What does Seshnaga represent in Hindu mythology


As God (Female: goddess) or Deity is usually referred to a supernatural being who has a great and not scientifically describable transcendent power. In the understanding of mythologies, religions and beliefs, a god or several gods are given special reverence and special properties are assigned, often including the property of being the first origin, creator or designer of reality. Even ideas of a non-essential, impersonal “divine power” are sometimes - due to a lack of understanding of foreign religions or for reasons of simplicity - as God designated.

With God without further definition, an all-embracing God is usually denoted. Metaphysics, too, deals with the question of the properties and existence of such a god.

Etymology in the Germanic language area

Indo-European origin

The root word of "God" is old, but only to be found in the Germanic language area and unknown outside of it.[1] Names are Old and Middle High Germangot,Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Middle Low German and Englishgod, Gothicguþ,Old Norsegođ as well as Swedish and Danish gud.[2]

The Germanic peoples worshiped the ancient Germanic sky god Tiwazwhich has been proven by linguistic evidence to be Indo-European heritage.[3] In the various dialect groups of Germanic, for example, it appears as Old High German Ziu and old Norse Tyr.[4] The Latin word deus probably goes back to Indo-European deiwos.[5] This is an already Urindo-European Vriddhi derivation of the word * djews "Sky". The personification * djeus ph2tēr "Father Heaven" can be found again in Greek ZeusΖεῦ πάτερ (Zeu páter, Vok. To Ζεῦς, Gen. Διός), the Roman Jupiter (from vocative *Dioupater to the nominative Diēspiter), the VedicDyaus pita and the Illyrian Δει-πάτυρος (Dei-pátyros "Heavenly Father").[6] All of these forms can be applied to the root * djew- which translates as "shining, appearing". This word lies in turn with its derivation *deiwos the old Indian deva and the Latin deus as concepts for God.

For the origin of the Germanic word God it is assumed that the term comes from the substantivated second participle of the Indo-European* ghuto-m the verbal root * gheu- "Call, call" was created. According to this, the gods would be the beings invoked (e.g. by magic word). Alternatively, the word could also refer to the Indo-European verbal root * gheu- "Pour" can be traced back, according to which the god would be understood as "that to which (with) a libation is sacrificed".[7] The Greek theói is also etymologically with the verb thýein "Sacrifice" together, like the simplex theós "God" etymologically denotes the votive object of the altar through equivalents in the Anatolian vocabulary.[8] The standard reference work Etymological dictionary of the German language von Friedrich Kluge confirms the presumption of a derivation of “pour” (for example God as “poured” or “poured image”) or libation by comparing it with Avestian and ancient Indian.[9]Wolfgang Meid adds: "This is grammatically implausible, because the drink is 'poured', not the god".[10]

Shift in meaning in Christian times

"God" in the Gothic genitive form gus (abbreviated to gþs) in Codex Argenteus (Mt 5:34): ni svaran allis, ni bi himina, unte stols is good ("Do not swear not by heaven, which is the throne of God").

The Germanic name * guda- "God" was originally a grammatical neuter, as were other Germanic names for gods. When transferred to the Christian God, the word was used in the Eastern Roman sphere of activity at the time of the Arian Christianization of the Goths in the 3rd to 4th centuries[11] and in the Frankish-Anglo-Saxon Roman Catholic mission among the Merovingians and Carolingians to masculine. In Gothic, however, the word remained genderless as a designation of the pagan gods - because of the Christian rejection of these gods. The transition from neuter to masculine occurred in the West Germanic area from around the beginning of the 6th century to the end of the 8th century. In the Scandinavian-North Germanic area, the neuter lasted longer, because there the word for the personal god Ase(óss) stayed alive.[12]

Like the other words or expressions for "God", this was often used in plural to describe an unspecified group of divine beings. Due to the origin of the word, it is assumed that it describes the higher powers (numen) as passive beings who were worshiped, and not as active beings who maintained earthly events. On the other hand, other words for "God" used to designate an active being were also sexless. This means that there is a high probability that such plural words denoted the gods as a whole (tívar:Old Norse plural "the gods", originally from Týr). Many events were not to be ascribed to a specific “god”, but more generally to “the gods”. This explains that the singular form of the original * deiwos-Teiwaz only appears appellative in name composites, for example in Odin, who is nicknamed Fimbultýr carries ("great, mighty God").[13] In addition to the individual gods, who came to the fore through their own name, their own myths and a fixed cult and were easy to recognize, there was the incalculable divine mass from which, for example, mythologists could highlight new figures.[14]

