Suggested usage of religious terms:
About minority religions
Topics covered in this essay:
|About various minority religions:
Neopaganism is a group of religions which
have been or are being reconstructed from
ancient Pagan roots. Just as the term "Eastern Religions" is an
umbrella term which includes
Buddhism, Hinduism and other Asian religions, Neopaganism includes a number of
distinct Pagan religions. The latter were once extinct (or almost wiped out) and are now being
revived. For example, Druidism is based on the faith and practices of the ancient Celtic professional
class; followers of Asatru adhere to the ancient,
pre-Christian Norse religion; Wiccans
trace their roots back to the religion of the people in Celtic Europe.
religions are derived from Roman, Greek, Egyptian and other traditions. Some
traditions within many Neopagan religions have evolved well beyond their
Of the many Neopagan
religions, Wicca is by far the most popular in North America. It has a larger
following than many other long-established faith groups, such as Buddhism,
Christian Science, and Unitarian
Universalism. It is growing very rapidly, particularly among teenagers.
It does suffer from one overwhelming problem. Starting about 550 years ago, the
Western Christian church decided to attain a religious monopoly in Europe by
exterminating all of the Witches and other heretics.
Thus started the "Burning Times" which lasted until 1792 CE in Europe.
Hundreds of thousands of innocent people were tortured to death, burned alive,
crushed, or hanged. This tragedy has had long-lasting effects. The term "Witch"
still carries immense negative emotional baggage among many people. Many conservative
Christian web sites continue to dredge up what they consider to be facts and evidence
of the evils of Witches from the period of the Inquisition. These are repeated
today as if they were real.
We recommend that
the terms "Witch" and "Witchcraft" rarely be
used, unless they are carefully predefined before use. There are two reasons:
can refer to:
- A Neo-pagan
duo-theistic religion called Wicca.
Wiccans often use the terms "Witch" and "Witchcraft" to
refer to themselves and their religion. Wicca has roots in
pre-Christian, Celtic Europe.
|Wiccans are un-Christian, as are Buddhists and Hindus.|
|Wiccans worship a Goddess and a God.|
|Believers follow the Wiccan Rede: "do whatever you
wish, as long as you harm nobody, including yourself". Power, manipulation and
control of others strictly prohibited.|
|Wide range of rituals are practiced. Individuals often create their
|Drug usage usually confined to small quantities of wine. |
sexual activity is practiced, rarely, but only in private between committed adult couples. |
|Most Wiccans are solitary practitioners; some form democratically organized
covens, typically of 4 or more people.|
|Wiccans do not
|Minimum age for initiation is usually 18. |
- A group of practices which are intended to influence
future events, using magickal energies and powers which
are beyond those know to science at the present time.
Followers of this form of witchcraft often learn their
"craft" from their ancestors and pass their knowledge on
to their children. Their practices do not form a
religion in the conventional meaning of the term.
- A group of evil practices rather than a religion.
This definition can can be traced back to 15th and 16th century
writings by Christians, when the church and the courts were burning heretics
at the stake. Many conservative Christians still use
this definition of "witch" and "witchcraft"
with the increasingly higher public profile of Wiccans,
they are abandoning this meaning. Except for a few
mentally ill individuals, nobody practiced this form of
"witchcraft" in the past, nor do they do it
|It was part of the evil Occult
|Witches were seen as intensely anti-Christian.|
|Witches were believed to worship Satan and have sold their soul to him.|
|Witchcraft was viewed as an evil practice based on a lust for power,
manipulation and control.|
|Believers were thought to follow a rigidly defined ritual practice|
|Heavy illegal drug usage and sexual activity
were believed to be common.|
|They were thought to be organized into covens of precisely 13 members each; some practice shape shifting
(e.g. human to
|Witches were believed to be active recruiters,
particularly of youth.|
"Witchcraft" is another word with so many meanings that it should be used with great care. To avoid confusion, perhaps it should be totally avoided. Some
contradictory meanings are:
- A woman of such incredible beauty that she bewitches another person.
