Glossary of Religion: M

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Learn the definitions of religious terms and concepts with our extensive Glossary of Religion. Choose a letter above or explore the random terms below.

Mahabharata
("Great Tale of Bharata's descendents"). Epic tale of over 100,000 verses in length composed between about 400 BCE and 400 CE. The Mahabharata recounts the battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas for kingship. It contains the Bhagavad-Gita, in which the god Krishna assists the Pundava hero Arjuna at a moment of decision.
Mahadeva
One of the names of Shiva.
Mahashivaratri
An annual Hindu festival dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva, celebrated on the night before the new moon in February or March. The thirteenth night of the dark half of every lunar month is sacred to Shiva but this night in the month of Magha or Phalguna is when devotions to the deity reach a climax. The festival commemorates the night Shiva is said to have performed the Tandava, the celestial dance of primordial creation, preservation, and destruction.
Mahavidyas
("great" + "knowledge"). Ten Hindu goddesses who represent the ten forms of transcendent knowledge and tantric power. They are personifications of Brahman's Sakti, so through worship of them, one can gain knowledge of Brahman. They are: Kali, Tara, Sodasi, Bhukanesvari, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta/Viraratri, Dhumavati, Bagala, Matangi and Kamala. The Mahavidyas were especially popular in medieval Bengal.
Mahayana Buddhism
Sanskrit. Scriptures translated into local languages.
Mahesvara
("Great Lord"). Epithet of Shiva, sometimes of Vishnu.
Mahesvara-sutra
A Saivite text attributed to Shiva, dealing with the four ways that lead to ultimate insight: yoga, vedanta, language and music.
Mahesvari
Consort of Mahesvara; a name for Shakti; one of the goddesses created by Shiva who constitute the Divine Mothers (Matrkas).
makarismos
Greek, "blessed." Used in Homer and possibly in rites of initiations in mystery cults.
Maltese cross
Symbol of the Order of St. John (Knights of Malta), Malta, and many modern-day firefighters and paramedics.
mandalas
Generally, geometric motifs, often circular and symbolic of the Universe, capable of innumerable variation and meaning in a variety of media.
mantra
Sacred sound believed to possess supernatural powers.
Mardi Gras
(French, "Fat Tuesday"). Final climactic day of Carnival festivities, occurring on the last day before Lent (41 days before Easter). In some places, such as New Orleans, the term is applied to the entire Carnival season.
marga
Path or way to moksa.
marriage
Generally refers to the legal and social union of a man and woman as husband and wife although in recent time the term has occasionally been applied to the union of a gay couple as well. For the act or ceremony of marriage, use "weddings." The term is sometimes used to refer to a close or intimate union in a general sense, not limited to people.
martyrs
Those who sacrifice their lives for the sake of religion or principle.
maschalismos
A practice mentioned in tragedies, which may or may not have been common in real life, of cutting off the extremities of a murder victim and placing them under the corpse's armpits (maschalai). The purpose was probably humiliation, but may have also served to avoid pollution or prevent the corpse from taking vengeance.
mashgiach
(Hebrew) Rabbi trained to certify foods as kosher.
Matthew
The first gospel and first book of the New Testament, written c. 80-85 CE. Emphasizes Jesus as the Messiah and fulfillment of Jewish prophecies.
matzah
(Hebrew, "unleavened bread"). Also spelled matzo or mazzah. Unleaved (non-yeast) bread used during Passover based on Exodus 12:39, in which the Israelites fled Egypt with only unleavened bread because they could not wait for the dough to rise. Called the "bread of affliction" based on Deuteronomy 16:3.
mazel tov
(Hebrew, "good planetary influences "). "Good luck." Usually said at the end of a wedding or upon hearing good news.
meditation
Act or process of serious and sustained mental reflection or contemplation, often as a private devotional practice. Meditation is regarded as conducive to increased spiritual awareness or somatic calm.
menorah
(Hebrew, "candelabrum"). A seven-branch candlestick. Part of the furnishings of the tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem. In 1948 it became the official symbol of the State of Israel. Often used to refer to the chanukkiah.
Messiah
(Greek christos; "anointed one"). The future hero or king of Israel predicted by the Hebrew prophets.
Methodism
A Protestant denomination emphasizing a close personal relationship with God, the importance of the Holy Spirit, and a strong belief in the historical doctrines of Christianity. A simple and egalitarian form of worship in which ministers and laymen cooperate is advocated, as is work done on behalf of the poor and unfortunate. Methodism was started as an evangelical movement within the Church of England by John Wesley in 1739 and it became a separate denomination in 1795.
mezuzah