The Teutons never developed a transcendent concept of God, or only in the north and only very late. It was not until Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century that Odin was the one Alfaþir ("Allfather"). In the transition period of Christianization, combined with forms of syncretism, Odin, Thor and Balder were declared to be omnipotent or perfect gods in the Icelandic-Nordic texts in order to be able to face the emerging figure of Christ. The conceptual contrast between "gods" and "people" (* teiwoz – * gumanez), which the Teutons knew from time immemorial, has been replaced by the new dichotomy* guda – * gumanez. Because this connection has a rod-rhyming effect, it found its way into various poetry, especially the Old Norse, and thus also had an effect.[13] The formerly gender-neutral term “God” finally became masculine as soon as it referred to the Christian God. As a result of Christianization, the change in meaning that exists today occurred, in which the word was reinterpreted and applied to the Judeo-Christian God YHWH (Hebrew), who was mostly perceived as male.

The name first documented in Carolingian times Deity (ancient Greekθεότης, Latin divinitas, of divus "God") is ambiguous and can on the one hand be used as a substance term in the sense of "divine nature" or emphasize the inner, passive of divinity, on the other hand it can only be applied to non-Christian gods. The latter meaning has only been in use since the middle of the 18th century.

Origin of the "idea of ​​God"

By interpreting certain artefacts, archeology can draw conclusions about religious cults that presuppose a corresponding belief. However, since the idea of ​​something “divine” predated the invention of writing, there is no way to determine place and time (possibly also several places and times). In addition, such ideas elude a clear definition, so that there is a lot of room for imaginative interpretations.

There is some evidence that "a master or mistress of the animals" - as recently found in almost all hunter-gatherer cultures as protector of the animal world and ruler over the weal and woe of hunters - the first god-like idea Paleolithic hunter-gatherer groups.[15] Concrete reconstructions and transfers of recent, scriptless cultures to prehistory - such as shamanistic practices or religious ideas - are now considered highly speculative and unprovable.[16]

The first finds that are associated with the idea of ​​a deity are mostly female figurative representations (Venus figurines) from the Upper Paleolithic (45,000 to 11,700 before today), which are interpreted by some authors as statues of mother goddesses, as well as the drawings that appear later Representations of people with symbols that can be interpreted relatively safely as an indication of deities.

Definition and demarcation

The question of the circumstances under which an entity can be classified as God has so far received little attention in religious studies, especially since the Judeo-Christian tradition has always provided an implicit model for the concept of God. In addition to the restriction to one cultural area, this is problematic insofar as there are already a large number of different ideas of God in these religions.[17] H. P. Owen notes in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that it is "very difficult and perhaps impossible" to come up with a definition of "God" that covers all uses of the word and corresponding words in other languages. The 2nd edition of the Dictionnaire de la langue philosophique gives as a general definition: "Supernatural being that people should honor."[18] The Christian philosopher Brian Leftow puts in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy based on the following more restrictive definition: "The highest Reality, the source or the ground of everything else, perfect and worthy of worship."[19]

Not all cultures make a clear distinction between gods, spirits, angels, demons, and other supernatural beings; Occasionally the corresponding term is taken quite broadly in other languages. For example, the orishas of the Yoruba can be viewed as ancestral spirits and clan authorities as well as gods subordinate to the highest god Olorun, who work in different spheres of nature and social life. Such “function gods”, who at the same time present authoritative ancestral spirits, also exist among the Ewe. The word vodon (compare “Voodoo”) in the Fon language is translated both with “God” and “Spirit”, as is the Japanese word Kami.[20] The Buddhist devas, mostly translated as "gods", are supernatural beings with their own personality, but are not considered perfect, immortal, omnipotent or omniscient. Some Neoplatonic thinkers referred to with the word θεός (theós) a variety of spiritual entities, including the human soul.[21] The question of an adequate definition of “God” is further complicated by the fact that philosophers and theologians have developed concepts of God that differ significantly from religious practice (see sections on metaphysical and popular ideas).

