For the next couple posts I want to discuss this book I just read, Mystery Religions in the Ancient World by Joscelyn Godwin which will call for the use of words like mysteries, cult, and occult. Considering I am a Mormon and that word “cult” is sometimes associated with my religion I want to be clear on definitions before we begin.
The word ‘cult’ has been utterly hijacked from its original meanings through media sensationalism. The way it is most often used in reference to Mormonism is by a bigoted minority and carries connotations of weirdness, manipulation, exploit, or even mind control. Of course those labels are completely ridiculous and laughable to practicing Mormons and at the same time saddening that we are so misunderstood. In these upcoming posts I will use the word as it is used by scholars of the ancient world including the author of the present book, Joscepyn Godwin, who is not a Mormon to my knowledge (most likely an Anglican based on his schooling history).
The definition used by scholars (which is appropriately the first definition listed in dictionaries) is “a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.” (Random House). Such a definition is the definition by which the term could be appropriately applied to the Mormons as we do have a particular system of worship involving rites and ceremonies in our temples. Notice the definition has no connotation of weirdness or manipulation (although there are such cases out there) nor does it mean that only ‘weirdos’ or ‘pagans’ have religious rites, as this book illustrates that they were common across the ancient world with initiates including Plato as well as the early Christians.