A brief overview about the philosophy that underlies the belief in many deities regarded as facets of one God.
Often misunderstood, polytheism is considered an inferior kind of belief system by the western world, however the philosophy that underlies the belief in many deities is far more coherent that most people suppose. Some would be surprised to find out that, according to some creeds, behind the worship of many gods, there’s only one supreme God.
Understanding the monistic view of universe and nature may provide clues to comprehend the theory that says that God manifests in many different shapes and names.
Philosophical Monism – What is Monism?
Monism is a philosophical view that is present in many different schools of thought as it refers to the concept that all the diversity that exists in the universe is a result of different manifestations of only one thing and that the universe is made of one substance that takes different forms.
In the past, western philosophers imagined that this substance would be either fire, air or water, God or the monad – an impersonal, shapeless and eternal substance that is present in all things. According to this theory, men, plants, animals, minerals and the elements come from the same source and are made of the same thing – what makes them different from each other is the level of consciousness or the ability to recognize themselves as parts of the whole.
The monad, then, is this principle that is common to all things and that rule the evolution of all beings, with the objective to lead every single particle to perfection.
The combinations of monism and polytheism gives birth to monistic polyhtheism, a kind of belief system in which all different gods are seen as facets of one God.
Paganism and Polytheism – the Belief in Many Gods or Deities
Some Pagan cultures worshiped many different gods and deities, but most Pagan creeds considered that all entities are united by the same principle – the monad – and therefore, the many gods they worshiped were subjected to one law that rules the whole nature.
From this perspective, these gods were not considered beings that were separate from the supreme God, but a part of God’s creation. Pagans understood that the each of the many gods and goddesses represented one attribute of the supreme God – beauty, love, justice, wisdom, etc. So, these entities were like personifications of the characteristics of one God.
In order to connect to God’s justice, God’s wisdom, God’s love or any of the many attributes of God, these characteristics were transformed into images that could represent those traits. So, worshiping a specific God had the purpose of invoking a specific attribute of the divine.
This kind of “division of God” as some would say, was a way to comprehend God since the Pantheist idea of God being in all things and everywhere was very wide to reach the human need to be in close contact with the divine, so dividing God into separate bits made it easier to understand Him. This was a natural movement of many religions in the sense that the idea of the “whole” is too subjective and abstract to be reached by the human mind.
One Concept, Many Shapes and Names
The same attributes of the divinity are worshipped in different religions, but they appear in each nation disguised in the cultural elements of each place. For example, the Virgin Mary is a Christian version of the Egyptian goddess Isis, who also appears in China under the name of Quan Yin. The same is true for many other gods, goddesses and deities.
In today’s world, the knowledge about monistic polytheism is forgotten and some modern polytheist religions have lost the ability to decipher the symbolism contained in their rituals, but the myths and legends of many cultures may enlighten the path to understand the mysteries behind the polytheism.
Read Animal Worship in Ancient Civilizations along with An Introduction to Philosophy of Religion and Faith vs. Reason to find out more about the fascinating world of the spiritual philosophy.