Polytheism is the belief in multiple gods or deities. The term is sometimes used interchangeable with paganism.

What is Polytheism?

Because polytheism is a category of religious beliefs rather than a religious belief itself, polytheistic beliefs vary greatly. People involved in polytheistic religions might worship all gods equally, place gods in hierarchical structures, or only worship some of the gods. For example, a person might choose a few particular gods that he or she identifies strongly with and then worship them.

While not always the case, the gods in polytheistic religions often have human-like traits. While monotheistic religions often focus on the perfection of their gods, polytheistic religions frequently have stories of gods and goddesses making bad decisions or behaving impulsively. The primary difference between humans and gods in these religions is often the degree of power rather than the degree of omniscience or omnibenevolence. These stories often serve as allegories for human behavior.

History of Polytheism

Monotheism is a relatively new development in human history, and anthropological evidence indicates that most societies were polytheistic until the past few thousand years. The ancient Greeks are widely known for their polytheistic practices, and Greek mythology is still popular reading material.

In contemporary times, polytheistic religions are typically indigenous groups and small tribal societies. Missionary groups sometimes attempt to convert these societies, and the spread of Christianity was fostered in part by missionaries who evangelized to small, local groups. Neopaganism in the United States is a form of polytheism that is commonly associated with new age beliefs. Contemporary U.S. Pagans frequently incorporate elements of several different polytheistic religions into their belief systems.


  1. Anthropology of religion. (n.d.). Palomar College Department of Anthropology. Retrieved from http://anthro.palomar.edu/religion/rel_2.htm
  2. Polytheism. (n.d.). Polytheism. Retrieved from http://www.polytheism.net/

Last Updated: 08-18-2015

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