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polytheism (pŏlˈēthēĭzəm), belief in a plurality of gods in which each deity is distinguished by special functions. The gods are particularly synonymous with function in the Vedic religion (see Vedas) of India: Indra is the storm god, Agni the fire god, Vayu the wind god, Yama the god of death. Polytheistic worship does not imply equal devotion or importance to each deity. The religion of dynastic Egypt included hundreds of deities, but worship (as in Greek Olympianism) tended to be city-centered; thus, Anubis, the jackal- or wolf-headed god who guided the dead along the dangerous path to the underworld, had his cult at Abydos, and Ba, the ram-god, was worshiped at Bubastis. Polytheism probably is a development from an earlier polydemonism, characterized by a variety of disassociated and vaguely defined spirits, demons, and other supernatural powers. It is also related to animism, ancestor worship, and totemism (see totem). All of these forms of belief are based on human propensity to worship all objects on earth and in heaven, all that is unusual or useful, strange or monstrous. Unlike the supernatural forces in polydemonism, however, those of polytheism are personified (see anthropomorphism) and organized into a cosmic family. This family becomes the nucleus of legends and myths and, eventually, of a cosmology that seeks to explain natural phenomena and to establish people's relation to the universe. As polytheistic religions evolve, lesser deities diminish in stature or vanish completely, their attributes being assigned to preferred gods, until the religion begins to exhibit monotheistic tendencies—thus the Olympian Zeus, originally a sky god, became the titular head and most powerful of all Olympian deities; the Egyptian Ra was the original, self-generating and supreme deity; and the Vedic gods of India, once numbering several thousand, were gradually displaced by the trinity of Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. Significantly, both the Greeks and Indians subordinated their supreme deities to a more profound principle of Oneness or Supreme Fate, which the Greeks called Moira and the Vedic Indians named Rita.
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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Polytheism—whose name is derived from the Greek words for "many" and "gods"— refers to the belief in, and worship of, many deities. Early humankind's concept of deity included gods of wind, water, fire, air, storm, sky, hunting, and fertility. Polytheism was found in Sumeria, Greece, Rome, Egypt, and elsewhere, and was passed on to the present day via many primitive tribes, such as those found in Africa, South and North America, and Polynesia.

Witchcraft is a polytheistic religion (although it might be more accurate to term it duotheistic, since its followers worship a god and a goddess rather than a multitude of deities). Although Christianity professes to be monotheistic, its inclusion of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the many saints—who are revered and prayed to— would seem to indicate that this is actually a polytheistic religion. James, E. O.: The Ancient Gods. Capricorn Books, 1964. Leach, Maria (ed.): Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. Harper &

Row, 1984.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the worship of many gods.

Polytheism arose in early class society. It developed from polydemonism—the worship of various spirits of the tribal-clan religions—as a reflection in ideology of the social stratification and complication of religious fantasy. In polytheism the supernatural world is represented as a hierarchy of gods possessing varying degrees of power, each with his own individual name, his own (often anthropomorphic) appearance, and his own definite sphere of control in nature and society. At the head of the pantheon, corresponding to earthly power, is a supreme god; but he is not the only one, in contrast to monotheism. Polytheism does not preclude the recognition of the gods of other peoples. The main role in the ritual of polytheism is played by priests, who are associated with particular temples.

Adherents to polytheistic religions include the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, as well as the peoples of modern India, Japan, and tropical Africa. Many of the concepts and rituals of polytheism continue to exist in all the “monotheistic” religions—belief in a “holy trinity” (the god-father, the god-son, and the holy spirit), worship of prophets, and the cult of the mother of god and the saints.


Donini, A. Liudi, idoly i bogi, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1966. (Translated from Italian.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the worship of or belief in more than one god
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
In the eyes of the Islamic State, the "polytheists" in question are the professed Muslims living in Iraq, Syria, and other Islamic countries who have allegedly committed some act of "polytheism" (shirk).
There is an obvious tension in this volume: how can the author expect his readers to understand when polytheists should be killed as JuD argues elsewhere in its myriad publications and when they should be treated as advocated herein.
And if any of the polytheists seek asylum from you, grant it to him until he hears the word of God.
Catholics are polytheists. Forgive me if you're a Catholic.
WHEN THE SUPREME COURT, in one of its most important decisions of 2005, ordered two Kentucky counties to dismantle courthouse displays of the Ten Commandments, Justice Antonin Scalia declared that the Court majority was wrong because the nation's historical practices clearly indicate that the Constitution permits "disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists."
We are not the Greek or Roman polytheist but the Judean.
The Prophet, sallallhu 'alayhi wa sallam, said: "Whoever socialises with a polytheist and resides with him, he is similar to him." [Abu Dwood] A[cedilla] Befriending pious and good people especially in the current period in which dissoluteness and immorality are widespread.
It was here that the expression of faith began, and the Wirth Gallery displays spiritual iconography from the early polytheist cultures and the ancient Sumerians along with religious objects from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The monotheistic Persians viewed the polytheist Greeks as worshippers of daivas, false gods and demons who worked to "enfeeble the world of men," and as such were adherents of evil, what the Zoroastrian religion called "the Lie." So Xerxes would lead the greatest army ever fielded by the largest empire the world had ever seen to Greece, there to punish Athens and Sparta for their insolence in murdering the empire's emissaries and to destroy the temples and shrines of "the Lie." With grim determination, Xerxes turned the vast bureaucracy of the Persian Empire to the task of war.
AGNES: Well no, I am a polytheist. I think atheist sounds so negative.
Fowden's originality lies in the way he traces this notion of world dominion in the name of the One God through both the Iranian and Roman Empires of late antiquity and, in the case of the Roman Empire, traces the way in which even polytheist Rome was searching for an, at least, henotheist ideology to back its claim to world dominion, before Christianity emerged with its fully fledged monotheism.
"Soldiers of the caliphate in Bangladesh were able to assassinate the polytheist apostate Hafidh Abdul Razzaq, one of the top preachers for the Rafidha religion," SITE quoted the group as saying.