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"A Concise Dictionary of Cults & Religions"

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William Watson, "A Concise Dictionary of Cults & Religions (Moody, Chicago 1991), ISBN 0-8024-1726-4 Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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This is an impressive book which lists about 2000 individual religious groups, UFO organizations, New Age organizations, individuals, deities, spirit guides, activities, techniques, important texts etc., with a brief description of each. This is followed by an extensive bibliography and list of Christian ministries which deal with cults.

The book is written from an Evangelical Christian perspective. Essentially all of the entries are factual in content and appear to be precise. A few entries appear strange (e.g., references to various non-Evangelical religious groups engaging in pornography, rape, incest, polygamy (presumably including both polygyny and polyandry), kidnapping, electric shock rituals, etc.). Such activities appear to be most improbable.

Watson's descriptions of some Occultic and New Age activities are a major deviation from this otherwise accurate book. Misinformation and religious intolerance abound. The author seems to have relied heavily on other Evangelical-Fundamentalist Christian writings as sources, rather than on original documents by occultic groups. A few examples of errors are:
bullet P. 12: Occult The Occult traditionally consisted of many diverse and unrelated activities such as Satanism, Wicca ("White" Witchcraft), astrology, palm reading, Spiritualism, etc.). The only factor which they share is that they claim to possess knowledge that is not revealed to the public but which is released gradually to their members. Watson implies that members of the occult:
bullet cast spells (which is true only of Satanists and Wiccans),
bullet generate curses (which is true only of Satanists)
bullet communicate with the dead (really true only of Spiritualism)
bullet are anti-Christian (not true of most occultic activities).
bullet P. 31: Astrology He describes astrologers as believing that Jesus is a "superpsychic being, not God." In reality, most astrologers are ordinary Christians with traditional beliefs about the deity of Christ.
bullet P. 43: The Book of Shadows This is described as the "sacred book of witchcraft"; this implies that it is a published book like the Bible. In reality, it starts as a blank book into which a Wiccan records rituals and experiences in his/her own handwriting.
bullet P. 58, 60 etc.: Cults He describes cults as non-Christian groups, and then defines the Church of Christ, Scientist and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) as cults. In reality, the Mormon church is one of the most successful conservative Christian denomination.
bullet P. 70: Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans He identifies Witchcraft as a Goddess religion. Actually, they worship both a God and a Goddess.
bullet P. 80: Dowsing (also known as water witching). He incorrectly connects this practice to Spiritualism. In reality, they have no points of similarity.
bullet P. 80: Dungeons and Dragons (R) He states that this and other games such as DragonQuest(R) teach occultic practices. Actually, they are harmless fantasy role-playing games.
bullet P. 95: Freemasonry He repeats a quotation that a man "cannot be an intelligent Christian and an intelligent Mason" simultaneously.
bullet P.108: Harmonic Convergence Watson describes this as a "gathering of mediators". Actually, it is a specific alignment of planets in the solar system.
bullet P. 109: Heavy Metal Music He describes this as promoting "occultic practices, drug use, sexual abuse, murder and suicide."
bullet P. 130: Kahuna This is described as being associated with the occult. Actually, it is the aboriginal Hawaiian religion with no particular connection to the occult. It has many points of similarity to Native American spirituality.
bullet P. 162: New Age He equates Universalism with the belief that all religions are true. Actually, Universalism is the belief that all people will eventually reach heaven after death. The term has also been used to refer to Jehovah being the God of all the world, rather than just of Israel. Neither useage has any connection with the belief that all religions are valid.
bullet P. 173: Ouija Board This is described as leading to "insanity and demon control". The board is just a game.
bullet P. 189: Radical Faerie Movement Homosexuality is described as a choice. Sexual orientations among adults are unchangable.
bullet P. 198: Runes These are described as an alphabet used by occultists to write their pacts with Satan. Occultists do not write pacts with Satan; that is a false residual belief left over from the Witch burning times. The Runes are simply an ancient alphabet.
bullet P. 201: Santeria A branch of Santeria, called Palo Mayombe, is held responsible for murders in Matamoros, Mexico in 1989. Actually, the murders were done by a drug running gang; their main motivation came from repeated viewing of the Hollywood movie The Believers, and from a psychopathic mass murderer.
bullet P. 202: Satanism Cultic Satanists are described as engaged in kidnapping, prostitution and ritual sacrifices. They are not. Their main ritual is described as the Black Mass. It is not. Black Masses have sometimes been performed by Satanists for publicity reasons; however these occurrences are rare.
bullet P. 253: W.I.C.C.A. This is described as the acronym for Witches International Coven Council Association. No such group exists now or has in the past. A Christian group once promoted forged documents which stated that W.I.C.C.A. was holding a meeting in Mexico to arrange a Satanic takeover of the world. The organization never existed; the meeting was never held; the world (to our knowledge) has not been turned over to Satan. Besides, Wiccans do not recognize the existence of Satan.
bullet P. 253: Wicca This is described as a synonym of Witch. It is not; Wicca is the religion of the ancient Celtic people. Wiccan is a synonym for what the public often calls a "white" Witch. There are numerous other definitions of "Witch" which are unrelated to Wicca.
bullet P. 254: Witchcraft This is described as being motivated by a lust for power. It is not, any more than any other religion. Covens (groups of Wiccans) are described as usually consisting of six men, six women and a head priestess or priest. Actually they are composed of a minimum of 3 Wiccans, of any gender. The fixed size of a coven is a holdover from a Middle Ages superstition. Esbats are described as semi-monthly meetings; actually they are most often full moon gatherings. Watson describes how rituals, spells and charms must be followed to the letter in order to be effective. This is not true. He mentions that ceremonies include sexual rituals and drug use. In reality, sexual rituals are rare and are done only in private between two Wiccans in a committed relationship; drugs are not used, except for the occasional sip of wine. He says that Lycanthropy (changing from human form into a wolf or other animal) is taught. This is just too silly to refute. There are other errors in this section.

The book also contains misinformation about other religions:
bullet P. 122: Islam He states that each Muslim must perform the five Pillars of Faith, including a fast during the month of Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once. In reality, a Muslim can refrain from performing these pillars for health and other reasons. He equates jihad with the concept of holy war. In reality, "jihad" means "to strive", and normally refers to an attempt by an individual Muslim to attain internal purification, and reach excellence in all his/her activities.
bullet P. 239: Unitarian Universalist Association The book describes many "UUA" beliefs that do not exist. Beliefs, ethics etc. are in fact created by the individual member. Some members are Theists (believe in a deity); others are Humanists (don't believe in a deity).

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Copyright 1997 & 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2001-NOV-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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