Paganism (from Late Latin paganus, meaning "country dweller", "rustic", "civilian", "non-combatant") is a broad term typically pertaining to indigenous and historical polytheistic and non-theistic religious traditions - primarily those of cultures known to the classical world.
In a wider sense, it has been used as a label for any non-Abrahamic folk/ethnic religion. It was historically used as one of several pejorative Christian counterparts to "gentile" (גוי / נכרי) as used in the Hebrew Bible - comparable to "infidel" or "heretic". Modern ethnologists often avoid this broad usage in favour of more specific and less potentially offensive terms such as "polytheism", "shamanism", "pantheism", or "animism" when referring to traditional or historical faiths.
Since the 20th century, "Paganism" (or "Neopaganism") has become the identifier for a collection of new religious movements attempting to continue, revive, or reconstruct historical pre-Abrahamic religion.
The term pagan is from the Latin paganus, an adjective originally meaning "rural", "rustic", or "of the country." As a noun, paganus was used to mean "country dweller, villager." The semantic development of post-classical Latin paganus in the sense "non-Christian, heathen" is unclear. The dating of this sense is controversial, but the 4th century seems most plausible. An earlier example has been suggested in Tertullian De Corona Militis xi, "Apud hunc [sc. Christum] tam miles est paganus fidelis quam paganus est miles fidelis," but here the word paganus is generally interpreted as "civilian," since the alternative would be that Tertullian had written of "In Christ... the faithful pagan." There are three main explanations of the development:
- (i) The older sense of classical Latin pāgānus is "of the country, rustic" (also as noun). It has been said that the transferred use reflects the fact that the ancient idolatry lingered on in the rural villages and hamlets after Christianity had been accepted in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire; cf. Orosius Histories 1. Prol. "Ex locorum agrestium compitis et pagis pagani vocantur." From its earliest beginnings, Christianity spread much more quickly in major urban areas (like Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage, Corinth, Rome) than in the countryside (in fact, the early church was almost entirely urban), and soon the word for "country dweller" became synonymous with someone who was "not a Christian," giving rise to the modern meaning of "pagan." This may, in part, have had to do with the closeness to nature of rural people, who may have been more resistant to the new ideas of Christianity than those who lived in major urban centers and were cut off from the cycles of nature and the forms of spirituality associated with them. However, it may have also resulted from early Christian missionaries focusing their efforts within major population centers (e.g., St. Paul), rather than throughout an expansive, yet sparsely populated, countryside (hence, the Latin term suggesting "uneducated country folk") until a bit later on.
- (ii) The more common meaning of classical Latin pāgānus is "civilian, non-militant" (adjective and noun). Christians called themselves mīlitēs, "enrolled soldiers" of Christ, members of his militant church, and applied to non-Christians the term applied by soldiers to all who were "not enrolled in the army".[clarification needed]
- (iii) The sense "heathen" arose from an interpretation of paganus as denoting a person who was outside a particular group or community, hence "not of the city" or "rural"; cf. Orosius Histories 1. Prol. "ui alieni a civitate dei..pagani vocantur." See C. Mohrmann, Vigiliae Christianae 6 (1952) 9ff.
The post-classical Latin paganismus gave rise to both paganism and to its synonym paynimry. Paynimry may be used of paganism, its practises, and pagans, as well as for the domain or realm of pagans.
In their origins, these usages derived from pagus, "province, countryside", cognate to Greek πάγος "rocky hill", and, even earlier, "something stuck in the ground", as a landmark: the Proto-Indo-European root *pag- means "fixed" and is also the source of the words page, pale (stake), and pole, as well as pact and peace.
While pagan is attested in English from the 14th century, there is no evidence that the term paganism was in use in English before the 17th century. The OED instances Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776): "The divisions of Christianity suspended the ruin of Paganism." The term was not a neologism, however, as paganismus was already used by Augustine.
Less than twenty years after the last vestiges of Paganism were crushed with great severity by the emperor Theodosius I Rome was seized by Alaric in 410. This led to murmuring that the gods of Paganism had taken greater care of the city than that of the Christian God, inspiring St Augustine to write The City of God, alternative title "De Civitate Dei contra Paganos: The City of God against the Pagans", in which he claimed that whilst the great 'city of Man' had fallen, Christians were ultimately citizens of the 'city of God.'
