A-E   F-J   K-O
P-T   U-Z

My humble opinions are in RED type.

This is a glossary for many religions.

If you would like to see a term added, please email Rev. Su!!

Theology Concepts,
Vocabulary & Definitions
from Many Religions



Altar, Mizbe'ah

The physical focus of worship or ritual. It comes from a combination of a number of Latin words and basically means 'high place for burnt offerings.' The Hebrew word for altar, mizbe'ah, means 'to slay'.

Originally, altars were placed along the east wall of the gathering place. Nowadays a more centrally located altar is common. In most Jewish and Christian rituals, the altar is in front of the congregation. In most Pagan rituals, the altar is surrounded by all participants, who traditionally enter from the east.

In Chrsitianity, the altar is the place where the 'sacrifice' known as the Eucharist is performed, and many churches still have rails to protect the altar from defilement by contact with the lowly parishioners during the serving on Communion. IMHO having altar rails seems to denegrate humanity and elevate the ordained as more than human.

Amulet (contrast with talisman)

A natural, physical object, usually used to repel something from you or protect the bearer. 

Protection magic of this kind is the oldest known magic in the world.  Amulets are usually in the form of a part of a plant or animal, such as a rabbit's foot, a four-leaf clover, or a bit of twisted horn. 


The Eastern Orthodox 'lance' is a ceremonial knife used to cut the Eucharistic bread at the Proskomide.

The Bible

The Holy Bible is actually a holy book in three religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The RC Bible has more OT books, the Jewish holy book is just the first five book of the OT and is called the Torah or the Pentateuch. Islam accepts Abraham and many of his descendents as important holy figures and prophets, including Jesus of Nazareth.

The Pentateuch was compiled from four different sources: J-Jahwist, E-Elohist, P-Priestly, and D-Deuteronomist. The remaining OT books were written by at least a dozen writers across hundreds of years. Many copies and fragments of canonical and apochryphal books were discovered in the desert near Qumran, Israel in 1947 to 1956.

The New Testament was also written by a number of authors, many of whom - like the OT authors - borrowed, redacted, and paraphrased each other. NT authors also modeled some of their content on the OT.

The first English translation, and I believe the best, is Wycliffe's New Testament translation from a scholarly examination of the Aramaic and Greek. It's not perfect

I wrote a nifty commentary on my personal beliefs about the Bible.

Brief, Papal

Bull, Papal

Ceremony (contrast with rite)




This is a type of reference book about the Bible or another text, sometimes in the same binding as an appendix.

A concordance is a list of words with cross-references (or quotations) of where they are located in the text.

According to Elizabeth Livingstone, the most famous English language concordance was compiled by a debatably insane man named Alexander Cruden from the King James' Version in 1736 to 1737. (Can you say 'OCD'? I knew you could.) He presented it to King George II's wife, Queen Caroline, and it has never been out of print since. Never. His two later editions of the A Complete Concordance to the Holy Scriptures garnered him quite an income, including a handsome bonus from King George III. (You remember him, right? He had a little bit of real estate called the American Colonies.)

Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible was compiled under the direction of Dr. James Strong and first published in 1890, four years before his death. It is "exhaustive" because it includes every English word and hundreds of Hebrew and Greek word roots used in the King James Version. The trouble is that these word roots generally do not take into consideration the cultural context and linguistics of the time period, so an amateur should NOT use Strong's to delve into the meanings of individual words and passages. It is available online, although the copyright licensure is unclear.

Robert Young's Analytical Concordanc eof the Bible, also of the King James Version, was first published in 1879 when he was 57. A self-taught Biblical and oriental languages scholar, he also wrote a literal translation of the Bible, called eponymously enough, Young's Literal Translation, had three editions, the last of which by his publisher several months after his death in the fall of 1888. He was rabid about keeping the original verb tenses, so his Genesis I is unique in its use of the present tense. Hmm, that has interesting theological implications. The 3rd edition (spell-checked) is available online at Bible Gateway.

There is a multi-version Bible concordance available online at Bible Tab. I have not used this resource extensively, so I cannot vouch for its usefulness at this time.

Counsel (see moral theology)


Encyclical, Papal

Gloria Patri (see Rosary Prayer)

This is a quotation from ____________ .

Glory to God in the highest
And peace to His people on Earth

Hail Mary(see Rosary Prayer)

A Christian prayer to the Blessed Vrgin Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a combination of several passages in the NT.


Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Domini nostri, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
Nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.


Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death.


Any sacrifical victim, whether animate (goat, person) or inanimate (wafer, piece of bread)

Icons, Images (compare to talisman)

Icons are images of saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Christ. Typical materials include egg tempera paintings, and mosaic and ivory bas relief sculptures. Icons are made in various sizes.

Veneration of images are forbidden in Islam (by exo-Koranic writings), Islamism (by ex-Koranic writings), Judaism (by Mosaic law) and Presbyterianism.

In the Greek Orthodox Church, icons are venerated. It is believed that the saint (or Christ or BVM) can use their magical power through the physical object of the icon to act on behalf of the petitioner or owner.


Lord's Prayer (see Rosary Prayer)

Christian prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount in the NT Book of Matthew 6:9-13. *In the Bible the prayer stops earlier than the versions below.

King James Version

Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done
On Earth as it is in [on] Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil*
For thine is the kingdom, the glory, and the power
Forever and ever. Amen.

