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 What is Paganism?

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PostSubject: What is Paganism?   Sat Jun 30, 2007 1:10 pm

Paganism
From Wikipedia

Paganism (from Latin paganus, meaning "an old country dweller, rustic") is a term which, from a Western perspective, has come to connote a broad set of spiritual or cultic practices or beliefs of any folk religion, and of historical and contemporary polytheistic religions in particular.

The term can be defined broadly, to encompass the faith traditions outside the Abrahamic monotheistic group of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The group so defined includes the Dharmic religions (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism), Native American religions and mythologies and Shinto as well as non-Abrahamic ethnic religions in general. More narrow definitions will not include any of the world religions and restrict the term to local or rural currents not organized as civil religions. Characteristic of Pagan traditions is the absence of proselytism, and the presence of a living mythology which explains religious practice.[1]

The term "Pagan" is a Christian adaptation of the "Gentile" of Judaism, and as such has an inherent Christian or Abrahamic bias, and pejorative connotations among Westerners,[2] comparable to heathen, and infidel, mushrik and kafir (كافر) in Islam. For this reason, ethnologists avoid the term "Paganism", with its uncertain and varied meanings, in referring to traditional or historic faiths, preferring more precise categories such as polytheism, shamanism, pantheism, or animism.

Since the later 20th century, however, the words "Pagan" or "Paganism" have become widely and openly used as a self-designation of adherents of polytheistic reconstructionism and neo-Paganism.[3]


Etymology

Pagan
The term Pagan is from Latin paganus, an adjective originally meaning "rural", "rustic" or "of the country." As a noun, paganus was used to mean "country dweller, villager." In colloquial use, it could mean much the same as calling someone today a 'bumpkin' or a 'hillbilly'.

The semantic development of post-classical Latin paganus in the sense "non-Christian, heathen" is unclear. The dating of this sense is controversial, but the 4th century seems most plausible. An earlier example has been suggested in Tertullian De Corona Militis xi, "Apud hunc [sc. Christum] tam miles est paganus fidelis quam paganus est miles infidelis," but here the word paganus may be interpreted in the sense "civilian" rather than "heathen". There are three main explanations of the development:

(i) The older sense of classical Latin pāgānus is "of the country, rustic" (also as noun). It has been argued that the transferred use reflects the fact that the ancient idolatry lingered on in the rural villages and hamlets after Christianity had been generally accepted in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire; cf. Orosius Histories 1. Prol. "Ex locorum agrestium compitis et pagis pagani vocantur." From its earliest beginnings, Christianity spread much more quickly in major urban areas (like Antioch, Alexandria, Corinth, Rome) than in the countryside (in fact, the early church was almost entirely urban), and soon the word for "country dweller" became synonymous with someone who was "not a Christian," giving rise to the modern meaning of "Pagan." This may, in part, have had to do with the conservative nature of rural people, who may have been more resistant to the new ideas of Christianity than those who lived in major urban centers. However, it may have also resulted from early Christian missionaries focusing their efforts within major population centers (e.g., St. Paul), rather than throughout an expansive, yet sparsely populated, countryside (hence, the Latin term suggesting "uneducated country folk").
(ii) The more common meaning of classical Latin pāgānus is "civilian, non-militant" (adjective and noun). Christians called themselves mīlitēs, "enrolled soldiers" of Christ, members of his militant church, and applied to non-Christians the term applied by soldiers to all who were "not enrolled in the army".
(iii) The sense "heathen" arose from an interpretation of paganus as denoting a person who was outside a particular group or community, hence "not of the city" or "rural"; cf. Orosius Histories 1. Prol. "ui alieni a civitate dei..pagani vocantur." See C. Mohrmann, Vigiliae Christianae 6 (1952) 9ff.
-- Oxford English Dictionary, (online) 2nd Edition (1989)

"Peasant" is a cognate, via Old French paisent. (Harry Thurston Peck, Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquity, 1897; "pagus").