In cognitive religious studies, gods are counted among the supernatural actors.[22] In philosophy and psychology, an actor is a being with mental abilities, to whom conscious views and desires are assigned, or whose behavior is evoked by mental states.[23] Supernatural concepts can be formed from natural ones by violating intuitive, everyday conceptions of the ontological categories belonging to them. Examples of such concepts are trees that are nowhere, stones that feel emotions, and also beings that are invisible.[24] The actor's mental faculties are the only anthropomorphic quality accepted by believers and theologians alike.[25]

Classification of ideas about God

By number: mono- and polytheism

Depiction of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the divine figures of the Trimurti, late 18th century

A distinction is often made between polytheistic religions, which know several gods, and monotheistic religions with only one god. In the cosmology of monotheistic religions, the polytheistic gods with their different functions are partly summarized as attributes of the only God, partly subordinated supernatural beings such as angels and saints are transferred.[26]

In many polytheistic religions, the gods are organized as a pantheon. In this holy community there is a hierarchy that results from the different functions of the individual gods. Sometimes there is a ruler over the pantheon, such as a father of all gods (such as El among the Canaanites) or a goddess with supremacy (such as Amaterasu in early Shinto). Religions with a main god are called henotheistic.[27] Philosophers such as Plato and the Stoics occasionally spoke of "God" and "the gods" indiscriminately in the same paragraph.[28]

The demarcation between mono- and polytheism is not always objectively clear, because in some religions a god exists in several forms or hypostases (Trimurti in Hinduism, Trinity in Christianity, "God above / below" with the Bari, "father, mother, Son ”with the Ndebele[29]). In addition, special persons such as Maria (mother of Jesus) or Siddhartha Gautama can be viewed as god-like or additional gods, at least in the context of comparative religious studies or from the point of view of other religions.[30] A religion can also combine mono- and polytheistic aspects insofar as different ideas of God can be encountered depending on the denomination and even depending on the follower.[31] For example, early Christians believed in one, two, 30, or 365 different gods depending on the grouping, and Trinity teachings range from believing in three gods (tritheism) to the notion that the three are just different aspects of one god (modalism).[32] All three Abrahamic religions are explicitly monotheistic today.

High gods

The gods of monotheistic religions, the highest ranking, most powerful deities in polytheistic religions (see also: Henotheism), but also ideas of a supreme supernatural power in some ethnic religions - such as Kitchi Manitu of the Algonquin - are often referred to in religious studies and ethnology as High god or Supreme Being designated. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, ethnologists and missionaries with Eurocentric thinking equated many conceptions of high God with the Christian conception of God in a premature and undifferentiated manner (for example with African, Australian or North American gods or divine powers). The ethnographic literature is full of examples of this. Often the high god is considered the creator, but he Not is worshiped because afterwards he no longer had any influence on human life.[33] This idea is similar to Deism's concept of God.

In fact, the gods of the various cultures are described very differently. The following is an example of a table based on four criteria (converted into percentages from the Handbook of Living Religions 1984):[34]

Cultural spacedoes not work
into life
takes action, but
does not enter into ethics
affects the whole
Life one
no high god
Mediterranean area0 (81 cultures)10 %01 %86 %03 %
Sub-Saharan Africa(147 cultures)65 %12 %08 %15 %
South America0 (67 cultures)37 %06 %15 %42 %
Eastern Eurasia0 (71 cultures)17 %14 %18 %51 %
North America(153 cultures)27 %05 %08 %60 %
Oceania0 (77 cultures)17 %08 %00 %75 %

According to a cosmic-natural function

Creator Gods

A concept of the origin of the world that is widespread in various cultures depicts the primordial universe as an egg that contains the ability to create all things in its shell. Usually an event then takes place that causes changes and developments (see also Etiology: Explanatory Statements). In the West African Dogon, the creator god Amma shook the cosmic egg and set free gods of order and gods of chaos. The idea of ​​a divine craftsman or carpenter is widespread in Africa.[35]

In several cultures, parenting made the world. For example, in the Maori creation myth, the world began when the Heavenly Father and Earth Mother, Rangi and Papa, were separated by their sons. For the Aztecs, the creation consisted in the deity Ometecutli separating itself into its male and female parts: Ometeotl and Omecihuatl. A variant of the dual creation myth can be found in ancient Greece: The earth mother Gaia and the male sky god Uranos are considered the first two gods.The creation myth of a first pair of gods was also found in Japanese mythology with the tradition of Izanagi and Izanami, as well as in all cultures of Oceania.[35][36] In some ideas the world - and sometimes the gods themselves - was created by sacrificing a living being. In the Nordic religion, for example, the three creator gods slaughtered the primeval giant Ymir, whose organs became parts of the world. Something similar is reported in a Vedic hymn by Purusha and in Chinese mythology by Pangu.[35]

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle mentions in the seventh book of his metaphysics an immaterial "immobile mover" (ancient Greek ού κινούμενον κινεῖ) as the first cause, which gave structure to the already existing matter. Aristotle, however, denies creation, because matter is eternal and uncreated.[37]Plato represents in his Timaeus the view that a creator god (demiurge) must have given the disordered primordial matter a form in order to create a reasonable whole from it.

