What Is The Meaning Of Pagan
- What Does The Word Mean?
- This is a personal pet peeve and
one that continually arises. Why? Because everyone has their
own "interpretation" of words instead of researching
the definitions and etymology of language. That's not a bad thing,
but it's not really a good thing either. It's human nature to
view all things in life from one's own perspective, but quite
often, that's where we get into trouble. If people would simply
acknowledge the need for common definitions, then it would be
much easier to develop a common understanding, or perhaps even
acceptance of varying views.
- The purpose for defined definitions is to develop that common
language and understanding. Aristotle wrote many books of thought
in his day. It's interesting to note that the first 8 of those
books are based on defining words and what he means when he says
this word or that word. Even then the great thinkers of our world,
understood the deep importance of common meanings of words, even
- One of the other problems we face, is researching words based
on their origin, meaning and, this is the important part, English
translation. We get even further confused when a word is both
English and an ancient dialect. Say for example neo-pagan. We'll
get to this word later.
- Etymology of 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 and not what it translates to.
- 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.
- The academic etymology of Pagan:
- circa 1375, from L.L. paganus "pagan," in classical
Latin "villager, rustic, civilian," from pagus "rural
district," originally "district limited by markers,"
thus related to pangere "to fix, fasten," from PIE
base *pag- "to fix".
- Religious sense is often said to derive from conservative
rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of
Roman towns and cities; but the word in this sense predates that
period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from
the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for "civilian,
incompetent soldier," which Christians (Tertullian, circa
202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early
Church (e.g. milites "soldier of Christ," etc.).
- Applied to modern pantheists and nature-worshipers from 1908.
Paganism is attested from 1433.
- Today's Meaning Of Pagan
- 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 evolved to be associated with a mean woman or it
has become slang to mean a complaint, or anything unpleasant
- But looking at the academic definition of Pagan, it differentiates
between Abrahamic religions (Christian, Muslim and Jewish Doctrine)
and early pagan beliefs. 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 400th
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.
- In their writings about physics/metaphysics and spiritual
concepts the early Greek thinkers discuss the differences between
pagans and pagan communities. Or perhaps a better way to put
it is they differentiate between their brand of paganism and
others they discuss as nature specific pagans. What we might
think of as the early pagans of Celtic origins.
- 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
- 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.
- Pagan vs. NeoPagan
- How does neo-pagan relate to the religion of Witchcraft?
Witchcraft, by definition is a neo-pagan classified religion.
Today's practitioners do not practice in the strictest form of
ancient paganism which would include animal sacrifice, a matriarchal
hierarchy and other archaic practices. Nor would we want to.
Neopaganism, although centuries old, is based on accumulated
and progressive knowledge and understandings of the world and
universe. We know today that the Earth is not the center of the
Universe, the Earth is round, the Universe was formed through
a Big Bang and subsequent evolution.
- All this knowledge has evolved our perspectives and allowed
practitioners to incorporate knowledge from other centuries and
origins into our understanding of metaphysics and belief. It
is a melding of many beliefs into a nature based spiritual perspective
that works toward bringing balance in all aspects of life; and
for that matter, death.
- Let's take this a little further. According to Reference.com:
- "The roots of Neopaganism begin with the Renaissance,
and the reintroduction of Classicism and the resurgence of interest
in Graeco-Roman polytheism in the wake of works like the Theologia
mythologica of 1532.
- The Romantic movement of the 18th century led to the re-discovery
of Old Gaelic and Old Norse literature and poetry. Neo-druidism
can be taken to have its origins as early as 1717 with the foundation
of The Druid Order. The 19th century saw a surge of interest
in Germanic paganism with the Viking revival in the British Isles
and Scandinavia. In Germany the Völkisch movement was in
full swing. These Neopagan currents coincided with Romanticist
interest in folklore and occultism, the widespread emergence
of pagan themes in popular literature, and the rise of nationalism.