In their distant origins, these usages derived from pagus, "province, countryside", cognate to Greek πάγος "rocky hill", and, even earlier, "something stuck in the ground", as a landmark: the Proto-Indo-European root *pag- means "fixed" and is also the source of the words page, pale (stake), and pole, as well as pact and peace.

While pagan is attested in English from the 14th century, there is no evidence that the term paganism was in use in English before the 17th century. The OED instances Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776): "The divisions of Christianity suspended the ruin of paganism." The term was not a neologism, however, as paganismus was already used by Augustine.

Less than twenty years after the last vestiges of paganism were crushed with great severity by the emperor Theodosius I[4] Rome was seized by Alaric in 410. This led to murmuring that the gods of paganism had taken greater care of the city than that of the Christian God, inspiring St Augustine to write The City of God, alternative title "De Civitate Dei contra Paganos: The City of God against the Pagans", in which he claimed that whilst the great 'city of Man' had fallen, Christians were ultimately citizens of the 'city of God.'[5]


Heathen
Heathen is from Old English hęšen "not Christian or Jewish", (c.f. Old Norse heišinn). Historically, the term was probably influenced by Gothic haiži "dwelling on the heath", appearing as haižno in Ulfilas' bible as "gentile woman," (translating the "Hellene" in Mark 7:26). This translation probably influenced by Latin paganus, "country dweller", or it was chosen because of its similarity to the Greek ethne, "gentile". It has even been suggested that Gothic haiži is not related to "heath" at all, but rather a loan from Armenian hethanos, itself loaned from Greek ethnos.


Terminology

Common word usage
Both "Pagan" and "heathen" have historically been used as a pejorative by adherents of monotheistic religions (such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) to indicate a disbeliever in their religion. "Paganism" is also sometimes used to mean the lack of (an accepted monotheistic) religion, and therefore sometimes means essentially the same as atheism. "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 heterodox beliefs falling outside the established political framework of the Christian Church. "Pagan" came to be equated with a Christianized sense of "epicurean" 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, for example, as when G. K. Chesterton 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." [6]

Christianity itself has been perceived at times as a form of paganism by followers of the other Abrahamic religions[7][8]because of, for example, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the celebration of pagan feast days[9], and other practices [10] – through a process described as "baptising" [11]or "christianization". Even between Christians there have been similar charges of paganism levelled, especially by Protestants[12],[13], towards the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches for their veneration of the saints and images.


Heathenry
"Heathen" (Old English hęšen) is a translation of paganus. The term is used for Germanic paganism, or Germanic Neopaganism, in particular[citation needed]. The Germanic tribes were distributed over Eastern and Central Europe by the 5th century, and their dialects ceased to be mutually intelligible from around that time. Christianization of the Germanic peoples took place from the 4th (Goths) to the 6th (Anglo-Saxons, Alamanni) or 8th (Saxons) centuries on the continent, and from the 9th to 12th centuries in Iceland and Scandinavia.


Pagan classifications
Pagan subdivisions coined by Isaac Bonewits [5]

Paleo-Paganism: A retronym coined to contrast with "neopaganism", denoting a pagan culture that has not been disrupted by other cultures. The term applies to Hinduism, Shinto, pre-Migration period Germanic paganism as described by Tacitus, Celtic Polytheism as described by Julius Caesar, and the Greek and Roman religion.
Meso-Paganism: A group, which is, or has been, significantly influenced by monotheistic, dualistic, or nontheistic worldviews, but has been able to maintain an independence of religious practices. This group includes aboriginal Americans as well as Australian aboriginals, Viking Age Norse paganism. Influences include: Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, Spiritualism, as well as Sikhism, and the many Afro-Diasporic faiths like Haitian Vodou, and Santerķa.
Neo-Paganism: A movement by modern people to reconnect with nature, pre-Christian religions, or other nature-based spiritual paths. This definition may include anything on a sliding scale from reconstructionist to New Age and non-reconstructionist groups such as Neo-Druidism and Wicca.

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