(Hebrew, "doorpost"). Small parchment of Torah verses placed on the doorpost of Jewish homes in obedience to Deut. 6:9.
midrash
(Hebrew derash, "sermon"). Stories, sermons, parables, and other material explaining the Talmud.
midrash
(Hebrew derash, "sermon"). Stories, sermons, parables, and other material explaining the Talmud.
mikva
Body of natural water used for ritual cleansing.
minarets
Tall, slender towers of a mosque, from which the faithful are called to prayer.
minbars
Pulpits in mosques, having a small stand for the speaker, parapet, canopy, narrow stairs, and usually a gate at the foot of the stairs.
Ming
(Chinese, "name"). n Chinese thought, to name something is to assign it a place in the hierarchy of the universe. The Tao is therefore nameless.
Minyan
Quota of ten adult Jews required for certain prayers and observances.
Mishnah
(Hebrew, "a teaching that is repeated"). Rabbinic commentary on the Torah and part of the Talmud. Codified c. 200 CE by Judah Ha-Nasi.
Mishneh Torah
(Hebrew, "repetition of Torah"). The book of Deuteronomy or, more commonly, the code of Maimonides.
missions
Self-sustaining frontier or outpost settlements created by a body of persons sent out by a religious organization to evangelize abroad, and often to aid in the administering of colonial wilderness enterprises. They are sometimes established under the protection of a government, as with the Spanish settlements of America. Missions typically include buildings for housing the people and activities of the group, including a church.
Mithraism
Religion based on devotion and worship to Mithra, the Iranian god of the sun, justice, contract, mediation, and war in pre-Zoroastrian Iran. Also refers to the religion in the Roman Empire during the second and third centuries centered around the worship of Mithras, the patron deity of loyalty to the emperor. This religious practice dissipated with the recognition of Christianity by emperor Constantine in the fourth century.
mitre
(Greek mitra, "turban"). Liturgical headdress of a bishop. In the Eastern Church it resembles a crown similar in form to that worn by Byzantine Emperors. In the Western Church it is shield-shaped and made of embroidered satin, which is often jewelled. Two fringed pieces hang down in the back.
mitzvot
(Hebrew "commandments"). Commandments; religious actions (singular mitzvah). Sometimes used more generally to refer to any good deed.
mlecchas
In ancient India, foreigners, especially those considered barbarians or less civilized.
modalism
Belief system in which God consists of a single person who reveals himself in different modes. Thus the Son is divine, but the same person the Father. Declared heretical in the early church. Closely related to patripassianism and Sabellianism.
mohel
(pronounced "MOY-el"). The person who performs the ritual of circumcision. Must be an observant Jew trained in the applicable Jewish law and surgical technique.
moksa
("release"). Liberation from the cycle of rebirth, which is believed by most philosophical schools to be the ultimate goal of life.
monarchianism
General term for early Christian heretical beliefs that focused on safeguarding the oneness of God by denying the Trinity. In dynamic monarchianism, Jesus was a man who was given the power of God. In modalist monarchianism, Jesus was the Father incarnate.
monasticism
A form of religious life that emphasizes the perfection of the individual through immersion in a consecrated community or, more rarely, through a solitary and ascetic existence. Monasticism is found in both Buddhism and Christianity, particularly in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Although it began as a lay movement in Christianity, clergy soon came to dominate and it began to involve voluntary poverty and a life devoted to worship.
monk
Members of a religious brotherhood who are devoted to a discipline prescribed by their order. Monks often take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Performance of religious duties and contemplation are traditional priorities. Monks typically live apart from society in communal monasteries, but some live alone (hermits or anchorites).
Mormonism (LDS)
Religious belief systems practiced by any of several denominations and sects that base their beliefs on the Book of Mormon and the teachings and visionary experiences of Joseph Smith (1805-1844). The largest of the sects is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mormons believe that in 1822 the angel Moroni led Smith to gold tablets buried in 438 CE on a hill near Palmyra, New York. These tablets were inscribed with the Book of Mormon, which Smith translated.
mourning
The feeling or expression of grief or sorrow; also, the period of ritual observance accompanying a death.
Muharram
First month in the Islamic calendar. Also a name for al-Hijra, the Islamic New Year.
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Article Info

Title Glossary of Religion: M
Published
Last UpdatedFebruary 13, 2021
URL religionfacts.com/glossary/m
Short URLrlft.co/3494
MLA Citation “Glossary of Religion: M.” ReligionFacts.com. 13 Feb. 2021. Web. Accessed 11 May. 2021. <religionfacts.com/glossary/m>