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Concepts of the Divine and Ultimate Reality

   
With this chapter we enter into new section of the text that examines a number of components that all religions seem to have in common. Obviously, all religions will have some sort of concept of the nature of the divine. Yet, the concepts vary widely since each religious tradition has its own concept of what the Divine is like. In this unit, we will summarize in broad categories some of the concepts of the sacred.
Polytheism

Polytheism can be defined as the recognition and worship of more than one god or goddess.  Typically, in each deity has authority over a specific realm of nature.  Moreover, it is often the case that while individuals recognize the existence and power of more than one deity, they may be primarily devoted to the deity most closely connected to their class, occupation or culture.

While the pantheon of polytheistic religions can include hundreds or even thousands of gods,  two deities that are almost always present are the Sky God and Mother Goddess.

The Sky God

 
As the name implies, the Sky God is generally associated with the sky and the life-giving rain that comes from the sky.  In some cases (especially in traditional African religions), the Sky God may be a powerful creator, who has essentially withdrawn from the day to day events of gods and human beings.  In other cases, the God functions as the ruler of the lesser gods. In this monarchical polytheism, the Sky God is capable of impacting and intervening in the affairs of both divine and mortal beings. An obvious example of a Sky God is the ancient Greek God, Zeus According to Greek mythology, Zeus dwells in the sky and uses thunder and lightning as his weapons.  In addition, he is the most powerful of the Greek gods and rules over both human beings and the gods.  
Mother Goddesses  
In almost every polytheistic religion, there is a Mother Goddess who is the most prominent of the goddesses. She is associated with fertility and the change of seasons.  In many cases, her death or seasonal journey to the underworld is the cause of the death of vegetation each year.  When she returns to life or leaves the underworld, the vegetation and new life appear on the earth.
One prominent example of the Mother Goddess is the ancient Akkadian Goddess, Ishtar.  Ishtar was the goddess of sexuality and fertility. According to Sumerian mythology, Ishtar journeyed to the underworld in a vain attempt to bring back her lover Tammuz. Although she fails to bring Tammuz back to the land of the living, she makes arrangements to spend six months out of each year with him in the underworld.  These six months correspond to fall and winter.  Her return from the underworld corresponds to spring and summer.

The Ishtar myth has its counterpart in the story of the Egyptian goddess Isis, the Anglo-Saxon goddess Ostara and the Greek goddess, Persephone.

Feminine Aspects of the Divine

As you text notes, not all goddesses are Mother Goddesses any more than all gods are Sky Gods.  In fact, in all cultures, goddesses can play a variety of roles including warriors, destroyers, healers, etc.  In Hinduism, sakti is the name given to the feminine sacred energy.  This energy is manifest in a variety of goddesses with a variety of different roles.