What did polytheism do?
Polytheism is the belief in many gods. Those gods may be dominated by an overlord or by a small group of powerful gods all with distinctive functions. Polytheism has existed over a long period of human history and has been ever changing as cultures appeared and receded. Polytheism is alive and well and many of the modern world's religions are polytheistic in nature. They include Hinduism (polytheistic elements), Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism, contemporary tribal religions in Africa, Polynesia and the Americas. Polytheistic beliefs can be found in Eastern Europe. The followers are free to live and worship according to their own views, do not live in perpetual hope of salvation, are more focused on their daily life and are not concerned with concepts of absolute truth and strict moral rules. Polytheistic religions are for the most part extremely benign.
Most religions of the world have been polytheistic in contrast with the monotheistic religions such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism that worship a single ruler of the universe. Polytheism was widespread in the ancient world. It predated monotheism by millennia, developing as early as the Neolithic Period, and developed from ancient beliefs in vaguely defined spirits and other supernatural forces that were believed to control earthly events. Many ancient beliefs involving animism, ancestor worship, and spiritual connections with other objects found in the natural world eventually culminated in a culture's belief system. These evolved into a "family" of gods and goddesses with human characteristics and supernatural powers who ruled over human destiny. The gods were thought to be responsible for and in control of every event. The ancient gods of Egypt, Roman and Greek cultures, Aztecs and Scandinavia still fascinate today.
Deities were a part of daily life and could be found in every aspect of living. Particular deities would be chosen as the patrons of cities. Temples and other special places such as grottos and springs were dedicated to various gods. Small offerings would be made daily in the home for special blessings since the gods were believed to influence daily life in all respects. Festivals and celebrations were centered around major deities and their special places. Female deities were always included in the various hierarchies.
Typically, in the ancient world, the number of gods in a culture would expand as a culture expanded. Polytheistic cultures assimilated new gods as they conquered other cultures. When one group conquered another, their deities were absorbed into the existing pantheon and often given high status depending on their particular power. Sometimes, old gods passed into oblivion. It was a defining feature in contrast with more modern monotheistic belief systems whereby they actively seek to convert others to their own way of thinking.
We've all heard (for example) of the Greek mythology and Roman mythology. What not everyone is aware of is that idolatry tended to enable cruel, licentious and excessive behavior, since the caprices which were narrated concerning the idols were adopted as an excuse to imitate those types of behavior.