Deity Meaning

Deity Meaning, Mythology & Eastern Traditions

Deity meaning covers many aspects of religious experience. This article includes a definition of deity meaning, characteristics of God, benefits of prayer, Catholic saints, Eastern religions, mythology and spirituality. The role of psychology in personal religious beliefs and deities around the world are also included. 

Table of Contents

Deity Meaning: Definitions

The word “deity” is thought to have been coined by Saint Augustine in the 14th century. However, the roots for the word “deity” go further back in many languages.

DeiteeMiddle English-divinity, God
DeitasLate Latin-vocative singular-God
DiosGreek, Spanish-Godhead
DevaSanskrit-to gleam or shine, heavenly, God

In many traditions, broadly classified as Western religions, the deity is viewed as a supreme or supernatural being controlling some or all aspects of the world. In other traditions, often Eastern in origin, the deity refers to any being who has attained the estate or rank of a god. In the latter case, a deity may rise or fall from grace rather than existing in an eternal state or form.

Kirtan and World Religions

Deity Meaning in World Religions

In monotheism, the deity is a singular force. This presence is a type of immortal goodness, often masculine. A monotheistic deity is omniscient (all-seeing) and omnipotent (all-powerful).

In contrast with this, many ancient cultures deified nature and the forces of nature to create a pantheon of gods and goddesses. This includes the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Germanic peoples. In some forms of polytheism, ancestors or ancestral forces are deified.

In Eastern religions, deities are a broad category that may include ethical concepts such as the personifications of ideas and knowledge. Vedic deities may also be humans who gained merit and achieved the status of a deity through their effort and spiritual disciplines. 

In Hinduism, the Upanishads view the atman (soul, self) as synonymous with “deva” or the deity. The atman is an eternal or supreme god that is part of every individual. The spiritual path is to connect with this innermost being, thus gaining self-knowledge of the deity.

Occasionally the concept of a deity can include an “evil god” or demon. In Old Persian, the word “daiva” means a harmful god. In pantheism, the universe itself is viewed as God. From this viewpoint, eveything that exists and God are equivalent.

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Characteristics of God

Deity meaning around the world is a vast topic! Ancient and modern forms of the deity are so varied as to be nearly overwhelming. In addition, our interpretations of God are often contradictory. Is God male or female? Peaceful or warlike? Loving or judgmental? Personal or ineffable? Is God a definable being or simply a type of transformative energy?

Our answers to the question of deity meaning may tell us more about ourselves than about God. Creation stories exist in nearly every tradition. Some anthropologists suggest that we create God in our own image rather than the other way around. Indeed, many of the beings that are purported to inhabit other dimensions have very human-like characteristics.

Others believe that many deities are based on historic figures. For example, some ancient historians have traced Norse Gods to kings and rulers in the far distant past. This may be true in other cultures as well. This doesn’t necessarily denigrate their status. In fact, this may make forms of the deity more relatable and easier to emulate. 

Yin Yang and the Origin of Sacred Geometry

Benefits of Prayer and Religion

On a practical level, devotion to one or more forms of God seems to be highly beneficial for us as humans. Research shows that prayer and religious faith play an important role in psychological and emotional health. The relaxation response, which lower blood pressure and other indicators of stress, is elicited by prayer as well as creative endeavors.

Studies at Duke, Dartmouth and Yale show that people who pray tend to get sick less often. For one thing, people who have a set of religious or ethical principles tend to avoid potentially detrimental lifestyle habits. This often includes refraining from smoking and drinking.

Heart on Fire Symbol

Heart on Fire 
By Sammy Ater

Author’s Perspective on Deity Meaning

For me, the various forms of the deity represent aspects of consciousness. Ultimately it seems that we will reach a state where we experience ourselves as part of everything that is in existence. This means we will be part of every possible mental, emotional and psychological state.

For this reason, my personal view is that the multiplicity of deities and deity meaning in Hinduism, Buddhism and many other traditions is not in conflict with monotheism. In fact, the pantheon of Hindu gods is reminiscent of the many Catholic saints of my childhood.

Archangel Michael Christian Form of the Deity

Archangel Michael
By Sammy Ater

Catholic Saints and Deity Meaning

When I was being confirmed in the Catholic church as a young teenager, I took the choice of a confirmation name very seriously. I borrowed books from the parish library and read the lives of the saints to find one I wanted to emulate. Each saint had unique characteristics similar to deity meaning in other religions.

Each had a particular aspect of God that was their specialty. Many of their lives were quite dramatic, sometimes even bizarre. The feats they performed and the miracles associated with them made them feel superhuman.

Hindu Sacred Symbol OM

Hindu OM Symbol
By Rose Karlsen

Deity Meaning: Saints and Goddesses

These stories of saints were similar to the mythologies associated with deities in other religions. In addition, sometimes the Hindu deities are an intense mix of godlike qualities and seemingly very human attributes. This includes jealousy, envy, revenge and so forth. Perhaps this is closer to classical mythology (the heroes and heroines of the Greeks and Romans) than Catholic saints.

In any case, I don’t mind that the gods and goddesses sometimes seem less than holy. They are examples of being passionately alive. Perhaps they are sometimes mistaken in their actions but they are never lukewarm. I appreciate that. Living with confidence and fearlessness is worth a misstep now and then.

Heart Chakra

Heart Chakra by Rose Karlsen

Deity Meaning & Spiritual Development

In the end, I feel the most empowering approach is to ask myself what qualities I need to develop to be a more complete human being. Do I need to be ruthless in separating myself from a victim mentality? Do I need to care less what others think?

Do I need to pursue my own path with more power and directness? Do I need to clarify my goals? Do I need to be a better example of adventurous living for my children? Do I need to soften and treat others with greater patience?

Then I ask myself which form of the deity best exemplifies the qualities that I want to embody? What is the deity meaning associated with Kali or Parvati or Hanuman or any other form of God?

My spiritual practices including mantras are really a way to develop those qualities within myself rather than worship an external being. I like to know the meaning of the mantras. I like to be conscious of my intent.

I hope that if I focus on developing specific qualities exemplified in various deities (clarity, compassion, power), I will be a stronger, more loving human being.

Deity Meaning and the Sun God

Sun Symbol 
By Sammy Ater

Examples of Deities in World Religions

The pantheon of deities and their associated symbolism are endlessly colorful, fascinating and inspiring. God may be the ultimate mystery. The symbolism that illuminates deity meaning is absolutely essential. The list of deities below is just a small sample of the extensive pantheon of deities inhabiting this extraordinary universe.

Follow the links below to find music, information and illustrations for a selected number of forms of the deity in various world traditions. Some of these forms of God are personified and some are principles or concepts. May sacred art and music uplift your day! 

Hindu Deities

For thousands of years the rishis of India (Hindu sages) experimented with the effects of chanting. Mantras are generally focused on the names of the gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon of deities.

Buddhist Deities

Buddhist deities include Buddhas, female Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The masculine Buddhas are more well-known than their feminine counterparts. Learn more about Buddhist deities.

Ancient Deities

Many ancient deities are based on the patterns and power of nature: spring, solstice, harvest, the sun, the moon, storms, fire and so forth. Learn more about ancient deities.

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Author Kathleen Karlsen

Kathleen Karlsen is a musician, artist, writer and speaker. She is the author of two books (Flower Symbols and Vocal Medicine) and over 200 articles. Kathleen, her husband Andrew and their five children live in Bozeman, Montana. More about Kathleen Karlsen.

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