In the beginning, there were many gods and goddesses. Many of them were associated with Nature, agriculture, and fertility. Although the names obviously varied depending on language, culture, and the daily experiences encountered in different environments, it was generally universal to have deities for rain, fire, wind, rivers, sun, moon, plant growth, harvest, hunting, the fecundity of crops and people, and many more occurrences of what likely seemed like magic to the ancients.
When you come down to the basic reason that the concept of deity exists, it's most probably because humans facing the mysterious cycles and processes of survival created goddesses and gods to explain how the universe worked.
It wasn't a far leap after that for humans to invent sacrifice, prayer, and divine intercession -- that is, rituals and beliefs designed to placate the deities, earn favor, or at least avoid punishment.
In the era of pre-history, it was the tribal shamans who played a central role in creating deities. Shamans were the observers of Nature, and the experimental scientists who increased knowledge from generation to generation, as well as the storytellers who translated their understandings into the simple explanations that made sense to their people.
Community rituals likely developed originally when tribal leaders turned to their shaman for answers to manage mass fear and create a kind of all for one / one for all unity that was so necessary for the survival of the tribe.
Over time, these rituals and explanations became cemented in the collective consciousness as inviolable truths, as humans lost touch with the inherent need for explanation of the great mysteries of Nature.
Do We Still Needs Goddesses and Gods?
Depending on your pagan or witchcraft tradition, the answer may be yes. While some simplify their deities to the Goddess and her consort the God, representing the eternal forces of the receptive (yin) and the active (yang) principles in nature, others that are especially culturally based work with a pantheon of deities representing a range of supernatural powers.
Since there are many of these, I can't speak of all of them here. But most readers are likely familiar with some of these Greco-Roman or Norse deities such as:
Athena - goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, law and justice
Apollo - god of music, poetry, art, oracles, medicine, sun, and knowledge
Ceres - goddess of agriculture, grains, harvest, motherlove,
Diana - goddess of hunting, the natural environment, childbirth protector
Hermes - god of travel, writing, language, and trade
Loki - god of magic and mischief, problem solving, and shapeshifting
Freya - goddess of love and fertility, sex, battle, and pleasure
Balder - god of joy, light, purity, beauty, innocence and reconciliation
Odin - god of war and death, poetry, wisdom, magic, ruler of all gods
Many pagan circles and solitary practitioners align with certain goddesses and gods as a way to be spiritually supported in their rituals. Deities serve as guardians of the directions to help protect practitioners against psychic attacks, and to empower magickal workings.
For those who are mixing deities from different cultures, there are some cautions. This article addresses what you should know.
Shamanic practitioners on the Native American path tend not to work with deities if they are following the pure red road. Instead, we work with shamanic spirit guides -- archetypal energies that form the character and behavior traits of the animal world. Some shamanic practitioners may also work with personal or tribal ancestors, or spirit beings who are teachers and healers, and may appear in humanoid form. Such guides, teachers, and healer are never consider gods or goddesses, angels, archangels, or ascended masters, as those concepts are not part of the Native North American cosmology.
Shown in the image for this blog is the Triple Goddess -- Maiden, Mother Crone, the three ages of woman, as well as the three main phases of the moon. The Triple Goddess is a kind of pagan trinity, representing the innocence, life-giving qualities, and wisdom of experience that form the basis for feminine and feminist energy, mystery, and psychic ability.