Cult
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Basic Information

A cult specifically is a discreete body of religious practice within a more general religion - the word derives from the latin cultus meaning "care" or "tending"1 and encompasses a complete body of ritual, practice and possibly teaching or scripture. A cult is not necessarily an innovation or heresy within its parent religion as many of the most cultic religions have no orthodoxy for them to deviate from - wherever a given deity is worshipped there will be a local cult of veneration. This was normal practice in the ancient world - and remains normal in some religions to this day - see, for example, the entry on Zeus for the list of cults related to various aspects of this deity.

Any cult which restricts the knowledge of its practices to members only - such as Mithraism or the Eleusian Mysteries is known as a mystery cult.

In modern times, especially amongst religions with a central orthodoxy, the word cult has taken on implications of heresy and unacceptable religions practice and become increasingly pejorative. In general discourse "cult" will now refer to a mystery cult and, given modern sensibilities, will be expected to be up to something sinister by virtue of their desire for secrecy … like many cliches, this one often turns out to be true, but sometimes isn't.

Sources

Bibliography
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • PCs may be offered initiation into a prestigious mystery cult as a reward - in the ancient world these were almost as much fraternal socieities as they were religious ones. All sorts of benefits may accrue.
    • For example, look at the role played by Mithraism in Bernard Cornwell's Arthur cycle.
  • They may be required to join a cult for some purposes - such as entry to a sacred precinct or to consult an oracle. This may or may not conflict with their existing religion.
  • A mystery cult may very well be up to no good - or be a good false lead.
  • In a polytheistic campaign, local cult may just be local colour.
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