- The opposite of the above; a woman of incredible ugliness; a hag
- A follower of Wicca, an aboriginal religion of Western
Europe. Believers worship a Goddess and God, do not recognize Satan, and are prohibited from harming
- The opposite of the above; a person who worships Satan, has sold their soul to the devil, and devotes their life to
- A person who uses evil, black magic to harm others, involving the aid of Satan and his demons.
- A religious Satanist, follower of the Church of Satan, or Temple of Set,
etc, and who is probably an Agnostic.
- Follower of one of a group of Caribbean religions which combine elements of tribal African religions with
Christianity; e.g. Santeria
- A follower of a African native religion, as in "Witch doctor"
- A person with evil powers who is devoted to harming others. Many Aboriginal
religions believe that such individuals exist.
Instead of using terms like Witch and Witchcraft, we recommend that you refer
directly to the individual's religion, as in Wicca, Wiccan; Santeria,
Santerian. In the unlikely instance that you need a term to refer to a
person who uses evil magic to hurt others, we recommend evil sorcery, evil
sorcerer, or evil sorceress. The prefix "evil" is
important, because the term "sorcery" is sometimes used to
refer to benign or positive magick that helps or heals the recipient.
One practice that we recommend avoiding is referring to a Wiccan as a
"self-proclaimed Witch" or "self-identified Witch."
That denigrates their religion, just as the term "self-proclaimed
Christian" would do.
This is another religious term with many meanings - some nasty
and others neutral:
- A person who follows a faith tradition that is not
one of the main Abrahamic religions; i.e. other than a Jew, Christian, or Muslim. About 45% of
the world's population are Pagans, by this definition.
- A person who has no religion; a secularist, free-thinker or
- A person believing in
an animistic religion, usually
polytheistic. It is based upon direct perception of the forces of
nature and usually involves the use of idols, talismans and taboos in
order to convey respect for these forces and beings.
With the exception of some Neopagans, very few individuals
willingly describe themselves as Pagan. It is generally a hurtful word that
dredges up thoughts from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) of human
sacrifice, irresponsible sexual excesses, and uncivilized behavior.
We suggest that the term Pagan not be used, except when
carefully predefined. We recommend that you use the name of the individual's
religion, spiritual path or ethical system instead.
The terms Satan, Satanism and Satanist also have so many definitions that
we recommend that they never be used unless they are clearly pre-defined. Some
- A follower of the Church of Satan or Temple of Set
or similar religious group. Religious Satanists do exist. They are not
a particularly large faith group in North America; they number in the tens
of thousands, and are believed to be in numerical decline. Many are Agnostics who do not view Satan as a living entity.
They do not engage in criminal activities at a higher rate than other adults.
- A dabbler, typical a teenager, in a syncretistic religion
that is a combination of religious Satanism, Wicca, other Neopagan
religions, ceremonial magic and any other unusual tradition that is too fast
to run away. They sometimes deface public and private property with
graffiti. A very few have been known to sacrifice small animals.
- Internationally controlled, underground, evil worshipers of
Satan who kidnap, abuse, kill and sometimes even eat
infants and children. Fortunately, they do not
exist. Unfortunately ritual abuse does exist in
- A follower of any religion that is neither Christian or
Judaism. Some conservative Christians, and some Biblical passages teach,
that when a person worships a deity other than than the Judeo-Christian God, that they are really
worshiping either Satan or one of his demons.
Some go further and say that established non-Judeo/Christian religious such as
Buddhism and Hinduism are either forms of Satanism or Satanism itself.
Needless to say, this belief does not find wide acceptance among people
outside the Judeo/Christians traditions.