Some gods "created themselves", such as Ometecuhtli among the Aztecs or the Aboriginal god Baiame. In other cultures, such as Christianity, the view of “creation out of nothing” is held (creatio ex nihilo), with whom a god can do without any prerequisites. Not all creator gods created everything. The god Karei or Ta Pedn der Semang, for example, created everything but the earth and man; these are the work of the subordinate god Ple.[38]

In many cultures, creator gods play a subordinate role for people. One example is Bunjil from the Aboriginal religion who, after the creation of earth, trees, animals and people, handed over power over heaven and earth to his two children. Since then he has withdrawn from the world and hovers above the clouds.[39]

Some religions have a cycle of creation and annihilation and re-creation. One of the most complicated variants can be found in Hinduism. Here a lotus flower rises from Vishnu's navel, releasing the creator god Brahma. Here, the creator god, Brahma, represents a male, personal deity who developed from Brahman. The Brahman is the name for the unchangeable, immortal Absolute, the Supreme. It denotes the impersonal world soul that exists without beginning and without end, it is the ultimate one that has no cause itself, but from which everything has arisen. The world created by the god Brahma has existed for a very long time before it dissolves into chaos and the whole cycle begins again. Other cyclical ideas about the world can be found among others among the Hopi Indians and the Aztecs.[35]

Sky and storm gods

Depiction of the sky god Varuna in battle with Rama. Painting by Raja Ravi Varma, 19th century

Gods who reveal themselves in heaven were and are very often regarded as the highest gods; typical examples are the early Vedic god Varuna and the Iranian god Ahura Mazda.[40] The belief in heaven gods as the highest beings who created the world can be found to a certain extent in all ethnic groups. However, such gods are usually considered passive, so that they play an insignificant role in religious practice. More important is the belief in holy powers and beings that come closer to everyday life and that seem more useful to them.[41] These sacred powers take different forms and range from totemism and ancestral cults to spirits of the dead and sun gods. According to Mircea Eliade, heaven gods were once often at the center of religious life, but over time they have been replaced by more accessible forms. Examples of sky gods that are still worshiped are the Zuñi god Awonawilona and the creator god of the San, Cagn.[42]

With many peoples of the African dry savannah, especially with Nilotic tribes, the concept of God is semantically closely related to the phenomenon of rain.[43]

In cultures with differentiated polytheistic ideas, sky gods go beyond meteorological-astronomical phenomena. Often they are accorded extraordinary power; the supreme god of the arctic peoples, for example, is an omnipotent ruler over the world. In contrast, the sky god of some Siberian and Central Asian peoples is so far removed from the world that he does not care about human concerns.[44]

The thunder has always been an important mark of heaven gods. Native American tribes from Kansas claimed that they never saw their god Wakan but often heard his voice as thunder. According to Eliade, the specialization of sky gods into storm and rain gods is explained by their passivity, which is in contrast to the direct influence of the storm gods on agriculture. The Vedic Ashvamedha sacrifice was initially dedicated to the sky god Varuna, but his place was later taken by the storm god Prajapati and sometimes also Indra.[45] Other well-known examples of storm gods are Zeus, Min, Rudra, Adad, Iupiter Dolichenus and Thor. Frequently recurring themes with storm gods, besides rain and thunder, are marriage to an earth mother and a ritual and mythological relationship with bulls. Min, Baal and Adad are among the gods who are represented as bulls and who are not worshiped for their heavenly attributes, but for their marriage to the Earth Mother and the life-giving functions that result from it. In contrast, Zeus, Jupiter and El retained a certain autonomy and supremacy in the pantheon due to their role as world rulers.[46]

Sun and moon gods

Depiction of the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu leaving her cave in a triptych from the 19th century

Sun worship was especially prevalent in Egypt, Asia, and primitive Europe. In Africa the supreme god was quite often transformed into a sun god over time; numerous African peoples give their highest god the name "sun". For the Kavirondo, the sun is the highest god, and the Kaffa call their highest being Abo, which stands for both "father" and "sun". Similar to the sky gods, sun gods are seldom a central object of worship in Africa.[47]