Heathen is from Old English hæðen "not Christian or Jewish" (c.f. Old Norse heiðinn). Historically, the term was probably influenced by Gothic haiþi "dwelling on the heath", appearing as haiþno in Ulfilas' bible as "gentile woman" (translating the "Hellene" in Mark 7:26). This translation was probably influenced by Latin paganus, "country dweller", or it was chosen because of its similarity to the Greek ἐθνικός ethnikos, "gentile". It has even been suggested that Gothic haiþi is not related to "heath" at all, but rather a loan from Armenian hethanos, itself loaned from Greek ἔθνος ethnos.
Both "pagan" and "heathen" have historically been used as a pejorative by adherents of monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam to indicate a disbeliever in their religion; although in modern times it is not always used as a pejorative. "Paganism" frequently refers to the religions of classical antiquity, most notably Greek mythology or Roman religion; and can be used neutrally or admiringly by those who refer to those complexes of belief. However, until the rise of Romanticism and the general acceptance of freedom of religion in Western civilization, "paganism" was almost always used disparagingly of heterodox beliefs falling outside the established political framework of the Christian Church.
"Pagan" came to be equated with a Christianized sense of "epicurean" to signify a person who is sensual, materialistic, self-indulgent, unconcerned with the future and uninterested in sophisticated religion. The word was usually used in this worldly and stereotypical sense, particularly among those who were drawing attention to what they perceived as being the limitations of Paganism. Thus G. K. Chesterton wrote: "The Pagan set out, with admirable sense, to enjoy himself. By the end of his civilization he had discovered that a man cannot enjoy himself and continue to enjoy anything else." In sharp contrast, Swinburne the poet would comment on this same theme: "Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath; We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death." Paganism itself has been perceived at times as a form of polytheism by followers of the other Abrahamic religions because of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (which at first glance might suggest Tritheism,) or the celebration of Pagan feast days and other practices – through a process described as "baptizing" or "Christianization". Even between Christians there have been similar charges of idolatry levelled, especially by Protestants, towards the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches for their veneration of the saints and images.
Historical paganism 
In the Christian perspective the term has been used historically to encompass all non–Abrahamic religions. The term pagan is a Christian adaptation of the "gentile" of Judaism, and as such has an inherent Abrahamic bias, and pejorative connotations among monotheists, comparable to heathen and infidel. Words such as kafir (كافر) and mushrik (مشرك) are similarly used by Muslims.
The adoption of paganus by Latin Christians as an all-embracing, pejorative term for polytheists represents an unforeseen and singularly long-lasting victory, within a religious group, of a word of Latin slang originally devoid of religious meaning. The evolution occurred only in the Latin west, and in connection with the Latin church. Elsewhere, "Hellene" or "gentile" (ethnikos) remained the word for "pagan"; and paganos continued as a purely secular term, with overtones of the inferior and the commonplace.
Bronze Age to Early Iron Age 
- Religions of the Ancient Near East
- reconstructed Proto-Indo-European religion
- Proto-Indo-Iranian religion
Classical Antiquity 
Ludwig Feuerbach (1833) defines "Paganism" (Heidentum) in the context of classical antiquity as "the unity of religion and politics, of spirit and nature, of god and man", qualified by the observation that "man" in the Pagan view is always defined by ethnicity, i.e. Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Jew, etc., so that each Pagan tradition is also a national tradition. Feuerbach goes on to postulate that the emergence of monotheism and thus the end of the Pagan period was a development which naturally grew out of Hellenistic philosophy due to the contradiction inherent in the ethnic nature of Pagan tradition and the universality of human spirituality (Geist), finally resulting in the emergence of a religion with a universalist scope in the form of Christianity.
Late Antiquity 
The developments of Late Antiquity in the religious thought in the far-flung Roman Empire needs to be addressed separately, as this is the context in which Early Christianity itself developed as one of several monotheistic cults, and it was in this period that the concept of "pagan" developed in the first place. Christianity as it emerged out of Second Temple Judaism (or Hellenistic Judaism) stood in competition with other religions advocating "pagan monotheism", including Neoplatonism, Mithraism, Gnosticism, Manichaeanism, and the cult of Dionysus.
