Paganism is a broad group of indigenous and historical polytheistic religious traditions—primarily those of cultures known to the classical world. In a wider sense, Paganism has also been understood to include any non-Abrahamic, folk, ethnic religion. Modern ethnologists often avoid referring to non-classical and non-European, traditional and historical faiths as Pagan in favor of less ambiguous labels such as polytheism, shamanism, pantheism, and animism.
Paganism is a broad group of indigenous and historical polytheistic religious traditions - primarily those of cultures known to the classical world. In a wider sense, Paganism has also been understood to include any non-Abrahamic, folk, ethnic religion. Modern ethnologists often avoid referring to non-classical and non-European, traditional and historical faiths as Pagan in favor of less ambiguous labels such as polytheism, shamanism, pantheism, and animism.
Contemporary or modern paganism (also known as neopaganism) is a group of new religious movements influenced by, or claiming to be derived from, the various historical pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe. Contemporary Pagan religious movements are diverse, sharing no single set of beliefs, deities, creed, ritual practices, or texts; nor do any claim to be absolutely authoritative. However, there is a great deal of overlap amongst Pagan movements and there are a number of beliefs commonly shared by many Pagans, including pluralism, pantheism, polytheism, and a general belief that divinity is found in mind and nature..
Bronze Age to Early Iron Age
Some megaliths are believed to have religious significance.
Religions of the ancient Near East
Ancient Egyptian religion
Ancient Semitic religion
Ancient Mesopotamian religion
Ludwig Feuerbach (1833) defined "Paganism" of classical antiquity, which he termed Heidentum, literally "heathenry" as "the unity of religion and politics, of spirit and nature, of god and man", qualified by the observation that "man" in the Pagan view is always defined by ethnicity, i.e. Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Jew, etc., so that each Pagan tradition is also a national tradition. Modern historians define paganism instead as the aggregate of cult acts, set within a civic rather than a "national" context, without a written creed or sense of orthodoxy.
Feuerbach went on to postulate that the emergence of monotheism and thus the end of the Pagan period was a development which naturally grew out of Hellenistic philosophy due to the contradiction inherent in the ethnic nature of Pagan tradition and the universality of human spirituality (Geist), finally resulting in the emergence of a religion with a universalist scope in the form of Christianity, No modern historian would see the emergence of Christianity as a culmination of a trend towards an exclusive monotheism: favoured deities addressed as "the One" did not preclude their followers, even their priests, from worshiping other gods as well.
Further information: Decline of Hellenistic paganism and Hellenic philosophy and Christianity Hypatia, a Neoplatonist philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer— killed by a Christian mob, in March 415 CE, after becoming embroiled in a religious feud in Alexandria.
The developments of Late Antiquity in the religious thought in the far-flung Roman Empire needs to be addressed separately, as this is the context in which Early Christianity itself developed as one of several monotheistic cults, and it was in this period that the concept of "pagan" developed in the first place. Christianity as it emerged from Second Temple Judaism (orHellenistic Judaism) stood in competition with other religions advocating "pagan monotheism", including Neoplatonism, Mithraism, Gnosticism, Manichaeanism, and the cult of Dionysus.
Dionysus in particular exhibits significant parallels with Christ, so that numerous scholars have concluded that the recasting of Jesus the wandering rabbi into the image of Christ the Logos, the divine saviour, reflects the cult of Dionysus directly. They point to the symbolism of wine and the importance it held in the mythology surrounding both Dionysus and Jesus Christ; Wick argues that the use of wine symbolism in the Gospel of John, including the story of the Marriage at Cana at which Jesus turns water into wine, was intended to show Jesus as superior to Dionysus. The scene in The Bacchae wherein Dionysus appears before King Pentheus on charges of claiming divinity is compared to the New Testament scene of Jesus being interrogated by Pontius Pilate.
Early Modern period
Interest in pagan traditions was revived in the Renaissance, at first in Renaissance magic as a revival of Greco-Roman magic. In the 17th century, description of paganism turned from the theological aspect to the ethnological, and a religion began to be understood as part of the ethnic identity of a people, and the study of the religions of "primitive" peoples triggered questions as to the ultimate historical origin of religion. Thus, Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc saw the pagan religions of Africa of his day as relicts that were in principle capable of shedding light on the historical Paganism of Classical Antiquity.
Paganism re-surfaces as a topic of fascination in 18th to 19th century Romanticism, in particular in the context of the literary Celtic and Viking revivals, which portrayed historical Celtic and Germanic polytheists as noble savages.