- Occultic Revival: During this resurgence in the United Kingdom,
Neo-druidism and various Western occult groups emerged, such
as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi
Orientis, who attempted to syncretize "exotic" elements
like Egyptian cosmology and Kabbalah into their belief systems,
although not necessarily for purely religious purposes. Influenced
by the anthropologist Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough,
several prominent writers and artists were involved in these
organizations, including William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Arthur
Edward Waite, and Aleister Crowley. Along with these early occult
organizations, there were other social phenomena such as the
interest in mediumship, magic, and other supernatural beliefs
which was at an all time high in the late 19th century and early
- Another important influence during this period was the Romantic
aesthetic movement, which venerated the natural world and frequently
made reference to the deities of antiquity. The Romantic poets,
essayists, artists and authors who employed these themes in their
work were later associated with socially progressive attitudes
towards sexuality, feminism, pacifism and similar issues.
- During the Witchcraft Revival in the 1920s Margaret Murray
theorized that a Witchcraft religion existed underground and
in secret, and had survived through the Witchcraft prosecutions
that had been enacted by the ecclesiastical and secular courts
of the Inquisitions. Historians now reject Murray's theory, as
she based it partially upon the similarities of the accounts
given by those accused of Witchcraft; such similarity is now
thought to actually derive from there having been a standard
set of questions laid out in the witch-hunting manuals used by
interrogators. Murray's ideas nevertheless exerted great influence
on certain Neopagan currents."
- In the 1940s, Englishman Gerald
Gardner claimed to have been initiated into a New Forest
coven and began his training with other practitioners such as
Aliester Crowley and the OTO. In the mid to late 1950s Gardner
created his brand of Witchcraft in a tradition he labeled Gardnerian
Wicca. Gardner's Wicca is a modern
version of Neopaganism that adheres closely to Gardner's teachings,
differentiating it from similar traditions, such as Alexandrian
Wicca or more recent Wiccan offshoots.
- In addition to these historical events, modern Witchcraft
also incorporates Shamanistic concepts. Relation to the animal
kingdom, animal sign, psychic abilities and connecting to not
just the Divine, but to each other through energy are all refined
through the basic practices of Shamanism.
- Using Pagan/NeoPagan Today
- Today, in all it's forms, paganism is not what it was in
the beginning, back then or even 100 years ago. And thankfully
so. This is one of the greatest assets about pagan beliefs. We
have the ability and let's call it room within our beliefs to
take in new information and apply it to our beliefs in such away
that we can expand our perspectives without discounting our beliefs.
One might argue that in some ways science is beginning to catch
up to some of our beliefs, such as the concept that energy never
dies, it fades, changes forms and the re-emerges. Many believe
this is scientific evidence of reincarnation. We have adapted
not only scientific information, but even cultural evolution
into our belief structure allowing it to evolve and grow as well.
- Let me add a side note, this is one of my pet peeves with
some purist pagans who insist their tradition is one of the original
"pagan" practices, or traditions that are 200 years
old. Horse hockey! And if it is, why would someone want to practice
a belief system that's rooted in the past and hasn't grown as
human existence has grown and evolved? Change is the only constant
in the universe and even religions must evolve or they become
stagnate and perhaps even detrimental.
- Paganism or neo-paganism or what some are now calling Pagan
Metaphysics is a mish mash of many different religions. We talk
about karma and chakras as if they're solely European concepts,
but these ideas hold a large influence from the East as well.
We have successfully merged these concepts into our beliefs,
or because indo-Europeans had similar concepts with slight differences
or with different names. But that's not true for all subjects.
And I don't think it's a bad thing to merge beliefs, no more
than it's a bad thing to merge practices from different Traditions
to create new Traditions that fit into our world today. We don't
sacrifice goats anymore, or run cows through the fire to purify
them; nor would I want us to.
- In the final analysis, be what you are comfortable with being.
If you wish to be pagan, be pagan. If you wish to be neo-pagan,
be that. If you desire to expand into a new world, step into
Pagan Metaphysics. In the end, you are the only person who has
the right to label who and what you are.
Source: 1, c3,
- Created: 09/29/2004 Updated: