Material Culture of Religion: Glossary of (selected) Religious Terms, Concepts, People, Etc. A ad


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Common usage: The belief that 13 is a lucky number.

Common usage: The belief that 13 is an unlucky number.

Christian (heretic): The teaching that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three different gods.

Tsom Gedaliah (Hebrew)
Jewish (holiday): A minor fast, it mourns the assassination of Gedaliah Ben- Ahikam, the Jewish governor of Judea during the time of the Babylonian conquest. It is observed on the third day of the month of Tishrei. (See also Tsom Gedaliah.)

Tu B'Av (Hebrew)
Jewish: The celebration of romance between couples.

Tu B'Shevat (Hebrew: "15th of Shevat") (="New Year for the Trees")
Jewish celebration of the coming of spring by preparation of foods native to Israel.
Jewish (holiday): A minor holiday commemorating the cut-off date in ancient Israel for calculating the harvest from which a tithe had to be sent to the Temple in Jerusalem. (See also Tu B'Shevat.)

Tu Di Gong
Taoist: God often found on temple altars, the Lord of the soil, guardian of the realm of the ancestors, bestower of wealth.

Buddhist (Tibetan): A religious figure regarded as a reincarnation of a great lama of the past.

Tulsedas Jayanti
Hindu: The remembrance of the poet Tulsedas as one who brought spiritual uplift to the masses.

Spirit residing in a tiki.

twain (Arabic)
Common usage: Married couple; husband and wife.

Twelfth Night
Christian (minor holiday): The observance of the close of the Christmas season.

12 (=twelve)

Common usage: The number associated with completeness (for example: dozen, 12 Apostles, 12 Patriarchs, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 months).

Twelve Patriarchs
Jewish: Eponymous ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Twelvers (=Itha Ash'ariyuyah)
Muslim (Shi'a): Followers of this sect rever 12 imams, and hold that a son, Muhammad al-Muntaazar, was born to the 11th imam, Hassan al-Askari (d. 874 C.E.) but went into concealment until he will reappear at the proper time to set the whole world in order. They subscribe to the legal school Ja'fariyyah and have been established in Iran since the Safvid period (1501) and constitute the largest branch of Shi'a.

24 (=twenty-four)
Common usage (Asia): Unlucky number (honomym for "easy to die" in Chinese, Japanese and Korean).


ubusuna no kami (Japanese)
Shinto: The tutelary deity of one's birthplace.

Ugadi (=ug Adhi)
Hindu: The New Year's Day for Telugu people and those of Andhra Pradesh. It is said that Lord Braham began the creation on this day. It is one of at least eight regional New Year observances in India.

Uhud, Battle of
Muslim (Shi'ite): Event in 3 AH (625 CE)

ujigami (Japanese)
Shinto: The tutelary deity of a specific geographical area, such as a village.

ujiko (Japanese)
Shinto: A member of a shrine community living within the geographical area of the shrine.

ulema (=ulama; singular: 'alim) (Arabic: "learned men")
Muslim: Learned interpreters of Islamic teaching and law; usually refers to normative Islamic theologians, scholars and teachers in the Sunni tradition.


Buddhist (ritual): The celebration of saving the deceased from torments after death.

Hindu: Shiva's consort in one of her many aspects.

Umar (=Omar)
Muslim: The second caliph; Caliphate 13-23 AH (634-644 CE).

Umayyad Caliphs, Reign of (=Umayyads)
Muslim: 40-132 AH (661-750 CE)The first dynasty of caliphs, ruling from 661 until the takeover by the Abbasids in 750..
Umm al Qurrah (Arabic: "Mother of Cities")
Muslim: Refers to Mecca.

umma (=ummah; Arabic)

  1. Muslim: The particular religious community in which an individual believer participates.

  2. Muslim: World Muslim community; the entire community of believers in Islam.

(See also church.)

umra (=umrah; Arabic: "visitation")
Muslim: A pilgrimage made by a believer to Mecca at a time other than the first ten days of the last (lunar) month in the Muslim calendar, Dhu-al Hijjah. (Qur'an 2:189-199, 3:97). (See also hajj.)

Unarious Society
New Age: Sect founded in 1954; see Unarious Society.

Christian: A theological term referring to God, who is the only thing in existence not made by God.

unction (=holy unction)

  1. Anointment with oil.

  2. Christian (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox): A religious rite performed at the coronation of a king or queen, at baptism and confirmation.

  3. Christian (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox): A religious rite performed for the sick, in which case it may be called extreme unction or holy unction.

Unification Church

A religious movement founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon (b. 1920) in Korea after World War II. See also Unification Church.

Common usage (esp. 19th C): Belief that changes in earth's topography are gradual and happen over long periods of time. (See also Catastrophism.)

