What is Polytheism?

For all of our differences in beliefs and practices, one of the few characteristics that nearly all Pagans share is a polytheistic outlook when it comes to Deity. Generally speaking, we believe in the existence of many Gods and Goddesses. Of course, even this is not universal among all Pagans.

But if you were to ask a number of Pagans from different paths, what it means to be polytheistic, you might not always get the same answers. It’s not as simple as you may think.

Hard Polytheism
This is the easiest to define and to understand. Hard polytheism is the belief in many Deities, and that all of those Deities are unique individuals. They are not just different ways of looking on one God, but truly separate and distinct beings.

Soft Polytheism
Soft polytheism has a few possible variations to it. Personally, I see two kinds of soft polytheism that are closely related. The first is viewing the various Deities as personas or aspects of a single supreme Deity. In a sense, this could be seen as a form of monotheism.

The other is viewing Deities as personas of two supreme Deities, namely a God and a Goddess. This second view maintains the standard male/female balance that most Pagans embrace with their spirituality, but the first approach of a single Deity that is both/neither male or female is not that uncommon. These two outlooks are also sometimes called pluralistic monotheism, or pluralistic duotheism.

From my own experiences with different people, I have noticed that Pagans who work very closely with certain Deities or exclusively in certain pantheons tend to be hard polytheists. On the other hand, Pagans who work in a more general way without developing any personal relationships with particular Gods or Goddesses tend to be soft polytheists.

Those who grew up with a typical monotheistic religious structure, may have trouble getting their heads around polytheism. Some people who are new to Paganism feel that they are not really believing ‘properly’ in the Gods, when in fact they are really just following a soft polytheistic path.

Is one outlook right and the other wrong? Well, perhaps the Gods themselves know the answer, but I would say that either attitude towards Divinity is just fine. Your path is your own, no matter how many Gods (and Goddesses) you worship.