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Pagan and paganism

Which are the most common definitions?
Conclusions. Recommendations. Books

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How common are the various meanings of "Pagan"?

bulletOn 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:
bulletThe first 14 hits all referred to Wicca or another Neopagan religion.
bullet24 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.

bulletIn 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:

bulletFive referred to ancient polytheistic religions, such as the faiths of Babylonians, Celts, Romans, etc. during biblical times and in the early history of Christianity:
bulletAn anti-Roman Catholic essay which described the use of sun wheels and obelisks of ancient Pagan religions within Roman Catholicism. 3
bulletOne 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
bulletOne 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..." 5
bulletOne referred to the Pagan cultures surrounding the early Christian movement. 6
bulletAnother 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...". 

bulletOne 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 tradition.

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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:

bulletPaganism = secularization + New Age religion, + politically liberal thinking + others:
 
According to U.S. Newswire:
The National Clergy Council and Operation Save Our Nation have scheduled 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 said:
"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."
 
bulletPaganism = 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
bulletPaganism = 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.

bulletPagans = 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

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Conclusions:

bulletMost Internet references to Paganism refer to Wiccans and other Neopagans.
bulletConservative Christians often use the term Pagan to refer to ancient Polytheistic religions.
bulletOther meanings of "Paganism" appear to be rarely used in contemporary literature.

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Recommendations:

We recommend that the terms "Pagan" and "Paganism" never be used in speech or written form, unless:

bulletThey are precisely defined in advance, or
bulletA 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, Asatru, Buddhism, Druidism, Hinduism, 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.

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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.

If you see a generic ad here, please click on your browser's refresh button:

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A highly recommended book with stories by over 50 Pagans:

Laura Wildman, Ed., "Celebrating the Pagan soul," Citadel. (2005). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. 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/ 
  2. The Goshen search engine appears to have moved to: http://forums.crosswalk.com/ 
  3. "Pagan sun worship and Catholicism: The Pagan sun wheel, the obelisk and Baal," Michael Scheifler's Bible Light Home Page, at: http://www.aloha.net/~
  4. Steve Hancock, "Who says Christmas is wrong?" at: http://web.wt.net/
  5. David Keating, "Boo...Who?," at: http://www.osiem.org/community/ 
  6. Rev. Paul Howden, "Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, 2000," at: http://www.stlukesrec.org/ 
  7. David Rivera, "Controlled by the calendar: The Pagan origins of our major holidays," at: http://members.tripod.com/
  8. John Silber, "Anti-Christmas stance isn't rooted in fact," Boston Herald, 2000-DEC-28. See: http://www.bostonherald.com/  

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Copyright © 2000 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUL-28
Latest update: 2010-JAN-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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