Universal House of Justice
Baha'i: The supreme international governing body of the Baha'i faith, representing 20,000 spiritual assemblies, including 1,400 in the United States enrolling 12,000 Baha'is.

Scientologist: Become nothing, disappear, cease to exist.

Untouchable (=Dalit)
Hindu: The group lower than the lowest caste.

upasaka (Sanskrit and Pali)
Buddhist: A layman who observes the Five, Eight or Ten Precepts. (See also upasika.)

upasampad (Sanskrit: higher ordination)
Buddhist: A term for the full ordination of a monk or nun. It follows the lower ordination (pravrajya) and the minimum age for it is 20.

upasika (Sanskrit and Pali)
Buddhist: A laywoman who observes the Five, Eight or Ten Precepts. (See also upasaka.)

Muslim: Religious tax on land.

Ussher, James
Christian: Archbishop, Church of Ireland. Published Annals of the Old Testament in 1650 asserting that the earth had been created at midday on 23 October 4004 BCE, using information in the Bible and other sources.

usul al-fiqh (Arabic)
Muslim: Principles of shari'a.

Uthman (=Othman)
Muslim: The third caliph; caliphate 23-35 AH (644-656 CE).


Hindu: Religious festivals or holidays.


Indian subcontinent: The second month of the (solar)year. The others are Chaitra, Jyeshta, Aashaadha, Sraavana, Bhaadrapada, Aaswayuja, Kaartika, Maargasira, Pushya, Magha and Phaalguna.

Hindu: The caste of merchants and farmers.


  1. Hindu (Nepalese): A ritual scepter or thunderbolt.

  2. Buddhist (Tibetan): A diamond, the symbol of the indestructible nature of truth.

Buddhist (Tibetan): God the Mother; consort of Chakrasamvara.
Valhalla ("Hall of the Slain")
New Age/ Old Norse: The place to which kings and outstanding warriors were conducted after death by the Valkyries, if they had died in battle or been sacrificed to Odin. Here, Odin presides over an eternal life of fighting and feasting.

New Age/Old Norse: Warrior Goddesses.

New Age/ Old Norse: Fertility deities, sometimes represented as fair giants dwelling in earth or sea who provided wives for the Aesir.

Hindu: A God incarnated as a boar.

Varsha Pratipada
Hindu: (Hindu New Year) occurs in April and is the first festival of the year according to the Hindu solar calendar.

Vasant Panchami
Hindu: The celebration dedicated to Saraswati, goddess of learning.

Hindu: Fifth highest caste, "Sprung from Brahma's thigh."

velayat (Arabic)
Muslim: Designation of leadership.

Venta, Krishna
See Krishna Venta.


Christian: Sixth part of the daily prayer time schedule; 6 p.m.

via negativa (Latin: "the negative way")
Christian: The theological method of speaking about God by saying what he is not rather than what he is. (See also apophaticism.)

viaticum (Derived from Latin: viaticus)

  1. Christian (Roman Catholic): Holy Communion given to those in danger of death.

  2. Christian (Roman Catholic): Anything that gave spiritual strength and comfort to the dying.

  3. Christian (Medieval Catholic): Holy Communion.

Victor Hugo
See: Hugo, Victor.

Hindu: Beginning of studies for the Samskara.

Vijaya Dashami (Sanskrit: "victory on the 10th day"

  1. Hindu (holiday): Commemorates the victory of Durga over the demon, Mahishasura, on the 10th day of their battle.

  2. Hindu (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh) (holiday): Commemorates the founding of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Vikrantha (=Vamana)
Hindu: Vishnu in his fifth incarnation as a dwarf.

vilayt-i-faqih (Arabic)
Muslim: Guardianship or government by the religious authority.

villain (Latin: "villager", resident of "ville")

  1. Common usage: Evil-doer.

  2. Christian (early): Wicked soul.

See P. Villaverde.

vinaya ("The Discipline")
Buddhist: The body of regulations delineating a proper Buddhist life.

Visakha Puja
Buddhist (holiday): Celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death (attainment of Nirvana) of Buddha.

Vishnu (=Visnu)

Hindu: One of the three most important Gods, the preserver of the world and god of love (the others are Shiva and Brahma) He is typically depicted as descending to earth in various forms (avatars) to uphold order (for example, see Krishna, the eighth avatar). Gautama, the Buddha (the founder of Buddhism) is considered (by some) the ninth avatar of Vishnu).

Christian (Roman Catholic): Members of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.

Visitation Nuns
Christian (Roman Catholic): Members of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.

Visitation of Holy Mary
Christian (Roman Catholic): An order of nuns founded on June 6, 1610, in Annecy, France by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal. The monastery is strictly contemplative with papal enclosure and solemn vows.

