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Deity Meaning and Forms 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?

Characteristics of God

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. 

Deity Meaning and the Sun God

Sun Symbol 
By Sammy Ater

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.

Hindu Sacred Symbol OM

Hindu OM Symbol
By Rose Karlsen

Personal 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.

Sacred Fire Illustration

Sacred Fire Symbol 
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.

Celtic Cross Deity Symbol

Celtic Cross
By Sammy Ater

Eastern Traditions & Classical Mythology

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.

Archangel Michael Christian Form of the Deity

Archangel Michael
By Sammy Ater

Using Deity Meaning for 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.

Heart Chakra

Heart Chakra (above)
By Rose Karlsen
Heart on Fire (below)
By Sammy Ater

Heart on Fire Symbol

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.

Below you will find music, information and illustrations for a selected number of forms of the deity. Some of these are personified and some are principles or concepts. May sacred art and music uplift your day! 

Buddhist Wheel Deity Meaning Article

Buddhist Wheel
By Rose Karlsen

Hindu Tradition: Deity Meaning and Symbolism

Agni Deva: Symbolic and physical fire have been associated with religious traditions around the world for ages. Agni Deva is the masculine deity meaning holy fire or spiritual fire in the Hindu tradition. Fire is the perfect metaphor for release and the transformation of unwanted patterns, situations, and personal characteristics. Fire is an expression of both light and heat—two fundamentals for the sustenance of life.

Sacred Fire Illustration

Sacred Fire 
by Sammy Ater

Devaki: Devaki is the Hindu goddess of childbirth. She is specifically the mother of Krishna. Devaki and her consort Vasudeva are imprisoned by Kamsa, an evil king who feared a prediction that their eight child would overthrow him. Kamsa kills each of their first six children. The seventh (Balarama) survives. The eighth (Krishna) is smuggled out to live in the country with surrogate parents. Devaki is a deity meaning motherhood and representing the sacrifices of a mother for her son.

Durga: A Hindu goddess known by many names including Bhagini (sister), Devi, Shakti and more. Durga is a warrior goddess. She is a deity meaning the overthrow of demonic forces that threaten peace, prosperity and all that is good. The name Durga means a fort or a place that is difficult to overrun. Durga is a goddess who saves us from difficulties whenever possible. Durga leads a divine army and rides a lion. She is a fierce mother goddess who protects and safeguards her devotees. 

See art and gifts featuring Durga and other Hindu deities.

Durga Hindu Deity Meaning Protection

Durga, Warrior Goddess
by Rose Karlsen

Ganesha (Ganapati): Ganesha is the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati in the Hindu tradition. He is a deity meaning the overcoming of obstacles. Ganesha is often invoked at the beginning of an activity, journey or other undertaking. and his chants are often used at the beginning of an undertaking. Ganesha is one of the most well-known and popular deities in the Hindu pantheon.

Read full article on Ganesha. 

See art and gifts featuring Ganesha and other Hindu deities.

Ganesha, Hindu God
by Rose Karlsen

Ganga Mata: Gange Mata is a Hindu goddess personifying the Ganges River. She is a deity meaning forgiveness and purification. Water is a symbol of purity in many spiritual traditions, used for cleansing and baptism. Ganga is depicted riding on a Makara, an animal with the head of a crocodile and the tail of a dolphin. Some theologians believe that the crocodile represents the lower self or the reptilian mind over which Durga has gained mastery and control. The word “ma, mata, mama” is an almost universal term referring to the divine feminine. 

Ganga Mata Hindu Deity Meaning Purity

Ganga Mata
by Sammy Ater

Govinda/Gopala: Govinda and Gopala are both childhood names of Krishna. Some scholars say that “go” means both “cow” and “light.” To protect him from the evil king Kamsa who was out to kill him, Govinda (Gopala) was sent to live in the country. In this legend of Krishna’s early life, he grew up as a cow herder. Cows, of course, are sacred throughout much of India. Thus the deity meaning in these names is the one who protects something that is sacred.

