What is Paganism:
Paganism is a term commonly used to refer to religious positions different from traditional ones.
The concept of paganism varies among religions. For Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, paganism consists of any religious practice or attitude that deviates from its own.
The term paganism is also used to denote any polytheistic religion (more than one god) or even the absence of religion.
The word originates from the Latin paganus meaning “country dweller,” since the ancient rural peoples had polytheistic cultures idolizing nature-related gods. In the Middle Ages, with the advancement of the Christianization process, the Catholic Church came to classify as pagans all those who resisted conversion and remained with their beliefs.
This appropriation of the term by religions (which causes uncertainty about its meaning) makes anthropology use clearer classifications, defining pagan religions as:
- Shamanism : Religions that involve altered states of consciousness in order to access the spirit world and obtain divination or healing.
- Polytheism : religions that adopt more than one deity. In polytheism each worshiped entity has specific characteristics and influences one aspect of life.
- Pantheism : Unlike polytheism, pantheistic beliefs hold that there is no distinction between God and nature. In pantheism, God is composed of everything in the universe, and has no anthropomorphic characteristics.
- Animism : Generally refers to indigenous religions in which objects, places, and animals are believed to have a spiritual essence and are therefore seen as living entities.
Examples of Pagan Religions and Gods
The classic examples of pagan religions are embedded in Greco-Roman and Egyptian mythologies.
The predominant religion in Ancient Greece was polytheistic, with the majority of the population recognizing the existence of several gods, among which the 12 gods of Olympus stand out.
From the fourth and third centuries BC, pagan Greek culture began to be transmitted to the Roman people, who adopted entities corresponding to the Greek:
|Greek god||Roman god||Feature / Function|
|Zeus||Jupiter||God of heaven and thunder. King of all the gods of Olympus|
|Ivy||Juno||Goddess of marriage, family and birth|
|Poseidon||Neptune||God of the seas|
|Ares||Mars||God of War|
|Demeter||Ceres||Goddess of Agriculture, Grains and Harvest|
|Apollo||Phoebus||God of sun and light|
|Aphrodite||Venus||Goddess of love, beauty and pleasure|
|Artemis||Diana||Goddess of hunting and animals|
|Hermes||Mercury||God of commerce and merchants|
|Dionysus||Spleen||God of wine, fertility and theater|
|Hephaestus||Vulcan||God of artisans, blacksmiths and sculptors|
In ancient Egypt, religion worshiped entities often depicted with human and animal characteristics. All Egyptian gods represented natural, social or even abstract concepts. In all, there are more than 1500 gods, including:
|God||Feature / Function|
|Ammon||King of the gods and goddesses of Egypt|
|Mut||Goddess mother, wife of Ammon|
|Osiris||God of life|
|Seth||God of chaos and darkness|
|Isis||Goddess of fertility and resurrection|
|Horus||God of light|
|Anubis||God of the dead|
|Frog||God of the sun|
|Thot||God of knowledge and wisdom|
|Hator||Goddess of motherhood|
|Sekhmet||Goddess of war and healing|
|Maat||Goddess of truth|
Also called modern paganism or contemporary paganism, neopaganism refers to several new religious movements based on ancient pagan beliefs.
While some neo-pagan movements differ from their old models, many seek to relive the elements of belief as faithfully as possible.
Experts study neo-pagan movements by inserting them on a scale on which one end is eclecticism (religious belief that allows the acceptance and reconciliation of different ideas) and the other is reconstructionism (desire to re-establish ancient religions in the modern world).
Some examples of neopagan religions are: wicca, neodruidism, hellenism and germanic neopaganism.
Wicca is the largest neopagan religion in the world and originated in England in the mid 20th century.
Also known as “witchcraft”, wicca does not have a fixed belief system and has different strands around the world. In general, religion worships two gods: the Triple Goddess, who represents the sacred feminine, and the Horned God, based on several ancient entities such as Dionysus, satyrs, etc.
Neodruidism, or just Druidism, is the second largest pagan religion in the world. Druids aim to promote harmony and respect among all beings, revering nature and the environment.
Neodruidism is an example of reconstructionism as it seeks to rescue the pre-Christian beliefs, values and rituals of the Celtic peoples.
Hellenism, also called Hellenic dodecateism or neopaganism, is a form of reconstructionism aimed at reviving the customs, beliefs and values of Ancient Greece.
The movement emerged during the 1990s and in 2017 became a recognized religion in Greece.
Also called heatherism, it is a form of reconstructionism aimed at rescuing the religion practiced by the Germanic peoples until the early Middle Ages.
Germanic neopaganism does not have a unified theological system but is generally polytheistic and adopts an animistic view of the cosmos.
There are numerous pagan symbols inserted in the various religions throughout history and around the world. Among the most popular are:
Pentagram : perhaps the most famous pagan symbol. Each end of the star represents an element: earth, water, air and fire while the fifth end represents the spirit.
Triluna : represents three phases of the moon: crescent, full and waning. In some religions, it is the symbol of the Triple Goddess, meaning the three stages of a woman’s life: maiden, mother and old woman.
Triscle : Celtic origin, represents movement of life and the universe. It also refers to the threefold aspect of Celtic cosmology: underworld, intermediate world, and upper world.
Ankh : Also called the Ansata Cross or Egyptian Cross, it means the key that separates life from death, meaning it is the key that links the material and spiritual worlds. Its meaning is also associated with eternal life (immortality), fertility and reincarnation.
Mjlönir : mjölnir is the hammer of Thor, god of thunder in Norse mythology. The symbol represents strength and protection against chaos and was used in ancient Scandinavian cultures in all kinds of rituals.
Triquetra : represents the connection between mind, soul and body. In Celtic culture, it represented the three kingdoms: land, sky and sea.