Vitthal (=Pandurang)
Hindu: One of the incarnations of Vishnu.

Vivekananda Jayanti
Hindu (holiday): The celebration of the birthday of Swami Vivekenanda who was dedicated to bridging the gap between east and west.

vizier (from Arabic waz?r, "minister")
Muslim: Under the Fatimid Dynasty of Egypt, the vizier was in charge of the administration of the realm in the name of the caliph.

voluntarism (from the Latin voluntas: "will")

  1. A philosophical emphasis on the will

  2. Christian: Divine voluntarism is the belief that any essences or laws in the universe, including moral laws, are the result of God's will and not the other way 'round.

New Age/Old Norse: A female seer who presides over divination ceremonies.


  1. Common Usage: Describes an exotic or otherwise unfamiliar religious rite.

  2. Christian: The popular religion originating in Haiti as a blend of Roman Catholicism with west African religious traditions on slave plantations from the 17th Century onwards.

votive mass

Christian (Roman Catholic): A Mass dedicated to a special, symbolic occasion which marks a transition for those concerned in it, such as a wedding, a funeral, or the establishment of peace after conflict.

vrata (Sanskrit: "vow")
Hindu : A general term used to describe festivals in honor of a deity.


WKFL Foundation of the World
New Age: Sect in existence approx. 1948-1958; see WKLF Foundation of the World.

wa al hamdu lillah (Arabic)
Muslim (exclamation): "and thanks to Allah".

wa'azi (Hausa)
Muslim (African): Denotes a category of Hausa Islamic verse.

wafd (Arabic: "delegation")
Muslim (Egyptian): The name of a political party.

wahdat al-wujud

  1. Muslim (Shi'ite): The transcendent unity of being.

  2. Muslim (Shi'ite): The characteristic doctrine of Sufi metaphysics as formulted by Muhyi al-Din ibn Arabi.

Muslim: Puritanical Muslim reform movement that arise in Arabia in the 18th Century CE under Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1787).
Muslim: Puritanical form of Islam based on a strict interpretation of the Qu'ran, prevalent in Saudi Arabia and an inspiration for Afghanistan's Taliban. Founded by Mohamed Ibn Abd-al-Wahab in 18th century.
Muslim: Name of a puritanical Muslim sect deriving its teachings from Ibn Hanbal, established in Arabia in the 18th C and the dominant sect in Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf states.
Native American/New Age: A vindictive spirit living in Superstition Mountain near El Centro, Calif.

wahy (Arabic: "revelation")

  1. Muslim: Revelation, which can come only from prophets; as distinguished from ilham.
  2. Muslim: The revelation of the Qur'an to Muhammad by a kind of verbal/mental process of inspiration.

Muslim: A religiously obligatory act.

wakil (=wakkil; Arabic: "representative," "delegate", "mediator"; pl. wukala)

wali (=wa'li, pl. awliya; Arabic)

  1. Muslim: A saint or holy person.

  2. Muslim: A friend or protector.

  3. Muslim (Iran): wali faqih denotes the leader of the jurists, a post established inthe Islamic Republic of Iran and first held by Ayatallah Khumayni.

waqf (=wakf; Arabic: "pious endowment", "charitable endowment")

  1. Muslim: Endowment of property for religious purposes.

  2. Muslim: Money or property placed in trust, the income from which can be used for charitable purposes to benefit the community as a whole. Such purposes typically include the building and maintenance of mosques, schools and hospitals.

Waqf al Arafa
Muslim (holiday): Observed during Hajj when pilgrims pray for forgiveness and mercy.

warith (Arabic: "inheritor")
Muslim: Common (male) first name.

wasan (Japanese)
Buddhist: A song of praise composed in Japanese to extol a Buddha or Bodhisattva or a historical patriarch.

wasi (Arabic: "guardian")

Watch Night
Christian (African-American; dates from 1863): An occasion to thank God for bringing people safely through another year.


  1. Taoist: One of the Five Elements that form physical and spiritual reality. Associated with kidneys, bladder, winter, salty, (the color) blue and black, Mercury and (the direction) North.

  2. xxxx

wato (=Korean: Hwadu, Chinese: Huatou)
Buddhist (Zen): The head word of a koan.

wazir (=vizier, pl. wuzara; Arabic)

Muslim: Chief minister of an Islamic government.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Christian (North American?): An observance with prayer for the restoration of unity among Christian churches.

Confucian: A key tenet, it refers to education, to learning the art of peace as opposed to war, and especially to the cultivation of music, poetry and painting.

Wheel of Law
Buddhist: This international symbol has eight spokes which symbolize the Eightfold Path. (See also Third section Glossary.)

white (color)
Buddhist: Used to denote purity, reminiscent of a lotus rising untouched and luminous albeit from mud.