See art featuring Krishna and other Hindu deities.

Krishna Hindu Deity Meaning Devotion

by Rose Karlsen

Hanuman: Hanuman is the monkey-god, hero of epics and stories in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, Hanuman is the ardent devotee of Lord Rama, and central to the epic poem Ramayana. Hanuman is sometimes depicted as the patron of martial arts, wrestling, and acrobatics. He is also the patron of meditation and scholarship. Some interpretations of the name “Hanuman” are the Sanskrit words “han” meaning killed or destroyed and “maana” meaning pride. With this interpretation, Hanuman’s name means “one whose pride was destroyed.”

Hanuman Hindu Deity Meaning Loyalty

by Rose Karlsen

Jagadambe: Jagadambe is a term for the deity meaning a feminine being who is the “mother of the world” or “mother of the universe.” The term is used for many goddesses including Adi Shakti, Parvati, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Sita and Radha. There are temples in India dedicated to Jagadambe including the Devi Jagadambe Temple in Madhya Pradesh and the Shree Jagadamba Devi Temple in Kerala.

Feminine Yogi

Universal Goddess
by Rose Karlsen

Kali (Goddess): Kali is a Hindu deity symbolizing mastery over time and death. Kali battles the forces of evil on behalf of her children. She is an intimidating figure, brandishing multiple weapons with her four arms. She wears a skirt of severed arms and a gruesome garland of heads. These grisly body parts are symbolic of the demonic forces that she slays to protect her devotees. Kali goes by many names including Mahakali (the Great Mother), Dipta (the One who is illuminated or brilliant), and Uma (lady of the mountains).

See art and gifts featuring Kali and other Hindu deities.

Kali Goddess Hindu Deity Meaning Mastery Over Death

Kali, Warrior Goddess
by Rose Karlsen

Mata Shakti: The name of a feminine deity meaning the divine energy of creation. All goddesses in the Hindu tradition are thought to be a manifestation of this energy. She represents both destruction and creation.  Variations of this name include Kriya Shakti (mother of all manifestation), Brahma Shakti (the source of Brahma), Prana Shakti (mother of the breath), Adi Shakti (primal or first energy of the Divine Mother), Para Shakti (mother of cosmic energy) and Veda Shakti (mother of the scriptures).

Shakti Symbol
by Kathleen Karlsen

Kundalini Mata: A goddess or deity meaning the primal energy located in the spine. This personification is usually feminine. The Sanskrit word “kundalini” means “coiled like a snake”. This is a common symbol of the kundalini energy, often related to sexual energy since it begins in the lowest chakras or energy centers and moves upward along the spine. Raising the kundalini energy is the focus of many yogic practices. Enlightenment is sometimes defined as the kundalini energy reaching the crown chakra.

Kundalini Energy

Kundalini & the Chakras
by Rose Karlsen

Lakshmi: A goddess or deity meaning wealth, fortune and prosperity. The name Lakshmi is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning goal, aim or sign. Lakshmi is usually shown seated or standing on a lotus. The lotus symbolizes creation, beauty, harmony, diversity, stability, and support. She is associated with gold coins as well as rice and basil. Lola is another name for Lakshmi meaning one who is moving or flowing.

See art and gifts featuring Lakshmi and other Hindu deities.

Lakshmi Deity Meaning Wealth

Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth
by Rose Karlsen
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Lalita: Lalita is a Hindu deity meaning “she who plays.” The goddess Lalita is famously independent, announcing to all, “Whatever I say or do is according to my will alone. Whichever man accepts me as his with must also accept my complete independence.” Lalita is portrayed as a young woman holding five arrows, a bow, a noose, and a goad. The arrows are our five senses and the bow is our mind. When we find ourselves pausing on the spiritual path, Lalita gently prods us along with her goad. If we resist her, she lassos us with her noose and drags us back to her lap.

