Cult (religious practice)
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2010)|
In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings ("scriptures"), its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. Cult in this primary sense is literally the "care" (Latin cultus) owed to the god and the shrine. In the specific context of Greek hero cult, Carla Antonaccio has written, "The term cult identifies a pattern of ritual behavior in connection with specific objects, within a framework of spatial and temporal coordinates. Ritual behavior would include (but not necessarilly be limited to) prayer, sacrifice, votive offerings, competitions, processions and construction of monuments. Some degree of recurrence in place and repetition over time of ritual action is necessary for cult to be enacted, to be practiced" Cult is embodied in ritual and ceremony. Its present or former presence is made concrete in temples, shrines and churches, and cult images (denigrated by Christians as "idols") and votive deposits at votive sites.
The term "cult" first appeared in English in 1617, derived from the French culte, meaning "worship" or "a particular form of worship" which in turn originated from the Latin word cultus meaning "care, cultivation, worship," originally "tended, cultivated," as in the past participle of colere "to till the soil". In French, for example, sections in newspapers giving the schedule of worship at Catholic churches are headed Culte Catholique; the section giving the schedule of Protestant churches is headed culte réformé.
The meaning "devotion to a person or thing" is from 1829. Starting about 1920, "cult" acquired an additional six or more positive and negative definitions.
Roman Catholic cultus 
In Roman Catholicism, cultus is the technical term for devotions or veneration extended to a particular saint, not to the worship of God. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy make a major distinction between latria, which is the worship that is offered to God alone, and douleia, which is the veneration (lit. "[act(s) of] service," with "service" used as in "worship service" [but contrast the absence of worship itself as is present in latria]) offered to the saints, including Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose veneration is often referred to as hyperdulia.
Cult practice 
Among the observances in the cult are rituals, ceremonies, liturgy or audits, which may involve spoken or sung words, and often involve personal sacrifice. Other manifestations of the cult of a deity are the preservation of relics or the creation of images, such as icons (usually connoting a flat painted image) or three-dimensional cultic images, denigrated as "idols", and the specification of sacred places, hilltops and mountains, fissures and caves, springs, pools and groves, or even individual trees or stones, which may be the seat of an oracle or the venerated site of a vision, apparition, miracle or other occurrence commemorated or recreated in cult practices. Sacred places may be identified and elaborated by construction of shrines and temples, on which are centered public attention at religious festivals and which may become the center for pilgrimages.
See also 
- Antonaccio, "Contesting the Past: Hero Cult, Tomb Cult, and Epic in Early Greece", American Journal of Archaeology 98.3 (July 1994: 389-410) p. 398.