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Introduction | Types of Polytheism
Introduction Back to Top

Polytheism is the belief in, or worship of, multiple gods (usually assembled in a pantheon). These gods are usually distinct and separate beings, and are often seen as similar to humans (anthropomorphic) in their personality traits, but with additional individual powers, abilities, knowledge or perceptions. Common deities found in polytheistic beliefs include a Sky god, Death deity, Mother goddess, Love goddess, Creator deity, Trickster deity, Life-death-rebirth deity and Culture hero.

Animism, Shamanism and Ancestor Worship do not necessarily contrast with polytheism, but are other perspectives on ethnic or traditional religious customs compatible (and typically co-occurring) with polytheism.

The term "polytheism" (from the Greek "polus" meaning "many" and "theos" meaning "god"), is attested in English from the 17th Century (later than "atheism" but earlier than "theism").

Types of Polytheism Back to Top
  • Hard Polytheism:
    The belief, prevalent in mythology, in many gods and goddesses which appear as distinct and independent beings, often in conflict with one another. Examples are the ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythologies, as well as Norse, Aztec and Yoruba mythologies. Another example of hard polytheism is Euhemerism, the postulate that all gods are in fact historical humans.
  • Soft Polytheism:
    The belief (similar to inclusive monotheism) in many gods and goddesses which are considered to be manifestations or "aspects" of a single God, rather than completely distinct entities. This view sees the gods as being subsumed into a greater whole, as in most forms of Hinduism and some New Age currents of Neo-Paganism.
  • Henotheism:
    The devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of other gods, and without denying that others can with equal truth worship different gods. It has been called "monotheism in principle and polytheism in fact".
  • Monolatrism (or Monolatry):
    The belief in the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity. Unlike Henotheism, Monolatrism asserts that there is only one god who is worthy of worship, though other gods are known to exist.
  • Kathenotheism:
    The belief that there are many gods, but only one deity at a time should be worshipped, each being supreme in turn.
  • Ditheism (or Duotheism):
    The belief in two equally powerful gods, often, but not always, with complementary properties and in constant opposition, such as God and Goddess in Wicca, or Good and Evil in Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. The early mystical religion Gnosticism is another example of a ditheistic belief of sorts, due to their claim that the thing worshipped as God in this world is actually an evil impostor, but that a true benevolent deity worthy of being called "God" exists beyond this world.
  • Misotheism:
    The belief that gods exist, but that they are actually evil. The English word was coined by Thomas de Quincey in 1846. Strictly speaking, the term connotes an attitude of hatred towards the god or gods, rather than making a statement about their nature.
  • Dystheism:
    The belief that gods exist, but that they are not wholly good, or possibly even evil (as opposed to eutheism, the belief that God exists and is wholly good). Trickster gods found in polytheistic belief systems often have a dystheistic nature, and there are various examples of arguable dystheism in the Bible.

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