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A Crypto-pagan is a pagan who maintains the pretense of adherence to a non-pagan (i.e. Abrahamic) religion while continuing to observe their own religious practices in private. The term stems from the Greek word kryptos, meaning 'hidden' or 'secret'. This may be in response to a perceived danger of rejection by society, or of formalised persecution by an established religious orthodoxy.
In Classical Antiquity
In an article entitled The Corpus Areopagiticum as a Crypto-Pagan Project, Tuomo Lankila of the Universities of Helsinki and Jyväskylä argues that the Corpus Areopagiticum, an ostensibly Christian text attributed to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, was in fact written by Damascius, the last head of the pagan Neoplatonist school of Athens. The article suggests that the work was written "in order to resurrect more easily the polytheistic religion in better times".
In the Middle Ages
The process of the Christianization of Europe typically involved Christian missionaries managing to convert a King or other ruler who then proclaimed his kingdom to be Christian. It certainly took several generations for Christianity to become truly established in the whole society, with many people - especially in rural and outlying areas - clinging for long to their ancestral religion, deemed "Pagan" from the Christian point of view. With the Church establishing its hierarchy and a network of parish priests, such practices were increasingly driven underground. Alternately, the Church in some cases gave some wide-spread practices a Christian guise, for example attributing annual processions or rites, dedicated to a local deity, to a Christian Saint instead; it is likely that in many such cases the formally-Christian people continued for some generations to invoke the original deity.
In the modern world
In modern society, particularly in regions of strong conservative religious belief, contemporary pagans will sometimes also seek to present the impression of conformity to the mainstream in order to mitigate the risk of ostracism or persecution. Many refer to this as "staying in the broom closet", a reference to an LGBTQ person remaining "in the closet" to hide their sexual or gender identity.
In Wicca, as presented by Gerald Gardner, traditional laws instruct practitioners to conceal their practices and religious paraphernalia by using innocuous substitutes which could easily be explained away in case of discovery:
"To void discovery, let the working tools be as ordinary things that any may have in their houses. Let the Pentacles be of wax, so they may be broken at once. Have no sword unless your rank allows you one. Have no names or signs on anything. Write the names and signs on them in ink before consecrating them and wash it off immediately after. Do not Bigrave them, lest they cause discovery. Let the colour of the hilts tell which is which. Ever remember, ye are the Hidden Children of the Gods."
Among modern guides, City Magick, an urban pagan's manual published in 2001, gives examples of how to hide a pagan altar at your home or at work, using items such as letter openers, paper weights, and coffee cups and relaxation candles in the place of the traditional sword, stone, goblet and candle.
- Lankila, Tuomo (2011). "The Corpus Areopagiticum as a Crypto-Pagan Project" (PDF). Journal for Late Antique Religion and Culture 5. ISSN 1754-517X. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
- "Gardnerian Book of Shadows: The Old Laws". sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
- Christopher Penczak. City Magick. Weiser books. pp. 106–120. ISBN 1-57863-206-4.
- Jones "The Roman Economy" – Section with crypto-pagans and neo-platonic faiths