The answer to this question can be complicated depending on your personal belief system, your view of religion, and if you belong to a specific tradition within a religion. To answer this question, you must first figure out where you fall on the spectrum of beliefs. So let’s start with some definitions.
Theism - belief in the existence of a god or gods
Atheism - a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods
Agnosticism - the view that any ultimate reality (such as a deity) is unknown and probably unknowable: a philosophical or religious position characterized by uncertainty about the existence of a god or any gods
Animism - the attribution of conscious life to objects in and phenomena of nature or to inanimate objects
Monotheism - the doctrine or belief that there is but one God
Duotheism - the doctrine or belief that there are only two Gods
Pantheism - the worship of all gods of different creeds, cults, or peoples indifferently
Polytheism - belief in or worship of more than one god
Henotheism - the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods
all definitions are from Merriam-Webster except duotheism, which is not in the dictionary
Now that we have some definitions under our belt, let’s take a closer look at each one so we can answer the question of worshiping deities.
The word theism comes from the Greek word theoi , meaning God or Gods . It is a term that was first used by Ralph Cudworth, who said that those who practice theism are “strictly and properly called Theists, who affirm, that a perfectly conscious understanding being, or mind, existing of itself from eternity, was the cause of all other things” (1). Those who ascribe themselves to theism believe in a higher power but do not necessarily give it a name. They do not follow a dogma or religious structure because they are not part of organized religion.
On the other hand, atheism is a complete disregard or disbelief in theism. So, atheists reject the belief in any higher power.
Those who hold an agnostic belief are among a population that does not believe that the existence of any higher power can ever be known or proven. They do not disbelieve, but they do not believe, either. Most who call themselves agnostic believe that leading a religious life can be a positive experience, but they do not live that way themselves.
In our modern world, animism is a harder concept to understand or believe. Put simply, it means that everything on the physical plane has a spirit. This means that the flowers in your garden have a spirit, but so do your electronics. The way we understand animism today is partly due to a Sir Edward Tylor, who said animism is “one of anthropology’s earliest concepts, if not the first” (2). Animism is attributed to the belief systems of most of the world’s indigenous populations and is quite possibly the first recorded system of belief in the world.
Looking at the word, monotheism contains two separate parts - mono meaning one, and theism , which we defined above. The most notable form of monotheism is Christianity, but any Abrahamic faith falls into this category. The most important pillar of monotheism is the belief in only one higher power.
Taking a page from monotheism, we can break down duotheism into its two parts as well - duo meaning two, and theism . Wicca is the most notable form of duotheism - if not the only. Within Wicca, there is the worship of a God and a Goddess.
Pantheists do not believe in a higher power. Instead, those who label themselves as pantheists believe that the divine is in everyone and everything - that reality is identical with divinity. Pantheism is a term that was coined by a man named Joseph Raphson in 1697 (3).
Like monotheism and duotheism, we can break down the word polytheism as well. Poly means many, and theism we defined above. Polytheism is one of the oldest systems of belief, and many faiths still practice polytheism today. There is some debate between the terms soft polytheism and hard polytheism, and if you’re interested, I spoke about that on my podcast. That is not something I am here to discuss today. Polytheism is the belief in more than one god. The most notable forms of polytheism from ancient culture is Hellenism and Asatru. Hellenism is the religion of the ancient people of Greece, and Asatru is the religion of the ancient Vikings and Nordic peoples. There are also religions and belief systems that did not die out that are considered polytheistic - Buddhism and Shinto being two examples.
Henotheism is a belief system that we do not hear too much about. It is not put into practice often, but one example of Henotheism can be found within several traditions of Hinduisms. Within Hinduisms, many individuals worship only one deity out of many but do not deny the existence of the others.
I know that was a lot of information, but we still have yet to answer the main question: do you need to worship a deity?
Depending on your standpoint and your religious belief, the answer could be yes or no. You first need to figure out where you stand in terms of the theisms described above and if you belong to a specific religion and tradition.
Let’s use Wicca as an example. We know from reading above that Wicca is a duotheistic religion. Many traditions within Wicca have deities that are their Lord and Lady. However, since Wicca is duotheistic, the worship of other deities as individual entities is not something that is done. Wiccans often choose other deities to worship and call it soft polytheism , but I believe that soft polytheism is just monotheism or duotheism in disguise. So, within Wicca, you can choose to give names to the Lord and Lady, but ultimately, worship of the Lord and Lady is an inherent part of the framework of the religion.
Within Celtic Paganism
Now, let’s take my faith, for example. I consider myself to be a Celtic Pagan with an emphasis on Welsh and Irish deities. My faith is considered inherently polytheistic due to the vast number of deities and entities that were - and are - worshiped within any Celtic faith. However, my faith can also be described as henotheistic because, while I may believe in all deities, I only worship a select few. However, since my belief is considered polytheistic, belief and worship of at least one deity is a requirement of my faith.
My form of prayer is different from monotheistic beliefs. I believe in all Celtic entities and deities, but I have one Goddess in particular that I worship and give offerings to on a daily basis. Within Celtic Paganism, prayer is different than the traditional Christianity-based method. Using myself as an example, I give an offering to my Goddess every morning to thank Her for the way She moves in my life and the opportunities She has provided to me. This is my form of prayer.
So, should you worship and pray to a deity?
No one can answer this question but you . The only thing I can do is give you a guide and framework to help you formulate your answer. Think about the following questions:
- Do you believe in any gods?
- Do you belong to a religion?
- Does your religion have a set framework for deity worship?
- Does your religion require the belief and worship of a god or gods?
- Do you feel that praying to a deity or worshiping a deity is necessary?
Answering these questions can help guide you to the right answer for you. Most importantly, you want to consult the elders in your tradition to help you make a decision if you are still unsure.
You also need to define what prayer means to you within your beliefs and religious preference. Does it mean sitting down and speaking to your deity? Does it mean lighting a stick of incense as an offering? Does it mean meditation? Does it require multiple performances throughout the day?
Overall, having a deity to worship or pray to is a personal preference, but it is a decision that must be taken in stride with your religious beliefs and the framework of whatever faith you practice. If something does not feel right to you, you may need to reevaluate your religious preferences and beliefs. Like I said above, consult the elders in your faith. Look within yourself to figure out what you believe is the right course of action for your life.
Do you pray to a higher power? If not, why?
Is something holding you back from prayer or worship of a particular deity?
I would like to hear your thoughts and opinions on deity worship and prayer and answer any questions you may have as well.