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Cult (religious practice)

Cult (religious practice)

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In traditional usage, the cult of a religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

, quite apart from its sacred writings ("scriptures"), its theology
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 or myth
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

s, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety
Impiety
Impiety is classically a lack of proper concern for the obligations owed to public religious observation or cult. Impiety was a main Pagan objection to Christianity, for unlike other initiates into mystery religions, early Christians refused to cast a pinch of incense before the images of the gods,...

. Cult in this primary sense is literally the "care" (Latin cultus) owed to the god and the shrine. In the specific context of Greek hero cult
Greek hero cult
Hero cults were one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion. In Homeric Greek, "hero" refers to a man who was fighting on either side during the Trojan War...

, Carla Antonaccio has written, "The term cult identifies a pattern of ritual behavior in connection with specific objects, within a framework of spatial and temporal coordinates. Ritual behavior would include (but not necessarily be limited to) prayer, sacrifice, votive offerings, competitions, processions and construction of monuments. Some degree of recurrence in place and repetition over time of ritual action is necessary for cult to be enacted, to be practiced"

Cult is embodied in ritual
Ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

 and ceremony
Ceremony
A ceremony is an event of ritual significance, performed on a special occasion. The word may be of Etruscan origin.-Ceremonial occasions:A ceremony may mark a rite of passage in a human life, marking the significance of, for example:* birth...

. Its present or former presence is made concrete in temple
Temple
A temple is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities, such as prayer and sacrifice, or analogous rites. A templum constituted a sacred precinct as defined by a priest, or augur. It has the same root as the word "template," a plan in preparation of the building that was marked out...

s, shrine
Shrine
A shrine is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated....

s and churches, and cult image
Cult image
In the practice of religion, a cult image is a human-made object that is venerated for the deity, spirit or daemon that it embodies or represents...

s (denigrated by Christians as "idols
Cult image
In the practice of religion, a cult image is a human-made object that is venerated for the deity, spirit or daemon that it embodies or represents...

") and votive deposits at votive site
Votive site
Votive sites are sites where animal sacrifice in the form of bones deposited in a split in a block of stone or beneath a cairn are made.The sites strongly resemble graves or tombs, however no human bones are found. Such finds are made in Hallstatt culture sites, and they presumably also represent...

s.

By extension, "cult" has come to connote the total cultural
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 aspects of a religion, as they are distinguished from others through change and individualization.

The comparative study of cult practice is part of the disciplines of the anthropology of religion
Anthropology of religion
The anthropology of religion involves the study of religious institutions in relation to other social institutions, and the comparison of religious beliefs and practices across cultures.-History:...

 and the sociology of religion
Sociology of religion
The sociology of religion concerns the role of religion in society: practices, historical backgrounds, developments and universal themes. There is particular emphasis on the recurring role of religion in all societies and throughout recorded history...

, two aspects of comparative religion
Comparative religion
Comparative religion is a field of religious studies that analyzes the similarities and differences of themes, myths, rituals and concepts among the world's religions...

. In the context of many religious organisations themselves, the study of cultic or liturgical practises
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 is called liturgiology
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

.

Etymology


The term "cult" first appeared in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 in 1617, derived from the French culte, meaning "worship
Worship
Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity. The word is derived from the Old English worthscipe, meaning worthiness or worth-ship — to give, at its simplest, worth to something, for example, Christian worship.Evelyn Underhill defines worship thus: "The absolute...

" or "a particular form of worship" which in turn originated from the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 word cultus meaning "care, cultivation, worship," originally "tended, cultivated," as in the past participle of colere "to till the soil". In French, for example, sections in newspapers giving the schedule of worship at Catholic churches are headed Culte Catholique; the section giving the schedule of Protestant churches is headed culte réformé.

The meaning "devotion to a person or thing" is from 1829. Starting about 1920, "cult" acquired an additional six or more connotatively positive and negative definitions that are separately discussed in the article Cult
Cult
The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices...

.

Roman Catholic cultus


In Roman Catholicism, cultus or cult is the technical term for the following Catholic devotions
Catholic devotions
A Roman Catholic devotion is a gift of oneself, or one's activities to God. It is a willingness and desire to dedicate oneself to serve God; either in terms of prayers or in terms of a set of pious acts such as the adoration of God or the veneration of the saints or the Virgin Mary.Roman Catholic...

 or veneration extended to a particular saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

.