Likewise, the sun gods Atum-Re in ancient Egypt, Huitzilopochtli in Mexico, Amaterasu in Japan and the sun gods of various Indian tribes were the highest gods. Sun gods can also wreak havoc, especially among desert peoples. In Egypt, Re led the dead souls through the underworld. The Sumerian god Utu was also related to the underworld, where he judged the souls.[27]

Since the phases of the moon are related to the tides, moon gods are often related to water. The Sumerian god Nanna, for example, ruled over the waters, and Ardvisura Anahita, the Iranian goddess of water, was also a moon creature. Similar connections existed with the Iroquois and Mexican cultures. A central Brazilian people call the daughter of the moon god "mother of water". A large number of fertility gods are also associated with the moon, such as Ištar in Mesopotamia, Anaitis in Iran and Selene in Greece. Moon gods like Thoth in Egypt or Aningaaq among the Inuit measure time and regulate natural phenomena. Gods who are associated with the stars and planets are sometimes considered to be the eyes of the sky god, which is why they are often ascribed omniscience.[48]

Earth and water gods

Depiction of Gaia in a Syrian fresco around 730

One of the earliest theophanes of the earth and soil was that of a mother associated with fertility. Although many earth and some fertility gods are described as androgynous, the notion of a personified earth or earth mother is widespread. Gaia was worshiped quite often in Greece. According to HesiodsTheogony emerged from her bosom Uranos, with whom she gave birth to a whole family of gods in a form of hierogamy. The development of agriculture led to the earth mother being forgotten in favor of a goddess of vegetation and harvest; in Greece, for example, Demeter took the place of Gaia. This development gave new weight to male, fertilizing gods. Such agricultural cults have been very enduring and in some cases range from prehistoric times to the present day.[49]

River and water gods were worshiped in several cultures, such as Anahita in Zoroastrianism and Sarasvati in Hinduism. A very well-known river god of the Greeks, Acheloos, was not only associated with the river of the same name by Homer, but also counted among the great gods as god of all rivers, lakes and springs. Above all the smaller water gods was Poseidon, the god of the sea. In the Nordic religion, Aegir personifies the endless ocean. For Hindus, Ganga (the river Ganges) is a powerful goddess who supplies the land and mediates between the earthly and the divine world. Sedna, the Inuit sea goddess, is the mother of all aquatic animals, but also causes hunger and devastation when people break taboos.[50]

For the Dogon, the amphibious water deities, the Nommo, are associated with the sky. They are also revered as ancestral spirits.[51]

According to social function

Georges Dumézil identified three main social functions in gods of proto-Indo-European culture: the function of a ruler with magical and judicial aspects, a physical power and courage function, especially in times of war, and a fertility and prosperity function.[52] This scheme is only partially applicable to other cultures. For example, many gods in the Middle East and Africa combine the functions of ruler and warlord, while other cultures do not clearly distinguish between the functions of harvest and war.[53]

Xochiquetzal in Codex Rios, 16th century

Guardian of morality and society

The highest gods are often guardians of social order and morality at the same time. Such gods hold people accountable, judge them and punish them, either directly or indirectly through other gods. In the Vedic understanding, Varuna is considered the protector of the cosmic-moral law (rta). The Judeo-Christian God YHWH is the author of the law. In the Roman religion, Jupiter was the keeper of the oath, contracts, and moral duties. In Babylon the assembly of the great gods watched over society and determined human destinies.[53]

Gods of war and protectors

Those gods who use their physical power often act as gods of war at the same time. This role is particularly important for cosmic storm gods, for example Indra in the Vedas, Thor in the Nordic religion, Marduk with the Babylonians or YHWH with the Israelites. A classic god of war is Mars, who defended the Roman state against the enemies, but also protected fields and herds from misfortunes. For the Yoruba, Ogún is the god of hunting, ironmaking and war. Many goddesses are also worshiped as divine fighters and protectors, such as Anat among the Canaanites, Athena among the Greeks or Durga in the Hindu tradition. Divine protectors are very diverse and range from Castor and Pollux, the protectors of the Roman soldiers, to the street kami in Japan.[53]

Fertility gods

Fertility gods make up a very large and diverse category. In Greece, Hera, the wife of Zeus, was the goddess of marriage, and Aphrodite and Eros are gods of love. In Scandinavia, Freya was the goddess of love and marriage. The Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal was a popular goddess of the arts, love, and lust for love. Popular Mexican depictions identify the Virgin Mary with an indigenous fertility goddess who ruled the land before the arrival of Europeans.[54]