White Tara
Buddhist (Tibetan): The Mother of all the Buddhas; White Tara represents the motherly aspect of compassion. Her seven eyes (three on her face, one on the palm of each hand, and one on the sole of each foot) symbolize the vigilance of her compassion. Seated in the meditation posture, her right hand is in the gesture of supreme generosity and her left holds the lotus of compassion with the mudra of the three jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha). White Tara brings the devotee long life and protects against all dangers.

Whitsunday (=Whitsun)
See Pentecost.

whole track
Scientologist: The whole span of the time track.


New Age: Modern Witchcraft, called Wicca, is the most common expression of the religious movement known as Neopaganism. Wiccans focus their liturgy and worship around a Goddess and a God. Rituals and services are timed to the phases of the moon and to the Wheel of the Year (i.e. the solstices, equinoxes, and the days falling midway between these such as May Day and Halloween). The word witch comes from the Anglo-Saxon wicce, which in turn derives from an Indo-European root word meaning to bend or change or perform magic/religion. There are an estimated 200,000 Wiccans in the United States.

wilaya (Arabic)

  1. Muslim: The state of being a wali.

  2. Muslim (Shi'ite): Refers to Ali.

Winter Lent
Christian (Eastern Orthodox): Liturgical season of preparation for Christmas.

wird (Arabic)
Muslim (Shi'ite: Sufi): A Sufi litany.

wisaya (Arabic: "testament")
Muslim: Designation of Ali as executor of Muhammad's last will and testament.

Christian (esp. Roman Catholic): A gift of the Holy Spirit.
Christian: Sophia (see Hagia Sophia)xxxx.

Scientologist: An acronym for World Institute of Scientology Enterprises.


  1. Common usage: An evil female dressed in black, often with a pointed black hat, black cape, black cat and/or broom. Example: The Wicked Witch in the film, "The Wizard of Oz." A common Halloween character.

  2. A human being, either male or female, who is believed to cause physical, psychological or spiritual harm to other humans or living beings by means undetectable to the naked eye.

  3. New Age: A man or woman who practices a life affirming, earth and nature-oriented religion honoring Divinity in female as well as (or instead of) male aspects, and practicing magic (or, magick). (See also Wicca).


  1. Scientologist: An overt a person has committed but is not talking about.

  2. Scientologist: An unspoken, unannounced transgression against a moral code by which a person was bound.

World Communion Sunday
Christian (Protestant; North American?): Observation of the unity of Christians as symbolized in celebration of the Eucharist.

World Religion Day
Baha'i: A day dedicated to the unity and oneness of all world religions.

wudu (Arabic)


  1. Muslim:A purification rite of washing before one prays or reads the Qu'ran.

  2. Muslim (ritual): A purification ritual performed before salat.

wukala (Arabic: pl. of wakil)
Muslim: Refers to the representatives of the Twelfth Imam.

wu-wei (Chinese)
Taoist: The principle of nonaggression and pacifism; actionless action, positive non-doing, active non-acting.


Muslim (American black): A double meaning --"ex" as in no longer what one was, and "X" as in an unknown quantity.
Nation of Islam: The founder of the Nation of Islam considered the existing surnames of blacks to be white-imposed slave names. The X was chosen to represent a black person's lost, unknowable, original African name. When a second member of a particular Nation of Islam group with the same first name was deemed worthy of being honored with the symbolic last name, he would be called 2X and so forth. In some congregations there were as many as ten or more with the same first name, so a person might be called John 10X. This practice has fallen out of favor recently, with many Nation of Islam members choosing "Muhammad" as a last name.

Xunzi (=Hsün-tzu)

  1. Confucian: The Chinese philosopher who developed a new version of Confucianism in the period 298-238 BCE.

  2. Confucian: A book with 32 chapters outlining the theories developed by Xunzi.

Scientology : The head of the galactic federation.

Xian (Chinese: "person in the mountains")

Taoist: Pictogram denoting the philosopher-hermits of ancient China who developed the Tao.

Xian Tao (Chinese: "The Way of the Xian")
Taoist: The first strand of Taoism, dating from about 3000 BCE. The second is Tao Jia, and the third, Tao Jiao


Jewish: The Latin alphabet transliteration of the Hebrew letters for the sacred name for the God of Israel. The actual pronunciation of the name is no longer known, because Jews have for many centuries regarded it as blasphemous to utter the name, and the original Hebrew script was written without vowels. However, an old Christian suggestion is "Jehovah" and a recent scholarly guess is "Yahweh" (see also Adonai).

Hindu (ritual): xxxx.

Buddhist (Tibetan): God of death, usually black in color.

Yamim Nora'im (Hebrew: "Days of Awe")
Jewish: The holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, considered together as a set.

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