I’m guilty of forgetting that the word cult has negative connotations in society. I use it on a daily basis and sometimes it drops into discussion with laymen and outsiders of my beliefs. It’s only when I earn wide-eyed suspicious looks that I realise what I said. So I thought I’d attempt to clear some things up.
Yes I belong to a cult, actually that’s not true, I belong to several.
The dictionary definition of cult is:
1: formal religious veneration : worship
2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents <the cult of Apollo>
3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious (see spurious 2); also : its body of adherents <the voodoo cult> <a satanic cult>
4: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>
a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book) <criticizing how the media promotes the cult of celebrity>; especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
b : the object of such devotion
c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion <the singer’s cult of fans> <The film has a cult following.>
The definitions of my use are the first two. These are the original definition of the word cult. It’s only in the last century that the word cult has earned a negative connotation. It’s also the only word to actually describe the function of my religion. My religion is not a religion in the sense that we know the word, it’s a belief based upon differing cult specific beliefs (more of this below).
Therefore when I use cult I use it in its correct context.
Sometimes these beliefs run alongside each other, other times they can veer away from one another. Thus I keep different cultus for each cult. Now, cultus is another confusing word commonly thrown around by my ilk. My preferred definition is from Joachim Wach: “All actions which flow from and are determined by religious experiences are to be regarded as practical expressions or cultus. In a narrower sense, however, we call cultus the act or acts of the homo religious: worship.”
Quite literally it is my practice, expressions of devotion and worship that are my cultus. Sometimes each cult requires different cultus. (*note: sometimes polytheists use cultus as I use cult, this is an evil conspiracy to confuse the fuck out of outsiders.)
So how does this actually work?
If I narrow things down to a loose structure I follow three cults: Personal, Starry Bull and Dionysian Artists. All of these cults are linked and sometimes interchange, sometimes they diverge from one another and must be kept apart. I’ll explain each.
This is a pantheon of personal gods, often called patron gods. The persistent pantheon of my personal cult is: Dionysos, Hephaestus and Hermes. Of late Athena has been popping her head up demanding her inclusions which is due soon. My personal cult and it’s cultus is very loose. Gods, spirits, heroes, monsters and The Dead move in and out and I pay them cultus sometimes formally, sometimes casually. It’s a free and flexible form of worship, even non-Hellenic deities are sometimes given cultus in my personal cult.
The Starry Bull:
A modern cult established by Sannion, it’s a bricolage of differing concepts and practice that range through epochs and cultures related to Dionysos, particularly dealing with aspects of Mystery, death – life, horrors, masks, Toys and circles. The scope of The Starry Bull is impressive. It has its own pantheon, differing rituals and Mysteries. Because this deals with specific aspects of Dionysos sometimes its cultus conflicts with my personal cult. Therefore I keep the two apart.
The Dionysian Artists:
This is another personal cult – instead it’s not private. If need be, new members may be admitted to it. The Dionysian Artists function as a guild and a cult with its own Mysteries, its devotional practice (making art for the gods) and Pantheon – including honouring the Dionysian Artists themselves. This is a work in progress and slowly forming into a proper cult. Due to being apart from both the Starry Bull and my personal cult it is again separated.
Now to return to a point above, my religion is not actually a religion in the sense that we know the word. We’re are nowadays familiar with religion based upon the Abrahamic concepts and monotheism. That is, there is a only one correct belief system for each Abrahamic religion. This is commonly known as orthodoxy. In order to change your beliefs you need to convert to another religion. This is typically institutionalised and requires formal recognition from the governing religious body and also ritual performance.
This was not always the case for Hellenic Polytheists, instead their religion was a culture. A group of cults that have a loose association and belief system. Whether they knew it or not, ancient polytheists belonged to multiple cults: personal / family, city state, local, and specific to a god or gods. This allowed for commonly connected, yet, varying beliefs and loose associations and practice known as orthopraxis. Thus granting a lot of freedom of what one can believe and how one performs cultus in religious context. Thus there is no one right way to worship the gods, nor is there a standard for belief.
A final note, I believe that orthodoxy is possible within the Hellenic religion, but only through a cult. This is especially the case for a full time priest of a particular cult.
Now that this is all explained, I wonder if my readers are giving me wide-eyed confused looks instead of suspicious ones…