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Polytheism (from ancient Greek polys "much", and theoi "gods") or polytheism denotes the religious worship of a plurality of goddesses , gods and other deities or nature spirits . Most ancient religions were polytheistic and had their own traditional world of gods , often enriched with figures from centuries-old cultural encounters and experiences.


Approaches of polytheism found in the presence primarily in from Tibet dating Bon -Do, which in Brazil spread Candomblé -Do, which in Cuba developed Santería -Kult, in Japan prevailing Shinto -Religion, the modern Voodoo -Do which in Wicca movement practiced in the United States and in the numerous Neo-Pagan religions of Europe (see Germanic , Celtic and Slavic neo-paganism ).

The diverse religious complex of Hinduism , on the other hand, is only polytheistic in individual forms and is categorized as henotheistic in specialist circles . The Vedic Hinduism (about 1200 to 600 BC. Ch.) Was a purely polytheistic religion, but one has in later times monism developed. Seen from the outside, the world of the gods seems diverse. The following short prayer (Mahakalasamhita) , known in different variations, expresses the Hindu understanding of the divine, seen here as a female: "As the sun, which is reflected in the ponds, appears as innumerable suns, so do you, O mother, as many - you one without second, highest Brahman ! "

All Upanishads deal with this "unity in diversity".

The majority of the traditional African religions assume a heavenly high god who has lost his worship over the course of time, mostly by delegating his creative power to his descendants. Where there is a sky god who has divided his areas of responsibility to different deities (god of rain, fertility, iron, etc.), there is still no actual polytheism. There are pronounced forms of polytheism in those African societies that deified mythical ancestors out of an ancestral cult, or where functional gods such as several hundred orishas are worshiped by the Yoruba and Ewe as central authorities of individual clans (see African cosmogony ).

Polytheism also exists in non- Christianized areas of Oceania and the Amazon basin . The latter are shrinking partly due to the extinction of these tribes, their absorption in modern culture or missionary work by Christian or Islamic groups (see Shirk and Daʿwa ). The extremely different worlds of gods and spirits of the tribes are summarized under the heading " Ethnic Religions ".

As far as traditional tribes or nations a new monotheistic faith (or in the socialist countries, such as the Soviet Union to atheism ) were imposed, was and still is the old polytheistic faith often secretly weiterpraktiziert of many or few. When the state or social pressure subsided, mixed religions emerged and sometimes arise. In South America, for example, there are mixed religions between Christianity and old polytheistic religious ideas of certain Indian peoples and between Christianity and old polytheistic belief systems of the descendants of people who were deported into slavery , especially from West Africa, such as the various branches of Santería and Candomblé .

Sometimes the belief systems of the peoples and tribes, often preserved by a few people, are also completely reactivated, as is currently the case with some small peoples in Siberia . There are also such reactivations in parts of some North American Indian tribes. A growing number of people are even trying to revive polytheistic systems that have been believed to be extinct for centuries, the content of which is gradually becoming more and more known through archaeological finds, such as the Celtic or Germanic beliefs and gods. However, the use of old names and signs must be used with caution, as these cultures are regionally very different forms of belief and ritual. The original oral tradition of these cultures has been torn down and must be replaced by modern speculation. Supporters of these groups assert, however, that the basis of these cultures is the view of nature and the observation of nature, and that modern reactivation certainly shows parallels.

The Buddhism is at least not seen by his family as polytheistic. However, some faiths have an extensive heaven of gods, some of which are worshiped in prayer, sacrifice and various rituals.

All Islamic scholars, some Jewish scholars and partly also Unitarian Christians also understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as polytheism, which the Trinitarian Christians clearly reject. The first reason why the doctrine of the Trinity is viewed as polytheism is the idea that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are designated or viewed as God. According to the doctrine of the Trinity, the Father, the “Son” Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit would together form the only, triune or triune God. The second reason why the doctrine of the Trinity is viewed as polytheism is that Jesus Christ is viewed as the "Son of God" - the belief of sonship allows Jesus Christ to participate in the rulership of God.

The Mormon doctrine of the "majority of gods" is described by other Christians as polytheistic, which the Mormons in turn reject.

Ancient polytheism

The known worlds of gods of ancient polytheism include those of the Sumerian gods , the Babylonian gods , the Assyrian gods , the gods of Canaan and Ugarits , the Greek and Roman gods , the Egyptian gods , the Scandinavian Ases and Vanes , the Celtic gods , god systems of the Balts , Finns , Slavs , Orisha , Yoruba , the gods of the Maya and Aztecs . Today most historical polytheistic religions are known as mythology . In many cases, where the tradition was only maintained orally, as with the Celts , only names and a few comments in texts from neighboring cultures are preserved.

Few of the ancient religions were not polytheistic. These include monotheistic Judaism and Christianity , dualistic Zoroastrianism and Mithraism .

In contrast, almost all early tribes and peoples believed that there were many gods and goddesses. A Sumerian list of gods from the first half of the 3rd millennium already includes around 1000 names of gods, which above all represent various forces in nature.

