Kathleen Karlsen Mobile Header Sacred Mantras & Symbolic Art

Home > Symbolism > Deity Meaning

New resources published ongoing!
SUBSCRIBE for weekly notifications.  

Deity Meaning in World Traditions

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. 

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.

Deity Meaning and the Sun God

Sun 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.

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! 

Buddhist Wheel Deity Meaning Article

Buddhist Wheel
By Rose Karlsen

Explore Deities in Multiple Traditions

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 Sacred Mantras & Symbolic Art

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.

More Resources to Explore