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Paganism: Definition, Different Paganisms Listed & Explained

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)

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Reviewed by: Tina Caro

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).

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Paganism is a diverse and ancient spiritual belief system with roots in various forms, including PaleoPaganism, MesoPaganism, and NeoPaganism.

MesoPaganism bridges the gap between ancient and modern beliefs, incorporating historical pagan practices into a contemporary context.

NeoPaganism is a thriving modern movement that draws inspiration from ancient pagan traditions while adapting to the needs and perspectives of the present day.

Pagan festivals, such as Samhain, Beltane, and Imbolc, align with the changing seasons and serve as important celebrations of nature’s cycles and spiritual significance.

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 most Satanism.

Some modern Polytheist groups that fall under the Pagan umbrella include Hellenic Polytheism (Hellenismos, Dodekatheism, Olympianism, Hellenion), Egyptian Reconstructionism (kemetism, Ausar-Auset )  Celtic Reconstructionism, many Druid organizations (though many are syncretic) and Heathen groups (Asatru, Odinism) though many Heathens prefer to differentiate Heathenry from Paganism.

Pagan TraditionBeliefs and Practices
WiccaNature-based spirituality, worship of the Goddess and God, rituals, spellcraft, and magical practices
DruidryConnection with nature, reverence for ancestors, Celtic mythology, and rituals tied to seasonal cycles
HeathenryRevival of Germanic and Norse traditions, polytheism, honoring gods and goddesses, and ancestral veneration
HellenismReconstruction of ancient Greek religion, worship of Greek deities, participation in festivals and rituals
Celtic PaganismConnection with Celtic culture, honoring Celtic deities, celebrating seasonal festivals, and folklore
AsatruRevival of Norse religion, reverence for the Aesir and Vanir gods, rituals, and ethical codes based on ancient texts
Table 1: Different Types of Paganism

And some monotheisms also fall under this definition, such as Neo-Atenism and bitheism such as Zoroastrianism and Mithraism.

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. While I am not sure how necessary or practical the divisions are in an everyday context, they are interesting from an academic standpoint.

PaleoPaganism

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, or at least in so much as it is possible.

MesoPagan

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 syncretic religions including Christo-Paganism, many Afro-diasporic faiths, such as VoudunSanteria and Candomble, and Sikhism as well as many occult traditions including Thelema, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy and Spiritualism and many modern spritual 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 to that of syncretism, a word that enjoys common use in academic circles when it is applied to any Pagan religion.

NeoPagan

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. Paganism is also applied to many magico-religious traditions, though magick isn’t limited to Paganism, or religion.

A NOTE: This site isn’t about Paganism, it is about magick. While the term Pagan is often used synonymously with witchcraft, not all Pagans use magick and not all magick users are Pagan. Thus, you will find information here that spans a broad spectrum of magical practice, Pagan and otherwise.

Pagan Festivals and Corresponding Seasons

FestivalSeasonAssociated Traditions
SamhainFall/WinterWicca, Druidry, Celtic Paganism, Heathenry
Yule/Winter SolsticeWinterWicca, Druidry, Heathenry
ImbolcWinter/SpringWicca, Celtic Paganism
Ostara/Spring EquinoxSpringWicca, Druidry, Hellenism, Celtic Paganism
BeltaneSpring/SummerWicca, Druidry, Celtic Paganism
Litha/Summer SolsticeSummerWicca, Druidry, Hellenism, Celtic Paganism
Lammas/LughnasadhSummer/AutumnWicca, Druidry, Celtic Paganism, Heathenry
Mabon/Autumn EquinoxAutumnWicca, Druidry, Hellenism, Celtic Paganism

Other Definitions on the Web

About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

2 thoughts on “Paganism: Definition, Different Paganisms Listed & Explained”

  1. Hello so I do believe that we are all connected and when we die we go in other dimensions (astral projection I guess) and Love is the thing we have to build keep and find in our lives and it’s the most powerful and we have to increase our souls and I believe in reincarnation and of course witchcraft but I don’t find myself in a religion and I would love to be a white and green witch some says I am an empath and healer but I don’t know sometimes I ask my guides (I call them angels) or the universe to help me and often it works, but I also have borderline personality disorder and some says that having a personality disorder can be dangerous with witchcraft so my question is Am I ready or can I be a Witch and what could be my “religion”? Have a nice day 🙂

    Reply

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