Polytheism v Monotheism
Polytheism believes in a metadivine realm, an existince prior to the existence of the gods(water, smoke, fire, fate etc) that the gods were under the domain of and under the decree of and under the dependence of. This is the supreme and ultimate realm and it transcends the deities who are under the laws and power of this metadivine realm. So the gods are limited, there is no absolute divine will and authority. They are not all knowing and all wise since this medadivine realm which is often mysterious and all too powerfull for the gods. The gods can also be limited by the activities of other gods, spirits or natural forces.
Polytheism relies on mytholgy, the stories of the gods. The gods have a begining where they are born and can die and even re-born. Theogony(the stories of the birth of the gods) is a common concept among paganism. Usually the metadivine realm is where the gods are born or emerge and usually this is where all life forms and natural existence came into existence.
Polytheism therefore has a fluid boundary between the divine, human and natural world since they all emerge from the same primordial(before existence) material, the metadivine realm that was in existence before everything. The gods are like exaggerated human beings. Therefore gods and nature are very similar and intertwine with one another such as the god of fire or the god of fertility or war or the god of the ocean or moon etc. So not much difference between the worshiping of god or the worshiping of nature. Hence gods can form or become humans and vice versa since there is a commonality between the gods and nature and humans. Often after death certain humans can become gods and some gods can becomee humans or spirits and so on. There is a fluid relationship between them.
Divine power according to paganism is conceived on material things usually the stuff the primordial existence is made of. Power can thus be attained by manipulating these material things connected to the metadivine realm such as fire, smoke, water etc. These divine powers can be attained through magic or rituals and humans can tap into these divine powers. This power can then be used to circumvent the gods and force them to do what they otherwise wouldn't do. So being able to manipulate these natural or material forces can influence the behavior of the gods since the gods themselves are under the domain of these primordial forces. These powers of manipulation can also protect humans from the gods and the evil spirits etc. Its the metadivine realm that contains the ultimate power and the gods can be used as a medium in some cases to tap into the metadivine realm. Blood, flesh and water and all this material forces that have some connection with the metadivine realm can be used and manipulated to influence the gods and seek protection from harm.
Pagan rituals and festivals often are reenactments of the death or birth of the gods or battles and major events in the life of the gods. This will bring about the powers of the gods and can be used to continue the birth and fertility of life and bring about victories in battles and so on. These reenactments were a way to continue the divine powers and favors. Since the primordial forces(metadivine realm) is what everything, including the gods, emerge from, the primordial forces are resposnsible for all good and bad. So there are good gods and evil gods that often battle one another and interact with one another. Death and disease are confined to these evil spirits who are like sibblings of the good gods. Humans can only rely on magic and rituals to reach the powers of the metadivine to protect them against these evil gods and spirits. Once again the need to circumvent these gods and spirits by connecting with the metadivine where all powers finally rests.
As far as montheism, well you know that better than I do.
That God is absolute, all knowing, a force of only good, and is supreme over all others and things and is complete distinct from nature and eternal and was always is. Everything fall under His will and nature is an expression of His will and there is no blurring between God, nature and man. God is completely distinct yet in full command.
A brilliant lecture video from Yale.
Norse creation story
Hinduism creation story
Ancient Egyptian creation story
Ancient Greek creation story
The Incas creation story
Germanic creation story
All these shirk creation stories gives us a theological foundation that Shrik is built upon. They all follow this common theme. So we can see that many Muslim understanding of shirk is not accurate. Shrik is not about tawassul and praying to saints. Shrik is less about elevating humans than it is about demoting God. Shrik is an act of mockery of God and downplaying and even denying His role in creation and His dominion over the universe. This is why shirk is unforgiveable since its an act od rebelion and mcokery of God and really nothing else. No mushrik will believe God has dominian over the universe and existence. God in shirk is under the same limitations as anyone of us. He can be circumvented and challenged. He can be frustrated in His will. Shirk is a major theological departure from the theology of the Quran. They are in fact oppossite extremes of one another.
Kitaab At-Tawheed, Chapter: 39
Allah's Words: " They Know the Favours of Allah,
Then They Deny Them"
" They know the favours of Allah, then they deny them: And most of them are disbelievers" (Qur'an 16:83)
In this verse, Allah , Most Glorified, Most High, rejects all those who recognize in their hearts that all blessings are from Allah , and yet in spite of this, they deny them by their evil deeds, worshipping other than Him and by their words, saying: "We achieved these blessings from Allah , through the intercession of our idols," or they say: "It is our inheritance from our fathers and our grandfathers." And Allah , Most High, informs us also that all those who do so are disbelievers in Allah and deniers of His Blessings.
