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Paganism is a very broad set of religious beliefs and practices which are characterized by polytheism and less commonly animism. Many pagan religions are based on nature, and these are also called nature-based religions. Paganism predates modern monotheism, although its origins are lost in prehistory. In one well-established sense, paganism is the belief in any non-monotheistic religion, and in this sense it is often used pejoratively by adherents to monotheistic religions (such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) for adherents of non-monotheistic religions.

The term is sometimes used by Christians as a pejorative term to indicate a person who doesn't believe in Christianity. "Paganism" is also sometimes used to mean the lack of (an accepted monotheistic) religion, and therefore sometimes means essentially the same as atheism. "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 someone else's beliefs. It has more recently been used admiringly by those who find the monotheistic religions confining or colourless. Especially since Romanticism, there have been increasing numbers of people who agree with William Wordsworth, that:

. . . . .I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn. . . [1] (http://www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?prmID=1991)

In another sense, as used by modern practitioners, paganism is a polytheistic, panentheistic or pantheistic, often nature-based religious practice. This religious faith includes Asatru, Wicca and Neopaganism. Although Neopagans often refer to themselves simply as "Pagan", for purposes of clarity this article will focus on the primitive religion, while Neopaganism is discussed in its own article.

Origins and meanings of the term

The Latin word paganus is an adjective meaning "rural", "rustic" or "of the country" and in the 4th century AD had developed a negative connotation of "rustically unsophisticated" ie "country bumpkin" in line with Classical civilization's high valuation on urban life. In the 5th century as Christianity began to take hold in the cities for example in ancient Gaul the pagani, were as yet untouched by this new religion, and so the negative connotation of the word combined with the religious difference to give the then-new meaning to the word pagan.

Christianity also became a major religion in the Roman army, from which concepts of the Church Militant derive. Here "pagani" has meanings of non-combatant, pacifist, with attendant derision. From the widespread popularity of Christianity among slaves, the most numerous class in the Roman Empire, by contrast "pagani" acquired connotations of "uppity", "dissident" and so on to "heretic."

Certain scholarly fashions from the medieval period onwards, attempted to assert the value of sophisticated Pagans such as Aristotle and Plato and Ovid. This had some influence among upper class educated people but did little to counter a more general prejudice.

External link

  • James J. O'Donnell, "The Demise of Paganism (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/texts/demise)," Traditio 35(1979), 45-88

Anthropological terms for Pagan

  • Paleo-Paganism: A Pagan culture that has not been disrupted by other civilizations or other cultures. This does not include any known cultures.
  • Meso-Paganism: A group, which is, or has been, influenced by a conquering culture, but has been able to maintain an independence of religious practices. This includes Native Americans and Australian Aborigine Bushmen.
  • Syncreto-Paganism: A culture, which has been conquered but adopts and merges the conquering culture religious practices with their own. This includes Voodoo, Santeria, and the Culdee Christianity.
  • Neo-Paganism: An attempt to by modern people to reconnect with nature, pre-Christian religions, or other nature-based spiritual paths.

Also see: Listing of noted Pagans

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