Tantra often involves working with specific deities or conceptions of divine powers. However, tantric practice is different than worship in a traditional sense. A tantric practitioner may also worship deities in a more ordinary sense, but just also engages in tantric practice as well. In many ways, self-divinization is the key to Tantra. Tantra is about finding the divinity within. So, they say, “To worship God, you must become God.” The aim of tantric deity work then is not so much to worship a deity, but to invoke their attitude, energy, and power into oneself.
“The Tantra contains nothing like idolatry or ‘worship of the doll’ which we, taking the cue from the Christian missionaries, nowadays call it. This truth, the author, Arthur Avalon, has made very clear in the introduction to his translation. The Tantra repeatedly says that one is to adore the Deity by becoming a Deity (Devatā) himself.” – Sir John Woodroffe, Shakti and Shakta, p. 19
“In tantric worship, which is generally referred to as sādhanā,or spiritual exercise,the aspirant seeks to achieve an awakened or enlightened state of consciousness through techniques that are physical, mental, ritualistic, and spiritual at the same time. A central theme in tantric sādhanā is the identification of the macrocosm with the microcosm, which is represented by the human organism, specifically by the sādhaka, the practitioner or adept. Through meditation techniques, rituals, images, mantras, yantras, and maṇḍalas (schematic diagrams), the adept systematically identifies parts, aspects, or dimensions of himself or herself with parts, aspects, or dimensions of the cosmos. The deities are thought of as aspects of the cosmos that correspond to aspects of the human organism—mental, physical, or both. The aim of tantric sādhanā is to establish identity with the deity worshiped, to appropriate that deity, or to awaken that deity within onself, and then to offer it pūjā, which in effect means worshipping the divinity within oneself. Or, conversely, one worships the deity residing within the hope of awakening in oneself the reality that it represents.” – Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine, David Kinsley
Deities may be visualized in their anthropomorphic forms, but they are understood as ultimately consisting of kinds of conscious forces. Working with a deity can be a way of raising and cultivating the One Energy of Śakti within oneself or may be a way of bringing some of the specific qualities of certain conscious forces more into one’s life or space.
A Tantric practitioner may work with many deities or only a few. Different lineages will have their own pantheons of possibilities and may even have specific procedures for when, how, and why each deity may be invoked. Some examples may be: Gaṇeśa, Kālī, Durgā, Śiva, Rudra, Bhairava, Lalitā, Mātaṅgī, Vārāhī, Tārā and the deities of the various planets.