The origin of polytheism is most likely routed in early belief systems, according to numerous sources. Nebulous concepts of demons, spirts and other forces of the universe which couldn’t be explained at the time generally formed the basis of early culture and religion.
Types of Polytheism
In the early stages of religious development, primitive societies believed in many spirits or animae. In later stages, the spiritual universe became more personalized as humankind became more aware, leading to polytheism. Often a singular god or supreme being would emerge as the belief system developed, with lesser gods or goddesses beneath the supreme being. The group of gods, or pantheon, then became that particular culture’s key to understanding their environment, both the natural phenomena as well as their raison d’être. With the growth of the culture and their belief system, the number of gods would grow too, forming into a hierarchical structure, with the lesser gods eventually falling away.
Divinities in polytheism often relate to nature and physical objects. In times when agriculture and harvest were critical, the religions of the time were connected closely with fertility. The sun was considered very important and, as nothing would grow without its power, it was believed to be a god in many religions. Since the sun dominates the sky, the gods linked to it are attributed with all-knowing power, and the light provided by the sun is often associated with creation myths. The moon, however, was generally not equated with the same level of power.
Seemingly, astrology has been greatly influenced over the years by gods associated with the sky. In India and the Middle East, astrology formed a major part of religion. In Gnosticism, astrology forms an integral part on a physical, psychological and esoteric level. Similarly, the ancient Greco-Roman religions believed in the importance of astrology in religion, as did the Aztecs.
Polytheistic religions routinely link gods to the elements. Certain gods, such as Zeus and Indra (a deity in Hinduism), are closely associated with storms. Gods were often linked to specific geographical features of an area too, such as underground rivers, mountains and seas. Trees also form an important part of spiritual beliefs, for instance, the Tree of Life. Deities were frequently connected to specific plants, like Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest and ecstasy. In ancient religions, Gods are often represented as animals, such as a snake, bird or monkey. In Greek mythology, the gods frequently take on human form. It was also possible for mortals to take on a godly form, like the divination of Roman emperors.