The belief in a religion other than that of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. In Christian terms this equates with lack of religion or heathenism.
Pagan religions tend to be lumped together collectively by Christian polemicists, although they actually vary greatly in beliefs and practices.
Paganism in Europe did not die out concurrently under the advance of the Christian apostolic missions. In England, according to the historian Bede, the south-east of the country was firmly in the grip of Paganism as late as the 7th Century AD. In 640 AD, the Kentish king, Earconbert, was the first to issue an edict ordering the destruction of idols in his kingdom. At that time idolatry was practised by many faiths and was extensively adopted in Roman Catholicism. It does not constitute a significant aspect of modern European or North American Paganism. In other parts of Europe, however, particularly in Scandinavia, Paganism survived until late in the 13th Century.
Wherever Christianity succeeded Paganism there was rarely a clean-sweep conversion and many Pagan Traditions and festivals were retained and modified in compromises which suited both rank and file individuals and Christian ideals. Thus many of the Traditions associated with the Christian festivals of both Christmas and Easter are deeply rooted in the rites of the old Pagan calendar.
Modern Paganism is represented by a diversity of groups and individuals linked by a common belief in certain Traditions, including the old nature and fertility cults of the Celts and Norsemen (see NORSE PAGANISM), magical and alchemical Traditions, Mystery Traditions and others - as well as relatively modern constructs such as Wicca. It is generally characterized by a lack of hierarchy or bureaucracy, although some organizations are becoming increasingly hierarchical in their construction.
Most modern American Pagans describe themselves as Neo-Pagans.
see also NEO-PAGANISM
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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