Defining Athletic Cult

Within Senobessus Bolgon and regional variants of it to come, there is an extrapolated practice called Nertobessus or Strength Custom. We hope to establish it as, ‘Athletic Cult’.

But what is athletic cult?

Athlete: From ἀθλέω (athléō, “to contend”) +‎ -τής (-tḗs, masculine agentive suffix)[1].



  1. (sports) Physical activities such as sports and games requiring stamina, fitness and skill.
  2. A group of sporting activities including track and field, road running, cross country and racewalking.


Cultus[3]: (religion) cult, a particular tradition of worship or veneration of deities, ancestors, guardians or saints.


A quick look at the definitions above would then give us a definition of athletic cult as a particular tradition of worship/veneration of deities, ancestors, guardians or saints that are associated with physical activities such as but not limited to sporting events. 


While the concept of athletic cultus by itself is not as well attested (as a concept) as various practices such as fertility cult, there is evidence of athletics being used to please gods and ancestors in ritual, whether it be propitiation or petition. As Sarah C. Murray said in her essay of ‘The Role of Religion in Greek Sport’, “Greeks explained the origin of their athletic contest by appealing to the gods and heroes that they worshipped and to whom they gave credit for many of the successes and failures of their lives. Athletic competitions were thoroughly saturated with religious activities such as sacrifices, oaths and prayers”[4].


We see this in other aspects of athleticism as well. In Kalarippayattu, there is an opening ritual and closing ritual that shows respect to gods of the Kalari and to the previous Gurus, which could be thought of a division of ancestor cult in a way.[5][6][7].


In different Muay Thai schools, there are thought to be ghosts that could help or hinder training or fighting. These ghosts are offered to for protection prior to events, whether they are spirits of place or ancestors[8][9]. The Muay Thai Wai Kru also is a piece of athletic cult. Beginning at a corner of the ring before a fight, the practioner will seal/circumambulate the ring counter-clockwise, tapping the four corners while reciting a prayer, followed by a clockwise circumambulation in the center of the ring followed by the rest of the Wai Kru movements[10].


Another interesting religion that can be drawn from in order to extrapolate the concept of athletic cult is the Japanese Shugendō. While Shugendō is more in line with asceticism today, the Yamabushi often included the training of various Marital Arts. Excluding the Martial Arts, there are many aspects of Shugendō that require strict discipline and training[11]. 


While asceticism may originally come from ἄσκησις (training, exercise)[12], it is more inline with abstinence from sensual experiences in favor of the spiritual. It may be worthwhile to draw from ascetic practices in order to flesh out athletic cult in the future. However, if asceticism is in favor of denying the body in favor of the spirit, we will treat athletic cult differently. 


How we would then define ‘Athletic Cult’ from this short blurb:

The ritual practice of worshipping ancestors, spirits/beings, and gods purposefully prior to, during and/or upon completion of any competitive event and physical training designed to produce adaptation for competitive events, survival and life in general.







4. A Companion to Sport and Spectacle in Greek and Roman Antiquity by Paul Christesen and Donald G. Kyle. ‘The Role of Religion in Greek Sport’ essay by Sarah C. Murray




8. The Ghost World of Muay Thai by Lindsey Newhall


10. Wai Kru – Muay Thai Dance Explained by Aaron Jahn

11. Asceticism and the Pursuit of Death by Warriors and Monks by Ken Jeremiah