Lalita Deity Meaning Playfulness

Lalita, She Who Plays
by Rose Karlsen

Mataji: Mataji is venerated as a yogic master representing the Divine Mother. Mataji is the sister of Babaji, an ancient Indian yogi known as the eternal youth. Although Mataji is the spiritual equal of Babaji, she has chosen the role of disciple to her brother. She is the embodiment of compassion. Mataji and Babaji are an example of the Hindu tradition of saints and deities appearing in both masculine and feminine form, in this case as siblings rather than as romantic partners. The male aspect worships the feminine principle of energy and the female aspect worships the male principle of consciousness.

Mataji Indian Guru

Mataji, An Eternal Youth
by Rose Karlsen

Nataraja: Nataraja is a form of Shiva, a central deity in the Hindu tradition. The name Nataraja means Lord of the Dance. He is a whirling, joyous form of Shiva, often shown with a drum and musical shakers. Nataraja is the ultimate cosmic dancer. Many illustrations and paintings show the cosmos whirling in the background behind depictions of Nataraja. This form of the deity is associated with the crown chakra and enlightenment.

Nataraja Lord of the Dance

Nataraja, Lord of the Dance
by Rose Karlsen
Products with Hindu Deities

Parvati: Parvati, also known as Uma, is the Hindu deity meaning fertility, love and devotion as well as divine strength and power. She is the gentle and nurturing aspect of the goddess energy. Parvati is part of a trinity of Hindu goddesses that also includes Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and learning. Parvati is the consort of Shiva and the mother of Ganesha and Kartikeya. She is the daughter of Himavan (the god and personification of the Himalayas) and Queen Mena. Parvati’s name is derived from the Sanskrit words for “mountain” and can be translated as “daughter of the mountains.”

Parvati Hindu Goddess Deity Meaning Love

Parvati, Hindu Goddess
by Rose Karlsen
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Radha: Radha is the beloved consort of Krishna. In Hindu mythology, Radha was Krishna’s childhood playmate. She is an embodiment of the divine feminine. During Krishna’s childhood as a cow herder, Radha was a milkmaid. She is a form of the deity meaning love, tenderness, compassion and devotion. Radha is sometimes viewed as a metaphor for the spiritual longing for the divine. She is the perfect lover, longing only for Krishna as the focus of her devotion. There are Hindu festivals that include the celebration of Radha including Radhashtami, Holi and Sharad Purnima.

Krishna and Radha

Krishna and His Beloved Radha
by Sammy Ater

Ram (Rama): Ram is one of the most widely known and revered of the Hindu gods. Ram is a form of the deity meaning or symbolizing sacrifice and brotherhood. Ram is an incarnation of Vishnu and the central figure in the Hindu epic Ramayana. The name or Ram or Rama means pleasing or charming in Sanskrit. Ram is also greatly respected for his loyalty to his wife Sita. He resisted any temptation that could come between him and his beloved.

Ram Hindu Deity Meaning Brotherhood

Ram, Hindu God
by Sammy Ater

Saraswati: Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of wisdom, music and the arts. A legend about Saraswati: A famous Brahmin scholar had a son who was good-hearted but a failure as a scholar. As a result, he was set to tasks of manual labor: cleaning, carrying water and so forth. One day he saw a beautiful young woman in distress by the river. He thought perhaps she had been robbed or abandoned by her family. He rescued her and took her home to give her water and food. As she left the home in deep gratitude, she turned and touched her finger to his tongue. He began to recite complex and subtle poetry in Sanskrit and became a famous orator. The young maiden was Saraswati.

Saraswati Goddess of Music

Saraswati, Goddess of Music
by Sammy Ater

Shiva: Shiva is a deity meaning breath or space. He is a powerful Hindu god manifesting throughout the cosmos. Shiva expresses freedom, liberation and joy. Shiva has many forms and names as well as many consorts. He is associated with the third eye chakra between the eyebrows at the bridge of the nose. This sacred spot is sometimes marked on the forehead by the red dot known as the bindi. The third eye is the door to prophesy. Shiva is alternately depicted both as benevolent and fearsome. In terms of symbolism, he is often shown with a serpent around his neck, a crescent moon as an adornment, the river Ganges flowing from his hair, the trishula as his weapon, and a damaru drum nearby.

