Paganism isn't actually a religion or single set of beliefs, so much as a group of related, often highly individual, spiritual and religious paths. Most Pagan paths are polytheistic, pantheistic, and/or nature-oriented, but exact beliefs vary greatly. Common Neo-Pagan religions include Wicca, Druidism, Shamanism, and Asatru, among others. Older religions that many would consider Pagan include Hindu and most American Indian faiths.

this node primarily describes what paganism is *today*. for more historical information, see the history of Paganism instead.

the word 'pagan' came from the latin "pagani", literally meaning "country dweller". the name came about when christianity had gotten a firm hold on most of the "civilized world"--ie, in the large cities, among the aristocrats. but the country folk, superstitious and stubborn chose to cling to their old ways, their old lifestyles, and their old gods and goddesses.

paganism then came to mean merely one who was not christian, jewish, or muslim and maintained this definition for centuries. pagan was interchangeable with the word heathen at this time.

today, paganism has again evolved into something else entirely. paganism, or more correctly neopaganism is a ... well it's really more of a spirituality than anything else. it's a fairly blanket term to cover most goddess-based, polytheistic, magically bent, "witchcraft-ish, or otherwise nonstandard religions. while the religions within it, such as wicca, druidism, asatru, etc are religions PROPER, paganism is really more the sweeping spirituality atop of the specifics. many many people who will not claim wicca or any of the others as theirs still practice happily as pagan.

most, but by NO means all, pagans worship/work with a pantheon of various gods and goddesses, drawing from different systems the deities they get along with best, but focus primarily on the triple goddess/mother goddess/earth mother and her consort the horned god. asatru is the main "renegade" here, using the old high norse pantheon it its entirety.

however, deity worship is by no means necessary as it is spirituality and not a religion. people who work with energy, healers, spellcasters, 'witches', and most magic-users--the serious ones at least--almost always fall under the loose pagan heading.

paganism, if it had to be characterized, answers to these few things. the people tend to be very laid back in terms of people choices. they're not (usually) radical screaming liberals, but more of the ... well, they follow the general idea of the wiccan rede: "and harm ye none do what ye will", or in more modern (and e2'ish terms) If someone wants to do something and it isn't hurting you...DON'T BE A FUCKING DICK about it. ^_^ (this is completely unrelated to the religion, except for the open-minded aspects, but interestingly, among the pagans i know, the percentage of people who are bisexual, polyamorous, etc. is MUCH higher than the "rest" of society.) most pagans believe in some form or another of reincarnation. and of course, they believe in magic. the real kind. because that's what it is to us, is real, and our lives. we live and work both in the mundane world, and in a place of dreams and magic.

urg. this got long and rambling and still didn't explain it WELL. please, if you're pagan, or just well-versed in paganism, add some thoughts here to help clarify further.

The definition that I have found works best for Paganism comes from Isaac Bonewits (among others).

To most of us, Paganism is a general term for polytheistic religions old and new...
Some would add pantheistic to that, which I will grant. Pagan appears to come from the Latin paganus, meaning country dweller/hick. Interestingly, some claim that it was originally used by the Roman army to mean civilian.

This definition will envelop just about all of the non-monotheistic faiths, with exceptions raised for certain sects of Taoism and Buddhism. So that means that Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are not 'Pagan' (though some of them have happily used this word to refer to others), while Hinduism is in right alongside Wicca and the Church of All Worlds.

Under this definition, a given Pagan might or might not:

Some like to further divide the term into Neopaganism, Mesopaganism, and Paleopaganism, based on time, liberalism, or some combination.

Pa"gan*ism (?), n. [L. paganismus: cf. F. paganisme. See Pagan, and cf. Painim.]

The state of being pagan; pagan characteristics; esp., the worship of idols or false gods, or the system of religious opinions and worship maintained by pagans; heathenism.


© Webster 1913.

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