Some Christians make distinctions between worship
Latria
Latrīa is a Latin term used in Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology to mean adoration, a reverence directed only to the Holy Trinity. Latria carries an emphasis on the internal form of worship, rather than external ceremonies.-Catholic teachings:In Catholic teachings, latria also applies...

 and veneration, both of which can be outwardly expressed in a similar manner. Catholicism
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 and Eastern Orthodoxy distinguish between worship (Latin adoratio, Greek latreia [λατρεια]) which is only acceptable to be offered to God alone, and veneration
Veneration
Veneration , or veneration of saints, is a special act of honoring a saint: an angel, or a dead person who has been identified by a church committee as singular in the traditions of the religion. It is practiced by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic, and Eastern Catholic Churches...

(Latin veneratio, Greek doulia [δουλεια]), which may be offered to the saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

s. These distinctions between deity and mediators are exhaustively treated at the entries for latria
Latria
Latrīa is a Latin term used in Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology to mean adoration, a reverence directed only to the Holy Trinity. Latria carries an emphasis on the internal form of worship, rather than external ceremonies.-Catholic teachings:In Catholic teachings, latria also applies...

 and dulia.

Cult practice


Among the observances in the cult are ritual
Ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

s, ceremonies
Ceremony
A ceremony is an event of ritual significance, performed on a special occasion. The word may be of Etruscan origin.-Ceremonial occasions:A ceremony may mark a rite of passage in a human life, marking the significance of, for example:* birth...

, liturgy
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 or audits, which may involve spoken or sung words, and often involve personal sacrifice
Sacrifice
Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or people to God or the gods as an act of propitiation or worship.While sacrifice often implies ritual killing, the term offering can be used for bloodless sacrifices of cereal food or artifacts...

. Other manifestations of the cult of a deity are the preservation of relic
Relic
In religion, a relic is a part of the body of a saint or a venerated person, or else another type of ancient religious object, carefully preserved for purposes of veneration or as a tangible memorial...

s or the creation of images, such as icon
Icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

s (usually connoting a flat painted image) or three-dimensional cultic image
Cult image
In the practice of religion, a cult image is a human-made object that is venerated for the deity, spirit or daemon that it embodies or represents...

s, denigrated as "idol
Cult image
In the practice of religion, a cult image is a human-made object that is venerated for the deity, spirit or daemon that it embodies or represents...

s", and the specification of sacred places, hilltops and mountains, fissures and caves, springs, pools and groves, or even individual trees or stones, which may be the seat of an oracle
Oracle
In Classical Antiquity, an oracle was a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods. As such it is a form of divination....

 or the venerated site of a vision
Vision (religion)
In spirituality, a vision is something seen in a dream, trance, or ecstasy, especially a supernatural appearance that conveys a revelation.Visions generally have more clarity than dreams, but traditionally fewer psychological connotations...

, apparition, miracle
Miracle
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

 or other occurrence commemorated or recreated in cult practices. Sacred
Sacred
Holiness, or sanctity, is in general the state of being holy or sacred...

 places may be identified and elaborated by construction of shrine
Shrine
A shrine is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated....

s and temple
Temple
A temple is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities, such as prayer and sacrifice, or analogous rites. A templum constituted a sacred precinct as defined by a priest, or augur. It has the same root as the word "template," a plan in preparation of the building that was marked out...

s, on which are centered public attention at religious festival
Religious festival
A religious festival is a time of special importance marked by adherents to that religion. Religious festivals are commonly celebrated on recurring cycles in a calendar year or lunar calendar...

s and which may become the center for pilgrimage
Pilgrimage
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of great moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith...

s.

Cult centers


Many cities in the Ancient Near East
Ancient Near East
The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia , ancient Egypt, ancient Iran The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia...

 were home to the cult centers of certain deities, such as Marduk
Marduk
Marduk was the Babylonian name of a late-generation god from ancient Mesopotamia and patron deity of the city of Babylon, who, when Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley in the time of Hammurabi , started to...

 in Babylon
Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

 or Ptah
Ptah
In Ancient Egyptian Religion, Ptah was the deification of the primordial mound in the Ennead cosmogony, which was more literally referred to as Ta-tenen , meaning risen land, or as Tanen, meaning submerged land, though Tatenen was a god in his...

 in Memphis
Memphis, Egypt
Memphis was the ancient capital of Aneb-Hetch, the first nome of Lower Egypt. Its ruins are located near the town of Helwan, south of Cairo.According to legend related by Manetho, the city was founded by the pharaoh Menes around 3000 BC. Capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, it remained an...

.

Further reading

  • Larson, Jennifer, Greek Heroine Cults (1995)
  • Larson, Jennifer, Ancient Greek Cults: A Guide (2007). Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-32448-9