Polytheistic Religion: Definition, Characteristics and Types

The Polytheistic religion Or polytheism is the belief and worship of many gods. Usually these gods are distinguished by particular functions, and often have human characteristics.

In the polytheistic dogma, the gods are personified with characteristics of human beings, distinguished by their different functions and the protection they have over individuals. In turn, this differentiation allows that religion to make a structuring of its divinities.

Women ritual religion

The polytheistic religion presents different characteristics according to the cultural context of which it forms part but having as common denominator between the diverse cultures, the belief of a multiplicity of deities.

This dogma corresponds to the ancient world and spread to various parts of the world, including Egypt, where the gods were the central axis of the country's culture.

Shortly afterwards, the ancient Greeks were the ones who developed a great amount of myths based on the existence of multiple deities.

Today the polytheistic religion retains a great representation. With the exception of some religions, this faith corresponds to most of the world's religions.

Characteristics of Polytheism

Polytheism is a religious form based on the worship of multiple gods, which are usually organized hierarchically.

The concept of polytheism is applied to a wide variety of religious traditions, which have divergent views of each other but coincide in the belief of the existence of multiple gods. In turn, each divinity rules over various aspects of the life of humanity.

These gods are described with their own characteristics, distinguishable and identifiable, being able to be invoked individually or jointly, according to the powers attributed to them and depending on the need or objective of the summoner.

What are the origins of polytheism?

Polytheism was originally understood as an intermediate stage between the various religious thoughts.

The first of them refers to animism, belief according to which, everything animate and inanimate, has a soul.

The second alludes to primitive magic, which refers to the corresponding belief that the natural world can be controlled through mystic, paranormal or supernatural means.

The third refers to monotheism which is characterized by belief in a single divinity, or one God.

In the intermediate stages of these thoughts, a belief system called polydemonism arose which states that the world is full of spirits.

In this way, polytheism represents an evolutionary phase between early primitive thoughts (animistic and magical beliefs), and monotheists.

In this polytheistic belief the gods are personified, being this stage more complex than the previous ones

Historically the clearest representations of the polytheistic religion appear in the cultures of the Vedic age, corresponding to India. In Japan it was previously buddhism ; In the culture corresponding to Iran before Zarathustra, expanding to Egypt, Greece, Rome and the great cultures of Mesopotamia.

There is also evidence of polytheistic religions in Germanic peoples, and in some South American countries prior to the conquest of America. And on the other hand, in Polynesia and in some cultures of West Africa.

What are the main characteristics of the polytheistic religion?

Polytheism varies considerably from one culture to another. But it preserves some common characteristics:

Among them it may be found that, in spite of the different points of view, the gods of polytheism have independent and individual personalities. And they have specific skills, needs and desires.

They are thought to lack a material form although they may assume physical bodies. The divinities possess a high level of relevance for human life, being able to intervene in the particularities of the daily life of the people.

In this sense they can be invoked through rituals and sacrifices, but at the same time they could be manifested by their own will.

Another characteristic of these gods is that they are immortal and at the same time they are not omnipotent or omniscient.

They are usually described with characteristics similar to those of humans, both in their personality traits, in their vices and defects. But unlike these, the gods possess supernatural powers and abilities.

In turn, polytheism is also characterized by having an explanation for any circumstance since it is always attributed to one of the gods. This gives some flexibility to sinners because they can turn to one of them to respond for it to another God.

Among the diversity of thoughts involved in polytheism, the pattern or the main God arises from the belief of a particular region.

In other cases, it is thought that the gods may have arisen in function of the division of labor, each having a particular domain over specific elements of the natural and human world.

In this way, the Greeks, for example, postulated the existence of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, Dionysius the God of wine and Ceres, the God of wheat.

In relation to the above, the polytheistic idea or belief of the divinity, is differentiated and structured, reflecting the human perception of a universe or cosmos that is divided. The gods of the different polytheistic systems, along with the myths inherent to them, became an epistemological basis for understanding the universe.

In broad outline, the various polytheistic societies, there is no single theology or belief. Rather, it coexists with different philosophical and ethical systems, from which it nourishes itself.

Polytheism is also characterized as one of the most dominant religious beliefs in the history of mankind.

