A deity or god is a supernatural being considered divine or sacred. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines deity as "a god or goddess (in a polytheistic religion)", or anything revered as divine. C. Scott Littleton defines a deity as "a being with powers greater than those of ordinary humans, but who interacts with humans, positively or negatively, in ways that carry humans to new levels of consciousness, beyond the grounded preoccupations of ordinary life". In the English language, a male deity is referred to as a god, while a female deity is referred to as a goddess.
A deity is typically conceptualized as a supernatural or divine concept, manifesting in ideas and knowledge, in a form that combines excellence in some or all aspects, wrestling with weakness and questions in other aspects, heroic in outlook and actions, yet tied up with emotions and desires. In other cases, the deity is a principle or reality such as the idea of "soul". The Upanishads of Hinduism, for example, characterize Atman (soul, self) as deva (deity), thereby asserting that the deva and eternal supreme principle (Brahman) is part of every living creature, that this soul is spiritual and divine, and that to realize self-knowledge is to know the supreme.
In Southern African cultures, a similar masculine-feminine deity combination has appeared in other forms, particularly as the Moon and Sun deities. One Southern African cosmology consists of Hieseba or Xuba (deity, god), Gaune (evil spirits) and Khuene (people). The Hieseba includes Nladiba (male, creator sky god) and Nladisara (females, Nladiba's two wives). The Sun (female) and the Moon (male) deities are viewed as offspring of Nladiba and two Nladisara. The Sun and Moon are viewed as manifestations of the supreme deity, and worship is timed and directed to them. In other African cultures the Sun is seen as male, while the Moon is female, both symbols of the godhead. In Zimbabwe, the supreme deity is androgynous with male-female aspects, envisioned as the giver of rain, treated simultaneously as the god of darkness and light and is called Mwari Shona. In the Lake Victoria region, the term for a deity is Lubaale, or alternatively Jok.
Besides the Olympians, the Greeks also worshipped various local deities. Among these were the goat-legged god Pan (the guardian of shepherds and their flocks), Nymphs (nature spirits associated with particular landforms), Naiads (who dwelled in springs), Dryads (who were spirits of the trees), Nereids (who inhabited the sea), river gods, satyrs (a class of lustful male nature spirits), and others. The dark powers of the underworld were represented by the Erinyes (or Furies), said to pursue those guilty of crimes against blood-relatives.
Ancient Roman scholars such as Varro and Cicero wrote treatises on the nature of gods of their times. Varro stated, in his Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum, that it is the superstitious man who fears the gods, while the truly religious person venerates them as parents. Cicero, in his Academica, praised Varro for this and other insights. According to Varro, there have been three accounts of deities in the Roman society: the mythical account created by poets for theatre and entertainment, the civil account used by people for veneration as well as by the city, and the natural account created by the philosophers. The best state is, adds Varro, where the civil theology combines the poetic mythical account with the philosopher's. The Roman deities continued to be revered in Europe through the era of Constantine, and past 313 CE when he issued the Edict of Toleration.
The theological examination of Jesus Christ, of divine grace in incarnation, his non-transferability and completeness has been a historic topic. For example, the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE declared that in "one person Jesus Christ, fullness of deity and fullness of humanity are united, the union of the natures being such that they can neither be divided nor confused". Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament, is the self-disclosure of the one, true God, both in his teaching and in his person; Christ, in Christian faith, is considered the incarnation of God.
The classical presentation of Judaism has been as a monotheistic faith that rejected deities and related idolatry. However, states Breslauer, modern scholarship suggests that idolatry was not absent in biblical faith, and it resurfaced multiple times in Jewish religious life. The rabbinic texts and other secondary Jewish literature suggest worship of material objects and natural phenomena through the medieval era, while the core teachings of Judaism maintained monotheism.
Stories of encounters with supernatural beings are especially likely to be retold, passed on, and embellished due to their descriptions of standard ontological categories (person, artifact, animal, plant, natural object) with counterintuitive properties (humans that are invisible, houses that remember what happened in them, etc.). As belief in deities spread, humans may have attributed anthropomorphic thought processes to them, leading to the idea of leaving offerings to the gods and praying to them for assistance, ideas which are seen in all cultures around the world.