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Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions: Revised and Updated Edition

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions: Revised and Updated Edition

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by Larry A. Nichols, George Mather, Alvin J. Schmidt

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Up-to-date, well-documented, comprehensive coverage of cults, sects, and world religions, from the historical to the contemporary

• Well-known groups and world religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Islam, and Baha’i
• Groups with a significant North American influence, including Santeria, Rastafarians, Haitian Voodo


Up-to-date, well-documented, comprehensive coverage of cults, sects, and world religions, from the historical to the contemporary

• Well-known groups and world religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Islam, and Baha’i
• Groups with a significant North American influence, including Santeria, Rastafarians, Haitian Voodo, white supremacy groups, Wicca, and Satanism
• Updated information on Islam and its global impact
• New entries: the Branch Davidians, Native American religions, Heaven’s Gate, Aum Supreme Truth, the Boston Movement, the Masonic Lodge, and many others
• Developments in the world of cults and the occult

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions is arguably the most significant reference book on the subject to be published. Formerly titled Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions, and the Occult, it provides reliable information on the history and beliefs of nearly every form of religion active today. This extensively revised edition includes new topics, updated information, and a brand-new format for a clearer, more organized approach.

The authors evaluate the beliefs and practices of each group from the perspective of the Bible and the historic creeds of the Christian church. You’ll also find group histories, numerous illustrations, charts, current statistics, websites, bibliographies, and other useful information.

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Read an Excerpt

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions

By George A. Mather Larry A. Nichols Alvin J. Schmidt


Copyright © 2006 George A. Mather, Larry A. Nichols, and Alvin J. Schmidt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-310-23954-0

Chapter One


Abakua dance and music have been popularized by dance companies as a harmless cultural heritage. Abakua, however, is much more than music and dance troupes. Also called Naniguismo, it is an all-male secret religious society in Cuba. It is one of many religions blending together West African, Cuban, and Christian elements. The slave trade of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the transport of native Africans to the West Indies, and when they arrived at their new homes, they brought along with them their culture, music, and religion.


In Cuba, Abakua is considered to be the most African of all the West Indies cults. Abakua began as a secret society in 1834 in the village of La Regla, Cuba. The group was named after its leader, Abakua. His strategy was to form a number of independent societies in order to make it difficult for the secrets of the cult to be revealed or exposed. Originally, whites and mulattoes were barred so as to retain a strictly African influence.

Four major ethnic groups from Africa were taken to Cuba: the Bantu, Yoruba, and Ibibio, and the Dahomey (present-day Benin) people, calledEwe/Fon. Today, the Abakua cult consists of two large groups: the Efo group, which still excludes whites from membership; and the Efi group, which has relaxed its reins a bit, allowing nonblacks to become members. Despite ambitious proselytizing efforts on the part of Roman Catholic missionaries, both Portuguese and Spanish, these West Africans and the natives indigenous to the regions of the West Indies and South America have consistently refused to allow CHRISTIANITY an exclusive place in their considerable pantheon of deities. Any attempt on the part of the Christian church to replace the cultic rituals of these peoples has steadily been resisted.


It varies from group to group. Because of the secret nature of the societies, no accurate organizational model can be presented. The lavish ceremonies are described below.


The priests of the Abakua cult, called okobio, are all male, with the exception of one priestess called a casican. The worship centers around the temple, called the famba. Candles, plants, bowls, and other instruments adorn the altars of the famba. Christian influence is evidenced by the presence of crucifixes and pictures of the Christ child and the Virgin.

Music is extremely important in Abakua ceremonies. The drums, called by various names (see erikunde, ekon, maracas, and ifon), play rhythms that are strictly African. The dance, the music, and the sacrifices all center around the goal of conjuring up a supernatural spirit popularly known as the diablito. The name used by members of the cult for this spirit is Ireme. The shaking action of the maracas is instrumental in causing Ireme to appear. In his left hand he holds an ifan, and in his right, the iton. The presence of Ireme is announced by the ringing of metal bells known as enkanika. Ireme is adorned in a decorative mask and his presence wards off evil spirits. The whole concept of the diablito is West African. There is no syncretism with indigenous cultic practices of Cuban Indians.

Much of the Abakua ritual is derived from religious rites of the Yoruba. The divination practices are parallel. Initiates undergo ceremonies wherein they are baptized by soil contained in a bowl made from a skull. The alternate method of initiation, used by the Efi group, is to pour water on the initiate and cover or sprinkle him with albahaca. The new member becomes servant to a specific orisha, and he is then referred to as omo-orisha. Often the new member comes to the group with a Christian name. Upon initiation, he or she is assigned an African name that is forever to remain their secret identity.

As stated above, Christian missionaries have met with much disappointment and a sense of failure in their many attempts to bring the gospel of Christ to the devotees of Abakua. It is not that Christianity is out and out rejected, but it is adapted and incorporated into the pantheon of deities already worshiped by its adherents. Religious syncretism has had a long history dating back to Israel in the Old Testament. The judges, prophets, and righteous kings of Israel and Judah were often raised up by Yahweh to extirpate all idols and false gods as these were forbidden in the Israel's law (Ex. 20:1-6). This tradition was carried over into the New Testament as the early church taught that the center of faith is exclusively in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as described in Scripture and the ecumenical creeds (see Appendix 1).


