Polytheism is the belief in more than one god or goddess. The word is formed from two Greek words: “poly,” meaning “many,” and “theoi,” meaning “gods.”
Polytheism is a type of theism that is contrasted with monotheism, the belief in one supreme deity or god. There are polytheistic religions that are practiced today, such as Hinduism. In history, there have been many. Some of the classical religions of Greece and the Norse religions of Scandinavia are examples of polytheistic traditions that are mostly not practiced anymore.
Henotheism, like the word polytheism, has a Greek origin. It also refers to the belief in one god. However, it admits the possible existence of other gods. It doesn’t actively deny the presence of other divine forces and their possibility. It doesn’t deny that they might deserve credit and recognition in the merit of worship.
In some cases with the derivative subcategory of henotheism known as kathenotheism, this heartily affirms more than one god but only one at a time, as the Greek terms “kath'” and “hena” suggest.
Many scholars have categorized and described Hinduism as an example of polytheism. However, given the many nuances and the subtleties of the tradition, the term henotheism has become an acceptable and accurate description. Schelling applied the term to Hinduism, finding that it addressed the nuance of the monotheistic tendencies of certain Hindu traditions.
Many branches of Hinduism honor one supreme deity or god while at the same time recognizing their avatars or manifestations by other names. In general, it is agreed that the term henotheism addresses religions in their early phases of monotheism. This is true with Vaishnavism. This branch of Hinduism is sometimes thought to be a more recent expression of Hinduism’s underlying monotheistic orientation, in this case, with Vishnu as the supreme deity.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.