Depiction of Hestia in a 6th century Egyptian tapestry

Household and village gods

Hestia was the Greek goddess of the family hearth, as was Vesta with the Romans, where she held a special state cult status. In the Vedic period, Agni, god of fire, ruled the family hearth at the same time, as did Zao Jun in the Chinese folk religion. In ancient Egypt, Neith was the goddess of domestic crafts, similar to Athena among the Greeks. For the Ainu of Northern Japan, the fire goddess Iresu-Huchi was also the goddess of the household, to which she gave peace and prosperity. Traditional Japanese households show portraits of Daikoku and Ebisu as protectors of the household.

Villages too often have their own gods who guarantee them protection and prosperity. The Chinese earth god Tudigong is worshiped in many villages in East Asia. In India, most of the traditional villages have their own gods, often female deities, (Gramadevata)that are thought of in festivals as village founders and protectors, but also as occasional causes of diseases and disasters.[54]

Gods of healing, sickness and death

While some gods bring disease and death, others heal the sick and protect the dead, and other gods combine these two functions. The Greek god Asklepios is known for medicine and the art of healing. In China, the doctor Baosheng Dadi was made the god of medicine after his death. The gods who cause disease include Pakoro Kamui among the Ainu and Lugal-Irra and Namtar in Mesopotamia. The latter was said to be able to cause 60 different diseases. In the Vedas, Rudra often brings disease and devastation, but is also venerated as a healer. The properties that are ascribed to the gods of the dead depend on the religious and cultural ideas of what happens after death. The Egyptian goddess Hathor guards the dead, and in Hinduism, Yama judges the dead.[54]

Gods of culture, arts and technology

The gods associated with cultural life are quite diverse. In several religions, culture is considered to be given by God; Poets, painters, sculptors and dancers were inspired to perform creatively by gods. In Hinduism, according to the Ramayana, Rama is the bearer of culture. Sarasvati, the goddess of learning, art and music, is very often worshiped in school celebrations, and Shiva is nicknamed the "King of Dance". In Egypt, Thoth was the inventor of all arts and sciences, from arithmetic to hieroglyphic writing.

There is a god for almost every profession and every craft. Njörðr was the protector of shipbuilders and sailors in the Nordic religion. In Greece, Heracles and Hermes were primarily associated with trade, Athena with craftswomen, and Hephaestus with blacksmithing. Among the Yoruba, Ogún ensures prosperity for all those who come into contact with metal at work, for example goldsmiths, barbers, mechanics and taxi drivers.[55]

According to character traits

In anthropomorphic terms, gods are often assigned a specific personality that includes benevolent and angry qualities. The mother goddesses of the Aztecs are very cruel, such as Coatlicue, who is depicted with a blouse made of human hands and hearts. She gave birth to the god of war Huitzilopochtli, who killed his four hundred siblings. YHWH is depicted both mildly and grimly in the Torah. In India the most important gods have a "gentle" and a "terrible" form.[56] Although Kali represents death and desolation and eats her children, she is revered by many Hindus as a loving mother. The Hawaiian goddess Hina is another example of a god who encourages prosperity but also brings death and devastation to people.[55] Before Christian proselytizing, the Kikuyu believed that their God was a God of love, but that those who disobey him would be punished with hunger, illness and death.[57]

Other gods are considered perfectly benevolent. For Plato, God was morally best and perfect, and for some Christian theologians, God is all-good. In contrast, the gods of the Greek pantheon were known for their often immoral actions. The Chagga people know the creator god Ruwa, who is also the guardian of morality. This God is all good so that people do not have to be afraid of him; Only the spirits of the dead are feared. The god Buga of the Evenks sits on a white marble throne and rules over all things, but only does good and does not punish.[58]

Godmen and demigods

Gods can not only be described in terms of anthropomorphisms, but can also have a bluntly human or human-like being. These include demigods such as Perseus in Greek mythology or Māui in the Maori religion. These demigods are usually limited in their power compared to real gods.[59] An example of a person who has been declared a god of war is the Chinese general Guan Yu.The Chinese girl Mazu was taken to heaven as a goddess and has since been venerated as the “Queen of Heaven” and protector of sailors. Conversely, some gods can appear in human form, such as Jesus in the Christian dogma of the Incarnation and the Avatara of Vishnu. Apotheosis is the deification of a person who is regarded as heroic and who is worshiped as a God-King. Examples of this are Alexander the Great and Gaius Iulius Caesar, who was worshiped as Divus Iulius in the Roman Empire.

