When most people today hear the word cult, they immediately think of the sick and twisted like Jim Jones and David Koresh, and even though most of the dangerous and destructive cults of modern time have been formed by Christians and Muslims, it hardly makes a difference when any religion or group is publicly branded with that term. They will immediately find themselves on the defense of their name.
But when we look back to the ancient historical concept of the cult (something that few historians touch on), we see a far different picture. A cult was simply a private group of worshipers who practiced apart from the mainstream society. The Mystery Rites of Eleusis, for instance, would have been a cult, but they were just a private Order, dedicated to the understanding and preservation of a specific sacred knowledge, not a band of abusers and killers. They believed in the same Gods as everyone else even, but they were still set apart. A cult is therefore just that, a group or religion outside the mainstream society. One might even argue that all minority religions are cults because of this definition, but minority would depend on the kind of religious society one lives in. In a Muslim country, for instance, Christians would be a cult, whereas in the United States, they wouldn't be. The early Christians of Rome were most certainly a cult.
In our world today, the word and concept of a cult has been severely tainted with abusers and controllers who see closed groups as an opportunity to satisfy their own desires and ambitions, and whenever there is something that juicy for the media, they're going to be all over it. Not to say they shouldn't be, I am merely suggesting that people tend to focus on outrageous things more than normalcy. You can see this with Muslims in our country. The vast majority of them are not terrorists, but there are many Americans who think otherwise, because the media never focuses on the peaceful and productive side of a community. They thrive on the shock values of the world. This is one reason we have grown to see cults as an inherently negative thing, the other being the perverted leaders who have created the commonly known organizations of today for the sole purpose of the dictation and abuse of other human beings.
I'm not suggesting that people should join openly known cults. This post is merely about historical honesty and examination. In my own religion, there were numerous cults throughout history, but I have always shied away from that word in any context because of the modern stigma, even when I am just talking about historical record. So I want people to understand that some of the things we think of now as bad, were never meant to be that way. For instance, the swastika predates Hitler and the Nazis and goes back to many ancient cultures, even ancient Greek ones, as a symbol of motion and flow. But you can't use it today because of the Nazi stigma and the great harm that has been done to people under its banners. I think it's important we understand that humans can take anything and make it good or bad, it all depends on them, and I think understanding this will make us better thinkers.
In the Goodness of the Gods,