Paganism is a group of religions in which practitioners worship a deity, or deities, usually based on the earth or nature, and not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. The adherents worship a deity or deities that are not related to the Abrahamic God. Paganism, from Latin paganus, literally means (as a noun) "country dweller." Alternatively, pagan is used as a pejorative to describe anyone not of a certain faith, similar to the pejorative 'heathen'. Originally to term Pagan was used by the Romans to describe those living in provincial regions of the Roman Empire, unsophisticated country folk, their religious practices later came to represent the main focus of this.
The Pagan author Isaac Bonewits attempted to categorize some of the larger groups of Pagans:
- Paleo-Paganism: coined to contrast with "Neopaganism", denoting a Pagan culture that has not been disrupted by other cultures. The term applies to Hinduism, Shinto, pre-Migration period Germanic paganism as described by Tacitus, Celtic Polytheism as described by Julius Caesar, the Ancient Greek religion and religion in ancient Rome.
- Meso-Paganism: Groups begun as an attempt to revive, recreate, or perpetuate what their founders believe(d) to be original Paleopagan beliefs and practices, which is, or has been, significantly influenced by monotheistic, dualistic, or nontheistic worldviews, but has been able to maintain an independence of religious practices.
- Neo-Paganism: Groups begun as an attempt to revive, recreate, or perpetuate what their founders believe(d) to be original Paleopagan beliefs and practices.
The terms may be spelled with or without hyphens after the prefixes.
Some consider Voodoo or Santeria to be Pagan; however, they are generally not accepted as such by the Pagan community, who recognize Voodoo and Santeria to be their own separate and distinct belief systems that are independent from the Pagan classification. Santeria has Catholic influences but are so far removed they are not considered to be Christian. Wicca could technically be considered a Pagan religion; however due to the prominence of Wicca, it is often classified as its own belief system.
Pagans have no central leader, spiritual texts, or official houses of worship, and beliefs may vary from person to person. No one Pagan can correctly claim to speak for or represent all Pagans due to the wide variety of beliefs. The majority of Pagans are polytheistic in nature, often worshiping a dual god and goddess. Core belief concepts can be shared among Pagans, but different interpretations abound; for Pagans, the importance is on living a good life and not on the end of life.
Contrary to popular opinion, Pagans do not worship Satan, as they consider Satan to be a Christian concept and as such not recognized by the majority of Pagans. Pagans are also encouraged to live by what has come to be called the Rede. The Rede states very simply "As long as no one is harmed, do what you will" with harm being generally defined as something that an individual would not want done to them. This may sound like license to engage in reckless behavior but in reality it is a very confining rule as "no one" includes the Pagan him/herself. Thus, the Rede is similar but not identical to John Stuart Mill's harm principle.
Pagans do not have a concept of sin or sinful action. Many Pagans abide by the law of Karma and use the Golden Rule as a good indication of what right and wrong is. The afterlife is viewed somewhat differently by different Pagans depending on individual beliefs but most Pagans share in common the idea of reincarnation in one form or another.
Pagans tend to have relaxed views towards sex and sexuality; sex outside of marriage or before marriage is permitted with the caveat that all involved parties are aware of and amenable to the situation and that no deception is taking place. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people find almost universal acceptance amongst Pagans who do not view any of the aforementioned as wrong.
There is a very strong taboo in Pagan circles against preaching. Most Pagans consider it extremely rude to preach their religion to others, considering it to be infringing on that individual's free will and freedom to make a choice about what they believe.