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There are many Pagan religions in the world. From pre-christian

to modern day religions, there is something for everyone.

On this page, we explore what the word 'Pagan' means. Defined 

over thousands of years of history and ever changing and growing.

Image by Victoria Strukovskaya

Usually people will debate over what Paganism means, what it is defined as, and who is right and who is wrong. I can’t tell you what the right answer is; I can only try to explain where the word Pagan comes from, how it has evolved over time, and what people think it is in today's age.


We will start with its origins:

If you Google what Pagan means, you will be presented with the following: 

‘A country dweller who worships a polythiestic religion.’


Let's break that down, find out where it originated from, and then we can move on to how people define ‘Pagan’ today.


The word Pagan originates from the Latin ‘Paganus’. It was a word to describe a civilian or commoner, as opposed to an official, or private citizen, in the Roman Empire. It was originally devoid of any religious meaning or connection. In other parts of the world, words such as 'Hellene' or 'Gentile' were being used and Pagan was purely secular, sometimes associated with someone being inferior, or poor.


At the same time as the term Pagan was spreading and it becoming associated with religious meaning, people were being categorised and labels were becoming ever-so-important. Up until the end of the 4th Century, Christians were using 'Paganus' to describe ‘Gentiles’ in a vulgar or insulting way.


By 417 AD, Orosius, a Roman priest and historian, wrote a book called ‘History Against the Pagans’ in which he described Romans who defended the old gods as ‘men of the pagus peasants’. This really changed the definition of Pagan to 'followers of the old religions’. However, at the time the word Pagus was not meant to describe the distribution of population between towns and countryside; nevertheless, the assumption that paganism was the religion of peasantry survived longer in the countryside than in the towns and cities, with their large temples and closer proximity to the clergy. 






















Image by Hulki Okan Tabak

So, as you can see, the definition of Pagan has changed so much over time and it is the case now that we can observe the three main definitions of what Paganism has evolved to mean.


They are as follows:


  1. A polytheistic, animistic, pantheistic religion. This stems from the fact many pre-Christian religions were polytheistic or animistic. Polytheism stands for a belief system or religion that encompasses multiple deities. Animism is the belief that everything, from humans, to animals, to rocks and plants all possess their own spiritual essence, and so are considered alive and conscious in some way. Finally, pantheism is the belief that the universe and God are one and the same, much like believing in Mother Nature as the creator of the earth as well as being the ground you walk upon.



2.  A religion that isn’t part of the ‘big three’ Abraham faiths - Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Christianity and Islam are religions that both have roots in Judaism, but are separate religions and all three are considered Abrahamic religions. The word Pagan eventually became a descriptor Christians used for those who do not believe in their Christ. I personally don’t think this definition works as it would assume that Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American traditions etc. are Pagan - but the people from those religions would not consider themselves Pagan, which is something we should keep in mind. Also, Christians would call Muslims Pagan too for example; it was a term for anyone non-Christian.



3. A nature worshipping/following, or Earth-honouring religion. A belief system that is constructed around the natural cycles of the moon, the seasons, or the weather. Followers may believe in deities, particularly those linked to certain astrological bodies such as Mars and Venus in the historical Roman religion, or those featured Norse mythology such as Thor, god of thunder, or Odin, the Allfather. Reconstructionism of these older religions can be common. Believers may hold a deeper connection and relationship with mountains, lakes, and other such geographical features, and can involve the celebration of holidays or festivals focused around the changing of the seasons.


Paganism is a broad term. It also includes atheist Pagans, Atheopagans (a type of atheist Pagan with their own set of principles), agnostic Pagans, and many other types of Pagan.

With that being said, It isn’t easy to define what Paganism is in today's world; as language evolves and our historical relationships with ancient Paganism are very different to our attitudes towards it today. Paganism was something that was absorbed into newer, different cultures instead and many Pagan traditions were taken over by Christianity or were molded into folklore. But what we practice today as ‘Paganism’, in whichever form you choose - such as Celtic, Norse, Anglo Saxon etc. - isn’t the same as what our ancestors did millennia ago. Many historical cultures didn't keep written records, so a lot of evidence comes primarily from the Romans who did write things down, and later Christians such as Bede when the Norse/Scandinavians arrived on our British shores.


This is definitely something to keep in mind - we are trying to reconstruct what our ancestors did as best we can using a myriad of both historical and reconstructionist sources. Or, if you are going down a more modern path such as Wicca, trying to recreate the essence of what Paganism is by picking from selected resources and creating something new using a patchwork of other religious traditions or cultures as a basis.


Norse | CELTIC | HELLENIC | Anglo saxon | wicca | druidry