Different Conceptions of Deity and Sacred Power
Throughout history and all across the different races of men and their equally varying cultural codes, ethnic and social beliefs, there have also been a varying conceptions of Deity and Sacred or Divine Powers. All kinds of gods and goddesses: their origins and attributes; their powers and characteristics; their stories in myths, legends and fables; have all shown a diversity and paradoxically, a unity as well. The diversity stems from the varying beliefs about life and nature, which includes culture, climate, weather, other natural phenomena, and the environment around the people who originated such beliefs.
James Livingston, in his book Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion, have enumerated these conceptions of the Divine and the Sacred Power from polytheism, pantheism, dualism, and monotheism, among others. Such characters have included gods of thunder and lightning, mother goddesses, entire pantheons of gods and goddesses, and more. And surprisingly, there is an underlying unity in these conceptions. For they all point to the inherent goodness of the Divine, as well as Its Ultimate omnipotence and immortality.
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What are these conceptions, and what are their characteristics?
Let us tackle each and provide examples. Firstly, there is polytheism. This is the belief in the multiplicity of gods and goddesses. It shows that Divine Powers are not limited to one being, but divided in many. The gods and goddesses of polytheistic religions each have specific powers and characteristics, and each can be invoked for specific blessings or help. Examples include the deities of Hinduism. There are also the gods and goddesses of Olympus in Greek mythology. The Chinese also have different gods and goddesses which have specific powers.
The deities of Ancient Egypt also show the polytheism of its people. Monotheism, in contrast, is the belief in a single god or deity. It supposes that this single being created the whole universe, and controls all and has the Ultimate Power. Examples include Islam, most forms of Christianity, and the monotheistic religion of an exceptional Egyptian pharaoh, Amenhotep IV or Akhnaton. Akhnaton is said to be the first monotheist in human history, who worshipped the sun-god Ra and no one else, to the enmity of the polytheistic temple priesthood of his time.
Pantheism is the belief that everything in creation is the Deity or part of the Deity. Adherents of this concept usually are amenable to worshipping or treating as sacred all the things of nature, such as the sun, the trees, and animals. The pagans can be considered as such. Mystics are sometimes classified as pantheists, for they adhere to the conception that the Deity is in everything and is everywhere. However, mystics are not exactly pantheists in some classifications.
Dualism adheres to the concept of two great Deities in opposite extremes or poles, which eternally battle for dominion of creation or the universe. One is traditionally the Creator god who is all-good, while the other is his adversary, who is totally evil. Such religions include forms of Christianity (where God and Satan eternally battle), and Zoroastrianism where the gods Ahura Mazda and Ahriman are good and evil, respectively. This concept adheres to the cosmic struggle between the forces of Light and Darkness.