Polytheism -What is it, concept, characteristics and examples

We explain what polytheism is, its characteristics, origin and examples of polytheistic religions. Also, what is monotheism.

Hinduism polytheism
Polytheistic religions tend to be more heterodox than monotheistic ones.

What is polytheism?

Polytheism (a word that comes from the Greek polys: “Many”, and theos: “God”) is the religious belief in several different gods or divine beings, grouped in pantheons or directly in nature. It is the opposite of monotheism, a doctrine that proposes the existence of a single god, and should not be confused with pantheism, which understands the gods as the very forces of nature.

Polytheism is a complex religious doctrine, in which not all deities have the same rank, nor are they revered in the same way or with the same intensity or importance. In fact, polytheistic religions they usually have a more or less vast mythology in which the origin of the world or humanity is often explained through the interactions of their gods.

In fact, polytheistic religions tend to be more heterodox and less uniform than monotheistic ones, and have a greater margin of tolerance for other people’s mystical or religious practices.

Its flexibility can be observed in numerous cases in the history of ancient religions, in which a religious pantheon absorbed deities from other nations with which it had much contact; or merged one specific god with another, resulting in a new deity that various peoples could worship.

Origin of polytheism

The origin of polytheism is uncertain, since there is much debate about which came first: polytheism or monotheism. It would depend on this whether they first believed in several gods and then only one was chosen, or if, on the contrary, different individual cults were joining in a collective religion.

According to the traditional position of scholars and theologians, however, polytheism is the next step to pantheism or animism, that is, to ritual and religious forms that worshiped nature itself and saw in each natural phenomenon the expression of a god. These natural gods would have been anthropomorphized to give rise to polytheism.

Examples of polytheism

greek mythology polytheism
Greek mythology played a key role in the composition of Western culture.

Many of the religions of antiquity were polytheists, especially in highly hierarchical societies, such as Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Hindu or classical Greece.

In Greek culture, above all, the pantheon of the Olympian gods and their complex mythology played a key role in the composition of Western culture, being adopted by its Roman conquerors and then transmitted to the different corners of the Empire.

Today, similarly, polytheism survives in religions such as hinduism, whose roots also date back to Antiquity, or in the cults that make up the so-called Western Neopaganism: Wicca, Ásatrú, Neo-Ruidism, among others.

Polytheism and monotheism

Unlike polytheism, which believes in numerous gods, monotheism is a doctrine of one God. To that single divine force he attributes the creation of everything that exists, as well as the possibility of being everywhere, knowing everything and being able to do everything, which is why it is the only “true” God.

That is why monotheisms tend to exclude other creeds and to consider as “false” or “pagan” any other form of religiosity, especially polytheistic.

The major religions of the world today are monotheistic: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, among others.