First century BCE sculpture of the goddess Venus

Paganism (from the Latin word "paganus", meaning "country dweler") is an umbrella term covering native, polythesitc or non-theistic religious traditions.

In other ways, paganism is used to describe religions that are non-Abrahamic (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc). In many ancient Abrahamic texts and scriptures, paganism is refered to as "heretic". In modern times, paganism has had a resurrection spiritual tradition known as Neo-paganism ("neo" coming from the Greek prefix, meaning "new"). Neo-paganism, also known as Contemporary Paganism, is a more earth-based religion with many sub-traditions that practice magic. Some of these traditions are Wicca, Shamanism, Baltic Paganism, Goddess worship among many others.



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."


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 monothesitc 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 heredox beliefs falling outside the established political framework of the Christian Church.  "Pagan" came to be equated with a Christianized sense of "epicurian" 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. Chesterson 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." Christianity 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 paganismEdit

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, 'Helene" or "gentile" (ethikos) remained the word for "pagan"; and paganos continued as a purely secular term, with overtones of the inferior and the commonplace.--Peter Brown, Late Antiquity, 1999 

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.