Paganism – What is it?

I can’t very well have a blog about finding a Pagan path without defining what Paganism even is.

Well, I could. But it’s kind of important information

The definition of Pagan or Paganism varies depending on where you look.

*Heads up – This is a bit of a long one. If reading isn’t your thing scroll down to the bottom for a pinnable TL;DR image!*

From Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

  1. Heathen. especially : a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)
  2. One who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods: an irreligious or hedonistic person

From Catholic Exchange:

  1. It originally meant something like “country dweller”, “rustic”, or even “hick”.
  2. A worshiper of non-Christian deities.
  3. “Pagan” now means “post-Christian religionist who is attempting to rescue reverence for Nature from the hands of evil Judeo-Christian earth rapists”.
  4. Pre-Christian paganism was (for the most part) an attempt to find God. Post-Christian paganism is, first and foremost, a search for an escape from God.

From a site called All About Spirituality:

  1. Broadly defined as anyone involved in any religious act, practice, or ceremony which is not Christian
  2. “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.”

That’s a lot of different ideas. Let’s break them down a bit.

Merriam-Webster

It’s interesting to me that this is a dictionary’s definition. I feel that this version may either be the source of a lot of popular misconceptions or a result of them.

The term Heathen is thrown around a lot as a negative term. I’ve seen it used playfully where it equates to doing something in a more primitive way. I’ve also seen it used almost out of disgust for a person someone sees as below them or less advanced, often in a spiritual context.

In reality, or at least a pagan’s reality, a Heathen is someone who follows the Norse Pantheon (Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya, etc). Heathenry is a chosen path and pantheon, not something negative at all.

Long story short – Heathen and pagan are not synonyms. A Heathen is a pagan, a pagan is not always Heathen.

Also, while many pagans are polytheistic, not all of them are. Though ancient Romans were polytheistic pagans.

As for definition two. Also not accurate. Most Pagans call themselves Pagan because that is their religion. It just looks different than a lot of more common religions which I think is likely why some may think Pagan’s don’t hold religious beliefs.

Also, Hedonism is a school of thought not related to paganism. Not to say that Pagans can’t be Hedonistic, but they are definitely not the same thing at all.

Not very good definitions if you ask me…

Catholic Exchange

I went in to this one expecting there to be disagreements and possible inaccuracies. I was proven wrong, then proven right.

This was an article that started out telling a little expectedly biased history. Pagan did start out as something to refer to “country dweller” and similar terms. During the spread of Christianity it came to be connected with older religions because these people were more removed from societies and generally the last to give up their beliefs.

The second definition also holds some truth. Though there are people who follow the Christian God, Jesus, and other characters from Christianity in a more Pagan style.

Definition three is where things start to get super biased and cringy. Many Pagans are trying to “rescue reverence for nature.” But not all Pagans view Judeo-Christians in such a negative light. I would almost say most Pagans don’t. We’re all just a bunch of different people taking different paths. No one path is any better than the rest.

Their fourth attempt at a definition made my eyes go a little too wide. While the first part is somewhat accurate, though likely not with the lens they are looking through, the second is outright wrong. Even if a Pagan doesn’t work with specific deities, they hold something in a place of divinity. For some it is nature, for others it is simply the energy of The Universe.

A Pagan’s path involves connecting with whatever force they choose to work with.

Another miss, not that this one is a surprise.

All About Spirituality

This one had me curious from the start. I didn’t do much looking in to what this website is about before reading the article. But the name made it seem pretty neutral but hopefully a little more aware than a dictionary.

Their first definition is what I would hope to see in a dictionary. Pretty straightforward and generally accurate. If you absolutely had to put a concrete definition to paganism, this would be a great start.

The second definition was also great and makes a wonderful addition to what they previously described. I’m not sure if I would say most of today’s pagans believe in more than one god, but its a much better statement than all. Plus they mention that some are atheistic.

PLUS they recognize that today’s paganism is actually neo-paganism. Nice.

After making my way through most of this article, they started talking about how paganism differs from Christianity and followed that up with a statement that you cannot be both Pagan and Christian. Then they had some blurb about finding Jesus and a bible verse. So definitely a Christian based website, especially after further investigating, but they managed to write a pretty solid, minimally biased article!

Not too bad, if you ask me.

Side Note

A chat about the definition of Paganism wouldn’t be complete without addressing the common misconception that Pagans are Satanists. I didn’t come across this thought in the articles I chose to read but have heard the thought more than a few times.

First off, there are two forms of Satanism, one that does worship the Judeo-Christian version of the devil, and a second that has absolutely nothing to do with it. Maybe I’ll go in to that more some other time but this is not that post.

Second, and more related to this chat, the Christian pantheon is not something that is followed by most Pagans. Therefore to us, this notion of the Devil, and often Hell, doesn’t even exist or isn’t acknowledged as a personal belief. And when you take things back to true pre-Christian paganism, they really didn’t exist.

Paganism Does Not Equal Devil Worship

That being said, some Pagans do work with deities/spirits that are often seen as dark or even demonic. But again, that’s a chat for another day.

Moving on…

What Paganism means to me

There’s a common idea that if you ask 12 pagans for a definition of paganism you’ll get 13 different answers. In all the looking I’ve done, I think this is the most accurate statement.

To me, the beauty of paganism is in its unorganization. There is no one pagan faith, no book of rules or mythology, or any number of things you find in most organized religions. There may be reccords and traditions within certain faith systems, but each pagan faith is different and you don’t have to follow a specific path to call yourself a pagan.

For example, Heathens follow the Norse pantheon and associated beliefs, and Wiccans generally believe in a Goddess and a God. Followers of each path could consider themselves pagans but their beliefs are very different.

Even within Wicca, some practitioners follow specific deities for the Goddess and God, while others keep them more vague.

And many pagans don’t follow anything specific. They pull from different paths and are referred to as being eclectic.

Every individual path is different.

To me Paganism is nature or energy based and not Abrahamic.

That’s it.

I could go a little farther and say that there is a difference between Paganism (pre-Christian) and Neo-Paganism (modern Paganism). But I think that line tends to get blurred and it is not a super valuable differentiator unless you want to get very specific and scholarly.

I know that I have a deep respect for nature and it’s energies. And I know that I don’t follow Abrahamic views. That makes me a Pagan.

At the moment I consider myself an eclectic pagan, I am learning about a little bit of everything and don’t intend on committing to a certain belief system, at least not any time soon.

What are your thoughts? Does Paganism mean anything else to you?

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