12 kinds of idolatry
Rejected by several of the world’s religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, idolatry refers to the practice of worshiping an image or representation of a god rather than the true god. Many are probably familiar with idolatry due to its inclusion in the Ten Commandments, which state that a believer should not make an image or likeness of anything and pray to it.
Similar to -phobia, –latry is a combining form, which means that it can be combined with other Latin, Greek, or English words to create new terms. The combining form –latry (or –olatry) comes from the Greek –latreia, meaning ‘worship’. In this way, potentially endless variants of “worshiping words” are made possible. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) notes: “Numerous such words, most of them nonce-words, appeared in the mid and late 19th cent., some purely humorous (e.g. babyolatry n.), some related to religious controversy (e.g. ecclesiolatry n.)… Not many have been coined since the 19th century.”
Several dozen of these words appear in the OED, a selection of which we have curated below.
Not the worship of art, as you might think at first glance, artolatry actually refers to the hot-button question that came up during the Protestant Reformation of whether non-Catholic worshipers (who did not believe in transubstantiation) partaking of communion bread would be considered artolaters. The combining form arto- comes from the Greek ἄρτος, which means ‘bread’.
Although it can generally describe an extreme love of books, bibliolatry typically refers to an “excessive adherence to the literal letter of the Bible.”
A nonce word, or a word coined for a single occasion, dollatry conjures a crazed girl spending too much time at tea time with her doll friends.
A form of worship that a few of our readers no doubt subscribe to, epeolatry is the worship of words. A 1928 issue of the Daily Express observes, “Many writers suffer from this disease of epeolatry, or word-worship.”
Although hagiolatry typically refers to the worshiping of saints, the term can also refer to “undue veneration of a famous person.” The combining form hagio- comes from the Greek ἅγιος, which means ‘holy’.
As mentioned above, Mariolatry is the “idolatrous worship of the Virgin Mary.” This view of Mary’s role in Roman Catholic worship was first espoused by Protestants in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Despite the fact that today’s political media would no doubt find great use for it, mob-olatry, or the worship of the mob or “excessive deference or pandering to the mob,” is considered an obsolete word today.
Necrolatry has been used both in an anthropological sense, describing cultures in which the dead are worshiped, as well as in the treatment of dead pop culture figures, especially Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.
Worship of the donkey or ass, onolatry has also come to refer in extended use to “excessive admiration for or devotion to foolishness or a foolish thing.”
Probably the best form of idolatrous worship on this list, Oxonolatry is the worship of or devotion to Oxford.
Besides poetolatry, the worship or excessive veneration of poets, there are also entries in the OED for Shakespearolatry and Bardolatry, both referring to Shakespeare, though the latter has occasionally been used of other writers.
Zoolatry, or the worship of animals, has existed for thousands of years in a wide variety of cultures all around the globe, notably in the ancient Egyptian culture.