Shiva, Hindu God
by Sammy Ater

Sita: Sita is a Hindu goddess known for good character and happiness. She represents courage, dedication and purity. Sita goes through many trials together with her consort Ram, including exile and the kidnapping of Sita. They are sometimes viewed as symbolizing the unmanifest and the manifest minds or the pineal and pituitary glands. On the physical level, reciting these names is believed to balance both sides of the brain. They represent the yin and the yang or the masculine and the feminine. Sita and Ram are viewed as ideal, devoted spouses.

Sita and Ram

Sita and Ram
by Sammy Ater

Surya: Surya is a Hindu deity meaning creation and the source of light or life. Surya is a sun god with a golden chariot driven by Aruna, a personification of the dawn. The chariot is pulled by seven horses representing the seven chakras or energy centers. Other names for the Hindu sun god include Bhaskaraya (the illuminator) and Mitraya (friend of all).

See art and gifts featuring Surya and other Hindu deities.

Surya God of the Sun

Surya, God of the Sun
by Rose Karlsen
Products with Hindu Deities

Buddhist Tradition: Deity Meaning and Symbolism 

Kuan Yin: Kuan Yin is a deity meaning mercy and compassion. She is a Buddhist savioress or bodhisattva. She has taken a vow to save all beings from suffering, foregoing full Buddhahood  until all sentient beings are free. Kuan Yin comes as a Mother to dispel all illusion. A beautiful legend is that Kuan Yin was on the threshold of heaven when she paused and heard the anguished cries of the world. She then returned to earth to help all who are suffering.

Kuan Yin Buddhist Deity Meaning Compassion

Kuan Yin
by Sammy Ater 

Medicine Buddha: The Medicine Buddha is described in Mahayana Buddhism as a doctor who cures suffering using the medicine of his teachings. He is also known as the Medicine Master. The oldest known references to the Medicine Buddha are texts from the seventh century. The Medicine Buddha is the name of a bodhisattva: one who has pledge to remain with earth until all beings are liberated. The Medicine Buddha relieves suffering at all levels: mental, physical and spiritual.

Medicine Buddha Deity Meaning

Medicine Buddha
by Sammy Ater

Tara: Tara is known as the goddess of liberation. In the Tibetan pantheon of deities, Tara is the consort of the Dhyani Buddha Amogasiddhi. Her name means “star.” The word-name Tara is variously interpreted as Shining Star, Liberator, Rescuer, Savior, or One Who Ferries Across. Tara exists as a goddess in many traditions and countries, including Hinduism, Polynesian mythology, Druidism, Finland (Tar, Woman of Wisdom), Roman mythology (Terra, Earth Mother), and South America (the goddess Tarahumara). 

Tara, Female Buddha
by Sammy Ater

Ancient Traditions: Deity Meaning and Symbolism

Astara: Astara is the Germanic goddess of spring. She is a deity meaning hope and return to life. Her name (Eostre or Ostara)  is the root of the spring celebration now known as Easter. She is associated with many Easter customs including Easter eggs and rabbits. The root of her name means “star” or “to shine.” She is also sometimes referenced as a goddess of the dawn, a bringer of light after the dark night. Others consider her to be synonymous with Freya, the Norse goddess. Freya’s consort is the Norse god of music.

Astara Goddess of Spring Deity Meaning

Astara, Goddess of Spring
by Sammy Ater

Astrea: Astrea is an ancient Greek goddess. She is a deity meaning justice, innocence, and purity. Her name means star maiden or starry night. She is the daughter of Astraeus, god of dusk, and Eos, goddess of the dawn. Astrea is a virgin goddess associated with the zodiac sign of Virgo. As the goddess of justice, she is also linked to Libra. According to legend, when the Golden Age comes, Astrea will return to earth.

