Which are the most common definitions?
Conclusions. Recommendations. Books
How common are the various meanings of "Pagan"?
On the Internet itself: Wiccans and other Neopagans have made
extensive use of the Internet; they probably have more web pages per capita
than followers of any other religion. Using the search string
"Pagan," the Google search engine found about 459,000 hits on
the Internet in the year 2000. 1 We found that:
The first 14 hits all referred to Wicca or another Neopagan religion.
24 of the first 27 hits referred to a Neopagan faith tradition.
In 2010, the same search word found almost 24 million hits, with similar
results on the first few dozen hits.
In conservative Christian search engines: We used the same search
string on Goshen. It was perhaps the largest conservative Christian search
engine when the first draft of this essay was written. 2 It found ten web sites which
referred to Paganism. Some were broken links; others had no apparent
references to Pagans. But others did:
Five referred to ancient polytheistic religions, such as the
faiths of Babylonians, Celts, Romans, etc. during biblical times and in
the early history of Christianity:
An anti-Roman Catholic essay which described the use of sun
wheels and obelisks of ancient Pagan religions within Roman Catholicism.
One condemned Christmas' practices as "merely variations of
the ceremonies invented by the corrupt pagans of yesterday." It
refers to the Christian concept of the Trinity as deriving from "Pagan
Babylon." "The religion of pagan Babylon did not disappear...it
was passed on down, to 'Mystery Babylon,'...[the] mother of abominations
of the earth." 4
One promotes Christian observance of Halloween:
"...someone is bound to ask why we allow our
children to act out a ritual rooted in pagan and satanic beliefs..."
One referred to the Pagan cultures surrounding the early Christian
Another anti-Roman Catholic essay discusses Jesus' mother Mary. It
notes that the titles "Mother of God" and "Queen
of Heaven" came from Pagan cultures that surrounded the
early Christian movements. It says that the concept of the perpetual
virginity of Mary is also Pagan, being derived from the worship of
"Ashtoroth, also known as Isis, Diana, Venus, Vesta,
Samariums, Istarte and Helen...".
One probably refers to Neopagans: The author writes that "all belief
systems except atheism, paganism and satanism have had their roots from
certain scriptures..." 7 Presumably,
the author is not referring to ancient polytheistic religions because
various cultures from Babylon to Rome had religious writings. He might possibly
be referring to Aboriginal religions, which typically use an oral
Various secular news sources attributing unusual meanings to "Pagan":
The vast majority of references
to Pagans and Paganism in the secular media relate to Wiccans and other
Neopagans. Some exceptions were:
Paganism = secularization + New Age religion, + politically
liberal thinking + others:
According to U.S. Newswire:
The National Clergy Council and Operation Save Our Nation havescheduled for 2000-OCT-28 a "Jericho March" of
100 religious "intercessors" around Capitol Hill and
the White House. President of the Council, the Rev. Rob Schenck
"The concept behind this Jericho March is to 'tear down'
the walls of the new 'Washington Paganism' -- the secularization, New
Ageism and postmodern amoralism -- epitomized in the Clinton-Gore
Administration, in the morally weak leadership in the Congress, and in
the liberal members of the Supreme Court."
Paganism = ancient polytheists:
According to John Silber writing in the Boston Herald:
"This opposition [to Christmas trees],
then and now, rests on a recognition of the pagan origin of the
Christmas tree. Indeed, as columnist Kimberley Strassel has noted in
The Wall Street Journal, the Prophet Jeremiah specifically condemned
as pagan the practice of cutting down trees, bringing them inside and
decorating them." 8
Paganism = Non-Abrahamics:
According to a Pagan news service:
"Vatican officials have labeled Europe a "Pagan country."
The comment was prompted by a statistic from Austria that 43,632
Austrians formally renounced their Roman Catholic affiliation in 1999,
whereas only 3,387 converts joined the Church.
Pagans = members of a motorcycle club in West Virginia:
The Miami Herald carried an article about the "Pagans Motorcycle
Club." The term "Pagan" here seems to have the connotation of outlaw bikers,
and is not related to any religious group. 20
Most Internet references to Paganism refer to Wiccans and other Neopagans.
Conservative Christians often use the term Pagan to refer to ancient
Other meanings of "Paganism" appear to be rarely used in contemporary
We recommend that the terms "Pagan" and "Paganism"
never be used in speech or written form, unless:
They are precisely defined in advance, or
A known and homogenous audience is being addressed.
Otherwise mass confusion will occur. Even if it is carefully defined,
listeners or readers' interpretation of the text will probably be distorted.
They will carry over some of
the baggage associated with their own definition of "Pagan." In place
of "Pagan," we suggest that you use the actual
name of the religious group that you are referring to: (e.g. Animism,
Native American Spirituality, Wicca,
etc.) to avoid ambiguity.
The term "Neopagan" has a unique
definition and can be used without confusion among those who know its meaning.
However, not everyone is aware of what it means.
A very highly recommended book with stories contributed by over 50 Pagans:
Caroline Tully, one of the contributors to the book, writes:
"Gardnerian High Priestess and Cherry Hill Seminary instructor, Laura
Wildman, has collected amazing stories from a diverse set of practitioners,
each with their own individual perspective on what it means to be Pagan in
the modern world. With over fifty contributors - including famous names like
Starhawk, Macha NightMare and Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, as well as a plethora
of less well-known but just as gifted writers - this book has something that
will appeal to everyone. The book is divided into five sections; Earth:
Community - the roots that nourish, the families we create, the coming home;
Air: The learning process - teachers, mentors, students and inner guides;
Fire: magical transformation - from Wow! To Oops!; Water: the seasons and
the cycles of life; and Spirit: The God and Goddess in our lives. The reader
can dip into the book anywhere - you need not start at the beginning - and
find honest, creative, thought-provoking stories about joy, awe, triumph,
failure, consternation, love, loss and sorrow, that stand out as being
written by deeper-than-average thinkers. A ripe collection of wisdom-fruit
from people who really live their Paganism. Highly recommended."
Amazon.com customers gave the book a rating of 4,8 stars out of 5!
Other books from a search of the Amazon data base for "Paganism":
The following books are the result of a book search at the Amazon.com web site
-- the world's biggest online bookstore.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
The Google search engine had indexed 1.06 billion web pages in the
year 2000. They have indexed many billions by 2010. See: http://www.google.com/