According to metaphysical properties

The supernatural properties attributed to gods vary. Some gods are omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, while others have limited access to knowledge or are only powerful in certain ways. Systematic reflections on God or the gods are common in ancient philosophy. In Hindu philosophy, the theology of the Abrahamic religions and modern Western philosophy, there are also rational considerations on the metaphysical properties of the divine (compare natural theology). The word “God” is not always used. Various Greek philosophers spoke of “the one”, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel used synonyms such as “infinite life”, “the absolute”, the “concept”, the “idea”, the “absolute spirit” or the “only absolute reality” ".[60]

A tendentially abstract image of God arises from the claim to disillusionment with mythological-religious ideas of God through rational considerations.[61] One of these is different, in Blaise PascalsMémorial so-called "God of philosophers and scholars" in some respects from a god of mythology and revelation, but often philosophers and theologians assume that the two are simply different descriptions of the same reality.[62]

Relationship to the world

Depending on the metaphysical worldview, the relationship between the gods and the world is represented differently. In some ideas God or the gods are completely separate from the world, in others a god includes the world in part or in whole.

Classical theism

Theism can first of all - as with Richard Swinburne or John Leslie Mackie - be viewed as the opposite of atheism, the non-belief in gods. Here the term denotes any worldview that assumes the existence of a divine authority. In a narrower sense, classical theism describes the belief in one or more gods who are not identical with the world, but who guide and intervene in it,[63] and which may also be eternal and unchangeable.[64]


The word “deism” has the same origins as “theism”, but was used with a different meaning when it was first known to be used in the second half of the 16th century. The term was used differently by different thinkers, but in each case it had an unorthodox connotation that differentiated itself from the established religion. Deists generally advocated an undogmatic monotheism and rejected supernatural revelations. Deism had its heyday during the Enlightenment and was particularly widespread in the Anglo-American region, where Anthony Collins and Thomas Paine emerged as well-known advocates. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, another meaning of deism established itself as a belief in a God who withdrew after creation and has not intervened in the world since.[65]


According to emanationism, everything has emerged from a primordial principle (God) through emanation, a process similar to flowing out or radiating. With increasing emanation, the products become less and less perfect; the transcendent source - called "the one" by Plotinus - remains unaffected. Emanationism is found in Gnostic teachings such as the Pistis Sophia and some of the writings of Valentinus. Kabbalistic philosophy, theosophy, and Bahaism were also influenced by emanationism. In contrast to pantheism, the divine original principle is transcendent and not immanent. Some philosophers regard emanationism as a form of panentheism.[66]


The word "panentheism" was coined in 1828 by Karl Christian Friedrich Krause. According to the panentheistic view, the world is part of a single God, but not identical to him. Panentheism represents a middle way between classical theism and pantheism in that on the one hand it accepts a God with understanding and will, on the other hand it emphasizes the close connection between God and the universe. For Gustav Theodor Fechner, for example, the world belonged to God, just as the body is only one part of the human being, with the spirit representing the other part. Process theology also takes a panentheistic view.[67] The term can also be broader; In this sense, a distinction can be made between individual panentheism (“God exists in my deepest interior”), ontological panentheism (“God is the basis of all existence”), social panentheism (“God exists in our relationship with other people”) and cosmic panentheism (“God is found in nature or in beauty”).[68]


Pantheism, which was only called in the early 18th century, describes the view that everything that exists is divine. Pantheists oppose the notion that God and the universe are different things. In the 16th century, Giordano Bruno proposed that God manifested himself in all things that form an interlocking whole. For Baruch Spinoza there was only one uniform substance, namely God. Paul Harrison, the founder of the World Pantheist Movement, distinguishes between scientific, idealistic and dualistic pantheism; the latter asserts the existence of an immaterial mind.[69]

Naturalistic theism

Religious or spiritual naturalism - a term that has been used in US theology since the 1940s at the latest - assumes that everything that exists can in principle be explained scientifically. At the same time, a religious attitude towards the world or parts of the world is adopted without assuming a higher, ontologically separate reality. If the object of religious orientation is called God, this attitude can be called "naturalistic theism". Here God is either the creative process within the universe (as with Shailer Mathews and Henry Nelson Wieman) or the entirety of the universe. At least “scientific” pantheism is therefore a form of naturalistic theism.[70]