Astrea Goddess Starry Mother Deity Meaning

Astrea, Starry Goddess
by Sammy Ater

Judeo-Christian Tradition: Deity Meaning and Symbolism

Archangels: In general, an angel is a form of the deity meaning an “angle of God.” There are numerous angels and archangels in sacred texts around the world. Seven of them are more commonly known and are sometimes associated with days of the week: Michael (Tuesday), Jophiel (Sunday), Raphael (Wednesday), Chamuel (Monday), Gabriel (Friday), Zadkiel (Saturday) and Uriel (Thursday). Angels are messengers, protectors, healers and comforters.

Archangel Michael Christian Form of the Deity

Archangel Michael
by Sammy Ater

El Shaddai/Elohim: El Shaddai is the name of the Christian deity meaning “God Almighty” or “all powerful.” Some translations indicate that the name means “to pour out.” A literal translation refers to God as “the rain giver.” Other theologians trace the origins of El Shaddai to the Akkadian term “shadu” translated as “mountain” or “shad” meaning “breast.” In this context, El Shaddai may be an Old Testament reference to God as a feminine being. Elohim is a Hebrew name for the deity meaning “the living God.” The term is plural and an extension of the term El. The name Elohim occurs throughout the Torah and more than 2500 times in the Bible. The phrase “bene elohim” means the “sons of the gods” or the “council of the gods.” The medieval rabbinic scholar Maimonides used the term Elohim to denote multiple aspects of the godhead: angels, judges, rulers and so forth. Reference: See El Shaddai and the Gender of God by Susan Day Pigott at (https://scribalishess.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/el-shaddai-and-the-gender-of-god/).

Mountains and Sea
by Sammy Ater

Holy Spirit: God is associated with the breath, fire and the wind in many traditions. The Holy Spirit in Christianity is a form of the deity meaning an undifferentiated power of God. The Western Holy Spirit is akin to Shiva, third person of the Hindu Trinity. The idea that God breathes life into animate form is also a common theme in many traditions. The Holy Spirit is also known as the Holy Ghost. There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.

Breath of Wind Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, God of Wind
by Sammy Ater

Stella Maris: Stella Maris is a goddess or female spirit guide at sea. This is often used as a name for the Virgin Mary. The name means “star of the sea”. The Virgin Mary was often viewed as the patron saint of sailors. In a broader sense, the water element is traditionally considered to be feminine.

Stella Maris Goddess of the Sea

Stella Maris, Goddess of the Sea
by Sammy Ater

Yaheshua or Yeshua: The original name for Jesus, son of God. Jesus is one of the three deities in the Christian trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Aramaic name of Jesus means the son of “Ya” or “Yah” from the name Yahweh for God the Father in the Old Testament. The name Yahweh means “God is Salvation.” Christians believed that Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of the world, gaining eternal life for His followers. Jesus is the central figure in the New Testament, a worker of miracles and spiritual teacher.

Yaheshua Deity Symbol

by Sammy Ater

Vocal Medicine Book

Learn more about using mantras and singing to invigorate your life! Explore concepts from East and West related to the power of singing. Explore the chakras and the impact of sound in every area of your life.

Kathleen Karlsen Profile Pic Home

Author Kathleen Karlsen

Vocal Medicine reveals Kathleen Karlsen’s personal journey with mantras, chanting and kirtan. Benefit from Kathleen’s years of research into the power of sacred music. Topics include:

  • Achieve improved emotional health through mantras
  • Create a happy brain through singing
  • Extensive discussion of sound and the chakras
  • Connections between sound, color and healing

186 pages, $15.95
30 Illustrations

Deity Art & Gifts

Deities of East and West including Hindu gods and goddesses, angels, nature spirits and buddhas. Unique inspirational artwork from multiple traditions. Produced in the United States. Flat rate shipping $4.95 per order (US only), unlimited items. Wholesale pricing available on request.