Dionysus in particular exhibits significant parallels with Christ, so that numerous scholars have concluded that the recasting of Jesus the wandering rabbi into the image of Christ the Logos, the divine saviour, reflects the cult of Dionysus directly. They point to the symbolism of wine and the importance it held in the mythology surrounding both Dionysus and Jesus Christ; Wick argues that the use of wine symbolism in the Gospel of John, including the story of the Marriage at Cana at which Jesus turns water into wine, was intended to show Jesus as superior to Dionysus. The scene in The Bacchae wherein Dionysus appears before King Pentheus on charges of claiming divinity is compared to the New Testament scene of Jesus being interrogated by Pontius Pilate.
Ethnic religions of pre-Christian Europe 
- Armenian paganism
- Baltic paganism
- Celtic polytheism
- Etruscan religion
- Finnic paganism
- Germanic paganism
- Greek religions of the city-states
- Hellenistic religion
- Archaic Roman religion
- Slavic paganism
- Vainakh paganism
Pagan survivals in folklore 
In addition, folklore that is not any longer perceived as holding any religious significance can in some instances be traced to pre-Christian or pre-Islamic origins. In Europe, this is particularly the case with the various customs of Carnival or Fasnacht and the Yule traditions surrounding Santa Claus/Sinterklaas. By contrast, the Christmas tree in spite of frequent association with Thor's Oak cannot be shown to be an innovation predating the Early Modern period.
Early Modern period 
Interest in pagan traditions was revived in the Renaissance, at first in Renaissance magic as a revival of Greco-Roman magic. In the 17th century, description of paganism turned from the theological aspect to the ethnological, and a religion began to be understood as part of the ethnic identity of a people, and the study of the religions of "primitive" peoples triggered questions as to the ultimate historical origin of religion. Thus, Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc saw the pagan religions of Africa of his day as relicts that were in principle capable of shedding light on the historical Paganism of Classical Antiquity.
Paganism re-surfaces as a topic of fascination in 18th to 19th century Romanticism, in particular in the context of the literary Celtic and Viking revivals, which portrayed historical Celtic and Germanic polytheists as noble savages.
The 19th century also saw much scholarly interest in the reconstruction of pagan mythology from folklore or fairy tales. This was notably attempted by the Brothers Grimm, especially Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology, and Elias Lönnrot with the compilation of the Kalevala. The work of the Brothers Grimm influenced other collectors, both inspiring them to collect tales and leading them to similarly believe that the fairy tales of a country were particularly representative of it, to the neglect of cross-cultural influence. Among those influenced were the Russian Alexander Afanasyev, the Norwegians Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, and the Englishman Joseph Jacobs.
Romanticist interest in non-classical antiquity coincided with the rise of Romantic nationalism and the rise of the nation state in the context of the 1848 revolutions, leading to the creation of national epics and national myths for the various newly formed states. Pagan or folkloristic topics were also common in the Musical nationalism of the period.
Contemporary Paganism 
Contemporary Paganism, or Neopaganism, includes reconstructed religions such as the Cultus Deorum Romanorum, Hellenic polytheism, Slavic neopaganism (Rodnovery), Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, or Germanic religious reconstructionism, as well as modern eclectic traditions such as Discordianism, Wicca and its many offshoots.
Many of the "revivals", Wicca and Neo-druidism in particular, have their roots in 19th century Romanticism and retain noticeable elements of occultism or theosophy that were current then, setting them apart from historical rural (paganus) folk religion.
Like Hinduism, there is no single founder, scripture or religious philosophy. Most Pagans, however, believe in the divine character of the natural world and Paganism is often described as an "Earth religion".
citation needed] and for some 0.2% of US population, figuring as the sixth largest non-Christian denomination in the US, after Judaism (1.4%), Islam (0.6%), Buddhism (0.5%), Hinduism (0.3%) and Unitarian Universalism (0.3%).[
In Iceland, the members of Ásatrúarfélagið account for 0.4% of the total population, which is just over a thousand people. In Lithuania, many people practice Romuva, a revived version of the pre-Christian religion of that country. Lithuania was among the last areas of Europe to be Christianized. In originally Anglo-Saxon nations such as Australia, Odinism has been established on a formal basis since at least the 1930s.
