Who is a Pagan? What is Paganism? Everybody has their favorite definition of the word "Pagan." Most people are convinced that their meaning is the correct one. But no consensus exists as to the "correct" definition of "Pagan," even within a single faith tradition or religion The same problem happens with the definition of "Christianity," and probably with many other religions.
We recommend that neither "Pagan" nor "Paganism" be used unless you carefully pre-define it. Otherwise the people listening to your speech or reading your material will probably be confused because their definition will be different from yours.
Origin of the term:
There is general agreement that the word "Pagan" comes from the Latin word "pagans." Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the precise meaning of the word in the fifth century CE and earlier. There are three main interpretations. 1 None has won general acceptance:
- Most modern sources by persons who consider themselves Neopagans or Pagans interpret the word to have meant "rustic," "hick," or "country bumpkin" -- a pejorative term. The implication was that Christians used the term to ridicule country folk who tenaciously held on to what the Christians considered old-fashioned, outmoded pagan beliefs. Those in the country were much slower in adopting the new religion of Christianity than were the urban dwellers. Many rural dwellers still followed the Greek state religion, Roman state religion, Mithraism, various mystery religions, etc., long after those in urban areas had converted.
- Some believe that in the early Roman Empire, "paganus" came to mean "civilian" as opposed to "military." Christians at the time often called themselves "miles Christi" (Soldiers of Christ). The non-Christians became "pagani" -- non-soldiers or civilians. No denigration would be implied.
- C. Mohrmann suggests that the general meaning was any "outsider," -- a neutral term -- and that the other meanings, "civilian" and "hick," were merely specialized uses of the term. 2
By the fifth century CE, its meaning evolved to include all non-Christians. Eventually, it became an evil term that implied the possibility of Satan worship. The latter two meanings are still in widespread use today.
There is no generally accepted, single, current definition for the word "Pagan." The word is among the terms that the newsgroup alt.usage.english, calls "skunk words." They have varied meanings to different people. The field of religion is rife with such words. consider: Christian, cult, hell, heaven, occult, Paganism, pluralism, salvation, Witch, Witchcraft, Unitarian Universalist, Voodoo, etc. Each has at least two meanings. They often cause misunderstandings wherever they are used. Unfortunately, most people do not know this, and naturally assume that the meaning that they have been taught is universally accepted. A reader must often look at the context in which the word is used in order to guess at the intent of the writer.
Many Wiccans, Neopagans, and others regularly use the terms "Pagan" and "Paganism" to describe themselves. Everyone should be free to continue whatever definitions that they wish. However, the possibility of major confusion exists -- particularly if one is talking to a general audience. When addressing non-Wiccans or non-Neopagans, it is important that the term:
- Be carefully defined in advance, or that
- Its meaning is clearly understandable from the content of the text.
Otherwise, the speaker or writer will be discussing one group of people, while the listeners or readers will assume that other groups are being referred to.
The first of seven definitions: Pagans consist of wiccans and other Neopagans:
We recommend that this should be the primary definition of "Pagan," for the simple reason that many Wiccans and other Neopagans embrace the term for themselves. "Paganism" in this sense refers to a range of spiritual paths. These are generally Neopagan religions based on the deities, symbols, practices, seasonal days of celebration and other surviving components of ancient religions, which had been long suppressed. For example:
- The Druidic religion is based on the faith and practices of the ancient Celtic professional class;
- Followers of Asatru adhere to the ancient, pre-Christian Norse religion;
- Wiccans generally trace their roots back to the early Celtic era in Europe.
- Other Neo-pagans follow Hellenismos (ancient Greek religion), Religio Romana (ancient Roman religion), Kemetism (ancient Egyptian religion) and other traditions.
Some Neopagan religions, like wicca and Druidism, are Earth centered. They emphasize living in harmony with the Earth and observing its cycles. Others, like Hellenismos and Religio Romana, are deity centered.
Some typical quotations which demonstrate this meaning of "Pagan" are:
- "Witchcraft, or Wicca, is considered part of the occult, but has little relationship to Satanism. Wicca is pagan (pre-Christian, as opposed to anti-Christian) and is currently gaining popularity." 3
- "Witches do not worship the devil...Witches are more interested in magical arts and the divinity of nature...Wiccans are considered pagans because they worship several nature gods instead of a single god." 4
- "The World Christian Encyclopedia estimates 6 million Americans profess to be witches and engage in practices like these. They are a sub-group of over 10 million persons the encyclopedia says call themselves pagans, who practice "primitive" religions such as Druidism, Odin worship and Native American shamanism." 5
In this sense, "Pagan" refers to a group of religious traditions, and should be capitalized, as are Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Recommended books (Free download):
Austin Osman Spare - A Book Of Satyrs
Nathaniel Harris - Liber Satangelica
Phil Hine - Oven Ready Chaos
Henry Cornelius Agrippa - Of Geomancy
Paganism is a collection of varied earth-based religions based on timeless values such as belief, responsibility, respect, freedom, honesty...
Just as the term "Eastern religions" refers to Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc., the terms "Neo-Pagan" "Neopagan,...
1. Paganism is a religion (or field of related religions) in its own right, being traceable from prehistoric times through most ancient an...
Here is a quick and extensive listing of pagan, wiccan, roman, magical, and other holidays for November 2010 through December 2011. The date...