The Deities Are Many

A Polytheistic Theology

By Jordan Paper

Subjects: Theology, Religion, Comparative Religion
Series: SUNY series in Religious Studies
Paperback : 9780791463888, 169 pages, March 2005
Hardcover : 9780791463871, 169 pages, March 2005

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Table of contents



1. Introduction


Why a Polytheistic Theology?
Whose Theology?
The Varieties of Polytheism: The Structure of This Book
A Few Caveats


2. The Cosmic Couple: Mother Earth and Father Sky


Sky and Earth
Circumpolar Rebirth Rituals
Chinese Imperial Sacrifices to Sky and Earth
Sun and Moon
The Four Directions
Morning Star / Evening Star
Sun and Earth
Stars and Planets
Mountains and Streams
Personal Relationships with Cosmic Powers


3. Numinous Nature: Animal, Plant, and Mineral Spirits


Natural Plants
Animals in the Wild
Rocks and Minerals
Domesticated Plants
Domesticated Animals
Modes of Interaction


4. The Family Deified: Ancestral Spirits


Ancestral Spirits
Modes of Communication


5. Divine Ghosts: Functional Deities


The Anthropomorphizing of the Divine
Modes of Interaction


6. The Seminuminous: Culture Heroes and Tricksters


Numinous Beings Unconnected to Rituals
Trickster and Humorous Divinities
Culture Hero Quasi Deities
Re-creation of the World versus Creation


7. One or Many: Monotheists' Misperceptions of Polytheism


Polytheism Is Defined by Monotheism
The Native American "Great Spirit"
The "Master of Heaven"
Theological Effects of Western Colonialism on Non-Western Traditions
The "Creator"
Taiping Religion and the Unification Church
Contemporary Versions of Monotheistic Assumptions


8. Diversity and Accommodation: Human Life in a Polytheistic Milieu


The One in the Many, The Many in the One
A Polytheistic View of Monotheism
Living Polytheism



Further Readings


Provides a theology of polytheism—the belief in many deities—using examples from a wide range of world religions.


The Deities Are Many is a lively and learned introduction to polytheism. Drawing from both his scholarly research and his personal experience, author Jordan Paper is the ideal guide into this milieu. Paper was drawn to polytheism through his love of nature, seeing it as a source of the divine. In this book he focuses on Chinese and Native American religious traditions, as well as West African, African-Brazilian, Hindu, Polynesian, and circum-Polar traditions, to describe the theology of polytheism. The book provides a topology of polytheistic deities, focusing on the cosmic couple, Father Sky and Mother Earth; animal, plant, and mineral deities; ancestral spirits; divine ghosts; and culture heroes and tricksters. Paper also shows how monotheists misunderstand polytheism and provides a polytheist perspective on what it means to be human when the "deities are many." This is a fascinating, illuminating book, especially for those raised in monotheistic societies.

Jordan Paper is Professor Emeritus of Humanities (Religious Studies, East Asian Studies) at York University. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society and Adjunct Professor in the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria. He is the author of several books, including The Mystic Experience: A Descriptive and Comparative Analysis and The Spirits Are Drunk: Comparative Approaches to Chinese Religion, both published by SUNY Press, as well as Through the Earth Darkly: Female Spirituality in Comparative Perspective and Offering Smoke: The Sacred Pipe and Native American Religion.