According to the Hindu religion, Shakti (Sanskrit: meaning force, power or energy) refers to the active, creative and dynamic feminine principle in the universe that is often personified as a goddess, as well as a god's female aspect or consort. In some systems of Hindu thought, Shakti may also be worshiped as the supreme being and principle of the universe ultimately responsible for the creation of the phenomenal world. The concept of Shakti, as both divine energy and as the goddess is of great importance within Tantric philosophy and practice, which places much reverence on the feminine principle of creation.
As said, Shakti is a Hindu religious concept that means feminine power. Although skakti is considered feminine in nature, it is usually reserved as a term used to discuss the power of Hindu goddesses, rather than human females. Shakti is supposedly divine, or sacred feminine power. The sect of Hinduism that devotes to the goddess is known as Shaktism, and a member of this sect is called a shakta.
Shaktism is not the only sect within Hinduism that acknowledges the power and importance of the goddess. Other sects such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism also have a place for shakti. However, in these other sects, shakti is thought of as a complimentary power to that of the corresponding god. In other words, goddesses are the consorts of gods, and thus their shakti is important as a compliment to the male power, virya.
To someone who devotes to Vishnu, or Shiva, shakti is ability, life force, creative, and procreative power. Virya, the power of the male god, is authority, energy that tames, directs, constructs, and gives purpose to the shakti. However, for a shakta, the shakti of the goddess may take a more important role outside of its association with the male force. Within Shaktism, shakti is the true power behind the male god, an abstract and all-pervasive power.
The semantic difference here is subtle. Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish Shaktism is to say that Shaktism devotes to the goddess and her shakti above all else. This concept is more appropriately called Adi Shakti, or the ultimate shakti. Adi Shakti is not just thought of as feminine divine power, but moreover as the ultimate feminine power behind all creation.
Polytheism is belief in, or worship of, multiple gods or divinities. The word comes from the Greek words poly and theoi, literally "many gods." Most ancient religions were polytheistic, holding to pantheons of traditional deities, often accumulated over centuries of cultural interchange and experience. Present-day polytheistic religions include Hinduism, Mahayana, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism in the East, and also contemporary African tribal religions. Note that according to some Hindu literature, there are 330 million (including local and regional) deities or gods worshiped in Hinduism. Some Jewish and Islamic scholars regard the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as bordering on polytheism, a view that Christians strongly reject. In the ancient world Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians worshiped a plurality of deities, as did the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Norse. However, the best-known example of polytheism in ancient times, is arguably Greek/Roman mythology (Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Poseidon, etc.). It is interesting to note that even in polytheistic religions, one god usually reigns supreme over the other gods, e.g., Zeus in Greek/Roman mythology and Brahman in Hinduism.
For the polytheists, deities or gods are formed around a number of aspects of life. These include natural forces and objects such as fertility and atmospheric forces; vegetation such as trees, herbs, and vineyards; animal and human forms such as serpents, cattle, and animal - human hybrids; and assorted functions such as love, agriculture, healing, and war, etc. In short, polytheists adore and worship the created world as divine rather then the creator God himself.
However, there are some serious philosophical problems when thinking about the definition of God in relation to polytheistic beliefs. By the broadest definition in most dictionaries, God refers to the supreme being that is above everything else. By very definition, this requires that it be only One being. The reasoning is that if this being was just another one of many gods, He would not necessarily be the highest or supreme. A polytheist might reply that there is one highest God with multiple lesser gods (i.e. Henotheism). However, this is still in contrast to the definition because those lesser beings cannot be referred to as "God", simply because they are not the supreme being. The definition of a supreme God demands that He is One.
Some argue that the Bible teaches polytheism in the Old Testament. Admittedly, several passages refer to "gods" in the plural (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 10:17; 13:2; Psalm 82:6; Daniel 2:47). Ancient Israel fully understood that there was only one true God, but they often did not live as if they believed that to be true, continually falling into idolatry and the worship of foreign gods. So what are we to make of these and other passages that speak of multiple gods? It is important to note that the Hebrew word Elohim was used to refer to the one true God and to false gods/idols. It functioned almost identically to the English word "God."
