Paganism (from Latin paganus, meaning "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. Modern Paganism or Neo-Paganism refers to modern reconstructions/revivals of older pagan religions and sometimes also to movements that are only partially influenced by older pagan religions. Heathenry, Druidism, and Wicca are some examples.
The term, originally used at the end of the Roman Empire, can be defined broadly, to encompass the faith traditions outside the Abrahamic monotheistic group of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 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.
Historically speaking, "pagan" peoples, the peoples of the various Indo-European tribes and cultures in Europe, did not have a special word that designated their "religious beliefs"- their religions were not things apart from their everyday cultural life and experience, but perfectly integrated into every cultural event and institution. A pre-Christian European pagan would likely not have understood the question "what religion are you?" Like most indigenous peoples with organic religious traditions, the original European "pagans" would not have had labels or names specifically for the beliefs and practices of their people. By way of comparison example, American Indians had no formal "name" for their religion; they just had "their people's beliefs". It wasn't until the rise of Christianity that a "term" or a designation was needed to categorize people as "Christian" or "Pagan".
Neo-Paganism means "new paganism" and refers to modern recensions or reconstructions of older pagan religions, or to modern constructs like Wicca that may not be based much in the facts of the pagan past, but which claim to be in the "spirit" of the old pagan worldviews or beliefs. Most people associate all new pagan religions with the New Age metaphysical movements, but this is an over-simplification, even if it does hold true often. As much as many wiccans and neo-pagans may claim to be "in the same spirit" as the old pagan religious world, the modernistic and monotheistic influences on the New Age, and on much of Wicca makes this claim quite debatable. The members of the various modern neo-pagan religions and movements often use the term "pagan" to refer to themselves, in an attempt to differentiate themselves from Christians or other mainstream religions, and to count themselves as heirs of the non-Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions of the western world. Insofar as they worship actual Gods and Goddesses that were worshipped in pre-Christian times, and insofar as they make an honest attempt to distance themselves from the various features of the Christian or Judeo-Christian worldview, they have a legitimate right to the title.
- On Being A Pagan by Alain de Benoist, Ultra, Atlanta 2004
- Pagan Imperialism and Metaphysics of War by Julius Evola, Wewelsburg Archives 2018
- "And it Harms No-one", A Pagan Manifesto, Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone, 1998