In the antiquity can emphasize the beliefs of Greece and the Roman mythology. As an example, one of the polytheistic religions corresponding to modernity is that of Hinduism.

As a main feature of polytheism stands out, being a religious thought with a basic idea, referring to the existence of a creator of the universe. And together, it supposes the existence of different gods, which are related to the supernatural world.

The figures of the existing gods for polytheism present divine characteristics, since they belong to an order of reality, different from that of man.

In most cases, they fulfill the function of protection and patronage on the different spheres or spheres of human life.

In some polytheistic beliefs the gods are immortal and in others they are not considered eternal or omnipotent.

Polytheism is closely related to the cultural, social and political conditions of society, so it will present different forms and characteristics, depending on the properties inherent to each one of them.

What are the polytheistic religions?

There are various religions throughout the world that correspond to polytheistic beliefs. Among them can be distinguished:


According to this religion, also called monolatry, the belief is based on the existence of a variety of deities. But he stresses the importance that only one of these gods is the one to be worshiped by individuals being the only one sufficiently worthy of such worship.

In ancient Egypt, Henoteism was characteristic of the religious ideologies of the cultures corresponding to that nation.


Hinduism refers to a religion from India where they worship different gods and are the most recognized:

Shivá (God of three forms, representative of nature); Vishnu (God of preservation and goodness); Kali (Goddess representing the male part of Shiva) and Krisna (God representing the manifestations of the Supreme God), among others.

However, its religious basis lies in the existence of Brahman, as God the Creator, the rest of the gods being a form of expression of this Absolute God.

The Egyptian Religion

According to Egyptian mythology, the beliefs corresponding to this region are divided according to the location and culture of different peoples.

Within these beliefs there are different gods, having above them a Supreme God, which corresponds to the location of the believers. The supreme deities are called by the names of Atum, Ra, Chnum, Amon and Ptah.

Thus, the ancient Egyptians also believed that the gods corresponded to the aspects of a greater God.

The Greek Religion

The ancient Greeks believed in independent gods which were personified; Not corresponding with the aspects of a Supreme God.

The earliest gods of the Greek religion were related to natural processes. The most recognized in history and literature are: Uranus, the God of heaven; Gaia, the goddess mother of the earth and, Zeus, the God of time.

Later the gods were assigned to more specific aspects. In this line Apollo became the God of light and Athena to the goddess of wisdom.

The Roman Religion

The beliefs of the Romans resemble that of the Greeks, for they have inherited much of their mythology by being conquered by Greece in the year 146 BC.

The Romans believed in the existence of different gods, who specialized in the different domains of all aspects of the life of human beings.

Among the most recognized gods of the Roman religion may stand out to Jupiter, who would be similar to the Zeus of the Greeks; Juno, the protective goddess of the family; Neptune, the God of the sea; Mars, that of war; Venus, the Goddess of love and, Mercury, the God of commerce, among many others.

The Celtic or Nordic Religion

According to Norse mythology, this religion recognizes three clans of deities. The Esir, the Vanir, and the Lotnar.

In the first of them, the main Norse gods were included, like Odin, the main God that represents the wisdom, the battle and the death. Baldr, the God of beauty and innocence and Thor, the God of Thunder.

The Vanir corresponded with a secondary clan, where they were the gods Niord and Freyia, god of the fertile land and goddess of love and sexuality, respectively.

Lotnar was the enemy clan of Esir, who when entering war, according to this belief, the Nordic apocalypse took place.

The Nordic warriors had the belief that when dying in battle, their soul would be taken to the corridor of the gods called Valhalla.

The Neopaganism

Neopaganism includes a diversity of polytheistic traditions, where deities such as the Mother Goddess, or Goddess of the Earth, among many others, are worshiped.

In these beliefs the God and the Goddess play complementary roles without dominion over one another.

Now, in some cultural beliefs, it is only the Goddess who is worshiped, the God being relegated to a second, less important place, although they remain present in all the everyday aspects of human beings.

Other Neopagan religions believe in the existence of a Supreme God whom they recognize as Drygten and which would be represented by ancient Celtic deities.

However, the great majority of the Neopagan religion did not believe in a single divinity, but rather in a single force encompassing the natural and supernatural worlds.


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