of Some Religious Terms
used in the study of Greco-Roman Myths and Religions


allegory: story describing a subject in veiled form, under the guise of a similar subject. More self-conscious than myth.

anthropomorphism: belief that deities have human form.

apotheosis: elevation of a human being to the status of a god (also called deification)

asceticism: practice of rigorous self-discipline and self-denial.

astrology: belief in the effects of the motion of heavenly bodies on human character and destiny.

augury: divination; foretelling the future through the study of signs or omens.

auspices: in Latin, auspicium, method of divination, especially from birds, to determine the favor or displeasure of the gods.

chthonic: dwelling in or beneath the earth; used in reference to the gods of the underworld.

cosmogony: account of the origin of the universe.

cosmology: account of the structure and operation of the universe.

deify: to make a god of. (See above - apotheosis).

determinism: theory that human action is not free but determined, or decided, by external forces acting on the will (also called fatalism).

divination: prediction by supernatural means of future events; interpretation of past occurrences (includes interpretation of dreams, prophecy, auspices, augury).

dualism: theory recognizing two independent principles - e.g. mind and matter, good and evil - in the universe.

ecstasy: state of being beyond all reason and self control; mystic, prophetic, or poetic trance.

epiphany: a manifestation, disclosure, or appearance, especially of some divine or superhuman being.

eschatology: doctrine of the four last things, death, judgement, heaven, and hell.

euhemerism: the belief that the gods are great men whose souls have been glorified by succeeding generations.

genius: in Roman religion, the guardian spirit of every man, his inborn power; the genius of the paterfamilias (had of the family) was honored in the household cult (each womanís attendant spirit was called Juno).

gnostic: possessing special knowledge of spiritual mysteries.

hierophant: teacher of candidates for initiation.

mana: a mysterious magical power or influence which is attached to certain persons or to inanimate objects.

metempsychosis: transmigration of the soul, especially the passage of the soul of a human being or animal into a new body of the same or a different species.

monotheism: doctrine that there is only one God.

mystery: in theology, a religious truth known only through divine revelation; a secret religious rite to which only initiates are admitted.

mysticism: theory asserting the possibility of attaining knowledge, especially direct knowledge of the divine, and of spiritual truth, through immediate intuition or spiritual insight.

numen (pl. numina): esoteric religious ritual performed in honor of a god or a goddess, characterized by wild singing, dancing, and drinking; later, wild, drunken, licentious revelry or festivity.

pantheism: belief that god equals the totality of nature.

pantheon: the totality of deities of any people.

polytheism: belief in or worship of many gods.

proselyte: a convert from one opinion, party, or religious sect to another. (Verb: to proselytize )

shaman: priest or medicine man who has power to influence the unseen world of gods, demons, and ancestral spirits by being in direct communication with them.

syncretism: mixing together; combining of religious beliefs from different cults; the sense that all gods and goddesses are differing manifestations on the One.

tabu (or taboo): the system or act of setting apart a person or thing as accursed or sacred; interdiction or prohibition of the use of certain things or words or acts.

taurobolium: sacrifice of a bull; ceremony of initiation or consecration in which the recipient is "baptized" in the bullís blood as a symbol of renewed life.

This material has been published on the web by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you can contact him at

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