Abakua continues to flourish alongside numerous other cults in this unique area of the world. Many of the South American and Caribbean groups are making inroads into the United States, chiefly through migrations into the larger metropolitan areas of the country, particularly Miami and New York City.



rhythmweb.com/bongo/history.htm; folkcuba.com


There are roughly six million people in Cuba who practice Afro-Cuban religions of various forms. Precisely how many of these are adherents of Abakua is indeterminate.


"Service is the jewel in the rock of attainment!" Other phrases like "cosmic evolution of man," "read and evolve," and the claim, "For the first time the connection between the science of Yoga, the theology of all major religions and the mystery of UFOs is explained," greet those who happen upon the website of the Aetherius Society (TAS). There are a host of NEW AGE MOVEMENT cults that are specifically classified as UFO groups. Several are covered in this present volume. Among the more popular is TAS.


The Aetherius Society, founded in 1955 in London, traces its beginnings back to George King (1919-1997). King spent ten years mastering Yoga while residing in London. On May 8, 1954, he heard a loud, audible voice that he attributed to an extraterrestrial being, who told him, "Prepare yourself! You are to become the voice of Interplanetary Parliament." Eight days following this prophetic message, King was visited by a "world-renowned Yoga master" who entered the apartment while the door was locked and gave King certain instructions in advanced Yoga. From this, he was able to establish rapport with Master Aetherius, who resided on the planet Venus. King was selected as the "primary terrestrial channel" for communications between "space masters" and earthlings. King then founded the Aetherius Society.

King began to lecture in London, charging a small fee, but met with little or no success. During Operation Starlight, begun in 1958, King allegedly made contact with one Master Jesus who, like Aetherius, was residing on the planet Venus. Master Jesus gave King the first chapter of his Aquarian Age Bible. King also began to receive "transmissions" from Master Aetherius, which were subsequently published in a magazine titled Aetherius Speaks. In another revelation about Jesus, King attacked the virgin birth of Christ by claiming that Jesus was dropped to Earth by a spaceship, the "star of Bethlehem," and he denied Christ's divinity as the Son of God.

King gained a small audience in California who were open to his ideas. He claimed he was able to receive frequent transmissions from other voices of the cosmos, which he published. Aetherius Speaks was changed to the more descriptive title Cosmic Voice. At the bidding of the space masters, King was instructed to go to Los Angeles in 1959. The following year, TAS was incorporated in California. Amid his travels to the United States, Mr. King began calling himself "Dr. George King," although no record exists for an earned doctorate in any legitimate American institution.

Any transmissions from "cosmic masters" are recorded on tape. Three tapes of the received transmissions are made and stored in underground vaults in Los Angeles and other areas in California. Thus, all of the cosmic messages are preserved for the future. "In years to come, these tapes will be an impeachable [sic] reference source as to the exact words of the Cosmic Masters," says King.


TAS is organized around its various centers. The American headquarters is located in Los Angeles and the European headquarters in London. There are various societies located in Canada, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. One may seek membership by filling out an application that is available online. Membership is offered on three levels. A "Friend of the Aetherius Society" pays a small fee, receives the periodical and newsletter, and generally is considered a seeker who wishes to learn more. An "Associate Member" pays a higher annual fee, receives the periodicals, has read King's The Nine Freedoms, his treatise on evolution, and The Cosmic Plan. A "Full Member" supports the "cosmic missions" of the society. Full members pay the same fee as Associate Members. They make pilgrimages to holy mountains, attend prayer services in various locations around the world, visit hospitals, and administer "spiritual healing" to patients.


The essential mission of TAS is to serve. Aetherian minister Alex Moseley puts the matter bluntly: "We are not really popular. It's because our message is work and service. People don't want work and service." Numbered among the various service projects was Operation Bluewater. A glass pyramid filled with coils was maneuvered in a boat over the "psychic center" of the earth. According to King, Operation Bluewater prevented "the worst earthquake America would have ever known." "Operation Bluewater was completely successful," announced King to his followers at its conclusion. "The fact that the West Coast of America is intact proves its success."

Ascended Masters

The Ascended Masters are the long line of spiritual leaders who have ascended to the higher order of the cosmos and whose wisdom and powers are available to those are willing to seek and serve. They include Jesus, St. Germaine, El Morya, and the Buddha. In 1954, King claims that he was to take up his place as the next of the next Cosmic Master.

Like a host of other religious personalities, King claimed to have been contacted by Master Jesus, who visited from Venus and gave him a new Aquarian Age Bible. Traditional orthodox CHRISTIANITY maintains the uniqueness of Jesus Christ (John 14:6), who "sits at the right hand of the Father" (Nicene Creed; see Appendix 1). Jesus, that is, is in heaven, at the right hand of the glory of God (Acts 7:55), not on Venus. He indeed was virgin-born (Matt. 1:23, a verse that also testifies to his deity as "God with us").