Why people in the early days, in their efforts to understand and cope with their environment and their fate, built up a pantheon of gods and goddesses rather than believing in a single god, can be exemplified by a Mesopotamian myth , which is completely written on a cuneiform tablet approx . from the year 1700 BC Is to be found. Fragments of this myth can also be found on the remains of tablets from the time 700 BC. BC - so he stayed alive for at least 1000 years. The gods commissioned the plague god Namtar to destroy the people. This began to kill her with the plague . But a god who had compassion for people, namely Enki , revealed a ritual to the people Atrachasis with which they can defeat the plague . Of all gods, people should exclusively worship the plague god Namtar and only sacrifice to him , until he, showered with sacrifices, abandons his deadly activities. That's how it happens. Thanks to the victims, the plague god lets go of his rage and humanity lives on. Now the gods decide that the rain god Adad should no longer let it rain and that the grain goddess Nisaba, who was assigned to him, should no longer let any grain grow. That's how it happens. And again the god Enki reveals the ritual counter-recipe to the atrachasis: Now the people worship and sacrifice Adad and Nisaba alone, until it rains and the vegetation comes back to life. This myth shows the cause of polytheism. Concerned about averting dangers such as epidemics and maintaining life-giving conditions such as rain, sun or the fertility of plants and animals, people are looking for ways to safeguard this through magical and ritual acts and, for the respective problem, gods and goddesses are approachable and influenceable personal Beings before. Some of the peoples imagine the gods in human form ( anthropomorphic ), some in animal form ( zoomorphic ), some in both forms and sometimes as hybrid beings. (Even in the rock drawings, the oldest evidence of human images, there are depictions of animals, human beings and occasional hybrid beings .) In the Mesopotamian and Canaanite pantheon, the gods and goddesses are almost always human. Animal gods and mixed human beings, on the other hand, are strongly represented in Egypt and in American culture.

In many civilizations, the divine worlds tended to grow over time. Deities, who were initially worshiped to protect certain cities or places, grew into powerful national gods as the empires expanded. Conquests could lead to the subordination of an older pantheon in the defeated culture until a newer one emerged, as in the Greek Titanomachy and perhaps also with Aesir and Vanir in Scandinavia . Cultural exchange could lead to “the same” deity being worshiped under different names in two places, as was the case with the Greeks, Etruscans and the Romans. Something similar happened with the introduction of elements of a “foreign” religion into a local cult when the Egyptian Osiris religion was brought to Greece.

Conceiving, beholding, importing gods

It can be assumed that the reasons for importing gods and myths are the same as the reasons for consciously “ficting” or “looking” gods and their function and stories in remembered dreams or visions and trance - be they caused consciously or unconsciously by sleep , ceremonies , meditation techniques , hunger (fasting), drugs , prolonged waking hours ( sleep deprivation ) or illnesses (e.g. feverish dreams or malfunctions of the brain ).

In particular, fiction plays a greater role than is commonly assumed. The Gilgamesh epic , to address the oldest layer of Sumerian tradition, is religion-creating, but has nothing of a vision or anything of a feverish dream. It's much more about understanding the world, explaining the world and getting to grips with the world, living together with other people and thus coping with one's own life. People are looking for a way, a Taoist would say the Dao, through life. From the ancient Sumerian cycle about the love story of Inanna and Dumuzi , 38 love songs, which are also cult chants, with 1700 verses have been found so far. Here, too, there is high-quality religious poetry , not the writing of a feverish dream. If that seems unusual, you should take a look at how many stories about invented peoples, worlds, mythical creatures , demons and wonders - newly created - can be found in every bookstore in the corner with fantasy and science fiction . Back then, people were not interested in dreaming themselves into a colorful and exciting world of fantasy, although this motif is also visible in some stories and myths, but rather finding their way around the world, finding their way around their lives and also having control over it Life and also the uncontrollable, like the prospect of dying. Even the earliest trading relationships led to contacts with foreign myths and beliefs. As far as these are fascinating, they are heard and later read, just as one still reads the legends of the Greeks , Romans and Teutons , which are also religious in origin , without more than a handful of the millions of readers starting to worship Greek gods. If the acceptance of these stories and beliefs as true, however, promises a reduction in one's own emotional suffering (fears, insecurity, grief, loneliness, senselessness, doubts, etc.), an improvement in the mental state (encouragement, meaning, inner calm, determination, consolation, Security), positive community with people or control over one's own fate, threatening or desired natural forces and people, is to be expected with the acceptance of a new myth or belief.

Gods and divinity

Although many forms of Buddhism, especially Mahayana , involve the worship of bodhisattvas , they are not considered to be divine beings. Bodhisattvas are more likely to be people who have reached a high level of enlightenment . According to Buddhist belief, certain people can attain a similar state of enlightenment through the path of many ages.

That a person believes in multiple gods does not imply that he necessarily worships them all. Many polytheists believe in a variety of gods but recognize a supreme god. This variant of polytheism is called henotheism . Some see in henotheistic polytheism a form of monotheism , some historians believe that the monotheistic religions arose in henotheism. However, virtually all Jews, Christians and Muslims today view henotheism as polytheism.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Polytheism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations