What is Paganism?
At its most basic, the term Paganism, is an umbrella term covering all religions that are not related to the Judeo-Christian family of religions but it only really applies in situations where Judeo-Christian faiths are dominant. The word itself once denoted those “country folk” who were not up on, or didn’t care about, the fashions of the day, including the state religion. Since Judeo-Christianity has been the dominant, indeed, only acceptable religious choice for some time, it has come to mean those who aren’t Judeo-Christian. This would include all “Primitive” animist and polytheistic religions that are common among native groups as well as the Classical religions of ancient Greece and Rome (though it wouldn't have in their heyday). It does not include Hinduism or Buddhism because those religions are dominant in their native areas and socially acceptable choices elsewhere. It would also exclude all religions that have stemmed from Judeo-Christianity, including Satanism and various syncretic religions.
Some modern Polytheist groups that fall under the Pagan umbrella include Hellenic Polytheism (Hellenismos Dodekatheism Olympianism Hellenion), Egyptian Reconstructionism (kemetism, Celtic Reconstructionism, many Druid organizations (though some are synchretic) and Heathen groups (Asatru, Odinism) though many Heathens prefer to differentiate Heathenry from Paganism.
And of course all "primitive" and "ethnic" religions, such as those practiced in tribal situations would also be considered Pagan.
It does, however, exclude synchretic religions, such as many Native American traditions and those that emerged from the African Diaspora when Christianity was forcefully imposed and the only way to hold on to traditional religion was to mix it into the Christian soup.
Different Paganisms for a Modern World
The Druid author and scholar Isaac Bonewits subdivided Paganism into PaleoPaganism, MesoPaganism and NeoPaganism.
According to Bonewits, PaleoPaganism describes any native cultural polytheistic or animist traditions including those were, or still are practiced by native Africans, Americans, Australians and Asians. According to this definition, Hinduism, Taoism and Shinto are all PaleoPagan religions because they are rooted in ancient native tradition and remain relatively unpolluted by foreign influence.
MesoPagan religions are those that developed from PaleoPagan or native Pagan religions that were influenced by Monotheistic, Dualist or Nontheistic philosophies but still maintain a unique character. These include all synchretic religions including Christo-Paganism, many Afro-Diasporic faiths, such as Voudun, Santeria and Candomble, and Sikhism as well as many occult traditions including Thelema, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy and Spiritualism and many modern Witchcraft traditions, including many Wiccan denominations. Also, some Satanic traditions could fall into this category as well as Christo-Pagans.
The definition of MesoPaganism is nearly identical with that of syncretism, a word that enjoys common use in academic circles, when it is applied to any Pagan religion.
NeoPagan religions, according to Bonewits, are modern interpretations of ancient or PaleoPagan religions blended with modern social, political and scientific ideas while consciously excluding monotheistic components. There can be syncretic elements to NeoPagan systems, but these usually involve the blending of Pagan or non-Abrahamic religious systems, such as combining Buddhism or Hindu concepts with Western philosophies. Some examples of NeoPagan religious paths, according to Bonewits, include Ár nDraíocht Féin, Henge of Keltria, Church of All Worlds and many Wiccan traditions. These are, for the most part, consciously created modern Pagan paths, developed for a modern world by those who embrace them.
It is important to note that these delineations are not clear cut. There is overlap in many of them.
For more information about the subject, refer to the article Defining Paganism: Paleo-, Meso-, and Neo- at http://www.neopagan.net
Paganism in the Vernacular
When most people say the word “Pagan” in reference to modern day religion, they really mean “Neo-Pagan”. Neo-paganism is really a subset of the larger term “Pagan” and is itself an umbrella term covering a wide range of beliefs.
Other Definitions on the Web
- Ian Corrigan defines Paganism as "The naturally-occurring religious impulse of a local area" at http://intothemound.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-authority-of-paganism.html
- The Urban Dictionary has a reasonable definition at http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pagan
- Articles of Pagan Belief http://www.lcorncalen.com/PaganBelief&Ethics.htm
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