Extraterrestrial Life

King and members of TAS assumed the existence of energy planes in outer space. These beings are superior to those on Earth and can be evasive to the telescope and space travel. They make contact with select people on Earth when they choose to.

Humanity and Prayer

Each person exists within his or her consciousness. This means that after death, the soul survives the body, when it ascends to the astral plane. Here it remains until the time comes for it to be reincarnated (see reincarnation) in another body. Once born to another body, it is subjected to the law of Karma, only to be reincarnated again.

Traditional Christian doctrine also affirms the soul's distinction from the body. But at death, the Christian is brought into the presence of God in heaven (2 Cor. 5:6, 8) and will not be returned to the earth for another lifetime in another body (Heb. 9:26-28).

Christianity has little or nothing to say concerning the existence of life in other regions of the universe. The Bible speaks concerning the existence of invisible beings such as angels, demons, and the like. But heaven is not described in terms of "energy planes" or a specific location in outer space. The word "eternal" (timeless) as distinguished from "temporal" (time) is used to describe the difference between heaven and earth (2 Cor. 4:18).

TAS believes that it forestalls world disaster through "Operation Prayer Power." The end of the world has been imminent for several decades. To respond to this threat, King constructed what is known as the "prayer battery." This device resembles a pale blue box and is designed to be "capable of receiving the highest frequencies of Spiritual Energies and putting them in a physical container." It is loaded on Thursday evenings at a "charging session." Here the prayer leader approaches the battery and begins to pray. His prayers are then graded by onlookers. Good prayers increase the power in the prayer battery; poor prayers decrease the charge. Prayer power stored up in the battery is reserved for crisis periods such as famines, earthquakes, wars, and other related phenomena. TAS members believe that the end of the world will come as a result of advanced technological developments and crass materialism.

TAS places much deal of emphasis on the study of extraterrestrial visits to earth by the Cosmic Masters. These visits prove the validity of Aetherian doctrines. TAS investigates UFO reports and claims worldwide governmental cover-up conspiracies to answer critics.

King had been a disciplined student of Yoga. Eastern rites are evident during the group's ceremonies. Part of the cultus of charging the prayer battery involves the intonation of a mantra taken from a Tibetan chant-mani padme om. As a result of praying this chant, it is believed that "spiritual energies" are stored up and subsequently released for the benefit of humankind when needed. The power of the prayer battery is coveted by "evil powers" as well as good.

In order to join TAS, one is carefully screened. Only "members," "associate members," and "sympathizers" are allowed to attend meetings. To become a sympathizer, one must perform mantra exercises for fifteen minutes on a daily basis. King rewrote the Lord's Prayer, which he claimed as a revelation from the Venusian Jesus in 1961. In conformance with TAS doctrine, the prayer was converted to a longer mantra to channel "inner vision" and "energy" to our "higher selves." At the end of some meetings the group energetically chants this prayer.

Certainly the mission of the Christian church is to "serve," as is the mission of TAS: "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The purpose for Christ's coming into the world was to atone for sin. This constitutes, for the church, the ultimate form of service. Service, for TAS, has more to do with utilization of cosmic powers to benefit humanity and humanitarian concerns.

Christianity, like TAS, believes ardently in the power of prayer. But unlike the society, Christianity has no concept of classifying prayer as being "good" and "bad" except in connection with whether a prayer is offered up to God in faith or unbelief. If a prayer is prayed in faith and is according to God's will, God hears it, and it is a good prayer (Mark 11:24). God does not hear prayers that are not offered up in faith (James 1:6-7).

A second contrast concerning prayer is the differing roles it plays for the group. In TAS, prayer and the accompanying emotional fervor is measured by a physical object (the prayer battery). The prayer's success or failure depends on the power left in the battery after the negative forces have been subtracted. We should note that the creeds of the church are silent on the subject of prayer, for they concern themselves with who God is-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-and with what he does as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Prayer is not alluded to because it does not change in any way who God is and what he does. God is still Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, with or without prayer. In short, the creeds of Christendom speak of God's grace to the Christian; prayer is the response of the Christian to God. Prayer is not to be substituted for grace or be used as a means of grace, as it is in TAS.


Excerpted from Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions by George A. Mather Larry A. Nichols Alvin J. Schmidt Copyright © 2006 by George A. Mather, Larry A. Nichols, and Alvin J. Schmidt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Larry A. Nichols is the pastor of Our Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Greenville, Rhode Island. He is coauthor of "Masonic Lodge" in the Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious Movements.

George A. Mather is the pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in St. George, Utah, and is the coauthor of Encyclopedia Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions.

Alvin J. Schmidt (Ph D, University of Nebraska) retired in 1999 as professor of sociology at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where he still lives. He is the author of several books, including The Great Divide: The Failure of Islam and the Triumph of the West, and served as a consulting editor for Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult.

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