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Polly Gods

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 21, 2010

Following up our recent discussion on polytheism, turns out there may be less “true” polytheists these days than I thought.

Meryl commented that Hindus generally believe that the gods are actually representations of the One (Brahman), so they would be “soft polytheists”, in that there is an ultimate reality, or perhaps g0d behind these deities. Freeman, a pagan, characterised himself as a “hard polytheist”, meaning that the gods are separate distinct and real entities. From my reading it seems Hindus might have been hard polytheists once upon a time, but their conception of deities have developed since then.

Bearing in mind the limitations of Wikipedia,

Many Hindus believe in different deities emanating from Brahman, and the majority continues to worship a deity as a matter of personal belief or tradition as a representation of this supreme being.

The Parthenon, where multiple gods were worshipped.


In the Smartha denomination of Hinduism, the philosophy of Advaita expounded by Shankara allows veneration of numerous deities with the understanding that all of them are but manifestations of one impersonal divine power, Brahman. Therefore, according to various schools of Vedanta including Shankara, which is the most influential and important Hindu theological tradition, there are a great number of deities in Hinduism but they are essentially different forms of the same “Being”.

In contrast to the Smartha sect, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism follow an established singular concept of a personal god, as panentheistic monistic monotheism, but differ in their conceptions of the Supreme God. A Vaishnavite considers Vishnu or Krishna as the only god worthy of worship, and worship of other deities as subordinate…

What’s it like to venerate a god, Ganesha in this case? Venga shared this attractive video of Westerners doing Kirtan:

Kirtan opens the heart and stills the mind. It is the yoga practice of ecstatic chanting. Through repeating the Divine Names in Sanskrit, the mind is cleared of worry, doubt, fear and all limiting concepts. The joy of peace and infinite love is given to the practitioner, and transmitted through the world by chanting. This is the practice of bhakti yoga or the yoga of devotion.” ~ Toronto Kirtan Community

This would be the kind of yoga the Hare Krishnas observe, and I guess they would be Vaishnavites as above. I intend to visit them one of these weekends. The food is good, and as I’ve said, music could be a pathway to the spiritual for me.

Some cool words I’d forgotten: “Polytheists do not always worship all the gods equally, but can be Henotheists, specialising in the worship of one particular deity. Other polytheists can be Kathenotheists, worshiping different deities at different times.”

Whew, lots of big concepts and foreign phrases today. For me, assuming it’s real, I think I’d rather focus on the One, or the God behind everything than the “lesser” beings.



? What do you think?

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12 Responses to “Polly Gods”

  1. Freeman said

    I came to the opposite conclusion, somewhat in the manner of the Neoplatonists. I do not deny the reality of the One, but That is not addressable from a time-bound perspective as are the more human-scale Gods and Daimones. I find monotheism radically incoherent for exactly that reason. For example, Islam admits that Allah is beyond human comprehension and relationship, but enjoins us to submit to the will of Allah anyway.

    • mentalveggies said

      Hindus have their Avatars or personal deities. Catholics have their Saints and the Holy Trinity. Protestants focus on Scripture, universal priesthood and giving all glory to Christ. Sikhism stresses the study of the ten Gurus, with their holy book, deemed the final Guru, to be of paramount importance. Islam’s idea of tawid, there is only one true god, is filtered through the lens of Muhammad. Baha’i holds God sent 9 manifestations of the Holy Spirit to spread the Word of God. These are all avenues to God, but do they allow practitioners to ever truly know God?

      I think truly focusing on, being able to know the One is today the exception, rather than the rule. However, that is not to say focusing on The One or The God is a pointless endeavor. I do not begrudge anyone their journey in life and deeply admire the faith to do so. It’s just that I’m trying to say, in my charming, roundabout way, I agree with Freeman. Monotheism is terribly disjointed.

      Also, I am neither a philosopher nor do I play one on TV (I’m an historian/programmer), but is there not a place for applying Neoplatonic thought to “What is ‘The Universe’ Telling Me?” Just curious.

      Fabulous, thought provoking post, J!

      • I’m wondering what you were driving at when you said “but is there not a place for applying Neoplatonic thought to What is ‘The Universe’ Telling Me?”

        Right now I have no clue. Also see my reply to Freeman re: the role of Jesus for Christians.

        Glad you enjoyed, thanks so much for your comment 🙂

        • mentalveggies said

          After a quick study up on Neoplatonism, I was struck by similarities between it and the issues discussed in “What is ‘The Universe’ Telling Me?” Just thought it would be interesting to see what Freeman thought of the “Universe” post, in terms of his knowledge of Neoplatonic thought.

    • I can see your point here Freeman, thanks.

      In Christian terms, that’s why they say Jesus had to come, to give us a human-level connection to the divine.

      Thanks for clarifying that you think there probably is a “One” behind it all. I’m increasingly thinking that perhaps even in the old days there were no “true” polytheists? Maybe I’m wrong.

      • leesis said

        Can I be both? I believe in one and many,and I relate to different images of the ‘onemany’ depending on my mental state at any given time…feeling each valid.

        I was also thinking Jon…perhaps the Ancient Romans and Greeks were the last true polytheists if we look at western culture. Probably completely wrong but just a wondering :). Now I must look up neoplatonism!

        • You can be anything you want, Leesa 🙂

          I don’t know the Romans so well, but I think at least SOME of the Greeks believed in a “one” behind the many. Hmmm…

  2. Hmmm. I believe in 1 God and entities that are distinct from God – not representations at all. Your terminology ‘lesser’ is kind of pejorative but wow, you make me think.

  3. Well said. Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace. Thanks for sharing!

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