Meanings of ambiguous terms
beginning with the letters "S" to "W"
Satanism, Satanic, Satanist:
||In the past, these terms referred to an artificially
religion that was invented by the Christian church during the late Middle Ages.
Members were called witches They were portrayed as Satan worshipers, and perpetrators of Satanic
Ritual Abuse. This gave a theological justification to the burning and
hanging of heretics and others.
||Satanism today generally refers to religious Satanists. Some belong to
an organized group, like the Church of Satan, the Temple of
Set, etc. Others are solitary practitioners who have little or no
contact with organized Satanic groups. Many are
Agnostics who base their beliefs on a pre-Christian nature/fertility concept.
Many do not worship Satan as a living entity.
||Satanism is sometimes used to refer to a type of eclectic practice
engaged in by some teens and young adults, involving Satanic, Wiccan, and
other rituals and beliefs.
They are often referred to as "dabbling" in Satanism.
They incorporate any ritual, symbol, belief or practice which seems
right to the practitioner.
||Some conservative Christians define followers
of religions other than Judaism and Christianity as
worshipers of Satan. This is backed up by at least one verse from the
Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and two form the Christian Scriptures
||This term is sometimes used to refer to the belief that the Christian God
is a unity, not a Trinity. This was a near-universal belief in the very early
Christian movement, but was narrowly voted down at an early church council in
the fourth century CE. By popular vote, and a bit
of political arm twisting, God was perceived as multiple persons in one
||A more common modern usage is to refer to the members and congregations
associated with the Unitarian Universalist Association
(UUA) in the U.S. or the Canadian Unitarian Council in Canada. They promote a creedless religion in which members
are expected to develop their
personal spirituality, moral standards and religious beliefs. The purpose of
the minister in Unitarian congregations is not to teach what the
membership should believe. It is to help the congregation develop
spiritually and religiously. Many articles
and books by non UUA members mistakenly propagate the belief that the UUA
teaches the unity of God. In fact, most UUA followers are Humanists and do not
believe in a personal deity.
||This sometimes refers to a belief that everyone
will be eventually saved and go to heaven. This was considered a heresy
in the ancient Christian
movement. However, many Christian denominations are now downplaying the concept
of Hell as a place of eternal torture, and are beginning to accept the concept
||In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old
Testament) the term referred to the concept that God was more than the
tribal God of the
ancient Israelites; he was the God of all creation.
||In modern times, the
term has sometimes referred to a
liberal religious denomination which joined with the American
Unitarian Association to form the UUA.
||This often is used to refer to an artificial, non-existent religion
created by Hollywood movie producers for their horror movies. It is a religion
filled with zombies, dolls with pins, black magic, etc.
||It is used to refer to Vodun, which is a legitimate religion from the
Caribbean. It is a syncretistic religion which merged Roman Catholic beliefs
with Western Africa Native spirituality. More details.
||"Voodoo" is sometimes used as a derisive term to refer to a
practice that is without scientific merit. For example,
Recovered Memory Therapy and Multiple Personality Disorder have been referred to as
These words have have many unrelated meanings. We have counted 17 to date. One pair of
definitions are opposites:
||A Gothic Satanist; a worshiper of Satan who, during the late
Middle Ages and Renaissance, was believed to use black magic to harm
by involving the aid of Satan and his demonic hordes. Gothic
Satanists didn't exist
then and don't exist today.
||A Wiccan; a follower of Wicca, a
reconstruction of an ancient European Celtic religion. Wiccans are
prohibited from using magic to harm others; they do not believe in the
existence of Satan or demons.
Another pair of common definitions are also mutually exclusive:
||A woman of such incredible beauty that she bewitches others.
||A woman of incredible ugliness; a hag.
There are at least a dozen other unrelated
The meanings of religious symbols:
Religious words and symbols have no inherent meaning. The only acquire
the meanings that individuals and groups give to them. For example:
||Late in the year 2000, a third grade student in a Maine public school wore a
sweatshirt which displayed the name "Jesus Christ" in large
letters. To her, the name represented the name of her Lord and Savior.
Some of her fellow students objected to her clothing; to them,
"Jesus Christ" is a swear phrase -- something that should not
be allowed in school. Others found it funny because one of their
fellow students has Jesus as a first name. The teacher violated
the student's guarantee of freedom of speech by asking her to wear her sweatshirt
inside-out to avoid disrupting the class.
||To most Christians, a cross or crucifix is a positive symbol which
recalls the death of
their sinless man-God, Yeshua of Nazareth. They believe that through his torture-death, a
was opened by which individuals can be saved.
However, to some Native Americans who follow an Aboriginal religion, it is a very negative symbol which
represents the destruction of Native
American spirituality and the loss of their culture to the European
||To Wiccans, a pentagram (a five pointed star) symbolizes life and
its precursors: earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. To some Christians,
it symbolizes death, evil, violence Satanism and
perhaps Satanic Ritual Abuse. To others, it
represents a potential gang symbol.
Who is right? They all are, when viewed within their own cultural or religious groups. Of
course, some groups have a longer historical claim to their particular meaning.
Avoiding terms with multiple meanings:
Because of the wide variety of unrelated activities that are called cults, the
occult, Pagan, Witchcraft, etc., we recommend that these terms never be
used, except in a context that is clear and unambiguous. More precise and terms should
be used instead to avoid confusion:
||Instead of cult, you can use neutral terms, like: new religious movement, emerging
religion, or simply the name of the group.
||Instead of the occult use the specific name of the occultic activity, such as Astrology,
Tea Cup Reading, Tarot Cards, Wicca, etc.
||Instead of Pagan, use the exact name of the follower of the religion
to which you are referring (e.g. Buddhist).
Alternatively, the term non-Christian or nonJudeo-Christian might be best.
If you need a term that refers to all Pagan religions, use "neo-Pagan,
or the less common spelling "Neopagan."."
||Instead of Witchcraft use the name of the tradition to which you are referring, such
as Asatru, Druid, Wicca, etc.
||When using the term Christian, define in advance what you mean by the word. Liberal Christians generally
use the term inclusively to include
Protestants (conservative, mainline, and liberal), the Anglican
Community, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the
Mormons), Christian Science,
Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and other faith groups
that consider themselves to be Christian.
However, conservative Protestants often do not recognize Roman Catholics,
Mormons, Christian Scientist, liberal Christians
and/or believers of other groups as part of Christianity. The latter are considered to be
sub-Christian or unChristian.
The ultimate reference book on religions of the
world is the two volume monumental set, World Christian Encyclopedia,
released in mid-2001, by Oxford University Press. It contains 1699 pages
with information about religion in the 238 countries of the world: David Barrett et al, "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative
survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," Oxford University
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Drew Campbell, "What is Hellenismos?," About.com, at:
"Kemetic Religion," at:
"Religio Romana," at:
"Abrahamic religion," Wikipedia, at:
Copyright © 2003 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-JAN-28
Latest update: 2006-MAR-16
Author: B.A. Robinson