We recommend that you avoid identifying an individual as a
Satanist, because your readers will not know whether they are a member of the
Church of Satan, a teenage Satanic dabbler, a Hindu or a Buddhist, etc. We
recommend that you identify the person as a follower of a Satanic church or as a
dabbler, as in:
|"John Doe is a member of the Temple of Set, a Satanic
|"Jane Doe is a teenage Satanic dabbler."|
If you are involved in a case that appears to involve adult
Satanists engaging in the ritual abuse of animals or humans, be skeptical. There
have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such stories reported in the media. But none appears to have been
supported by any hard evidence. At most, they may be based on recovered
memories which are very unreliable.
"Cult" has many meanings, ranging from positive
to neutral to negative to really awful. It is one of the most misused religious
term in the English language. It is generally a hateful term used to denigrate religious groups. Some of the
|Theological usage: A style of worship and its associated
rituals; devotion or homage to a particular person or thing. This is
the historical meaning of the word, but is rarely today heard
outside of religious circles. A reference to the "Cult of
Mary" appeared in a newspaper report on the Pope's 1999
visit to the Americas. It simply means that the Pope devotes special
attention to the Virgin Mary.|
|Sociological usage: A small religious group that
exists in a state of tension with the predominant religion.
Hinduism might be considered a cult in North America;
Christianity might be considered a cult in India.|
|The Observer: An English newspaper once used the term to refer to
any small religious group, no matter what its age or teachings.|
|General religious usage: A small, recently created, religious organization which is
often headed by a single charismatic leader and is viewed as a spiritually innovative
group. A cult in this sense may simply be a new religious movement on its way to
becoming a denomination. The Christian
religion, as it existed in 29
CE might be considered a cult involving one leader and 12 to 70
devoted followers. |
|Evangelical Christian and Counter-Cult
Movement (CCM) usage: Any religious group which
accepts most but not all of the historical
Christian doctrines (the divinity of Jesus, virgin
birth, the Trinity, salvation,
etc.). The implication is that the cult's
theology is invalid; they are heretical. Under this definition, the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons),
Church and Jehovah's
Witnesses would be considered to be cults. But they would not classify Wicca as
such, because it is unrelated to Christianity. |
|Fundamentalist Christian usage: Some Fundamentalists would
accept the Evangelical definition of cult defined above. Others
might brand any religious group which deviates from
historical Protestant Christian beliefs as a cult.
This definition would include the Mormon
mainline and liberal Christian denominations, Roman Catholicism, Islam,
and all of the other religions of the world. Probably over 80% of humanity
would belong to cults, by this definition.|
movement (ACM) usage: A small number of
therapists, research psychologists, self-taught individuals, etc.,
have formed the anti-cult movement (ACM) They attempt to raise public
consciousness about what they see as dangerous and authoritarian mind
control cults and doomsday
cults. Many do not care about the faith group's theology. They
target only what they see as deceptive practices, and dangerous
psychological pressure techniques, such as brainwashing. Their
beliefs are not generally shared by the mental-health community. They
see mind control/doomsday cults as a widespread social problem. The
ACM is on rapid decline in North America; it is a growing movement in
some parts of Europe.|
|Very negative meaning:
|Popular, media usage: A small, evil
religious group, often with a single charismatic leader, which
engages in brainwashing and other mind control techniques, believes
that the end of the world is imminent, and collects large amounts of
weaponry in preparation for a massive war. Membership in such groups
is seen as dangerous to your health and even your life. "Cult" is often used as a synonym
for mind control religious group or for
doomsday cult. |
"Cult" has so many different and largely unrelated
meanings that we recommend that the word be rarely used. We would
recommend substituting the terms new religious movement, alternative
religious movement, emergent religion or, simply, faith group. These terms
are more precise and have not (yet) been burdened by so many negative
connotations, as has "cult." In 1998-MAY, the Associated
Press decided to avoid the use of the word "cult"
because it had acquired a pejorative aura; they have since given preference to
the more neutral term "sect."
Copyright © 1999 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on
Publishing date: 1999-JUL-22
Latest update: 2005-NOV-04
Author: B.A. Robinson