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Definition: Paganism
Pagans are a much more broadly defined set of people than Wiccans or witches: all Wiccans are Pagans, but there are many other types of Pagans as well. Unfortunately, this is another term that we have redefined for our own uses. The common (dictionary) definition of a pagan is a worshipper of a non-Judeo-Christian religion. That would include such people as Buddhists and Hindus, who generally won't have a clue what you're talking about when you speak of Pagan religions in the sense that we use it.

More importantly, however, it's a definition based on a negative. The dictionary definition does not describe what we are, but simply what we are not.

However, the term Pagan has now been fully embraced by many people. As such, we now attempt to better define it, which is a difficult task at best. Some people say that Pagans follow nature-revering or earth-centered religions, but others object that those terms are not applicable to all religions commonly included under the pagan umbrella, including Wicca, Druidry, Asatru, Goddess worship, and various reconstructionist paths.

Some people prefer the term Neo-pagan, implying the very truthful assertion that we are following modern religions based on older religions, as opposed to following the original religions. The term was coined by Isaac Bonewits. In his words, Neo-pagan is:

a general term for a variety of movements both organized and (usually) nonorganized, started since 1960 c.e. or so (though they had literary roots going back to the mid-1800ís), as attempts to recreate, revive or continue what their founders thought were the best aspects of the Paleopagan ways of their ancestors (or predecessors), blended with modern humanistic, pluralist and inclusionary ideals, while consciously striving to eliminate as much as possible of the traditional Western monotheism, dualism, and puritanism.1

On this site, I use the term Pagan instead of Neo-pagan, because I find that is the term by which most people identify themselves. My definition, however, is in-line with Bonewits'. This means that I do not include Hinduism, Candomble, Voodoo and other, older paths whose followers do not generally identify with the Pagan movement. Without the capitalization, I use "pagan" in the dictionary sense of the term, such as when discussing the pagan people of Greece and Rome before Christianity.

Definitions continued at: Witchcraft; Wicca; Ceremonial Magic.


1 Isaac Bonewits, "Defining Paganism: Paleo-, Meso-, and Neo," http://www.neopagan.net/PaganDefs.html.


© Catherine Noble Beyer, 2002 - 2011   *     Awards