Pagan/Neo-Pagan Definitions List
Neo-Paganism, often called Paganism for short, is defined in many different ways- usually in the simplest terms as a “non-Abrahamic religion”, historically from the Latin paganus meaning “country-dweller”- and a civilian- not a “soldier of Christ”, essentially a “hick” that still followed old customs- as Christianity first spread in the cities of the Roman Empire- as new ideas are prone to, thus ironically modern Pagans are actually more concentrated in cities, which one argument against using this definition. Some people, mainly reconstructionists use “Neo-Pagan” to mean non-recon pagans, sometimes in a rather pejorative manner.
I’ve gotten very sick of the debate over it myself- much as with feminist I’m more interested in what does Paganism mean to you personally and why do you identify with it, rather than what it means in general. But I think it would be useful for reference to put together some definitions. I may add more, but here’s enough to chew on for now!
As used by organizations/communities–
Pagan Pride Albuquerque
(I didn’t see this on P.P. international’s website- maybe they’ve given up on defining it too!)
A Pagan or NeoPagan is someone who self-identifies as a Pagan, and whose spiritual or religious practice or belief fits into one or more of the following categories:
- Honoring, revering, or worshipping a Deity or Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal mythology; and/or
- Practicing religion or spirituality based upon shamanism, shamanic, or magickal practices; and/or
- Creating new religion based on past Pagan religions and/or futuristic views of society, community, and/or ecology;
- Focusing religious or spiritual attention primarily on the Divine Feminine; and/or
- Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality.
Comment: I think this is a definition that is inclusive enough to cover people likely to call themselves “Pagan” but specific enough to be meaningful (unlike “non-Abrahamic)
The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum– follower of a non-Abrahamic religion that self-identifies as Pagan- though it has been discussed that this is problematic because it excludes Jewitches/Judeopagans and Christo-Pagans/Christian Witches but that’s another debate!
Comment: OK definition for inclusive community purposes, but notvery descriptive or useful for educating the general public
Definitions by Pagan Leaders/Writers
The late Isaac Bonewits (founder of ADF) came up with definitions of “Paleo-Pagan”, “Meso-Pagan” and “Neo-Pagan” which have been very influential, however I do notice that the religions/philosophies he calls Meso-Pagan don’t tend to call themselves that, not surprising given how he describe them!
Definitions by Pagan/Polytheist Bloggers
Ruadhan J. McElroy has written multiple posts & essays on Paganism that I’ve found to be insightful- I’ll go thru them in reverse chronological order
“As best as I can say, “pagan” is an experience that one practising certain religions may face. The pagan experience includes, but might not be limited to:
- fear of losing custody of one’s child because of one’s religion
- fear of threats to one’s personal safety or property because of one’s religion
- fear of loss of employment because of one’s religion
- fear of losing friends or of becoming estranged from one’s family because of one’s religion
- having one’s religion unfairly caricatured, ridiculed, or dismissed as something “no-one practises any-more”
- a gross misunderstanding, from those outside one’s religious community, of what one’s religion practises
- inaccurate dismissal by a society of one’s religion as “just mythology”, indicating a societal ignorance of and disregard to the etymology of “mythology” from the ancient Hellenic meaning “sacred texts”.
Comment: A Pagan is a religious “Other” in a Judeo-Christian (or perhaps secularized post-Christian cultural context. Utilitarian definition for purposes of political activism defending religious rights. This reminds me of a book I read about race/ethnicity, in which the author discussed that while “races” are social constructs and not biological, people are typically discriminated against by the “race” they are grouped with, rather than specific ethnic group- or perhaps are discriminated based on mistaken identity. Similarly people don’t typically get discriminated against for being Kemetic or Druid, but as Pagans or socially perceived as “Satanists” just as Sikhs and Hindus for example are often profiled as Muslims.
“PAGANISM –a collective of religious and other spiritual practises of, based on, or influenced by those of European and Mediterranean (including North African and Middle Eastern) pre-Christian, non-Abrahamic practises. Pagans place greater emphasis on practices of groups and individuals than the beliefs of individuals. Pagans also generally place importance on community, wisdom, and the environment.”
Comment: much more culturally meaningful definition, and I think the meaning of Pagan implicitly meant that at one time, but now it’s gotten so stretched out by conflation with various New Agey ideas.
What is Paganism? Absolutely Nothing August 2012
Comment: When I go to a gathering of Pagans, I know what Pagan means. When I look at the #pagan tag on Tumblr then I get confused.
Project Pagan Enough by Fire Lyte (March 2010?)
- You are Pagan Enough, because you try fervently to explore what it means to be pagan and apply it to your life, despite your physical appearance, personal tastes, level of experience, or other factor that others might use to say you are not pagan.
- You recognize others are Pagan Enough despite how they may look, act, or believe, as long as that person feels they are fervently seeking the divine on a pagan path.
- You attempt to debate those that have opposing viewpoints, learning from one another despite how passionate the debate becomes, instead of simply writing others off for not being up to your standard of ‘pagan’.
- You welcome, befriend, and encourage others in the pagan community despite their physical appearance, level of experience, age, or other physical or superficial characteristic.
- You promise to treat members of other religions and spiritual paths with equality, fairness, and grace, setting a good example for the Pagan community both in and out of the community, not judging the individuals based on fringe members of their same faith.
Comment: This is the ultimate result of the meaninglessness of Pagan. I get what this person is trying to do here- I’m sick of all the in-fighting and judging too. But I’d rather have it be “Project Human Enough”. Treat other humans with respect, and stand up to them when they behave badly. Originally- though it seems to have been removed- part of the essay discussed how Pagans who appeared or acted too “mainstream” were ostracized. I think you can use your imagination, based on my writing on this blog, about how this concern may be rather misplaced.
Comment: I think these are very useful ways of describing Paganism.
Volmarr, a self-described Liberal Modernist Heathen has a post describing 3 Major Approaches to Paganism: Archetypal Paganism, Polytheistic Paganism and Humanistic Paganism.
Comment: this is a more limited approach, as it only addresses matters of theology. Distinguishing between Archetypal and Humanistic Paganism is also tricky.
Freeman Presson: Defining Pagan, Last Try
modern Pagan (Neopagan) is a person who identifies as Pagan, and whose religious or spiritual practices have one or more of the following characteristics:
1. Polytheism, including recognition of multiple deities and relationship to one or several of the deities of ancient cultures, primarily those of Europe, the Near East, or North Africa. This may include more or less reliance on ancient texts and intent to reconstruct what the ancients did. This does not require a specific approach to theology: Pagans do not agree on the virtues of pantheism, panentheism, henotheism, bitheism, etc. Only exclusive (i.e., intolerant) monotheism would be excluded.
2. Belief in and relationship with spirits (similar to animism).
3. Belief in and practice of magic.
Comment: 1st part is pretty similar to Ruadhan’s Feb 2013 definition.