The 19th century also saw much scholarly interest in the reconstruction of pagan mythology from folklore or fairy tales. This was notably attempted by the Brothers Grimm, especially Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology, and Elias Lönnrot with the compilation of the Kalevala. The work of the Brothers Grimm influenced other collectors, both inspiring them to collect tales and leading them to similarly believe that the fairy tales of a country were particularly representative of it, to the neglect of cross-cultural influence. Among those influenced were the Russian Alexander Afanasyev, the Norwegians Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, and the Englishman Joseph Jacobs.
Romanticist interest in non-classical antiquity coincided with the rise of Romantic nationalism and the rise of the nation state in the context of the 1848 revolutions, leading to the creation of national epics and national myths for the various newly formed states. Pagan or folkloristic topics were also common in the Musical nationalism of the period.
Survivals in folklore
In addition, folklore that is not any longer perceived as holding any religious significance can, in some instances, be traced to pre-Christian or pre-Islamic origins. In Europe, this is particularly the case with the various customs of Carnival like the carnival in the Netherlands or Fasnacht and the Yule traditions surrounding Santa Claus/Sinterklaas. By contrast, in spite of frequent association with Thor's Oak, the Christmas tree cannot be shown to predate the Early Modern period.
Contemporary Paganism, or Neopaganism, includes reconstructed religions such as the Cultus Deorum Romanorum, Hellenic polytheism, Slavic neopaganism (Rodnovery), Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, or Germanic religious reconstructionism, as well as modern eclectic traditions such as Discordianism, Wicca and its many offshoots.
Many of the "revivals", Wicca and Neo-druidism in particular, have their roots in 19th century Romanticism and retain noticeable elements of occultism or theosophy that were current then, setting them apart from historical rural (paganus) folk religion. Most Pagans, however, believe in the divine character of the natural world and Paganism is often described as an "Earth religion".
In Iceland, the members of Ásatrúarfélagið account for 0.4% of the total population, which is just over a thousand people. In Lithuania, many people practice Romuva, a revived version of the pre-Christian religion of that country. Lithuania was among the last areas of Europe to be Christianized. In originally Anglo-Saxon nations such as Australia, Odinismhas been established on a formal basis since at least the 1930s.
There are a number of Pagan authors who have examined the relation of the 20th-century movements of polytheistic revival with historical polytheism on one hand and contemporary traditions of indigenous folk religion on the other. Isaac Bonewits introduces a terminology to make this distinction,
Paleopaganism: A retronym coined to contrast with "Neopaganism", "original polytheistic, nature-centered faiths", such as the pre-Hellenistic Greek and pre-imperial Roman religion, pre-Migration period Germanic paganism as described by Tacitus, or Celtic polytheism as described by Julius Caesar.
Mesopaganism: A group, which is, or has been, significantly influenced by monotheistic, dualistic, or nontheistic worldviews, but has been able to maintain an independence of religious practices. This group includes aboriginal Americans as well as Australian aborigines, Viking Age Norse paganism and New Age spirituality. Influences include: Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism,Spiritualism, and the many Afro-Diasporic faiths like Haitian Vodou, Santería and Espiritu religion. Isaac Bonewits includes British Traditional Wicca in this subdivision.
Neopaganism: A movement by modern people to revive nature-worshipping, pre-Christian religions or other nature-based spiritual paths, frequently also incorporating contemporary liberalvalues at odds with ancient paganism. This definition may include groups such as Wicca, Neo-Druidism, Ásatrú, and Slavic Rodnovery.
Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick in their A History of Pagan Europe (1995) classify "pagan religions" as characterized by the following traits:
polytheism: Pagan religions recognise a plurality of divine beings, which may or may not be considered aspects of an underlying unity (the soft and hard polytheism distinction)
"nature-based": Pagan religions have a concept of the divinity of Nature, which they view as a manifestation of the divine, not as the "fallen" creation found in Dualistic cosmology.
"sacred feminine": Pagan religions recognize "the female divine principle", identified as "the Goddess" (as opposed to individual goddesses) beside or in place of the male divine principle as expressed in the Abrahamic God.
In modern times, "Heathen" and "Heathenry" are increasingly used to refer to those branches of Paganism inspired by the pre-Christian religions of the Germanic, Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon peoples.
Christianity as pagan
Christianity itself has been perceived at times as a form of polytheism by followers of the other Abrahamic religions because of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (which at first glance might suggest Tritheism,) or the celebration of Pagan feast days and other practices – through a process described as "baptizing" or "Christianization". Even between Christians there have been similar charges of idolatry levelled, especially by Protestants, towards the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches for their veneration of the saints and images. Some scholars think that the essential doctrines of Christianity have been influenced by pre-Christianity, paganism, or European occults.
Ethnic religions of pre-Christian Europe
Further information: Christianization
Cuman statue, 11th century, Ukraine