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The Deities Are Many
A Polytheistic Theology
The Deities Are Many
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Jordan Paper - Author
SUNY Series in Religious Studies
Price: $95.00 
Hardcover - 169 pages
Release Date: March 2005
ISBN10: 0-7914-6387-7
ISBN13: 978-0-7914-6387-1

Price: $31.95 
Paperback - 169 pages
Release Date: March 2005
ISBN10: 0-7914-6388-5
ISBN13: 978-0-7914-6388-8

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Summary Read First Chapter image missing

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.

"The Deities Are Many is a wonderful intellectual/theological work by a remarkable religious studies scholar. It will appeal to anyone who has questioned the sufficiency of monotheistic traditions and who is seeking to understand the full range and colorful diversity of human religious experience." — Kelly Bulkeley, author of Visions of the Night: Dreams, Religion, and Psychology

"The author's experience with a number of traditions, and his willingness to share them, is a welcome aspect of the work. It offers authenticity and communicates on a visceral as well as intellectual level." — E. H. Rick Jarow, author of Tales for the Dying: The Death Narrative of the Bhagavata-Purana

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.

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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


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