated. In the 19th century, paganism was adopted as a self-descriptor by members of various artistic groups inspired by the ancient world. In the 20th century, it came to be applied as a self-descriptor by practitioners of Modern Paganism, Neopagan movements and Polytheistic reconstructionists. Modern pagan traditions often incorporate beliefs or practices, such as nature worship, that are different from those in the largest world religions.Contemporary knowledge of old pagan religions comes from several sources, including anthropological field research records, the evidence of archaeological artifacts, and the historical accounts of ancient writers regarding cultures known to Classical antiquity.

Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia

Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia included indigenous polytheistic beliefs, as well as Christianity, Judaism, and Iranian religions of Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Manichaeism. Arabian polytheism, the dominant form of religion in pre-Islamic Arabia, was based on veneration of deities and spirits. Worship was directed to various gods and goddesses, including Hubal and the goddesses al-Lāt, al-‘Uzzā and Manāt, at local shrines and temples such as the Kaaba in Mecca. Deities were venerated and invoked through a variety of rituals, including pilgrimages and divination, as well as ritual sacrifice. Different theories have been proposed regarding the role of Allah in Meccan religion. Many of the physical descriptions of the pre-Islamic gods are traced to idols, especially near the Kaaba, which is said to have contained up to 360 of them.

Other religions were represented to varying, lesser degrees. The influence of the adjacent Roman, Aksumite and Sasanian Empires resulted in Christian communities in the northwest, northeast and south of Arabia. Christianity made a lesser impact, but secured some conversions, in the remainder of the peninsula. With the exception of Nestorianism in the northeast and the Persian Gulf, the dominant form of Christianity was Miaphysitism. The peninsula had been a destination for Jewish migration since Roman times, which had resulted in a diaspora community supplemented by local converts. Additionally, the influence of the Sasanian Empire resulted in Iranian religions being present in the peninsula. Zoroastrianism existed in the east and south, while there is evidence of Manichaeism or possibly Mazdakism being practiced in Mecca.

Shirk (Islam)

In Islam, shirk (Arabic: شرك‎ širk) is the sin of practicing idolatry or polytheism, i.e., the deification or worship of anyone or anything besides the singular God, i.e., Allah. Literally, it means ascribing or the establishment of "partners" placed beside God. It is the vice that is opposed to the virtue of Tawhid (monotheism). Those who practice shirk are termed mushrikun. Mushrikun (pl. of mushrik) are those who practice shirk, which literally means "association" and refers to accepting other gods and divinities alongside the god of the Muslims - Allah (as God's "associates"). In Islamic law shirk is a crime and can only be attributed to Muslims, since only a Muslim is legally responsible for avoiding association of any partner with Allah.Within Islam, shirk is an unforgivable crime if it remains unpardoned before death: Allah may forgive any sin if one dies in that state except for committing shirk.The word širk comes from the Arabic root Š-R-K (ش ر ك), with the general meaning of "to share".

In the context of the Quran, the particular sense of "sharing as an equal partner" is usually understood, so that polytheism means "attributing a partner to Allah". In the Quran, shirk and the related word mušrikūn (مشركون)—those who commit shirk and plot against Islam—often refer to the enemies of Islam (as in verse 9.1–15).

Theism

Theism is broadly defined as the belief in the existence of the Supreme Being or deities. In common parlance, or when contrasted with deism, the term often describes the classical conception of God that is found in monotheism (also referred to as classical theism) – or gods found in polytheistic religions—a belief in God or in gods without the rejection of revelation as is characteristic of deism.Atheism is commonly understood as rejection of theism in the broadest sense of theism, i.e. the rejection of belief in God or gods. The claim that the existence of any deity is unknown or unknowable is agnosticism.

Historical polytheism
Myth and ritual
Christianization
Modern pagan movements
Concepts in religion
Conceptions of God
Existence of God
Theology
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Problem of evil
Philosophersof religion

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