Benefits Derived From This Verse
1. That even the pagans believed in Tawheed Ar-Ruboobiyyah (i.e. that Allah is the One Rabb, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe).
2. That gratitude to Allah is not complete unless it is expressed in belief, word and deed.
3. That using the blessings of Allah for the purpose of disobedience to Him is to deny them.
This is simply not true. The pagans by definition do not believe in the so called tawheed al ruboobiya. There are verses in the Quran that tell us when the pagans were asked who was the creator they will say God and that when they were asked who is the sustainer they will say God. But they continue in their shirk. This is the same as asking a Hindu who is the creator he wil also say God but they understand God differently than how the Quran understands God. Many also may not believe in the pagan dieties but simply follow because of tradition or get defensive. This is becaue pagans have ridiculous creation stories that look more like a comical drama and thus they often get defensive. But to assume that because of such verses that the pagans Arab theology believed in tawheed al ruboobiya but simply practiced tawassul is signalling a real lack of understanding of what shirk is.
Zoroastrian (Persian paganism) Creation Story
This story is taken from the Book of Creation, the Bundahishn, which dates from the 6th century AD.
In the beginning, there was nothing in the world except Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, who lived in the Endless Light. And the Evil Spirit, Ahriman, who lived in the Absolute Darkness. Between them lay only emptiness.
One day, Ahura Mazda decided to make different creations. First He shaped the sky made of metal, shinning and bright. Second, He made the pure water. Third, the Wise Lord created the Earth, flat and round with no mountains and valleys. Fourth, He made the plants, moist and sweet with no bark or thorn. Fifth, he created the animals, big and small. Then he created the First Man, Gayomard, bright, tall, and handsome. And lastly, he created Fire and distributed it within the whole creation. The Wise Lord ordered Fire to serve the mankind in preparing food and overcoming cold.
The Evil Spirit peeked out of his dark world to see the Wise Lord’s beautiful creations. The Wise Lord called him and said, "Evil Spirit! Aid my creatures and give them praise so that you will be immortal."
The Evil Spirit snarled, "Why should I aid your creatures? Why should I praise them? I am more powerful! I will destroy you and your creatures for ever and ever." Then he crawled back to his dark side to shape demons, witches, and monsters to attack the Endless Light.
The Wise Lord was All-knowing. He knew the Evil Spirit was making demons to destroy His good creations, and He also knew there would be a great battle with the Dark. So the Wise Lord fashioned six Spirits-the Holy Immortals- to guard His creations against the Endless Dark. The Wise Lord shaped the Holy Immortals from His own soul, each having His own nature.
The first Holy Spirit was Khashathra, the Righteous Power, who became the guardian of the sky. Then the Wise Lord created Haurvatat, the Peace and Perfection. She became the protector of waters. Next was Spenta Armaiti, the Holy Devotion. She guarded the Earth. The other Holy Spirit, Ameretat, the Immortality, became the protector of plants. Vohu Manah, the Good Mind, was the fifth Holy Spirit. He chose to protect the animals. And Asha Vahishta, the Justice, became the guardian of Fire. Lastly, the Wise Lord made His own Holy Spirit the protector of the mankind.
Ahriman saw the Wise Lord’s Holy Immortals and was enraged. He cried, "Ahura Mazda! I will destroy you and all your creations. You will never be victorious!"
So, he and his demons attacked the God’s creations one by one.
They tried to destroy the water but they could only bring bitterness to it. They tried to destroy the Earth but they could only put mountains and valleys. They tried to wither the plants but the plants only grew horns.
The Evil Spirit and his demons brought sadness against happiness, pain against pleasure, pollution against purification and death against life. They attacked Gayomard, the First man, and gave him sickness and death.
The Evil Spirit thought he had destroyed the mankind and became victorious against the Light! But he was ignorant and foolish.
When Gayomard, the First Man, died from his bones grew a rhubarb plant. After forty years, a man and a woman, Mashya and Mashyana, grew out of the rhubarb plant. Mashya and Mashyana promised the Wise Lord that their children would help Him in His battle with Ahriman. Mashyana then gave birth to fifteen twins and every pair scattered around the world and became a race.
Then each person followed the good thoughts, good deeds, and good words. Each became the follower of the Wise Lord in His battle with the Evil Spirit.