Other attributes

Transcendence and immanence

The Judeo-Christian God is viewed by most theologians as transcendent, that is, he is “outside” the world he created. At the same time, to a certain extent, it is also immanent, i.e. part of the world - for example through its presence in the religious feelings of believers. In Hinduism, too, God was occasionally described as transcendent, for example by the hymn poet Nammalvar. Ramanuja wrote on the one hand that God was not accessible to people through meditation or prayer, but on the other hand he showed himself in human form to those who worship him.[71] In Islam, God is considered both transcendent and immanent. The Lugbara, a people living in the border region Uganda / Democratic Republic of the Congo, become a transcendent (Adroa) and an immanent one (Adro) Form distinguished from God. In its immanent form, it sometimes lives on earth in rivers, trees, thickets and mountains.[72]


The idea of ​​an omniscient God is widespread in many cultures and at the latest in the 6th century BC. In Xenophanes. The great monotheistic religions represent an omniscient conception of God; YHWH is already described in the Tanach as omniscient, see for example Psalm 139. In Hinduism, Varuna is considered omniscient. Most of the omniscient gods are sky gods, such as Tororut with the Pokot in Kenya, Ngai with the Maasai or Tengri with the Altai people. Mostly it is evil deeds that attract the attention of the omniscient gods.[73]


The concept of omnipotence (omnipotence) is represented by all Abrahamic religions, but is also often found outside of it, such as with Alhou, the highest being of the Sema-Naga, or with the god Karai Kasang of Jingpo. With the Aztecs, Tezcatlipoca was omnipotent "in earth and sky".[74] In any case, gods are often portrayed as powerful, and divine epithets such as "the Almighty" are common. Some peoples associate divine power primarily with nature, others more with human concerns.[75] On the other hand, the Canaanite god El was sometimes depicted old and powerless when he was replaced by Baal.[27] There is a tendency in different cultures to unite local gods to form great gods who take over all previous power attributes.[76]


Omnipresence (ubiquity) is also a common property of gods. Socrates and Epictetus represented it among the ancient philosophers. Amun, the Egyptian god of wind and fertility, was referred to as "the one who dwells in all things". The Bena in Tanzania believe that their God "is everywhere at the same time".[75] Often gods combine omniscience and omnipresence; in Flores, Indonesia, for example, the god Dua Nggae was said to see everything, know everything and be everywhere. In some peoples, gods are associated with specific places, albeit omnipresent. For example, the Langi believe that hills are associated with God and that it is therefore dangerous to build houses near them.[77] In ancient Greece, the most important gods resided in heaven or on Mount Olympus.


In Western philosophy and theology, God was almost always viewed as a personal being, as in Plato and Aristotle. Some philosophers like Hegel saw in personal descriptions of God an imperfect conception of the absolute. Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita also describe God as a personal being, while Shankara represented impersonal conceptions of Brahman.[78]


The majority of the Abrahamic God is considered immaterial, i.e. non-material. Philosophers who see the world as part of this God or as the embodiment of his being hold God at least partially material. Such a view was represented, for example, by the Stoics, who equated him with the basic elements of air and fire. In contrast to the church fathers and the majority of Christian philosophers like Thomas Aquinas, who argued for the immateriality and spirituality of God, there were individual Christian writers like Tertullian who called God "corporalis" (corporeal). The overwhelming number of thinkers influenced by Platonic or Aristotelian influences, however, taught that a material being would contradict God's perfection or perfection. African peoples also generally consider the respective high god to be a disembodied, immaterial spirit being, although he is described in anthropomorphic metaphors.[79]


As supernatural spirits, gods are at least temporarily invisible. In some peoples God is considered invisible, while his effects can be felt physically, for example as wind. Other cultures consider natural phenomena and objects - the sky, stars, or thunder - to be manifestations of gods. However, some gods are partially visible. In the Torah account of the burning bush, Moses covers his face for fear of looking at God. The San sky god is usually invisible, but sometimes passes by with a bright light and his voice can be heard as thunder.[80]


Christian theology distinguishes three ways of learning about God: reason, revelation, and religious experience.[81] Natural theology tries to make statements about God through reason and observation. In general, however, gods are viewed, at least in part, as unfathomable. The Alur consider their god to be "practically unknowable", and the Lugbara admit that they do not know much about the nature of their god because he eludes human imagination.[82]