In the late Roman world a paganus was a ‘rustic’, and the word's shift to mean ‘non-Christian’ reflects a period when Christianity had spread among the upper classes and within towns, but not to the rural peasantry. Pagans need not share any common ground, but in Britain the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings recognized the same major gods and goddesses, but with slight variations in name (e.g. Woden/Odin), and although the native British had different deities these had responsibility for similar aspects of life such as warfare and fertility. The Romans had no trouble in assimilating the deities of either group with their own pantheon.
One should not envisage either Celtic or Germanic paganism as having structures or doctrines comparable to those of the Christian church. The building of temples and existence of a professional class of priests seems to have been more a feature of Celtic than Germanic practice. What may have mattered far more to the majority of people were localized guardian spirits who might be honoured at natural sites such as a spring, a grove of trees, or a hilltop.
There is an important distinction between showing that a custom or belief is older than Christianity, and arguing that when it is found among Christians it means paganism is still alive. Some aspects of the supernatural (e.g. fear of ghosts and witchcraft, belief in dreams) are so commonplace that they can occur in virtually any period, including our own, and do not correlate with one religion rather than another. The same is true of large categories of non-rational thought and action, e.g. those involving fate, luck, omens, and minor practices such as touching wood; Christians who think or act in this way rarely see it as inconsistent with faith. Calendar and life-cycle customs usually involve celebratory activities (e.g. dancing, special foods, drinking, disguise, bonfires) distinct from the religious side of the event (if any), but not felt to be in conflict with it. The appropriate word for these is ‘secular’, not ‘pagan’.
Christianity saw off the major pantheons of gods and goddesses without too much difficulty and major festivals of the pagan year such as midwinter could be replaced with appropriate Christian celebrations like Christmas. What was harder to eradicate was the attachment to local holy places, though healing springs, for instance, were sometimes absorbed into local saints' cults.
Recommended books (Free download):
Nathaniel Harris - Liber Satangelica
Albert Pike - Morals And Dogma
Sepharial - A Manual Of Occultism
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