Modern Version

Our Father in heaven
Holy is your name
Your kingdom come, your will be done
On Earth as in Heaven
Give us today our daily bread
And forgive us our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil*
For yours is the kingdom, the glory and the power
Forever. Amen.

SPECIAL NOTE: This prayer, and all others, was suggested by Jesus to be said alone in private. He eschewed public, demonstrative, verbose prayer.

Massoretic Text

Midrash, Midrashim (contrast with Mishnah)


Mishnah (contrast with Midrash)






Pentacle (compare with pentagram)

A five-pointed star within a circle, it is the symbol of most Neopagan traditions, including Wicca.  It is a symbol of peace and  positive energy.  It is variously interpreted as representing the four Elements plus Spirit, or the figure of a human with arms and legs outstretched. 

Satanists often use this symbol upside down in the same manner as they use the upside down Christian cross - to show that they want to turn all peace and goodness on its head, or as a general insult to such groups.

Pentagram (compare with pentacle)

A five-pointed star. These are often used as talismans, and in Wicca and Ceremonial Magic, by drawing a pentagram in the air beginning from different points with a wand, hand or finger to invoke various elements.


Precept (see moral theology)



The material remains of a dead saint, or an object that has been in contact with his or her body.

Veneration of martyrs' remains has been common practice since the 2nd century, at least. The Second Council of Nicaea in 787 actually decreed that Roman Catholics must venerate relics, and that no church can be consecrated without having its own relic!

During the Crusades, the relic trade from the Holy Land was brisk, and often illegitimate. The veneration of relics in their ornate reliquaries led to many superstitious practices. A fully formed theological basis for the veneration of relics was developed by th 10th century under the premise that the bodies of miracle workers were "temples of the Holy Spirit" and are therefore closer to Deity than regular humans. And since God knows all this already, it must be okay. At least, that's what the Council of Trent decided when Martin Luther brought it up in the 16th century.

Rite (contrast with ceremony)


The Roman Catholic Holy Rosary

A rosary is any string of beads or small pendants used as a focus during prayer or meditation. 

The Holy Rosary (note the caps!)  is the set of beads used by the Roman Catholic Church in its prayers to Jesus' mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM).  RC mythology claims it was given to St. Dominic by an apparition of the BVM as weapon against the heresy of Albigensianism. You can find more about the Holy Rosary prayer here.

There is a growing movement within many Neopagan communities to include prayer beads or rosaries in regular prayer or ritual practice. I wrote a Neopagan nine-bead rosary prayer.



It is a common misconception that this word is 'the real way" to say "Sabbath" in Hebrew. Nope. Sorry to disappoint. Sabaoth is a Hebrew word that means "armies, hosts", as in "a big group arrayed before you that inspires awes and trepidation", like a sabaoth of angels.

Sabbath (see also sabbatarianism)

The seventh day of the week whereupon one rests or is at leisure, to follow the model of Deity in the Biblical Book of Genesis.

In the Jewish tradition, it begins Friday evening. In the Christian tradition is begins on Sunday morning. Some Christians begin the sabbath on Saturday evening.


Salt has many religious uses, primarily stemming from its preservative capability.

Salt with water (and the right words and will) makes holy water. Salt is offered to newly confirmed Christians. Salt is appropriate for every Christian oblation. In Pagan traditions, salt is used to represent the element of Earth. In magic, salt is used to purify objects and participants.

In earlier times, salt was also used to confirm a friendship, pact or covenant. Among Semitic people, salt was a sign of purity and incorruptibility.

Before the advent of cities and supermarkets, salt was a valued spice. If salt was available, it was often rationed. A good person was "worth his salt."


Made popular by the late 19th century discovery of King Tut's tomb, the sarcophagus is the outer coffin, usually made of stone and usually ornamented with bas-relief designs of local cultural or religious significance. It does not have to be shaped like a person; that was what the ancient Egyptians liked.

Once the Catholic Church became organized in the fourth century, Christians were restricted in the designs that could be used to decorate sarcophagi.


Talisman (contrast with amulet)

A manmade, physical object, usually used to draw something to you or supplement a trait.  Talismans are usually in the form of jewelry, such as a bracelet, pendant, ring or headband.  A notable exception to this is the U-shaped horseshoe over one's door meant to bring luck to the household. 

Another kind of talisman is a specific drawing on paper that is carried or burned as directed by the spell that charges it.  Hermetic tradition believes that the act of drawing some symbols invokes their power.

Talmud, Halacha, Haggadah, Mosaic Law, Pentateuch


Although Gerald Gardner (see Gardnerian Wicca) required a set of nine tools for ritual use, most Eclectic Neopagans use four, which are associated with the Elements and the four suits of the Tarot cards.  

Water - Cup, Cauldron, Chalice
Earth - Pentacle, Paten (disk)
Air - Wand, Staff, Censer
Fire - Sword, Athame (dagger), Flame

Many religions have specific tools related to religious ritual, including vessels, materials and special clothing.

The psychological affect of using tools during a ritual (rite and ceremony) is profound. It helps the participant(s) enter an altered state because the tools are used only for ritual purposes, or are thought to become imbued with supernatural powers during the ritual.

Sources: www.angelfire.com/folk/greenwitch/sacred.html, Dictionary.com, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Religioustolerance.org, Old Testament Gateway, "Authors of the Bible", "Alexander Cruden", "Strong's Concordance", "Young's Literal Translation"