There are a number of Pagan authors who have examined the relation of the 20th-century movements of polytheistic revival with historical polytheism on one hand and contemporary traditions of indigenous folk religion on the other. Isaac Bonewits introduces a terminology to make this distinction,
- Paleopaganism: A retronym coined to contrast with "Neopaganism", "original polytheistic, nature-centered faiths", such as the pre-Hellenistic Greek and pre-imperial Roman religion, pre-Migration period Germanic paganism as described by Tacitus, or Celtic polytheism as described by Julius Caesar. Among extant "major religions", Bonewits would count as Paleopagan Hinduism as it stood prior to the Islamic invasions of India, Shintoism and Taoism.
- Mesopaganism: A group, which is, or has been, significantly influenced by monotheistic, dualistic, or nontheistic worldviews, but has been able to maintain an independence of religious practices. This group includes aboriginal Americans as well as Australian aborigines, Viking Age Norse paganism and New Age spirituality. Influences include: Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, Spiritualism, and the many Afro-Diasporic faiths like Haitian Vodou, Santería and Espiritu religion. Isaac Bonewits includes British Traditional Wicca in this subdivision.
- Neopaganism: A movement by modern people to revive nature-worshipping, pre-Christian religions or other nature-based spiritual paths, frequently also incorporating contemporary liberal values at odds with ancient paganism. This definition may include groups such as Wicca, Neo-Druidism, Ásatrú, and slavic Rodnovery.
Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick in their A History of Pagan Europe (1995) classify "pagan religions" as characterized by the following traits:
- polytheism: Pagan religions recognise a plurality of divine beings, which may or may not be considered aspects of an underlying unity (the soft and hard polytheism distinction)
- "nature-based": Pagan religions have a concept of the divinity of Nature, which they view as a manifestation of the divine, not as the "fallen" creation found in Dualistic cosmology.
- "sacred feminine": Pagan religions recognize "the female divine principle", identified as "the Goddess" (as opposed to individual goddesses) besides or in place of the male divine principle as expressed in the Abrahamic God.
In modern times, "Heathen" and "Heathenry" are increasingly used to refer to those branches of Paganism inspired by the pre-Christian religions of the Germanic, Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon peoples.
See also 
- Ethnic religion
- Folk religion
- List of Pagans
- Myth and ritual
- Spirited - Page 44, Gede Parma - 2012
- Word History
- Watts, Alan W. "Nature, Man and Woman", 1991, Vintage Books, p. 25.
- OED etymology for paynim: < Anglo-Norman paenisme, painisme, paienime, painnim, peinibvgnb, bjkbyh ikbh where is the pegacorn me, paenime, etc., and Old French paienime, paienisme heathen lands (c1150–74), heathen religion (1160) < post-classical Latin paganismus (see PAGANISM n.), probably influenced by Old French paien (see PAYEN n.).
- OED entry for 'paynimry'.
- Matson, Wallace I. (2012). Grand Theories and Everyday Beliefs: Science, Philosophy, and Their Histories. Oxford University Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-19-981269-1.
- Harry Thurston Peck, Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquity, 1897; "pagus"
- Divers. Quaest. 83. Augustine makes clear that, in his time, paganus was the term in Vulgar Latin synonymous to educated gentilis "gentile".
- "Theodosius I", The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912
- "The City of God", Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite DVD, 2003.
- Baggini, Julian (25 March 2012). "Atheists, please read my heathen manifesto". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- 'Hymn to Proserpine'
- Jewish Encyclopedia
- Chapman, John (1912). "Tritheists", The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 17 May 2011.
- Christianised calendar
- The Pope, The Emperor and the Persian Leader
- 'Philip Melanchthon 'Apologia Confessionis Augustanae'
- Jean Seznec 'The Survival of the Pagan Gods'
- "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Paganism". 21 November 2009. Retrieved 17 August 2010. "Paganism, in the broadest sense includes all religions other than the true one revealed by God, and, in a narrower sense, all except Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism. The term is also used as the equivalent of Polytheism."
- – Robinson, B.A (2000). "What do "Paganism" & "Pagan" mean?" at religioustolerance.org
- "Pagan", Encyclopædia Britannica 11th Edition, 1911, retrieved 22 May 2007.
