Cultus, meaning “care, cultivation, worship,” is the worship of a deity, which requires knowledge of giving said deity their proper due, in the form of deeds which animate belief. This implies active maintenance beyond mere passive adoration, and is typically in the form of traditions with correctly performed rites and ceremonies that worshipers engage in to “cultivate” the benevolence of the Gods as a means of bringing us closer to their divine light. The concept deeply ties to religio (the service that mortals render to the Gods), which is nothing other than the proper cultus of a God.
A cultus is not only inspired by the Gods, but is actively advocated by them. All cults were established through divine inspiration, such as the cultus of Lord Serapis, who had revealed Himself to the city of Sinope and later the divine Ptolemy Soter. Once His sacred icon was retrieved under orders of the Pharaoh and brought before the Greek and Egyptian priesthoods in Alexandria, the priests, through divine inspiration and synthemata, came to discover and understand His cultus. Other times, some specific cultus were established by intentional human agents with divinely-inspired souls who were sent forth from the divine. Semele, for example, was the first Prophetess who perceived the forthcoming of Dionysos, and gave signal of the mystic rituals connected to the God (albeit too early.) Orpheus is another example, who had been something of a philosophical prophet acting as the founder of Orphism.
These divine origin of a cultus means that since the authentic kernel of the cultus is immortal, being divine and thus always healthy, a part of the cultus is incorruptible and therefore any damage a cultus suffers during the course of history is consequently repairable. This divine part of the cultus is forever and unchanging. It is always present, and it is something that cannot be changed or tampered with. However, practice tends to be part divine and part mortal, and while the divine part cannot be changed, the mortal part is subject to reform, and therefore a certain degree of innovation is allowed in proper cultus. If traditional forms are seen as faulty, they can be replaced by what is perceived as more proper, and simultaneously authentic traditions can be resurrected where they are lacking. This is thanks to Platonic scientific theology which allows adequate knowledge of the divine, which is done through dianoia (the capacity for discursive thinking) and theourgia (communion with the divine through experience). Cultus is itself steeped in theurgic activity and serves as the stepping stone for theourgia.
“Zeal to do all that is in one’s power is, in truth, a proof of piety, and it is evident that he who abounds in such zeal thereby displays a higher degree of piety; whereas he who neglects what is possible, and then pretends to aim at what is impossible, evidently does not strive after the impossible, since he overlooks the possible.”
Pietas (Piety in English, Eusebeia in Greek) is a something that is essentially “dutifulness,” and is paying proper honor to the Gods. It is concerned with deeds regarding moral issues, the natural order, and the maintenance of devotion towards family, friends, ancestors, your fellow man and the Gods. Furthermore, it is done through the correct practice of rituals. The concept of piety goes hand in hand with kharis. While kharis is the reciprocity and the religious relation that comes from practicing piety, piety is the actual practice of worship through actions (typically sacrifice and properly performed rites) and building one’s kharis with the divine.
When one approaches the Gods, they must show their piety and receptiveness (Xenia) and always recognize their place in the cosmos (Aidos). Piety improves the condition of the soul by elevating it towards the Gods. To elevate our souls upwards to them, we expose ourselves towards their divine radiance through offerings, prayers, meditation, hymns, worship through images, invoking divine presence, etc. In other words, we use piety to engage in cultus.
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