Describing something as a "god" does not mean you believe it to be a divine being. The vast majority of Old Testament Scriptures which speak of gods are speaking of false gods, those who claim to be gods but are not. This concept is summarized in 2 Kings 19:18: "They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands." Notice Psalm 82:6, "I said, 'You are "gods" you are all sons of the Most High.' But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler."
The Bible clearly teaches against polytheism. Deuteronomy 6:4 tells us, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." Psalm 96:5 declares, "For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens." James 2:19 says, "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and tremble." There is only one God.
There are false gods and those who pretend to be gods, but there is only one true God. Although the Bible does not use the term, it is clear that God is a triune God, or three in one. These are referred to as God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The first hint of the Trinity is in Genesis 1:26 which relates God saying, "Let us make man in our image", indicating that God is a plurality. Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." The three persons of God are treated as equivalents in these words of Jesus shortly after His resurrection:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." - Matthew 28:19
In examining Scripture, two facts become clear. First, God is a Spirit and does not possess human characteristics or limitations. Second, all the evidence contained in Scripture agrees that God revealed Himself to mankind in a male form. To begin, God's true nature needs to be understood. God is a Person, obviously, because God exhibits all the characteristics of personhood: God has a mind, a will, an intellect, and emotions. God communicates and He has relationships, and God's personal actions are evidenced throughout Scripture.
As John 4:24 states, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." Since God is a spiritual being, He does not possess physical human characteristics. However, sometimes figurative language used in Scripture assigns human characteristics to God in order to make it possible for man to understand God. This assignment of human characteristics to describe God is called "anthropomorphism." Anthropomorphism is simply a means for God (a spiritual being) to communicate truth about His nature to humanity, physical beings. Since humanity is physical, we are limited in our understanding of those things beyond the physical realm; therefore, anthropomorphism in Scripture helps us to understand who God is.
Some of the difficulty comes in examining the fact that humanity is created in God's image. Genesis 1:26-27 says, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."
Both man and woman are created in the image of God, in that they are greater than all the other creations as they, like God, have a mind, will, intellect, emotions, and moral capacity. Animals do not possess a moral capacity and do not possess an immaterial component like humanity does. The image of God is the spiritual component that humanity alone possesses. God created humanity to have a relationship with Him. Humanity is the only creation designed for that purpose.
That said, man and woman are only patterned after the image of God—they are not tiny "copies" of God. The fact that there are men and women does not require God to have male and female features. Remember, being made in the image of God has nothing to do with physical characteristics.
We know that God is a spiritual being and does not possess physical characteristics. This does not limit, however, how God may choose to reveal Himself to humanity. Scripture contains all the revelation God gave to humanity about Himself, and so it is the only objective source of information about God. In looking at what Scripture tells us, there are several observations of evidence about the form in which God revealed Himself to humanity.
Scripture contains approximately 170 references to God as the "Father." By necessity, one cannot be a father unless one is male. If God had chosen to be revealed to man in a female form, then the word "mother" would have occurred in these places, not "father." In the Old and New Testaments, masculine pronouns are used over and over again in reference to God.
Jesus Christ referred to God as the Father several times and in other cases used masculine pronouns in reference to God. In the Gospels alone, Christ uses the term "Father" in direct reference to God nearly 160 times. Of particular interest is Christ's statement in John 10:30: "I and the Father are one." Obviously, Jesus Christ came in the form of a human man to die on the cross as payment for the sins of the world. Like God the Father, Jesus was revealed to humanity in a male form. Scripture records numerous other instances where Christ utilized masculine nouns and pronouns in reference to God.
The New Testament Epistles (from Acts to Revelation) also contain nearly 900 verses where the word theos—a masculine noun in the Greek—is used in direct reference to God. In countless references to God in Scripture, there is clearly a consistent pattern of His being referred to with masculine titles, nouns, and pronouns. While God is not a man, He chose a masculine form in order to reveal Himself to humanity. Likewise, Jesus Christ, who is constantly referred to with masculine titles, nouns, and pronouns, took a male form while He walked on the earth. The prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament refer to both God and Jesus Christ with masculine names and titles. God chose to be revealed in this form in order for man to more easily grasp who He is.