- Eisenstadt, S.N., 1983, Transcendental Visions – Other-Worldliness – and Its Transformations: Some More Comments on L. Dumont. Religion13:1–17, at p. 3.
- Michael York, Paganism as Root-Religion, The Pomegranate, 6:1 (2004), pp. 11–18 (distinguishing the main streams of developed religion as gnostic, dharmic, Abrahamic and pagan).
- Peter Brown, in Glen Warren Bowersock, Peter Robert Lamont Brown, Oleg Grabar, eds., Late Antiquity: a guide to the postclassical world, 1999, s.v. "Pagan".
- c.f. the civil, natural and mythical theologies of Marcus Terentius Varro
- Ludwig Feuerbach, Geschichte der neueren Philosophie (1833), Introduction, §1 (Paganism, Philosophy, Religion, Christianity) Das Wesen des Heidentums war die Einheit von Religion und Politik, Geist und Natur, Gott und Mensch. Aber der Mensch im Heidentum war nicht der Mensch schlechtweg, sondern der nationell bestimmte Mensch: der Grieche, der Römer, der Ägyptier, der Jude, folglich auch sein Gott ein nationell bestimmtes, besonderes, dem Wesen oder Gotte anderer Völker entgegengesetztes Wesen — ein Wesen also im Widerspruch mit dem Geiste, welcher das Wesen der Menschheit und als ihr Wesen die allgemeine Einheit aller Völker und Menschen ist. Die Aufhebung dieses Widerspruchs im Heidentum war die heidnische Philosophie; denn sie riß den Menschen heraus aus seiner nationellen Abgeschlossenheit und Selbstgenügsamkeit, erhob ihn über die Borniertheit des Volksdünkels und Volksglaubens, versetzte ihn auf den kosmopolitischen Standpunkt.
- E. Kessler, Dionysian Monotheism in Nea Paphos, Cyprus "two monotheistic religions, Dionysian and Christian, existed contemporaneously in Nea Paphos during the 4th century C.E. [...] the particular iconography of Hermes and Dionysos in the panel of the Epiphany of Dionysos [...] represents the culmination of a Pagan iconographic tradition in which an infant divinity is seated on the lap of another divine figure; this Pagan motif was appropriated by early Christian artists and developed into the standardized icon of the Virgin and Child. Thus the mosaic helps to substantiate the existence of Pagan monotheism." Biblical Studies on the Web
- Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 26. 1 - 2
- Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 2. 34a
- Wick, Peter (2004). "Jesus gegen Dionysos? Ein Beitrag zur Kontextualisierung des Johannesevangeliums". Biblica (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute) 85 (2): 179–198. Retrieved 2007-10-10.
- Studies in Early Christology, by Martin Hengel, 2005, p.331 (ISBN 0567042804)
- Powell, Barry B., Classical Myth Second ed. With new translations of ancient texts by Herbert M. Howe. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1998.
- "It would be a great pleasure to make the comparison with what survives to us of ancient Paganism in our old books, in order to have better [grasped] their spirit." Peter N. Miller, History of Religion Becomes Ethnology: Some Evidence from Peiresc's Africa Journal of the History of Ideas 67.4 (2006) 675–696.
- Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 846, ISBN 0-393-97636-X
- ARIS 2001 figures.
- Statistics Iceland – Statistics >> Population >> Religious organisations
- "Defining Paganism: Paleo-, Meso-, and Neo-" (Version 2.5.1) 1979, 2007 c.e., Isaac Bonewits
- Jones, Prudence; Pennick, Nigel (1995). A History of Pagan Europe. Page 2. Routledge.
- Robert, P. & Scott, N., (1995) "A History of Pagan Europe". New York, Barnes & Noble Books, ISBN 0-7607-1210-7.
- York, Michael Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion NYU Press (2003), ISBN 0-8147-9708-3.
- Hua, Yih-Fen. book review to: Maria Effinger / Cornelia Logemann / Ulrich Pfisterer (eds): Götterbilder und Götzendiener in der Frühen Neuzeit. Europas Blick auf fremde Religionen. In: sehepunkte 13 (2013), Nr. 5 [15.05.2013], URL: http://www.sehepunkte.de/2013/05/21410.html. (Book review in English).
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