It is interesting reading past terms. Paganism – What is It?
Paganism has been broadly defined as anyone involved in any religious act, practice, or ceremony which is not Christian. Jews and Muslims also use the term to refer to anyone outside their religion. Others define it as religions outside of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, while some simply define it as being without a religion.
In the strictest sense, paganism refers to the authentic religions of ancient Greece and Rome as well as surrounding areas. It originated from the Neolithic (Stone Age) era. The term, pagan, is derived from the Latin word, paganus, which means a country dweller. The pagan usually has a belief in many gods (polytheistic), but only one is chosen as the one to worship which represents the chief god and supreme godhead.
As Christianity progressed into the present age, a pagan became referred to anyone not being a Christian, and paganism denoted a non-Christian belief or religion. If the religion did not fit into the Judeo-Christian-Islamic or Eastern mould, then one practicing that religion was said to be involved in paganism.
Paganism – What is the history?
History records that worship of many gods, goddesses, and deities was viewed by people as important in worship. It was thought that everything had a spirit and was polytheistic, so people had gods and goddesses of the forest, sea, and all aspects of nature.
When the civilizations began to change and develop, the gods grew and changed with the people as they began to acquire gods of their occupations, or gods relevant to their village life. The old gods remained, but were changed or conformed to the changing lives of the people. Gods played an important role in every aspect of society influencing everything from laws and customs to general workings of the community. Reincarnation (rebirth of the body into another bodily form) was believed by the people, but they did not believe in the existence of heaven and hell.
Today, Paganism (neo-paganism) celebrates the Earth, living creatures, nature, and so on. Most modern-day pagans believe in more than one god, while others are atheistic.
Paganism – What are some pagan systems and religions?
Many people want this word to mean something special to their spiritual path that they’ve changed the meaning of the word. Now word evolution isn’t a bad thing, as long as you keep in mind the origination of the word. But very often, a word evolves from it’s defined meaning to a slang term. If you need an example, try Bitch. The meaning of the word is a female dog. The use of the word has become slang to mean a complaint, or anything unpleasant or difficult.
Back to the word Pagan. Some say pagan means “country dweller”. Unfortunately that is very inaccurate. The word pagan -translates to- country dweller, it doesn’t mean one who dwells in the country. Look at this word further and you’ll find by definition pagan means ‘any person who does not espouse to Christian, Muslim or Jewish doctrine’. That’s a big open field of beliefs. But that is what the word means.
Now why would it only include these 3 major religions? Again, further research will reveal that each of these have a basic commonality and origin of faith. Each believes in legends and myths of Abraham, the persecution of Egypt over the Hebrews, the freedom from bondage and the subsequent 40 years journey to the promise land. Each one even believes in the existence of Jesus, though their view of this teacher begins their differences.
The Christians see Jesus as their savior who died on the cross for their sins. The Jews see Jesus as a teacher and prophet, but not the savior promised by their elders. The Muslims see Jesus as their savior (along with others) who was crucified, but was taken off the cross by the hand of God before he died. Please don’t confuse Muslim with Islam. Though these 2 religions are attached today, they were centuries apart during the time periods discussed here.
Keeping that in mind, why does the word pagan translate to country dweller? Well, during the 4th century BC to 13th century AD, most people who lived in cities or large communities had been exposed to at least one of the major religions. Quite a few were followers of one of these faiths, were agnostic or the beginning followers of the sciences. Country folk were more often uneducated in the formalized religions. They were people of nature, farming and living their lives by the breath of the earth, sun and moon. Very few practiced one of the 3 major religions, and thus they were considered pagan.
Carry this further and you’ll find the word neo-pagan. Now many people today don’t like this word at all, because they feel that it implies new age paganism. Unfortunately this again is an inaccurate interpretation and once more because people view the translation of the word neo as it’s definition. Neo is Greek for new. But the key to that sentence is, neo is Greek. At the time the word neo-pagan was created, sometime between the 4th century BC and 4th century AD, the new pagans were people who were defined as pagan, but further defined themselves as nature or earth based believers.
Keep in mind the timing of this word’s origin. The Hellenes Greeks reigned from the 8th century BC to the 3rd century AD when Alexander the Great died. Greece was at it’s height in scientific knowledge. Explorations across Europe and Asia had begun by both the Greeks and the Romans. The Romans reigned their corner of the world between the 2nd century BC to almost the 4th century AD. The Druids reigned Britain, Ireland and France from about the 2nd century BC to the 4th century AD. Although there is much debate on the age of the Druids, anthropological work can at least place the Druids in the 2nd century. All the while the Christians and the Hebrews were making their own ways in the world.
All this confusion about who is pagan and who is a nature pagan got very confusing. The Greeks in their wisdom to categorize and educate developed the concepts of pagan and neo-pagan. I say concepts, because.. Remember at the beginning of this I said we further confuse the definitions of a word by it’s English translation. Well, here you go.
The word pagan is associated to pagus, which is a middle English (1100 to 1500 AD) word that further translates to ‘country dweller’. Just for further understanding, Old English was a spoken dialect between 400 AD to 1100 AD.
Now just to round this out, how does neo-pagan relate to the religion of Witchcraft? Again, look at the definition of neo-pagan, any religion defined as pagan, that further classifies itself as a nature or earth based doctrine. That is a smaller field of religions, but it’s still an open area. But, Witchcraft, by definition is a neo-pagan classified religion.
- American pagans practice a variety of forms of traditions, but the most popular are Celtic, Greco-Roman, Native American, ancient Egyptian, and Norse.
- Kabbalah: During the Middle Ages, this Jewish mystical and magical system developed.
- Shamanism: This tradition is practiced by the Native American cultures. Drumming is the technique used, and in traditional societies, the shaman travels to the spirit realm to gain information regarding the community’s needs like healing or spiritual growth.
- Egyptian: This is very popular today, and involves complex spiritual and magical systems centering on death and rebirth. It developed in ancient Egypt when priestesses and priests became known for their level of knowledge and skill in magical arts.
- Druidism: The original Druids were priestesses and part of the judicial class of the ancient Celts.
- Discordianism: This began as a Buddhist practice with the main idea being “existence is orderly chaos.” Meditative procedures, confusion and enlightenment, chaos and order, pain and pleasure are revealed as inseparable parts of a total vision of reality.